Indira S. Somani, journalist, PhD

Traveling on the City Bus

Taking the city bus is a new experience for me.   After the faculty van drops me off, I usually take an auto rickshaw home, because I’m still about two km away.  But there’s another faculty member, Girish, who gets off at the same stop and goes the same direction.  He usually takes the city bus, something that is quite intimidating for me as the passengers are smashed like sardines.

Last Friday Girish and I took the bus after the van dropped us off.  I noticed that the women sit separately from the men.  The women sit in the front-half of the bus, while the men since in the back-half.  It wasn’t over-crowded in the front-half.  In fact, it felt quite safe.  When I got on the bus, the conductor was asking me in Kannada where my stop was, so he knew how much to charge for the bus ticket. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but then he remembered me as this is my second city bus adventure and suddenly said, “Banashankari.”  I said, “yes,” because I was so excited he remembered me.  My stop is really “Janta Bazaar,” but the point was that I could finally buy the bus ticket as we both knew where I was going.  More women got on the bus, some women got off the bus, and those women who were sitting kept showing me the empty seats available. But with my bottled water, purse, book bag and lunch box, I didn’t want to chance getting stuck in a seat that would be difficult to exit.  Slowly I became a sardine in the women’s half of the bus.  Girish kept telling me that I needed to move toward the door, two stops before I got off, so I could easily get off the bus.  I wasn’t sure I could do it as it would require a lot of pushing and shoving.  I shared this with him and said “I’ve come to India for peace in my life.”  Girish said, “Then do it peacefully.” I finally got off at my stop, it was faster and cheaper than an auto.  But I’m not sure I could have done it without Girish.  While I had a positive experience on the bus, I found out Monday that Girish was pick-pocketed on the bus.  He said that it had never happened to him before.  But he was wearing a kurta pajama pants, which had loose pockets.  He didn’t even feel his wallet lifted from his pocket.  In all my travels to India, I have been driven everywhere in a comfortable car, but occassionaly a relative took me with them in an “auto” for a short ride.  Public transportation is something new for me in India, but clearly I need to be just as cautious as I would be in New York or DC.