It was 14th August and I had taken the day off from work, to enjoy a long weekend. Today, I chose to relive the memories of travelling in a BMTC [the corporation that manages bus service in Bengaluru] bus. It had been more than 11 years since I last travelled in them. And so I set off for a travel down memory lane.

My destination was Rajajinagar for which I had to first go to Kempegowda Bus Station [KBS]. I reached the bus stop in a jiffy and watched a few buses going to other destinations. About 15 years ago, the exterior of all the buses were painted in red. But over time, the color has changed to blue, white, green and everything in between. Till date, I have never understood the reason behind these color codes. I just hope someone does.

After waiting for a few minutes, the bus headed towards KBS finally arrived. It was a green beauty. I boarded the bus with great excitement. Once inside it took me only a few minutes to adjust myself to my surroundings. It was about 10:30 AM and the bus was filled with a mix of senior citizens, students, families and some like me. I glanced at the large windshield and as expected there was an idol of Lord Ganesha to whom the driver had paid his respects with fresh flowers. In this part of the world, faith takes us farther & safer than the sophisticated engines from well-known manufacturers.

I soon started taking notice of what has changed in the last decade or so. What I noticed immediately was that the conductor of the bus was a lady. She was adept and extremely professional at her work. During the 45 minute journey I also noticed that she was good at managing conflict and wielding her authority within her fiefdom. It is good to see that women are breaking the glass ceiling in all walks of life.

Not many safety features had been introduced, except for the doors. In the past the buses never had any doors. But now most of the buses come fitted with hydraulic doors. I must say that this was a much needed safety feature in the buses. Moving onto some digital features, I noticed that the bus was fitted with an electronic display which showed the name of the next stop and also displayed some basic do’s and don’ts. Reminding passengers to buy tickets was displayed many times. The messages were displayed in both English and Kannada. This, I am sure, saved the day for the conductor in the bus, who otherwise would have to remind a lot of passengers once the bus reached their destination. The bus was also fitted with an audio system that announced the name of the bus stop as it approached them. Here again the announcements were in both English and Kannada. The tickets were issued using a hand held machine. Gone are the days when printed tickets were torn off and given to passengers. Digital changes are pervasive everywhere now.

In the past, some seats were marked for ladies and the rest were open for everyone. But now there were seats marked for senior citizens as well. It was heart-warming to see such subtle but impact-full changes. The seats themselves were of much better quality than the coir-made seats of the past. The space inside and outside the bus was well utilized to display advertisements. I just hope these might also go digital someday to bring in more revenue for BMTC.

And the most significant change I noticed was the omnipresent cellular phone. I quickly scanned the bus and noticed that almost everyone had a phone and was well engaged with it, completely oblivious of their surroundings.

Now let me cover some aspects that have not changed in all these years. The route which the bus took has not changed one bit. It went through Mosque Road, Coles Park, Bamboo Bazar, Queens Road, Vidhana Souda and there onto KBS. WOW… what a journey covering some of the really old suburbs of Bengaluru. Bamboo Bazar somehow seems unaffected by all the modernization in the world. The place looked the same as what it was a decade ago. As the bus passed by UVCE [my alma mater] I couldn’t help feeling proud of having studied there.

The tickets were still priced dirt cheap. I spent about Rs 60 for the journey to Rajajinagar and back! Can you imagine that?!?!? This for sure gives all other modes of transportation a run for their money.

The trick of quickly translating English words to Kannada was very prevalent in the bus. The trick is to add ‘u’ to the English word. Seat translates to seatu, ticket translates to ticketu, stop translates to stopu, bus translates to busu and so on. Purists will detest this abuse of the Kannada language, but I feel this helps people who do not know the language to quickly embrace it. We should accept that changeu is the only constantu.

KBS is still popularly known as Majestic [why… I don’t know]. The funny part is that Majestic is pronounced Maeshtick by many conductors. And so when the bus approaches a stop, the conductor wastes no time in calling out ‘Maeshtick Maeshtick Maeshtick Maeshtick Maeshtick’ to announce the destination of the bus. The conductor also uses the words ‘Right’ and ‘Hold On’ to inform the driver to start driving and to stop driving respectively. Here again the words were still pronounced ‘Rhighya’ and ‘Oldaen’. It was humorous to see that these classic words remained unchanged to this day. I have my doubts if the conductors learn this during their induction into BMTC. The bus journey had many instants of ‘Oldaen… Maeshtick… Maeshtick… Maeshtick… Rhighya’.

The last aspect which has remained unchanged is the orchestra played by the bus in conjunction with other elements of nature and vehicles on the road. The purring engine, creaky brakes, shrill honk and stuttering windows of the bus along with similar sounds from other vehicles on the road formed a perfect background score for the conductor’s vocals. The occasional ring tone from a random cell phone further added to these effects. All of this sounded as music to my ears since I was in the mood for it and travelling to experience it all. I doubt the daily traveler will have the same feeling though.

I noticed that cell phones had robbed a unique human experience in BMTC buses. In the past, when people never carried cell phones, a lot of conversations were made in buses with unknown people. Conversations about politics, Indian cricket, movies, rising prices, etc. This has almost disappeared as people were cued onto their phones at all times… leaving hardly any possibility of starting an interesting conversation with unknown people. So much so that even teens in the bus had sacrificed the fun of throwing stealthy glances in favor of using their smart phones. Seeing couples engrossed with their phones instead of talking to each other, was the most depressing of all. ‘Pathi, patni aur woh’ now has a completely new meaning. I feel fortunate to have grown up in an era that lacked such gadgets.

Amidst all these observations and thoughts, I reached Maeshtick, my destination. From there on, the experience of the remaining part of my travel was almost similar. I must say that even now, travelling by BMTC, gives the unique experience of seeing a multitude of cultures and people at the same place. This is a miniature version of what India truly is…. divided by race, religion and culture… but united by the undying human spirit which embraces all of these differences. Travelling by train in India is the only other experience which comes close to matching this.

Thank you BMTC for making my day… see you soon again!!!