It was my first year of college and those were the days of Diwali. The whole college was going to come to a still. It was decided to bunk all lectures and all were asked to go home and be merry. This is the story of the my navigation to Lucknow, navigation to my home.
That evening, I reached the bus stop an hour early, something obvious when you are doing things the first time. Besides, I had decided to take a city bus to the stop and that required a margin. There wasn’t anyone in the help cabin and there wasn’t any section that read ‘Buses to Lucknow’ or something. I sifted through much of the station and finally found mine. It was a Volvo and the ‘Lucknow’ written on it made my heart go boom. I still asked the guy if it were the very same bus and he said Yes. I put my luggage in the lower section and boarded the bus. I had a non-window seat and there was no TV in the bus. I thought I was going to be bored to death.
Slowly, other passengers started boarding and the seats ahead and behind me were soon almost full. But no-one came to the window seat beside me. Then a big sturdy guy walked up and I prayed him to not be my neighbour. Thankfully, he wasn’t. Then a girl from my college boarded and I prayed her to be. But she wasn’t too and the bus started moving with my accompanying seat still empty. I thought of shifting to it for a better view but didn’t, thinking I would just lie there later on.
A few minutes in, the bus made a sharp turn and a halt, much to the surprise of a supposedly experienced traveler besides me who seemed to know it was a diversion. A guy then opened the gate and a girl in black got in. This time, I prayed nothing and she came to my seat. The window seat belonged to her as I moved out to let her in.
Soon as she had settled, she started making some calls, telling her parents she was on-board. She also told them how her uncle had messed up things so much so that she couldn’t reach the bus-stop on time and they had to stop the bus mid-way to board. She told them her uncle could not be trusted. She was so childish talking like that it almost made me laugh but I controlled myself. Then she made a few other calls to, I don’t know what people, but she talked a hell lot. I was a bit tired and having nothing to do, I drifted to a nap.
I got up an hour later and called my parents. I told them I wouldn’t be having a dinner and to be prepared with something good in the morning when I reach there. I started looking through the window so as to have some semblance of staying awake but I still found myself drifting a bit.
It must have been minutes when she pulled on my jacket going, “Excuse me, excuse me” and I woke up. I politely asked her what was the matter and she asked me how to recline her seat. I then realized she was travelling in a Volvo for the first time, like me. I told her there must be a lever somewhere there , just as mine had one but hers seemed to be missing. I figured that the window seat lever would not be on the hand-rest but somewhere down. I asked her to look for it but she couldn’t find it. We two seemed to be the only two saying anything in the whole bus as I looked around to see everyone with their eyes directed towards us. But no-one offered to tell anything and they just seemed to enjoy the show. I then asked her to come out and let me try. But even I couldn’t find anything. Then I took out my key-ring with a torch on it and looked out. I saw it and adjusted her seat for her just as much she wanted. The other passengers looked relieved and disappointed at the same time but the show was over; at least for now.
I had had just an hour more of sleep when I woke up to the sound of the girl again talking, this time quite excitedly on her phone. It appeared to me a rather peppy conversation, with plans of doing this and that in Diwali and so I figured not to disturb her. Besides, it was near time for the dinner halt and other passengers too seemed to be awake just for that. I felt I needed some Thums Up and decided to get down myself. When it halted, I did and quickly returned to my seat. A little later, everyone else returned too, finally in mood for some sleep. Then she came in, still talking on her phone. I was about to move myself but she broke her conversation in the middle and asked me to pass. I again moved out to let her in and the other passengers once again had eyes set on us.
A few minutes in, she called another friend and started talking about their nothings. She then abruptly mentioned, a bit loudly, how she was feeling very cold in the bus. I looked at the time in my watch and then around at the passengers, still gawking us, literally gawking, as if they wanted me to get rid of that jacket of mine and give it to my co-passenger. A few seconds later, even I wondered “Do they really want me to give my jacket to her? Hell, do I want me to give my jacket to her? Wouldn’t it be too filmy?”
Just as I was about to take it off, she reached into her bag and took out a frigging shawl and wrapped it around her as everyone’s faces around us went “Oh shit!”.
I then put down the hand-rest to divide our seats and pulled my cap to near my eyes. It was half past nine and I intended to sleep till..till Lucknow. But I was awoke yet again after an hour by the sound of her talking on the phone, this time having a rather ‘personal’ conversation loudly enough to wake me but not to disturb other passengers. I couldn’t help but notice one peculiar thing. The hand-rest between our seats was taken up.
I could not sleep after that; nor that I even tried to. I simply looked out of the window, which surprisingly, she had kept un-curtained. It was a rather dark yet beautiful night as the bus undertook its navigation to my way home.
I was flabbergasted to see that the girl was still mostly on the phone, sometimes making calls but mostly getting them so I guessed it wasn’t entirely her fault. At around 12, she got a call from her parents inquiring as to when she would be reaching Kanpur. She told them it would be by three and then went on to talk some other things before she put it down. Now I had gotten things cleared with the bus driver earlier and he had told me that the bus reaches Lucknow at around 6 normally but because of festival time and stuff, it could take more. And so I knew that there was no way in hell she would be reaching Kanpur ‘by 3’. I told her so and she immediately called her Dad back.
Having talked to him, she thanked me and asked if I lived in Jaipur. I told her I studied there. She asked me about my college and I told her. It was now upon me to ask her if she studied in Jaipur but from her numerous conversations all round the trip, I knew pretty much everything I needed to. I knew she studied in Jaipur, that she was new there, that she was staying at a hostel even though her maternal uncle and her maternal grandparents lived in Jaipur. Hell, I even knew the number of people in their home and the names of their grandchildren.
Still, making small talk and honestly, interested in a conversation, I asked her what college she studied in. She told me the name of her college, her subject of study and stressed that it was her first year. I added that it was my first year too. She asked my name and I asked hers, which again I knew beforehand. We then chatted a bit about how we found Jaipur and if we were suited to it. She seemed pretty happy there but added that her family being there made things hard on weekends.
She kept on receiving calls the whole night and between her phone calls, when we got bored watching the darkness outside, we talked a bit more. Soon, it was 4 and her father again called, for the umpteenth time since midnight, to know why she hadn’t reached yet. She seemed lost and asked me where we were and when we would be reaching Kanpur, mid-call. I told her we were at so and so place (even I didn’t know, I just told her what my mobile network told me) and that it wouldn’t be before 5 till Kanpur. She got back on the call and I could hear her father asking, “Who was he?”. She told her I was her co-passenger but his voice still appeared concerned.
She got off the call and thanked me again. I wanted to ask her then and there why in the world she was on phone for about 8 hours in the 11 hour journey but I stopped myself. I tried to frame some soft sentences to ask it and when I thought it was polite enough, I did. She told me that because she was going out for the first time alone, her parents home and relatives in Jaipur were all worried for her. I understood her, took a minute and then replied back- “But YOU should not be so troubled by it. You are going to become an independent girl in future and as such you should take a stand for yourself. Also, it’s a decent enough bus with decent enough people here and not some desolate thing. You should try to make your folks understand all this; not haughtily but in a simple, polite manner.” She listened to me quietly and taking some time told me that I was right but she had tried and to no avail. She then added that she would try once more and I told her that she must.
An hour later, it was Kanpur and she was surprisingly the only one to get off there. She picked her bag and I moved out to let her pass. We bade each other goodbye and as she took a step ahead, she stopped and turned. Her shawl had stuck somewhere at the back of a seat and I took it out from there. It was such a Bollywoodistical moment that both of us smiled as she thanked me again and got down.
Two hours later, the bus successfully navigated its way to Lucknow and at 8, I was home eating Maggi noodles.