An Every Day Bus Ride

Elizabeth Farrell - India


March 18, 2019

It’s sometime in the afternoon and it feels like its a million degrees
outside because there’s no shade and my only companion is the concrete
surrounding me. Eventually, I make it to the bus stop. In my neighbourhood,
choosing a bus stop isn’t very difficult. All I need to know is which
direction I’m headed and I catch a bus on the side of the street which will
take me there accordingly.

Today I happen to be on the side of the street with again, little to no
shade – which for a person as pale and as used to cold climates as I am can
prove challenging.

Then suddenly, you hear it. The roaring engine of the blue local buses.
When it stops, or rather, slows down, I have but a matter of seconds to get
up from the bus stop and fight my way onto the bus. This entails getting to
the bus as quickly as possible from where I stood and then hoping by some
force of God that ill at least manage to get a foot on one of the steps,
and a hand on the rail of the bus before it starts moving. I always feel
like I’m in a movie chase scene when I get on the bus and half a second
later or even as I get on it begins moving.

After I get my entire body onto the bus I look towards the front, where if
i’m lucky – I’ll be able to find a seat. If there is a seat available, I
will likely only be able to sit on it if it’s on the left hand side of the
bus as the seats are often segregated by gender. If it’s not meant to be,
and there are no vacant seats – then it means it’s time to find a couple
square centimeters for me to stand in. Being on a busy bus here means
trying to take up as little physical space as possible. I try my best to
find a spot to stand where I can hold onto a pole or hand rest as it really
helps to have at least one point of contact other than my feet because of
the bus’ constant lurching forward and backwards.

The bus ride itself is like a moment to breathe, well as much as you can
breathe when you can only really take up a handful of square centimetres. I
spend my time sitting/standing quietly and awaiting my stop. If I am on a
bus I am unfamiliar with – I can track where I should get off using google
maps. On any typical bus ride, I will usually have my google maps open as
well as a chart which tells me numbers 1-10 in hindi numerals as an
additional challenge of getting onto the bus is that all of the numbers are
in Hindi.

The bus ride itself is rather uneventful. Nothing really happens other than
the bus filling up and emptying out. I typically spend my time on the bus
shifting little by little as the buses can become insanely full – like full
to the point of people hanging out of the door just to get where they
needed to be. If im on a bus ride to somewhere I’m not familiar with I will
spend my time on the bus looking at google maps trying to figure out how
many more stops i need to pass before my own stop. The bus ride itself is
what I would consider the calm before the storm.

Getting off the bus is likely the most challenging part of the entire
journey. It requires a lot of hope and determination – especially if the
bus if packed. As I mentioned beforehand, the bus doesn’t really stop, but
rather it slows down when it reaches a bus stop. This leads to a scramble
for those who want to get onto the bus. This scramble is also happening on
the inside of the bus – but for those with the intention of exiting the
bus. Indian buses are structured so that you exit from the front and get on
from the back. So, if you were fortunate enough to get a seat but it
happens to be at the back of the bus – you will require an exit strategy to
leave. For me, this often materialized as me getting up a stop or two
before mine and slowly fighting my way to the front. It truly feels like
the cliche moment in spy movies, where the protagonist must contort their
way through a room full of green laser beams to reach a priceless glowing
gem on the other side. For me, the priceless glowing gem I am fighting my
way through the crowded bus for is my freedom from said bus. Each time I
manage to get off a crowded indian bus in one piece with all my belongings,
I feel like I’ve accomplished something good. The moment you go from what
may possibly be the most claustrophobic space you’ve ever voluntarily put
yourself into to the freedom of an entire sidewalk width of walking space,
is quite lovely.

I guess the question then becomes, why do I do this? Why take the bus if it
gets so crowded and you’re not sure you’ll make it off? Well,I actually
enjoy riding the bus here. I ride it because I enjoy the satisfaction I get
from figuring out which bus to take when it’s written in a completely
different script. I enjoy riding the bus because it can be convenient,
affordable and even fun. However, I also ride the bus because it is an
option. For many in this country, they rely on cities unreliable public
transport systems to get around. Yet for me, the bus not coming on time or
even at all is just an inconvenience, in the end I can call an Uber auto to
get me where i’m going if I really need to. For someone else that bus not
coming leaves them with little to no other options.

Riding auto rickshaws and Ubers everywhere might as well be a luxury. It
would be financially unsustainable for many to spend upwards of 200 rupees
($4CAD/$3USD) daily on rickshaw rides. 200 rupees can go a long way, and
for many, it’s not an option to spend that money on a personal rickshaw
ride somewhere.

Of my many privileges coming to India is the privilege of options. Everyday
I make thousands of choices, and I am constantly taking them for granted. I
believe it’s really important to take a moment and step back to realize
that a lot of the choices I make in my day, even as simple as taking the
bus instead of an auto, come from a point of privilege. As I enter my last
few weeks in India, I am hoping to actively consider these privileges as I
go through my life here. The next question for me becomes, how can I use
these privileges in a way that benefits those around me and works towards
dismantling the systems that put them into place?

What are the little privileges in your life? Have you ever been lucky
enough to experience the ever-exciting thrill ride of Indian public
transport?

All the best,

Libbie

Elizabeth Farrell