A FEW MINUTES at a bus stop can be a revelation about life in a metro
At least once a day, to give my eyes a break from staring at the computer screen, I step out of the office and stand outside its boundary wall, on the pavement, which also happens to be a bus stop. I lean against the wall and watch the world go past.
Right across the road stands the new Secretariat building, Karunanidhi's dream, its side view resembling a row of mammoth water tanks (oil tanks, if you like), which was abandoned by the new government even before it could be fully completed. My eyes have long become blind to the structure. Most of the time, they are focused on the people at the bus-stop. I watch them and try to imagine their lives – a pastime, rather a luxury, I couldn't have afforded had I myself been waiting for a bus.
Had I been waiting for a bus, I would be constantly watching the display board at the crown of every oncoming bus, and would have been part of the small and ever-replenishing crowd that you always find at a busy bus stop.
The people I see here are collectively known as the ‘common man' – who forms the vast majority of the population in any city and who is powerful enough to make and break governments. But individually, they are powerless and helpless, and their lives are governed by a number of factors, including the timely arrival of the bus. The bus stop is as important a theatre of their life as their home or workplace.
Last afternoon, I noticed a man lying face down on the pavement, lifeless, as if he had just been shot. There was no warm blood trickling out of his body, but there was something else trickling out of his clothes – it was obvious that his urinary bladder had given way soon after he passed out. But why did he pass out? Was he too drunk? Or could it be that he has had no money to eat and been surviving only on water for a couple of days? Or had he suffered a heart attack or stroke? No one knew or even bothered to find out – all I could see were people steering clear of the trickle which was soon collecting into a puddle.
I am ashamed to say that I was among the people who remained totally indifferent to the unconscious man. Such indifference, I think, stems from two reasons. One, it is quite common to see men, presumably drunk, passing out at bus stops; two, who has the time to play Good Samaritan? Each person is in a hurry to reach somewhere. That frightens the hypochondriac in me, though: what if I ever faint at a bus stop? Will I be left to lie on the pavement?
Unmindful of this man lying face-down, a bunch of uniformed children, talking to each other in sign language, played with marbles at the bus stop. Their teachers stood in a small circle and laughed and gossiped while waiting for the bus. The children looked extremely happy in each other's company – did they get to play with the ‘normal' children in their respective neighbourhoods? A little away from them sat an elderly man, wearing a sky-blue shirt and a dhoti. He looked forlorn, lost deep in thought. What was he thinking about: the loan that he had taken for his daughter's wedding? His wife's ailment, which was fast depleting his savings? About a dozen other people, of various ages and bearing varying degrees of frowns, waited too. Why do people in bus stops look unhappy? No, there was a young woman who was constantly smiling – the source of her smile was plugged to her ear. Boyfriend, perhaps?
A bus arrived. The uniformed children, minded by their teachers, got in. The elderly man got in too, as did some of the people who had run behind the bus as it approached the stop. An elderly woman, who couldn't run as fast, was still a few steps away from the door when the bus took off. She was carrying a toy in her hand – grandchild's birthday? She had missed the bus. She now joined the young woman who was still smiling. Meanwhile, the man who lay on the pavement remained lifeless.
Now multiply this scene at the bus stop with the number of stops the city has. What you will see is the real life in a metro.
Published in The Hindu MetroPlus on July 23, 2011.