The humidity was unbearable. It was a cloudy day in June, summer had given way to the rains. As per the usual ritual, monsoon had hit the thirsty earth with thorough vengeance; then, perhaps a bit exhausted, had taken a pause. The pause was filled with gloomy, cloudy, sultry days that craved for evenings when the Sea Gods would send a breather in the form of the sea wind to blow away the perspiration from the face of Mumbai.
It was late afternoon on one such day that she sat on the front seat of the BEST bus(local bus of Mumbai), normally reserved for ladies. She was lucky to get a seat, as usually she had to wait for the Mahim stop where a large number of commuters alighted, to get a chance to sit. As she settled deep in a reverie, absent-mindedly absorbing the passing sights of a tired city, the throng of people occupying every possible space in the bus gradually built up to a point of saturation. There were now two standing lines and the conductor squeezed his way to and fro with practised perfection to reach out to the crowd, impatient to buy their tickets.
Shweta wondered idly how long would it be that she would need to commute in this fashion. With her next pay hike due in October, she may be able to afford an auto rickshaw at least one way. She may settle for an apartment where she need not share the rent with four other working ladies. Maybe, she could afford a twin sharing apartment. She dreamt of the occasional dinners she could afford at her favourite ‘Carlton Court’ corner in Bandra, instead of settling for the local ‘Udipi’ restaurant every evening.
Her flow of thoughts was interrupted by a commotion somewhere near the rear of the bus. The commotion soon gathered volume and strength as several people joined in. Straining her ears and turning her neck to get a view of what was unfolding, she heard the bus conductor scream, “Just get off! Then he breathlessly continued, why do such ‘evra’(slang for mad) people get on the bus when they don’t have money for the fare? Saala chutiya!(f***ing bastard) Wasting everybody’s time! ”
The interplay of the high humidity and the general struggle of everyday life allowed tempers to soar at the slightest provocation. The person to whom the expletives were addressed to, seemed to stop his pleading and announced, “All right, all right, I will get down. I don’t need your sympathy, all for mere 50 paise!” Shattering the exchange, Shweta heard the high pitched voice of a lady with Parsi accent. “Why make so much fuss for 50 paise? Bechara (poor thing), he must be garib(poor)! Let him on.”
Without the slightest hesitation, the conductor’s voice boomed, “Maaji (respected mother), I face 20 such commuters every day. If I were to pay 50paise from my pocket for each of them, I would end up paying ten rupees every day, the cost of my daily vada pav; and I cannot afford to miss my lunch every day.”
This was followed by a stunned silence till someone uttered “Badabar hai! (He is right!)”
Shweta vaguely wanted to donate 50 paise to save the day but she was incapable of acting. Deep in her mind, she realised that her probable pay hike may be better utilised for the weekend course in graphics designing that she was always planning to take.
After all, six months of her luxury in a twin sharing apartment combined with cosy meals and comfortable commuting may cost her the opportunity to have the requisite qualification for a better career. Compared to the basic unfulfilled need of a ‘vada pav’ lunch, even the better career prospect seemed humble. But still!
She shuddered and silently thanked the opportunity for a front seat reserved for ladies on a crowded BEST bus (public bus of Mumbai) in peak hour rush.