“We’re going by bus,” Masood announced at the railway station in Hyderabad. We booked our train tickets twenty days ago and yet we were still on waiting list. Since flights are expensive, our only other option is to travel to Chennai by bus. It’s a 10-hour journey costing around 1100 rupees per person.
We arrived at the designated bus stop on time, and learned that we were the first ones to arrive. The bus finally arrived an hour later, just when we had exhausted ourselves playing paper-scissor-rock and making fun of the travel agent’s company slogan, which read: Feel the travel, it’s different.
The bus was a big air-conditioned Volvo, with a large sticker that says “semi-sleeper seats” pasted on top of its heavily tinted windows. This basically meant that you can recline your seats back if the person behind you doesn’t object to your invading his/her leg space.
There was young boy – around ten or eleven years old – who insisted on helping the passengers place their luggage into the lower compartment of the bus, and then charging them an enormous sum for the service. It was already past ten in the evening; this little fellow should be in bed. Unfortunately, child labor is still acceptable in both India and Pakistan. This young boy looked quite experienced in what he did. He not only knew how to convince a passenger to let him “help”, he was an expert when it came to demanding money. When one passenger refused to pay him two hundred rupees as a compensation for putting away a couple of cartons, the young boy got terribly rude with him. “Do you think I am begging?” he shouted at the passenger, “I’ll tell you what begging is!” He then threw some coins in front of the passenger and said, “There… pick those up!”
A few men interrupted the boy and reminded him to behave properly. This angered the boy even more and he started insulting all those who tried to stop him. Unable to take it any longer, Masood approached the bus conductor and demanded to know why they were allowing such behavior in their buses. Only then was the boy warned to behave himself and was ordered to get off the bus.
After all this commotion, we still had not started our journey. It turned out that two passengers hadn’t arrived yet. And the bus driver waited for them for one complete hour! It was totally ridiculous. And these guys – when they finally arrived in what seemed like a decade – climbed into the bus guilt-free as if they had not inconvenienced anyone.
A couple of hours into our journey, the driver stopped the bus to pick up a few more passengers. I was surprised because there wasn’t any vacant seats left. This was a 10-hour ride so these guys definitely needed seats. Lights were put out by that time so I saw their silhouettes move around the bus and finally lying down in the aisles! And that’s where they slept throughout the trip. They tried to ignore everyone by pretending to sleep so soundly that sometime in the middle of the night when the driver swerved the bus to avoid hitting the car coming from the opposite lane (apparently a drunk driver), several bags fell off the overhead compartment and landed directly on the guys sleeping on the floor, yet none of them stirred!
I drifted in and out of sleep. Even though the seats were comfortable, it wasn’t easy to remain in a sitting position for so long. Then it started to rain. I drifted back to sleep again and dreamt of mountains and rivers, and was finally awaken by cool sprinkles of fresh morning dew from roses and tulips on my face. Later when I was conscious and coherent enough, I realized that the water drops came from the overhead panel (condensation from the air conditioner I think)!
Masood and I got off the bus when it stopped for a short toilet break somewhere along the boundary of Tamil Nadu and Andra Pradesh. After all those hours sitting in the bus, I felt my knees locked and my feet so swollen they wouldn’t fit my shoes anymore. To make matters worse, the toilet seat was the squat type. Oh the pain!
When we finally arrived in Chennai I felt so relieved to alight the bus that I thought I would cry, and that’s when I decided that wouldn’t ride another bus for the next 10 years.