[Image courtesy: https://www.gapyear.com/countries/india/getting-around]
I quickly sought to repress the waves of horror that threatened to rise in my chest as I caught my first glance of the bus- peeling paint, sketchy windows, strange people, and rickety seats. I gulped down my panic, and took deep long breaths; nothing is impossible, and if nothing is impossible, I would survive fourteen hours in this bus. Before I even realize, I told myself, the journey would be over and we would have reached our charming little destination. After all, I told myself some more, it wasn’t the vehicle, but the company which matters, and my company was my best friends. What more could one need, I tried to convince myself. Getting on the bus, I realized with a shudder that it was worse than it looked from outside. The seats barely had any cushioning, the floor seemed dirty, there wasn’t any leg space, and what bugged me was that it was going to be a long, long journey. The bus even had the funny red and blue lights and I realized it would be a close shave; I prayed for survival.
For the way back, I made sure that we return in the best bus there could be, and got everyone to agree upon it. A ticket for this bus was more than double the price of the first one, but it was our 5-star bus. It had more leg space than we ever thought possible, cosy blankets, puking bags, levers which would make our seats ever so comfortable, and huge windows for the perfect view. “This is one thing you did right, Srishti,” a friend told me, as I curled up in my huge, velvety seat with the AC on full blast. There was a lazy, dim lull in the air, the smoothness of brand new plastic, the relentless air conditioning, moveable armrests, thigh rests and polished flooring. Life was good, we thought, before the bus started. After a crazy four days of trekking and camping, life was good and clean and comfortable.
With a jolt, I realized that our journey forward in that HPTC bus, our comfort-less journey, our patchy bus characters, our tottering bus trumped our journey back in our 5-star Volvo- it was funny and uncanny.
It was all a matter of space; as a word, it is much overused and little understood, it is essential and it is dangerous, it is the point of familiarity and the point of contempt. In that shaky bus, we were stuck together, behind the fast wind that ran through the open windows and beneath the ultra-cool Chandni Bar lights, we were stuck together. Due to the lack of space, we sat a lot closer to each other, making pillows out of each other, adjusting our sleep according to the person next to us- we gave up our shoulders and our sides, took the necks and the backs, and made a concoction, a funny little concoction, of adjustment and love. Ties strengthened not just amongst ourselves, but conversations came up with our peculiar bus members, the most surreal of whom was the smackey, who considered it perfectly alright do smack in the bus and ask the other passengers to shut their windows so he could get a better hit.
The Volvo which took us back gave us ample space, which in the end became a hindrance to conversations- the lazy seats gave us all the comfort, but took away the fun, when it was so easy to sleep off, for the journey lost its charm. With distance comes your own space, and with that, certain limitations. A very smart mother that I know of made both her daughters share a room despite the fact that their gigantic house had so many other rooms- more often than not, spacing determines bonds.
This isn’t a romanticization- if I have to make such a journey again, I’d definitely be more inclined to take the comfortable bus. This is merely a set of observations about two buses, and how different arrangements can create differences, so that one can realize, that sometimes, it is okay, to travel in other ways, to look for stories beyond comfort and luxury, and to try and understand the range of the spectrum, about this weird little thing called life.