I wasn’t in double minds when it came to traveling by bus during my recent India trip. To the sheer delight of my mind, I traveled by bus; from Aluva to Ernakulum, and from Alappuzha to Palai. The return trips too were made via bus without an iota of doubt lingering; whether a taxi would have been a better choice or not. Bitten by the wander bug, I traveled within the country; mostly alone. But somehow after going the family way and moving into the US, I realized what I have been missing here in this country (US) where, if not for the electric trains, we are always zipping by in our cars on multi-lane super efficient highways.
Right from the point in time where my memory allows me to go back to, I remember longing for travel; and enjoying every bit of solitude it offered. I didn’t have to step into foreign soil or stay elsewhere to appreciate the beauty and depth of my country. Even as I say so, I realize that these feelings are highly subjective. For someone like me, a long trip in an overcrowded bus that stops at every 500 meters of a 15 kilometer journey through a jammed two lane road can be blissful, the extended hours can add to the pensiveness of the mind, at times even insightful and illuminating.
The night I landed at the Cochin International Airport, I came to know that a dear uncle of mine was hospitalized in Ernakulum. Though tired after a 48 hour ordeal of traveling with two children and missing a connection flight in between, I decided to start soon after day break. The month was July, the day 25th, supposedly a day of monsoon showers. I walked to the bus stop in Kadungalloor, Aluva. The rain gods couldn't wait any further. The moment I stepped out, it started pouring heavily. All the pent up clouds came down. The no-drain road started swelling up with muddy puddles almost instantly; filling up my shoes with water. I wobbled on slippery leather and struggled to find my balance, which was enjoyable though.
While waiting for the bus, I stepped into a small ‘pettikada’ run by an elderly woman resourceful enough to offer the names of the buses that would take me to my destination. I enjoyed this bit of human interaction; happy I didn’t have to visit a travel website to get the information. I couldn’t take my eyes off the ‘chenkadali kula’ amongst the other green and yellow bunches; dangling in the air, with an air of pride. Unable to resist anymore, I bought a few and shoved them into my shoulder bag.
In the bus, I took a window seat and even after it started pouring, I tried to keep the shutters open much to the displeasure of my fellow passengers. With a gentle smile I sought their approval; but am quite sure they took me for a strange maniac. Other buses tried to overtake us, and as the window panes brushed against each other, I shuddered. At times, the buses were forced to stop at signals and the drivers exchanged pleasantries or abuses according to the equation between them.
Rain gained volume. I had no option but to bring the shutters down. I looked around for faces. For people. I tried to strike a conversation with a middle aged purda clad woman who was seated next to me. Without realizing that it was ‘noyambu’ time, I tried to engage her in a conversation which seemed futile. As the bus plied through the Elite bread facility in Edapally, I couldn’t but make a comment about it to her and that served as a fitting tribute to punctuate that conversation with the power of a bold period.
The return trip was by the low-floor Volvo buses which was less fascinating. There was less drama, variety and action. In an ordinary bus, the faces that crowd in arouse curiosity and to the seeking mind, multiple stories come alive just by looking at them.
The trip from Alappuzha to Palai was much awaited. The first lap was to Kottayam and then the second one from there to Palai. This time around, I traveled with two of my children and my mother as well. My eight year old boy who would sacrifice anything for a car trip was disappointed and much to my agony, refused to board the bus. Finally, I cajoled him and offered him a seat diagonally opposite the driver’s from where he could see him drive. He was awed by the sheer size of the gear box and sat there glued to his seat watching the driver maneuver narrow roads and sharp turns.
My two and a half year old; though small to understand the dynamics of traveling in a transport bus resisted as all the space available in the seat for three was taken by five pushing us to the extreme right where we jostled for space every time the bus took a turn. And much to her irritation, the baby who was in my neighbor's lap started to play with my daughter by pulling her hair and dress; all at the same time. My neighbour showed signs of bliss seeing the harmony and friendship. The weather seemed to be the best with the coming together of smatterings of rain clouds in delicate patterns in the vast expanse of the open skies. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of the paddy fields, the horizon bearing a forlorn look filled my mind with a strange longing, and a strong positive feeling that I am unable to express.
The flock of herons that took off from the paddy fields sprightly but unexpectedly came as the saving grace to my daughter. The part of the trip that I looked forward to the most was from Kottayam to Palai.
Upon the bus entering the narrow roads through the rubber estates on both sides, I sat by my window seat deeply engrossed in its beauty and mystery. The distance between the houses started to widen. Startled by the number of new mansions and sprawling bungalows, I eagerly looked for old houses. But there were getting fewer and fewer. My eyes caught an old house far away from the road nestled in the rubber trees. The road to the house was marked by stone-laid steps, several in succession. Before I could take in any more, I was at a turn, looking at an old man, a very old man trying to pluck fruits from a huge Guava tree in the frontyard of a house. The long pole that he was trying to balance seemed to be very heavy for him. Just as he started to retract from my sight, in a slow motion I saw the soiled piece of faded white muslin cloth fall off his shoulders as he lunged forward with the stick unable to balance the heavy pole.
The bus reached Palai and moved alongside the Meenachil River. I couldn’t take in its beauty and all my longing seemed to vanish as I continued to think about the helpless old man. That left me pondering over the spontaneity of life in Kerala. It throws unexpected googlies at you and even as you wonder how to react, you are at the next encounter. And just like a short bus trip that is capable of offering a variety of episodes, life in Kerala promises diversity at its best.