Buses in Kolkata are lifelines for the commuters from all age groups and professions. The blue big buses along will the red mini and the super-fast durpalla buses competing to gain more passengers- a sight that is a habit for the city. They not only carry passengers from one place to another but they also carry the stories rich of cultures, languages, history, politics and so much more.
I remember the time when one drunk man got into our bus and the sarcastic witty remarks from the daily passengers of the bus. He may or may not have received a stink eye or two from a few passengers, but he also gave us the smile and laugh to last the day spent in the usually hectic lifestyle of a metro city. The smiles and laughs were common at sight everywhere even under the humid onslaught of monsoon.
During the oh-so-famous political bandhs of the city, the passengers made friends of lifetime, because a friend during bandh is a friend in biryani, phuchka and cha. The hands leaping out of the doors and helping a co-passenger on-board decided that the seats saved next day and the days to come.
Talking about Kolkata is an incomplete conversation if there is no chorcha (conversations) on politics. The commuters in the bus may not know each other’s name but they definitely knew the political orientation of the fellow passenger. The haughty conversations embedded incidents that had appeared in the morning newspaper or the previous day’s evening broadcast television.
The voices rose a pitch higher, hand gestures more dramatically moving and the listeners getting engulfed in the war of words- a common scene in a bus in Kolkata. Office time rush wasn’t as intolerable as it seemed to be with people hanging out of the buses, sweat, loud honking and so much more that you cannot like.
This time when I went back to the city of joy, something was different. The city that once bustled with locals and visitors speaking world’s sweetest language wasn’t at its polite best. My fellow passengers in the bus had their earphones nestled in their ears, banning any new idea from entering. The only conversations echoing in the buses were that of the excited girls and the occasional innocent questions from the toddlers.
A man willing to start a conversation and him failing, stoic faces looking ahead because they have better places to be at, politics is no more a topic for common folk, the lack of office gossip. The floorboards of the buses are desperate to squeak with the excitement of the passengers, but they are pressed under the increasing weight of unshared loneliness, unspoken words, mute eyes and so much unvented despair.
Will it be too much to ask for my old city buses back?