OK, fine, so The Bus Gambit didn’t go very well.
Two weeks of living in the Indian countryside and I decided that it was time to venture into Bangalore proper on my own. And not by texting Papu the congenial autorickshaw driver to come pick me up at campus. No! I was going to ride the bus!
“O, it is to laugh!” said India, then yanked my underwear up in an atomic wedgie.
I spent an embarrassing number of hours Friday scouring the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation’s website, plotting my Saturday morning ninja strike. I had times. I had routes. I thought I knew where the bus stop was, just up the road from campus. In retrospect, I see that I was one of those stray ducklings trying to waddle across eight lanes of interstate highway.
According to the schedule, the 212 bus should be by at 8:30 a.m. Conscientiously, I left my apartment early and strode purposefully to where I thought the bus stop is. Except there was nothing to indicate a bus stop – no sign, no bench, nothing. I shuffled down the street and back up: no bus stop.
Finally, I sidled up to akka, behind the counter at her shop, and asked, “Bus?”
She shook her head.
Twisting my left arm into a Z so that she could see my watch, I tapped its face and said, “8:30?”
She laughed merrily.
“No, 8!” she said, and I the silly American dork who thought the BMTC bus would run according to the schedule on the BMTC website. What is this, Switzerland? No, the bus comes by at 8-ish, maybe 7:45-ish, maybe 8:20-ish.
“Bus stop?” I asked pitifully, and she pointed to the spot across the road from her shop, where I should like to point out there is no sign.
Fine. Fine! I bought some cookies and angrily crammed them in my mouth as I stomped over to school, where I brooded in my office until I could hitch a ride to Bangalore in the faculty van. For comfort, I looked at the stupid schedules on the stupid BMTC website and saw that the stupid 212 is supposed to come at stupid 8:30. Who do I call??
Oh, right, nobody. I don’t speak Kannada.
Anyway, after the very kind Nishad, who also teaches here at IIJNM, showed me around his Bangalore neighborhood and we ate some delicious dosa, it was time to go home. But I hadn’t researched many city bus routes, so I got an autorickshaw to the central KR Market.
And may I just say wow.
You know those photos you always see of India? Of people people people everywhere and vendors lounging behind pyramids of pomegranates and cows and women in their saris and women in their burqas and everything in the world for sale and shoeless children and an inexplicable horse cart and trash and hawks looming over the butcher stalls and the odors. The odors! Jasmine and pee and curry and rotten meat and exhaust and BO and sandalwood and burning trash and bread baking and India. Just India.
Did I mention the crowds? I found myself buying a kilo of pomegranates and I’m not sure why except that I clearly had entered some sort of fugue state.
As for the buses, well, there were a bunch parked over here and a bunch idling over there and the nutso Bangalore traffic in between and the noise from the freeway flyover providing an overarching soundtrack to the rest of the noise and I loitered over here and shuffled around over there, crossing the road and then crossing it back and looking hopefully at each bus that came around the corner.
Finally, impulsively, I just got on one, handing the attendant 50 rupees, getting 20 back in change, and immediately regretting my decision. I didn’t even know where it was going! But because the universe is kind to idiots, it headed down Mysore Road, a road I actually know.
But then I panicked. What if it turned in a direction I wasn’t familiar with? Not that I’m familiar with any of them, really, but what if I ended up in, I don’t know, Calcutta?
So impulsively, I got off.
And then I sat at a bus stop on Mysore Road for about half an hour, considering my options. I could wait for a bus whose number and route I knew, but none of them came by. I could become a silent bus stop weeper, and that definitely was tempting. I could start walking, but the distance seemed daunting, maybe 15 miles.
Or I could just flag down an autorickshaw, even though I vowed I wouldn’t, even though I smugly told people that I Believe in Public Transportation, even though I wanted to be independent and self-sufficient and a cosmopolitan woman of the world.
Of course India had other ideas. I flagged down an auto and was vague enough about where I live that he agreed to take me there. Miles into the countryside he kept looking at me like “Here? How about here?”
“Just a little farther!” I kept trilling with a winning smile, pointing an indefinite finger in the direction of Just Up There.
Finally, after he sadly indicated what he’d never get another fare back into the city from that far in the countryside, I paid him double the meter – 500 rupees (about $7.75).
Fine. Fine! And a big fat whatever.
I’ll try again next Saturday.