My hands hold on tight to the pole. I shift my weight with the grace of a ballerina, a toss of the head and a straight spine: back to reality. Half my body feels secure, welded to the tiny space I managed to claim for myself. Once cold, the metal net against which half my chest reclines has soaked up some of my body heat. In exchange, it’s giving me a tattoo of grids that remind me of a fishing net. The other half of my body is still hanging out of the bus.
The fifteen minutes spent in front of the mirror this morning brushing my hair was a waste of time. But I don’t mind: it feels good to have the wind slapping my face, flapping the end of its dupatta at my skin.
I’m flying over Pune like a bat in broad daylight. Hundreds of images swiftly sweep by: trees, walls, slums, bikes, rickshaws, dogs, cows, donkeys, men… The forms appear, the colors get smudged, the outlines are blurred and they merge into something else. An amalgam of odours whirl their way to my nostrils: flowers’ aromas, dust, garbage, dung, and more prominently the acrid smell of carbon and other chemicals being vomited out of a jungle of engines. I feel the bile getting active inside: the coffee and toasts I had this morning want to get out of the comfort of my stomach. I close my eyes and turn my head to the other side, trying to move further inside the bus. That can only make me feel better, but it doesn’t!
I realise I’m now suffocating: a fat humpty-dumpty man is pressing his fleshy circular corpulence against my back. I feel the moist and the warmth from his armpit on my right shoulder. His straight black hair is vaporizing the entire bus with a smell of ripe jackfruit fried in coconut oil. “Lucky nahi, Champi!” Well the advertisement is definitely misleading: am the unlucky one out here! My bag is trapped between an old lady’s hips and the fat men’s legs; my right foot gets trampled on by a school kid trying to pave his way to the insides of this moving furnace.
“Vidyapeeth, Vidyapeeth” shouts the man in brown. There’s a forceful shuffling, combinations and permutations of men, women and children trying to get near the door, or trying to secure a seat. A couple of more shouts, pushing and pulling, ‘ding-ding’, and before the bus comes to a halt, I’m out on secure land.
Things have settled a bit in my stomach, but I can still feel the acidity burning my insides.
My hands now smell of a metallic vinegary odour. That’s the price to pay for traveling by the PMT buses! I take my yellow ticket, and I start rubbing it against my hands. It’s not that the bus ticket has anything pleasant about it’s texture, in fact, it is just a thin piece of paper impregnated with black grids and numbers I cannot even understand. However by crushing it against my palms, and rolling it round my fingers, I am hoping to get rid of the sour smell on my hands, and infuse them instead with the smell of the paper.
I start walking…