Friday, 29 August 2014

a techno rainbow.

Stepping onto a town to town bus in India is like stepping into a rainbow (if you'll forgive that sickly sweet image...before you gag, read on). The outside of the bus is painted luridly, with neon flames, flowers, rainbows (funnily enough) and even sometimes a blown up photograph of puppies, kittens or a white baby (?). They always have 'SuperComfort' or 'Deluxe' or 'Grand Bus 2000' painted right across the front windscreen. The bus we caught this morning sported a large photo of the Taj Mahal welcoming us 'to delight'.  Inside fake flowers of all colours festoon the windscreen, sometimes there are little fake pots of little fake flowers on the dashboard. There are pictures of Jesus- brightly coloured, of course- and usually a bit of gold decoration hanging about. It is like stepping into a rainbow that is also a tiny, sweaty, usually dark dance club playing really bad techno music. Very loudly. It sounds awful but it is actually something I quite enjoy, purely because it is so India.

You crowd on while people crowd off, squeezing yourself on to a bus that in any other country would have reached capacity half an hour and 20 people ago. You watch the ticket man struggle down the aisle towards you, past the 30 people blocking his way, the whole thing smelling like sticky sweat because Indians love a bit of polyester and they have not yet caught on to deodorant. The ticket man finally reaches you and you grab on to the roof bars, the bus careening around corners honking its warning to other motorists, and try to fish the equivalent of 20 cents for your ticket out of your pocket without collapsing into the five people surrounding you, with their armpits in your face. You give your money, get your ticket and then the poor ticket man has to make his way back to the other end of the bus, because 3 new people just got on.

The other day when we were on our way home from Kalpetta, clinging on to the roof railings while trying to avoid squished toes, I was watching our bag of shopping that was sitting on the parcel shelf to make sure nothing flew out and hit an old lady in the face as the bus screeched from town to town. I was watching our bag of crackers inch ever closer to freedom, ready to escape its plastic prison at the first chance, and thinking of the only other time in my life when I carried groceries home on public transport. It was in Canada, four and a half years ago, when I lived in Toronto, in my first rented room, on my first overseas exploration. It was a world away from here, in every way possible. Not least because where people on the subway in Toronto gave me dirty looks for clogging up space with my plastic bags full of cheap, shitty noodles, bread and peanut butter (I was 19 and poor...), people on the buses here gladly move out of the way when I am maneuvering my shopping out of harms way and smile tolerantly when I accidentally whack them with said shopping...

I'm about to get sentimental for a minute, so if that's not your thing then go now...make a cup of tea, eat a biscuit. Ok. A lot has happened in the last four (nearly five?) years, since my first tentative, Doc Marten-clad steps into independence in a dodgy neighbourhood in Toronto. And I am happy to say I can look back on everything that I've done, everywhere that I've been and everyone (mostly) that I've met, and smile.  

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