The Eternal Sunshine on The Poorly Chosen Bus Seat

Playwrights such as the Bard himself preferred character exits via snappy, saucy comments that were meant to leave jaws dropped all across the floor like so much loose change. In real life, the leaving of college for home resembles the myriad scenes of Office-Office, and us the hapless Mussadilal.

I nipped out of the hostel room door, dressed in a couple of layers of clothing (To ward off the cold to come, as well as the unsavory nature of bus seats. Say what you will of the bag of idiosyncrasies that is Sheldon Cooper, the man has a point about bus pants). There, stood the smirking horde of batchmates who were yet to leave, unable to make up their minds whether to up the passive or the aggressive, and either delivered muted goodbyes or hammed it up with full blown hugs.

Across the staircase looked like the pristine place where no man had boldly gone before, and I rethought my entire travel plan, because it definitely did not include a trek through the Andes that the first floor down now resembled.

Panting heavily, I crept out of the plastic and glass doors of the hostel, my bag rolling me across the floor as much as I rolled it the same way. The guard on duty was a nice guy, with a sunny smile that I returned with something nearly akin to the baring of teeth by warring apes. His smile faltered a bit as I navigated the columns of the In-Out book, scratching out mistakes in the proud tradition of my forebears as I could clearly see.

Some of the life had made it back to me in the meantime, and I was slightly perkier as I headed to hunt for autos. Autos follow the same rules as a bovine stampede. They move in huge jumbles, always bunching together whenever they find each other on the road, each vying for the top spot, but still slowing down to remain a part of the herd. The gruff old man taking me to Udupi had a glorious mustache that he twirled with pride, and several stories on its subject, which he relayed to me, half-understandable through the eternal pan-chewing. They mostly involved getting coffee on his mustache.

The bus was early, but I was awkwardly earlier still. The sweltering sun berated me for my sartorial choice, and at that moment, I agreed. I took refuge in a small restaurant, sipping at a cold-drink beaded with condensation. I swigged the remaining dregs as I saw the bus lumber into view, and shuffled over. To my surprise, a baggage tag was woven across my bag before it was unceremoniously chucked into the small pile inside the bus. I considered asking for a ‘Fragile’ sticker, but decided against it in case they actually had one. The bus shuddered into movement as soon as I got on and started searching for my seat. The ever-helpful conductor pointed it out, and I tumbled into it as soon as I neared its immediate vicinity. The curtains moved with every gentle jerk the bus underwent, skittering with the most peculiar noise, which was very nearly, not quite, like nails across a blackboard (Mandatory wince at imagining that.)

Volvo semi-sleepers earn their name through and through. The soft seats with the ever-changing assortment of levers lull you to sleep and the harsh cries of ‘Rest stop’ arrest you in the half-asleep temperament of an extra in a zombie flick. The bus slowly started filling up; only two people had been snoring in the bus as I had walked in. The new entrants found three.

There is a strong fascination of luxury buses with curtains, and they stick to the adage of ‘Two heads are better than one.’ Funnily enough, they insist on multiplying the former with a factor of ten. The result was a bunchy mess that either blanketed me in darkness, or did nothing to stop the piercing rays of sunlight, which had malevolently decided to pursue me no matter which way the bus faced. I tossed and turned, and myriad curtains would open up in just the right places to allow my eyes to be stabbed with fresh sunlight. It was a cheerfully Disney-esque nightmare where nothing really bad ever happened except the all-pervading sense of annoyance.

Strangely, the best and worst part of any ride is the conversation. At times, it is a wonderful way to while away the time, where topics as mundane as the weather can turn into a lively debate. I struck up conversations with many of the people traipsing in and out of the bus, and they all seemed willing to talk away their discomfort, much as I did to combat my motion sickness.

I predominantly met students, of ages varying from PUC to PhD’s (Apparently age and occupation are now synonymous amongst fellow students), all excited to be going home, and all draping earphones in subtly different ways. If you can’t see someone’s face, concentrate on the earphones – A little known lifehack. The sun mercifully dwindled down quickly, and the horizon dipped into stark twilight. The dinner stop was short, but somehow placid and not as frenzied as I thought it would be. Meals comfortably jostling with the small snacks I had munched so far, I settled in for the long haul of the night. Sleep comes and goes on the bus, and at any moment, a few people are always awake. The gentleman who was sitting beside me had found an old college friend up front and had gone over to join him in reminiscing their rambunctious years. He turned up occasionally, and related a few tales to me, which I surmised he had forgotten and rediscovered in the conversation up front.

Just before the entire bus communally decided to fall asleep, the two middle-aged gentlemen struck up a profoundly hilarious conversation. As I understand it, from the brief snippets I heard between paroxysms of laughter, one of them had received a crash course in female reproductive anatomy for some unknowable reason, and for reasons I did not even want to approach, he was explaining the setup to the other person.

The lack of comprehensive reproductive education in the schools of India is a sad thing indeed, but it did provide me with nuggets such as, “Think the first turn of the jalebi. It turns up, then down like that. That is called the (Chest puffs up with considerable pride and the effort of enunciation) fallopian tube.” There are less convoluted shapes to explain the same, but I guess he really liked jalebis. I had a sticky sliver of proof from the memory of the dinner break.

Amusing fast-food analogies aside, a bus trip passes quickly after the fact, and intractably during. Now that I write from the other side, with a fizzy glass of cola in my hand, it seems like an experience I would not mind taking again. The wry smile on my face slowly turns to bemusement. With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and goggling eyes, I realize that I would have to ride the dratted thing again to get all the way back to Manipal. Now all the fizz from my cola is gone. Talk about kicking a man when he’s down.

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