For the past 6 months, my life has been centered on 19 B. Given that I've to travel to the IT corridor from the heart of the city, boarding the bus at T.Nagar seemed to be the most viable option. This was one among the very few buses that took the shortest route to reach Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR). So, the minute I came to know that I would have to travel to OMR on my own on a daily basis, I did not have to worry, the AC bus option was available for me.
Travelling in an AC bus, that too in Chennai, is a different experience. I am not sure about the other AC buses that run in the city, my knowledge is limited to 19 B .The people, the attitude of the driver, the rapport of the conductor, the constant music that is always played, everything is a new experience. But, wait there are a few similarities between travelling in an AC bus and a normal bus. For instance in normal buses the conductor would sulk if you do not tender the exact change, the conductors in AC buses are no different, but they do not harass.
One might look at the people travelling in these buses and think of how lucky they are to travel so comfortably. Believe me, it is comfortable, but getting there is not as easy as it seems. You have to be talented 3 aspects to be able to travel comfortably. 1. To board the bus at the right time 2. To be able to run with your bags 3.To be able to stand steady in a moving bus. Let me elaborate.
One. If a bus is scheduled to leave at 8.05 am, in a perfect world, the bus would arrive at 7.45 am. Now here is the tricky part 1. If you wish to get a seat, you would have to be at the bus stop before 7.46; else your chances of procuring a seat are few. I am one of the lucky few who alight before the famous Shollinganallur signal. So, in case I happen to come even a minute late, I have the luxury of waiting for another 15 minutes to board the next bus. But for those who have to travel beyond Shollinganallur (where the time spent waiting in the signal varies from 5 minutes to 30 minutes), they are left with no other choice than to board the bus.
Two. Let us assume that the bus is approaching the bus stand. Here is the tricky part 2. Some bus drivers stop the bus at the signal just before the entrance of the bus stand. But, some of them refuse to stop the bus at the signal, making all of us (around 20, on any normal day) run the entire circumference of the bus stand with our bags and lunch bags, unmindful of the traffic. All this is because people prefer to sit and travel than to stand in an AC bus, which could turn out to be a nightmare. But in a way, I'm grateful to these drivers, they help compensate for the lack of any brisk activity throughout the day.
Three. Here comes the tricky part 3. To be able to stand steady in a moving AC bus. The problem here is, though we have enough space to stand, there is not enough support to hold on to. I guess the minimum qualification to be able to drive an AC bus is that, the person should have had experience in driving an auto, in Chennai. Now you get the idea of how an AC bus driver would drive and how the passengers would have to hold on to all the support they can find to avoid swaying in all directions. (Another workout of sorts is my guess).
Most of the drivers are known to be reckless when driving an AC bus, so much so that even the auto drivers stop to hurl abuses. Just imagine, an auto driver reprimanding someone for reckless driving. But on the brighter side, for all the Harry Potter fans there is something to look forward to. We did not have the privilege of going to Hogwarts; at least we have been given a chance of riding on the Knight Bus!
Coming to my experiences, People here (most of them) are very well mannered. To begin with, the conductors address everyone as Sir/Madam; the drivers wouldn't openly show their irritation when you politely ask them to stop at a signal and most of them would stop their buses if we signal them to stop, for us to board the bus. There are no separate seats for women here, but when a seat is vacant and there happens to be a man and a woman standing, most of the time, the former offers the seat to the latter. When an elderly person steps in, people do not think twice about offering their seats. One need not be alert all the time, you can keep your lunch bag next to the conductor, ask someone in the front to hold your bag and stand at the rear end of the bus, without having to check if the bags are safe. They will be. In fact men even offer to hold women's handbags.
I’ve been travelling for 6 months now in these buses and I make sure I board the 8 am bus. So there are a lot of familiar faces and people do not hesitate to talk. Now I know the Branch Manager of a reputed bank, a VP from Cognizant, a senior Project Manager from HCL, about 7 to 8 people who work in the same building as I do, and many others, and we talk about something in general or something random. If anyone asked me how I knew them, the answer would be simple “We travel regularly in 19 B”. Speak of the benefits of being social.
The traffic sometimes irritates you. Stuck at a point for more than half an hour is irritating, but light conversations with these people will keep you engaged. Even if there is no one around, the music played in the buses would give you company. That again is, depending on the driver, whether he chooses to play the latest set of songs or play a CD which has songs that one would normally come across in funeral processions. In that case, I would suggest you listen to songs from your mobile. If that option is not available, just close your eyes and beg for forgiveness from God for all the sins you have committed. The background score would be in sync :-)
On the whole, I am assured that my trip to and from work is lively and entertaining. What a way to start (and end) the day!
P.S. Coming up next..How to get a seat in an AC bus, in Chennai!