Life has its unique way of teaching and introducing scenarios to us humans. We, humans, are a mere participator in her grand set up, with absolutely NO, to almost no control in the orchestration of events. And this is the realization that happened to Sudha Maurya, a middle-aged lady, a mother of two. She belongs to the big prosperous Joint family of The Maurya’s, living in Allahabad. Prosperity, gender, and Allahabad made her a pampered and overprotected member of the Maurya family since birth. Both her families, her parent’s and husband’s, took good care and gave the required to her. The love and adoration which she received might look overwhelming to any third eye, but life, owing to her nature, adds a hidden implication for such loved souls.
An implication which never allowed her to take the central position in matters involving lone responsibilities. Be it deciding the school for the kids or opting for her personal bank account to even as trivial a work as even buying a frame for house; someone or the other has always been there, sometimes as an advisor, sometimes as a helper and sometimes as just a subconscious mental support. The only thing which she had to do was to make choices and then share opinions. Rest all was taken care of, always.
But then Life wanted to play.
Life, in collaboration with survival, planned a quirky change in setup for Sudha. The survival awarded the responsibility to all the other responsible members of her family to migrate out in pursuit of her – The Survival. They all moved out to different cities and places in search of general prosperity and means of livelihood. And she was left alone with her husband, a High school daughter and a lot of blooming Autumn plants in her garden in Allahabad. All her boasting offs pertaining to availability and help from family members was now limited to only feeling proud on the happily blooming Daisies of her garden.
Though she sometimes missed the needed guidance and support, apart from the general emotional setbacks of separation, yet she managed the regular regularities with help from her daughter and Husband occasionally. The support was still there but only confined within the bounded walls of home.
And one day, the life called.
Sudha went to attend her distant uncle’s funeral in Sultanpur, a small town some 100kms east to Allahabad. In these Gangetic plains, family and heritage are what people try to hold onto the most as there are not many other options to rely upon. Once the mourning finished and the dispersing started, the big question of her travelling back aroused. Already the migration for survival took active care to make nobody available to accompany her on the way back. Her husband, who dropped her here, got busy and was unavailable to pick her up now. On top of that, her daughter’s board exams ruled out the possibility to postpone the trip. She has to go. But the insecurities and the fear to travel alone for the first time at the age of some 45-46 can only be well understood by her.
“What if I sleep and go to a different stop. No no, the bus is till Allahabad, her nervous conscience prompted.”
“These days we hear a lot of drugging and robbing while travelling, I need to make safe distance from everyone.”
“What if I get down at a halt and miss the bus.”
“What if someone steals my money and phone? How will I contact anyone? What will I do then?”
“What if there comes some problem with my seat, how will I talk to the bus driver or conductor” whose nature and conduct itself were another “what if” question to ponder upon.
These and much more such “what if’s” she cooked in her overly nervous head and kept?
She cooked inhibitions and feared like a bird sitting on the edge of the cliff, ready for her first flight.
But what is done is to be done. She, cursing the scenario and the migrated family members, finally decided to go alone. A distant cousin came to make her board the bus. She somehow made herself understand the situation and tried making truce with it.
“Over thinking results in over reactions!!”
“Everyone in the world travels be it old or young. There is nothing to worry so much. It’s ok.”
With that OK she signaled her cousin to not to wait and leave. He, after inspecting, inquiring and instructing, bid goodbye, by touching her feet. With every moving away step of his cousin, the anxiousness started fidgeting in her. She could see him getting down and moving away from the small frame of that government bus window. He walked and walked away, without turning back, even once. With every single step he took, he got dissolved more in that already overcrowded hustle-bustle of the street.
“Is this seat free” someone prompted within the bus? She turned and gave a strict NO in reply. She immediately turned back again but NO, he was gone. She tried searching and segregating, but nope, he was long gone. The consciously suppressed nervousness now started raising its head. After scanning for 2-3 minutes, she remembers the incidence of the man asking for a seat and her luggage above. She immediately turned up and saw her two bags kept atop. The much-mustered courage and confidence went with the stroke of the skipped heartbeat. All the preparation and maturity developed were gone, and the bus is set to be free.
“What should I do, what should I do that seems natural and I get to avoid this journey.”
The driver changed the gear, and the bus started to roll.
Faith, optimism, and confidence were now the only companions for her in this people-packed bus of hers. She looked around. Everyone was busy adjusting, munching, scratching, looking and talking. But it was only her eyes and face which seemed searching, searching something which even she didn’t know. I guess the anxiety made her to just look around and familiarize with the set up to gain confidence and develop a comfort with the scenario. Her senses have never been so alert before in her life. Every single screech, knock, and shake of the engine made her skip a heartbeat. With every power brake, sharp or full-scale turn, she felt that the bus is about to tear apart, collide or fall. Though dying was not the only big problem for her.
“What if I don’t die?” “What if am hurt and lying there down all alone on the road? Who will then communicate the news to my husband and how will I manage then in that scenario?”
The bus has left the bus stop but was still crawling through the jammed streets of nearby areas.
Though there was a variety of noise from outside, with every possible permutation and combination of street cacophony possible but they all were dwarfed by the screams of the bus conductor inside…….
“Pratapgrah, Allahabad…Pratapgrah, Allahabad anyone?”
He screamed with his guts out.
Though a noise is a noise, yet the noise here helped Sudha kept distracted.
Sudha, while sitting, wondered ephemerally on how the new passengers will be accommodated, worrying more on to share her berth than the actual sympathy for the passengers.
But an over populated country blended with poverty has its own way of adjusting. The bus conductor’s screams fetched a family of six. Five children, of five to fifteen age group, and a super miffed mother of theirs. Each kid, irrespective of their age and gender were dressed similarly. Black school shoes, dripping oily hairs, kohl in eyes, tailored checked shirts and dark blue pants, made from the same piece of cloth. Even the lady’s, almost worn-out, sari was as carelessly draped on her as her loose and dry unkempt hairs.
One rickshaw puller accompanied them to load two huge sack bags, which eventually became the seat for all the five kids, jamming the lone central movable space of the bus.
Once the “overloading” finished, there started a big simultaneous discussion between the lady, the rickshaw puller and the bus conductor, accompanied by the slow rolling out of the bus. The rickshaw puller wanted more for his unaccounted labor. The bus conductor wanted an agreement on the sack bags before the bus moves ahead. And the lady, was busy in speaking don’t know what.
After contributing for long to the already existing chaos of noises, the rickshaw puller went with a big disgust on his face. The bus conductor sat, counting notes and licking the thumb. And the woman dwindled like a drunkard searching for a seat in the moving bus.
After adjusting the sack bags and the kids on top, the woman asked, “Is this seat free?”
Sudha wanted to say no, but the premise built made her think and then respond. There is no point in messing hence she just sided away. Anyway, mothers with children are the least harmful creatures on the planet.
The bus somehow moved again and the window seat, the air, the side lady and the scenic beauty of the landscape eased down Sudha’s fear a bit. The sky went wispy and completely grey. It might rain she felt. The golden colored fields of harvested wheat under these mystical water laden clouds slowly took Sudha to the roller coaster ride of her growth, future, childhood, marriage, children, and whatnot. She remembered how these fields and its textures have always remained the same throughout, complementing the living always through their non-living existence.
Her musings made her a little relieved yet she still prayed fearing subconsciously on nothing to go wrong ahead. She called her husband twice, but the travel ensured the full alone time and blocked the network coverage, rendering the phone only to be a music device. She plugged in, played a few bhajans before dropping all her inhibitions to finally dozing off on the road, the ride and the infinite expanse of the sight accompanying her.
She regained consciousness with the jerk of the brake, just avoiding banging the front seat. She woke up with the dual shock of the brakes and the anxiety to check the luggage. The sudden activation also brought in notice of the dripping saliva on her blouse by the hanging lady’s mouth next seat.
The conductor shouted, “15 mins break. The bus will move after snacks.”
It was Pratapgrah bus stop. Though the bus came to a halt yet, Sudha, as of now has developed a repo with the journey. She sat, fully conscious of every activity happening around. She was aware of the fact that she didn’t have to step out and only have to keep a constant eye on her luggage.
Though most of the people were still sleeping and yawning, a few moved out. And while moving out someone accidentally hit the boy sleeping on the sack bag. The slight disturbance gave the boy the chance to do, probably what’s every kid’s favourite thing to do, —- IRRITATE.
He started crying out loud at the peak of his voice, competing with any sharp noise heard by Sudha throughout the journey. And not only crying he woke and started beating his other brother, who still was asleep on the sack bag.
The fight and weeping noise of both now became so piercingly irritating that her mother got up, wiping up the overflown pool of saliva from her mouth. The irritation from heat and the sudden break in sleep, made her mother don the avatar of Kali. She started beating the kids. The thrashing was breathlessly continuous. She beat them so aggressively that the movement in the bus halted completely and the bus conductor has to intervene to stop her. “She might be a heavy sleeper or maybe avoiding the travel sickness, which instead will be a bigger problem for me than her, owing to my window seat, ” Sudha thought.
But after a while the motherhood within prompted and she then picked up the youngest kid and started consoling him, by shifting and adjusting him to her side, obviously without Sudha’s consent. Now there were two and a half people adjusting the seat, meant only for two. The mother simultaneously tried soothing down the other kid while taking out a note by unfurling the knot on the edge of her almost shredded sari. She called out for a litti-chokha hawker and ordered for two plates, shouting over Sudha, who unfortunately had the window seat. Again the payment became an issue. And this time, the fight was for 4 rupee change. The bill was of 34 rupees and the woman paid only 30 and wanted 4 rupee discount. They both fought keeping Sudha in the center to bear the screams from both the sides.
“Look sister. Look at these bloodthirsty vendors,” she said abhorrently to Sudha. “There’s a big loot happening in this country.” She murmured while finally giving him the change.
While the mother was busy cursing and fighting, Sudha noticed a goat smoothly coming in from nowhere and taking her share of the Litti-chokha. The woman quickly noticed and started shooing away the animal bringing in the notice of a flock of 4 goats wandering in the bus by Sudha and the rest all. The bus conductor rushed from the outside for the owner of the goats, an old man in white from top to bottom with a big turban, kurta, dhoti and a big cane in hand. While the bus conductor kept scolding and confronting, the old man adjusted himself comfortably on the barely available space on the sack bags. He probably was used to these confrontations before, as he seemed absolutely in no hurry or tension relating to the commotion he has created in the bus.
After a minor one-sided pressurizing, mostly involving the old man and the bus conductor, and partially involving the other bus passengers, mainly the mother of five, the old man finally got down with his goats. While Sudha was trying to absorb and cover the happenings, the bus suddenly got filled in with the nose-hair burning fart of someone.
The smell was so typically pungent and constant that even the open space of the bus couldn’t clean the air. Everyone responded to that Gotham city poison gas. A few college students jokingly blamed the old man as his way of resentment towards the conductor. A few just commenting the air said, “It seems as if someone ate well and came.” Some other voice prompted, “Arre bhai, there is absolutely no need to tell everyone that you ate. It’s torturous to inhale this poison.””Black salt, yeaahh black salt.””Can be radish too,” a few dying whispers murmured somewhere.The others giggled and exclaimed, “Imagine if this were to be in the closed room…hahaha….Humans and their weird superpowers.”Some other voice called out for the driver, “Sir, please move the bus or else you’ll be responsible for the death of all the passengers inside.”
With such light moments, the bus again started to move. Up till now, the people, the experience and the count of the previous and the remaining time left has made Sudha slightly comfortable with her journey. She also called and informed of her location to her husband.
Once the bus was on the road with its full throttle, the plains and the scenery again triggered the tranquility in her.
She again slept and this time when she woke, the 4-hour long journey has ended. Her husband, knowing her well, was already there. Don’t know why but a drop or two rolled down Sudha’s cheek with the sight of her husband. She just politely, got down with the luggage and mounted up the scooter. His husband took her bags and kept in front, without speaking a word.
He probably knew her well.
He kicks to start the ignition and both the partners move. They moved, heading home, on the road which seemed supporting the reddish orange semi-circle setting Sun. Sudha, after sinking in the coherent difference of the experience of the past and the present travel, slowly kept her right hand on her husband’s right shoulder.
It was just a journey. It was just an experience.
A late one, yet a necessary one!!
Life and its play!!
She had a smile on her face and soul. One could only see the two tiny shadowy souls on their scooter, on that vast light blue canvas of Allahabad evening sky, moving away on the road, disappearing into the bright halo of the setting sun.