The Bus to (Almost) Bandra

26 Oct

Given that this post is about public transportation, I would like to give my friend John in NYC a shout-out.  He has a blog called etummoc: thoughts and tales of a reverse commuter (http://etummoc.blogspot.com/).  He mentioned my blog in his latest post, so it’s the least I can do.

***
The rain had stopped only a few minutes earlier.  I make my way to the front of the house to the bus stop.  I am dressed in form-fitting capris and a fitted top with ruffled sleeves, unlike the other women dressed in traditional, loose-fitting Indian clothes.  As usual–not that I had gotten used to it yet–I am the subject of many stares: from the passers-by to the men waiting at the stop.  Even if I were to wear a burka, I probably still would not be able to avoid the staring.

5:35p.m.  Traffic is already backed up.  I had hoped to get on the bus soon so that the ride to Bandra would not take any longer than the usual 45 minutes.  After fifteen minutes, I actually consider getting on the non-AC bus that comes by but decide to wait it out.  I check my phone again.  5:56.  What happened to the buses coming every 10 to 15 minutes?  I resist the urge to start pacing, thinking I would just draw more attention to myself.

6:12.  More than half an hour after I began waiting, I see a purple bus approaching.  A sure sign of an AC bus.  As it gets closer, I notice the words on the top.  “Bandra Rly Station (West).”  YES!  Finally.  I step off the curb and head toward the front of the bus.  The doors opens.  I barely make it on.  The bus is packed.  Once again, Indians have figured out a way to double the capacity of a finite space.

I stand in the doorway.  I have no choice.  At the next stop, the doors swing open–folding into the bus, not out of–and I almost fall over.  I scoot to the side to let a couple more people in.  I watch them as they hop over passengers and climb on seats to get to the back.  I stay by the door.  At the next stop, about six people get off and a few more try to get in, but I block them until I can push my way through to an open space a few seats back.  I grab onto an overhead handle as the bus lurches forward.

I am in the aisle sandwiched among I-don’t-know-how-many people, trying to ignore the smell of body odor.  I glance to my left.  A white person!  I hadn’t seen one of them in my neighborhood since I moved in.  She catches my eye and smiles.  We both say hello.

Her name is Tina.  She’s from Austria and appears to be around 40 years old.  She has long, thick, auburn hair and wears a kurta.  She is visiting a friend for a few days.  This is only her second day there, and she is taking the bus!  It took me a week of being in Bombay to get up the nerve to take the bus by myself.

Standing to the other side of me is Harish.  He is wearing an “I (Heart) NY” T-shirt, a gift from a friend.  He has never been.  He smiles a lot and asks me what I am going to do in Bandra.  I tell him I was meeting up with a couple of friends who live there and then we are headed to a food festival in Dadar.  He is on his way to a poetry reading.  He is going to recite a poem he wrote to his mother-in-law about being in love with her son.  Uhhh.  Of course, the first tall, beautiful Indian man I meet is gay!  Harish is a gay-rights activist and speaks out against child sexual abuse.

He is a Twitter and Facebook addict and has garnered much recognition for his causes and projects.  In fact, he met Tina through Twitter.  Harish began making a film about these issues and ran out of money midway through the project.  He posted on Twitter that he fell short of the film’s budget, and Tina replied to him asking how much he needed to finish.  Then she sent him a check.  Harish finished the film, which ultimately was shown at the LGBT film festival in NYC.  Aside from being a filmmaker and poet, he is working on a book based on his own life.

“Did you say you’re a writer too?”  I turn around and notice a young guy curled up on a raised platform in the space between the backs of two seats .  He looks completely uncomfortable.  He and Harish discuss their books, their work, and their love of poetry.  He continues to move his legs around.  I offer to switch places with him.  The way I am standing, I can no longer feel my toes.  I slide into the spot against the window and Tina sits down near my feet.

Karan asks me what I am doing in India.  I tell him about my project, that I’m studying the process of using the Web to arrange marriages and comparing it to the traditional process.  “Why would you ever want to do such a thing?  You like arranged marragies?”  I explain that I am just interested in the topic.  I am not advocating for arranged marriages.  “Let me ask you this,” he continues.  “Let’s say I have been with a girl for three years, and I am madly in love with her.  Then, one day, my parents say, ‘We have a girl for you to marry.’  What would you do?”  “I wouldn’t get married to my parents’ choice,” I explain, “but a lot of people still do, and that what I’m looking into.  Just because I’m studying it, doesn’t mean I agree with it.”

“You should get out here if you’re going to Dadar,” a woman from the seat behind me says, interrupting.  I look out of the window.  I see six lanes of traffic and an overpass.   “Here?  Where am I?”
“Almost in Bandra,” she says.

I don’t like the word “almost.”  It’s completely relative.  Remember when you took roadtrips with your parents as a child and asked, “Are we there yet?”  And, mom would say, “Almost.”  Then, two hours later you arrive at the Grand Canyon.  Yep, that’s my problem with “almost.”

“Come on, I’m getting out here too,” Karan says and begins to push his way through the aisle and hops over a seat to the exit.  The door starts to open.  I am still stuck in the middle of the bus.  I follow his lead and climb over the seat.  I turn around and wave goodbye to Harish and Tina.

I follow Karan down the sidewalk.  He agrees to wait with me until I got a cab.  We finally wave one down.  He tells the driver where to take me, and I am on my way.  I arrive only 15 minutes late to the dinner, quite the accomplishment here in Mumbai.

Next up:  You will all find out how “diarrhea” fits into my blog’s title.

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7 Responses to “The Bus to (Almost) Bandra”

  1. Mary Jo October 27, 2010 at 2:14 am #

    Steph,
    Amazing blog so far! I’m so excited to keep reading about your time in India! You’re amazing!
    Mary Jo

    • Steph October 27, 2010 at 8:34 pm #

      Thanks, Mary Jo! Send me an e-mail and let me know what’s going on with you!

  2. Yankee Doodle dANNdy October 27, 2010 at 5:09 am #

    I am beyond beyond beyond excited for what’s “next up.”

  3. Jackie October 27, 2010 at 8:25 pm #

    Hey darling! I loved this latest post! I’m so glad that you are meeting such interesting people–can’t wait to hear how the food festival was… though from the last line of this post I’m guessing it didn’t go down too great. Anyway, will you talk to us at some point about the difference between Mumbai and Bombay? I noticed that you used “Bombay” is this last post and I wasn’t sure if that’s what the locals say. Just curious since I thought the official name was now “Mumbai.” xxoo

    • Steph October 27, 2010 at 8:36 pm #

      Food festival was great – I was just saying that being late is the norm because of traffic. And, the city is officially called Mumbai, but most people still say Bombay, so I use both!

  4. TinaDaja November 8, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

    Dear Steph,
    i really loved to read your experience with us. I hope one day we can meet again. Maybe really because i will visit Mumbai again in January. Will post about the exact date.
    And i am also happy that this adventure ended so perfect for you. Even our event at the book-fair was great and we had a great evening with our directors of the movie ‘AMEN’ Deep and Jeet.
    Valentina

  5. Harish Iyer November 9, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    knock knock! harish here!

    lovely post… and thanks for helping me relive the wonderful experience again. 🙂

    strangers by chance, friends by choice. 🙂

    do let me know if you feel i could be helpful anytime in bombay 🙂

    love 🙂
    harish
    +91 9833100340

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