Everyday in the morning I wake up at 07:00 a.m to the constant beeping of my cellphone. I then press ‘snooze’ and get back under my sheet.
I do this at least three times on average and end up waking up at 07:30 a.m. I then rush through a bath, put on a thoroughly unmatched Kurta over ancient jeans and walk through a mini-swamp, a pile of stones, huge piles of cow-dung and some lousy construction to reach the famous ECR road.
By this time it is usually exactly 08:20 a.m.
At this point I slowly melt into the motley bunch of fisher women, harried mothers’ with school bags and children in tow, men looking for casual labour, the day-shift call center executive and the proverbial IT kid. We all then compete with each other to stuff ourselves into already over crowded share-autos.
Share autos are just larger three wheelers with open sides that make up for the fact that they are not quite large enough.
Once I succeed at getting into one of these I make my honking journey across ECR to Thiruvanmiyur bus stand. This entire painful routine usually ends up guaranteeing me a seat in my all-time favourite bus – the 29C AC special.
The AC specials are ultra-modern ‘low-floor, high-seat, music-blaring, air-conditioned, automated-swinging-door, uniformed conductor and polite driver’ specials. They are lovely. They are also white with huge advertisements painted in bold colours across them. And there are just two leaving every hour.
I have a favourite seat, its in the back half of the bus. Second from the front, near the windows that the 29C occupants can see out of but that people on the road can’t see through. I wait to pay the conductor my 23 rupees and then listen to my iPod till I get to Sterling road.
The 29C community is a small bunch of people. A retired army officer who does strategic consulting at some shady Nungambakkam firm, a real well meaning middle-aged aunty who has a bad leg and requests an unscheduled stop at the Chola Sheraton, the three college girls who talk about the ‘worst lectures’ ever who get off at Stella and the quirky young chap with a stubble like Abhishek Bacchan — carrying a pink bag and reading a book on fashion design.
We see each other every day. Some of us smile, some of us even say good morning. Most of us know we are in this bus together sharing a journey. We wait together when our beloved bus is later and express surprise if even one us misses a day in the week. The 29C effect calmed me, prepared me for office and battles of the day, made me belong to a bunch of comfort-seeking yet poor members of the ‘middle-class’.
From 6th of March i will cease to be a part of these people’s lives and their stories. I will never know if the effeminate guy won his art competition, if the aunty managed to get her sons to fix the fuse, if the girls managed to bunk their classes or if the tired wage worker managed to save up to recharge his phone to tell his son in Perambur that he now uses an AC bus.
Another two days and the inexplicably comforting 29C effect will be history. No wait, it will go on to write histories that no one will ever read. I will no longer be a character on its stage. Stop the bus, I want to get off…