(BEST is the acronym of the company that runs Mumbai's bus transportation)
A lifetime of driving in the worsening traffic in Mumbai, the disastrous quality of air prevalent at his face level at traffic jams with heaving trucks spewing fumes of Diesel, and the variable leg space in 3 wheelers for a six foot plus person causing trauma to the patella, has convinced him about the superiority of bus travel, where you travel at a height......
More so, since his age and the color of his hair allows him the privilege of special entry into it from the front door of the bus, which means he gets to avoid the general shoving and pushing at the rear entrance used by younger folks. The single seat right in the front of the bus, meant for senior citizens and/or differently abled folks allows a certain level of leg stretching, and he always sits there, but gets up to offer his seat when he sees older seniors and folks with disabilities.
Maybe he doesn't look like someone who gets kicks out of free travel . And the conductor takes his own time, making his way through the increasing crowd at the back, tapping the seats , getting folks to buy tickets, grumbling about folks not offering change and so on.
More than half way home, and the conductor is still way behind. He turns around, trying to catch the conductors eye, to tell him that he still has to buy his ticket. He holds a currency note in his fingers, to signal to the conductor. The conductor can just nod, blocked as he is by the sea of passengers, actually moving in waves as the bus lurches through potholes.
Five seats behind him, another elderly gent catches his eye. Beckons with his hand. He gets up, bends across and passes a hundred rupee note across to the gent, mentioning the stop where he must disembark, and needs a ticket for. The elderly gent, passes the money back, via many others, mentioning the place , which the others repeat, till it reaches the conductor. Who looks up, then looks down, tears a ticket, punches it, and dips into his money bag to return the considerable change.
Any other time, and he would be forced to make a comment on how people needed to bring lesser denomination currency notes. It wasn't always possible to carry so much change.
Prosperity means never having any change.
He quietly hands the ticket and the change to the man nearest him, who hands it to the man in front, who again himself does likewise. Till it reaches the elderly gent in the middle, the guy with the initiative. A few exchanged smiles, nods, and the man in the seat in front, has his ticket, and his change, before he reaches his point of disembarkation.
He marvels at the trust, the acknowledgement of a need to follow rules, and the unity amongst those who decide to play their parts in this simple act to ensure that a senior citizen in the front seat can buy his ticket. Every person who passed across the ticket and change, very carefully ensuring that no change dropped anywhere in the crowd, despite the lurches and jam packed moving human standing walls in the aisle.
At the fag end of a year that has seen more worst times than best times, made you wonder about how low we as humans could stoop when hurting others, and made us lose trust in those who we thought were folks with good sense, shame and scruples, he suddenly feels lighter.
There are still the good, simple everyday folks around. Concerned about simple everyday issues. Particular about following rules.
He gets up, as they approach his bus stop. Moves up to the exit door. The driver beckons to him, to stand a bit behind, for his own safety. As a responsible driver, he must keep one eye on the side, keeping such disembarking passengers safe, with the other eye on the horrendous evening traffic.
He waves to the driver as he gets down.
All is not lost. There is a lot of good left in this world. It is a good feeling on which to make his way home.
He suddenly moves to one side, as a biker speeds past him, narrowly missing touching him with the handlebars. The helmet hides the shamelessness and brazenness.
He thinks people drove better when they had nothing to hide.
He turns in at the gate.
He has nothing to hide. Very clearly, not even the smile at the experience in the bus.