Friday, 29 February 2008

Bus conductors in the hills of north-west India

A beautiful and warm Saturday morning in Delhi. The mountain part of the journey is over and I have started re-exploring Delhi, where I lived for six years between 200 and 2006.

So many lingering memories of my trip in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh are vividly etched in my thoughts but one that stands out is the bus conductors and the local buses. I dedicate this small tribute to them: The photo above is from the Hindi Movie the Bus conductor.

The are efficient, officious and strong characters. Their status lies on one key ring and chain which hangs the following: whistle, stapler, ticket puncher and a wad of tickets. He wears an unwritten sign on his face, “ I am important, don’t mess with me.”

At every stop he has to woo passengers aboard in coaxing tones, announcing destination and quality of bus, which resembles mostly a rust bucket. Like a half bred crab and monkey, he has to swing down an aoisle full of sweating bodies and dusty suitcase and large bundles, and claw his way towards fare dodgers. He cares for the elderly ensuring that young people give up their seats, and treats the arrogant justly with disdain by ignoring their complaints. Pretty women tend to get more that a cursory glance, and anyone he classifies as undesirable, he doesn’t let on the bus. Foreigners he treats no differently as long as you pay respects and pay your fare.

To get to Delhi, I caught one bus the 240 km trip from Kullu to Chandigarh which took almost seven hours and then another bus from Chandigarh to Delhi taking 6 hours.

I am off shortly to see my close friend Anuj Bahri, bookseller and publisher who took me just over two weeks ago on the start of my journey. As I did not manage to get to Dehra Dun, I am hoping we will travel together in his luxurious 4 wheel drive as my back doesn’t feel like another long local bus trip.


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