With multiple fractures on the left hand, driving was out of the equation in my daily commute to the workplace. Four weeks of hard cast, weighing me down, ensured that either I seek favor from a colleague living nearby or remain grounded at home. Private sector employment anxieties, dictated that it is better to curry favor with a co-worker or plead for a car pool entry rather than work from home. All efforts of hiring a driver for a month came a cropper as ad-hoc assignments are unpalatable to the driver community.
So, there I was every morning, scurrying to meet my benefactor lest I got late to catch my passage to the office. Learnt a thing or two about punctuality and adjustment - in the process. The journey back to home was equally a trying jigsaw. One had to fall in place, sometimes going early & at other times getting quite late.
Despite the overdrive in schedule synchronization, the nightmare of being left in the lurch came true, one evening. My colleague confided that their team has to burn the midnight oil for closing an important annual plan, so it is better that I fend for myself that evening. Being thrown into a limbo, had to quickly gather my wits and think of a plan to head home.
Was about to wave a cab but before I could motion for the same, realized that there was not much money in the wallet & the ATM card was dysfunctional. Thought of calling my better half, to confirm her presence at home so I could pay the taxi fare when I reached. Alas, she was away at a relative’s place.
“717”, suddenly I remembered the magic number! 717 was the DTC bus route intersecting the crossing nearest to by abode. Hitched a lift from a stranger who was going the same way. He dropped me at the designated bus stop. It turned out to be an existential wait much like baldness waiting for hair growth.
After an agonizing wait of well over an hour some variants of 717 came which were not exactly going all the way to my destination. One went upto the airport only, the others till half way the route. Finally one bus with the right credentials came but was teeming with passengers. An elderly man at the stop advised me not to dare the try with my cast on. Jostling with the human deluge was not my want of late. In fact it had been well over eighteen years that I had stepped into a bus. I abandoned the thought of boarding the overflowing vehicle and waited for the next bus to arrive.
To my luck, an air-conditioned avatar of 717 came along. Maybe God’s mercy on my hapless condition brought about this stroke of luck. The seats were full and some people were standing. But, still sparse, by Delhi standards. It was after a while I got a seat, though had to ward off an overzealous commuter adamant on usurping my seat. Post seating I looked around. Times had changed, most passengers were busy with their mobiles and a good percentage were carrying smartphones or their lookalikes. A girl was seen lost in music, eyes closed with her co-passenger ogling all the way. Next to me was Anna (person who belong to Southern part of India, is sometimes fondly called as Anna) himself….nay the white cap almost fooled me. He was Aam Aadmi with Arvind Kejriwal writ large.
Tried striking up a conversation. He replied in monosyllables. Gathered he was Rajesh and supported Lokpal bill passage and vowed to vote for Arvind only. Two men in the seats behind were discussing IPL-6 with Delhi Daredevil’s bleak prospects in this year’s edition. Could sight laptop bags with several passengers. That India is progressing, came to mind. Liberalization of the economy is paying off, after all.
Half way through realized that the conductor did not bother asking for buying a ticket. Went up to him and bought one. He dropped a bomb that I need to get down at Mahipalpur as they were headed to the airport and would not take the detour up to Dwarka. Had to think fast…Call wife or whom? Ended up texting my benefactor, hope he would have got free by now. He called back with happy tidings that he was on the way home. Perfect coordination with just in time help! Could estimate that by the time the bus would reach Mahipalpur my friend would be there to pick me up.
Relaxed, I started savoring the journey. Not much to enjoy though, at every stop the clamour to get in & out was the familiar sight. Too much traffic and stoppages ensured that was late by a good ten minutes before I could meet my friend for the balance home journey.
Life came full circle, in the friend’s car realized that it is better to wait than embark on a venture that one is not used to. The bus commute underlined that in public transportation, toil is still the name of the game, with or without liberalization.