Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bus, ab aur nahi

In the initial days I settled for whichever seat I got in the company bus, but lately I look for the window seat even if it is in the back side, where people get their heads bumped with the roof on every speed breaker. Like almost everyone, I have liked the window seat since childhood days. When I used to accompany my mother on summer visits to our grandparents places (maternal or paternal) I used to kneel on the seat, look out of the window and loved the wind hitting my face and tousling my hair. I would keep on asking mom a lot of questions and she would often hand me tasks which would keep me busy during the 3 or 5 hour journeys. I would be asked to count the number of wells and I would religiously watch and count as the bus raced past the small hamlets and villages. With lesser hair now on the head, I still love the impact of the cold wind and the travel to office and back home is now one of the things I daily look forward to.
My office is around 35-36 km away from my home and depending on the traffic it takes about 80-90 min for a one-way ride. Indrayani River flows near the company and one can see it meander its way across with a few clusters of green patches here and there. There are a few other companies, but mine is the farthest in the area, so from the backside of the company premises one can look far up to the horizon with some agricultural lands on the other side of the river and a range of mountains. The journey back home starts at the company bus point near the gate. There is a small hillock in view from here. It has a single tree on the top and a small temple. The sun setting down behind the hill with the tree and temple in silhouette must be a nice sight (I haven’t seen it yet) I guess. As the bus leaves the companies behind down the pot-holes ridden road it enters a narrow road with fields on both sides of the road dotted with small houses with the typical kaularu roofs. These remind me of my grandfather’s house back in the small village where my father was born. It also reminds me that I have not visited there since a very long time now and uncle has already started pulling down the mud house to build a concrete one there. Many a times the roads here are blocked by the cows and buffaloes which make me think that visiting clients (foreigners) must be thinking that entire India really is a land of ‘cows on roads’.

As the fields begin to disappear small industrial units sector starts coming up. These are the sources of the driving mechanism of our washing machines or the small parts of our cars which we thought were precisely manufactured abroad. When I was completing my engineering last year project in one of the industrial sectors near Pune, I had the privilege to work in such small industries. Passing by this road everyday reminds me of the wonderful time we four guys had working on our project on the lathe and milling machines, running to the wire cutting shop with our designs and welding the parts together to create our assembly. To think that I have to compulsorily call a Systems/IT guy if my company computer has a problem sounds so lame in front of all the little but fabulous work we had in our hands. These industries have a typical Welder needed – 3 or Lathe Operator needed – 2 scribbled on the huge gates which I am sure my project partners will remember seeing and the innumerable (funny) trips with the project guide.
Most of the workers in such small industries come from a very poor background and as soon as this industrial sector comes to an end, one sees abject poverty in the slum area ahead. Open drainage lines overflowing, small huts sticking together, drunkards either lying near the street in the dirt or trying to maintain balance on the way home, little kids straying away from the huts to catch a glimpse of the traffic etc. is visible here. On the left side of the road are small typical railway-quarters styled buildings, which earlier could have been slums (just a guess). There is a tinge of vote bank politics in sight as almost all huts in the slum area have TV satellite dishes fitted and on keen observation some of the dwellers can be seen flaunting latest mobiles; maybe cheaper imitations or the gray market models. Looking at the kids sitting there or playing on the roadside makes me sad and somewhere crops up a feeling inside to do something for them. Even then I know that stepping in that kind of area to help them is impossible for me and that increases my respect for people who work selflessly for such slum dwellers. I make a mental note to buy a few pairs of slippers on my next out of station trip, so that I can give away those to bare footed beggars, especially the kids on railway platforms or in trains. That can be the least thing to start from my side.

Just 5 minutes after the sad feeling starts sinking in, up comes an area which looks exactly the opposite. The bus reaches the Bhakti-Shakti crossroad. The name comes from the historic meeting of King Shivaji and Saint Tukaram. One can see the statues of them if the eyesight goes further than the small merry-go-rounds and hawkers selling seemingly yummy fast food. One vendor cart bears the name ‘Samadhan Bhel’ :-) The lawns near the statues look neatly manicured and many people can be seen enjoying their evening time strolling there. Crossing this road the Nigdi area starts where my eyes start widening a bit. The bungalows on both sides of the roads are a treat to watch. My mother many a times talks about the bungalows in this area and especially the ones which have a well maintained porch with saplings and trees. I am not sure when I can buy her a nice bungalow like this because it seems the people staying here were born with many silver (and golden) spoons or must have struck a pot of gold somewhere. But what I love most in this area are the good roads. I have to applaud PCMC efforts in overhauling the look and maintaining the roads. Pune’s civic authorities need to seriously take some learning from them. A little ahead a new flyover is coming up which will definitely do some good to the traffic flow. As of now the roads leading to the flyover construction work is uneven and disturbs my sleepy co-passengers. The guy sitting on my left is in deep slumber and his head falls on my shoulder. The shoulder senses that the head is of a male and it obeys one of the Newton’s laws and reacts by jerking the head upright. The guy wakes up and I place both hands on the front seat as if the entire bus is recovering from a big jolt. He murmurs a few expletives to the driver and goes back to sleep on the other side this time. I smile and look outside.
The sun is gradually moving towards the horizon. I can see a few birds flying back to their nests. Remember when was the last time you saw birds in formations flying back? I don’t because it was a long, long time ago. Seriously there are not many birds now in the cities. Birds in formations on the golden sky background always make a pretty sight and are always easy to sketch as well he he he. There is a small, dense green patch with a rivulet just before the Aditya Birla Memorial Hospital which could easily pass off as a jungle if the buildings nearby are removed. There are a couple of horses (or mares) grazing in this patch. A little further is the Dange Chowk where a fantastic statue of King Shivaji is seen. He is on a galloping horse and he has his sword drawn and pointed skywards in an attacking pose. I wonder if he would spring to life from that stone and kill all the pseudo-patriots, who are causing more harm to the society under his name. The medium sunlight in the background of the statue gives a surreal touch to it. People are seen spending time with tiny tots playing in the garden surrounding the statue. The traffic starts to build up here as employees from all directions are heading towards the city.

The bus trudges along to meet the Pune-Mumbai highway where people seem to be racing with time. Everyone does that on the highways, right? A few days back I had missed the morning bus and took my bike instead. While returning I had touched 95 kmph mark, my highest till date on Pune roads. The highway is a beautiful sight when one is not driving. The sky is full of soft golden light with the sun tucked neatly in the hills over the horizon. The intermittent high rise buildings and open lands play with the waning sunlight. The things that take away the beauty are the huge hoardings advertising the latest residential complexes on the sidelines of the highway. If I was given the power to change something in the city, I will definitely opt for removing the hoardings and improve the landscape. The Hinjewadi crossroad at Wakad looks like the first corner in a Formula 1 race track bustling with vehicles trying to outdo each other. Luckily there are talks of improving this traffic mess with some much needed diversions. Automobile showrooms dot the highway along with a few educational institutions. Standing out among all these is the Balewadi Stadium and Sports Complex. There is a single wall inside the complex which has 1 to 100 written in squares like the ones seen on the Snakes & Ladders game. Does anyone know what purpose it serves? I have been asking many friends, but failed to get an answer.

I guess it was around 9-10 years back when I had climbed the hillock near the Pashan-Sus road. I was completely unaware of this spot and thought we guys had come very far from the city. A few years back I realized that it was only 10 km away from my home, but the distance earlier seemed more due to lack of proper roads. If you are in Pune you should visit this spot, sit leisurely on the lawn and watch the vehicle lights on the highway race past. An indoor furniture shop attracts my attention here with a hammock kept near the entrance. I remind myself that I still need to buy a few things for our house. Actually the selection is to be done by mom and wife, and these ladies are taking their own time, thus the delay. A friend has booked a new flat nearby and I watch his building grow each day. I had promised to accompany him to check the flat and the weekend visit is still due. The Pashan lake is a wonderful sight in the fading light. The bus driver in the meantime flicks on the bus lights and people start to check their bags as the drop points draw closer. The wind is cool and the thought that home is just 10 minutes away is more soothing.

The bus leaves the highway to take a turn towards Kothrud merging with the traffic from Chandni Chowk. With drop points on every 2 minutes it reaches my area. The mind automatically begins to recognize the area and even when I don’t know the names of the buildings nearby it recognizes the landmarks and knows it is near to the home. I wonder how people (like the ones in army or transferrable government jobs) who travel frequently from one place to other create bonds with the people or the area in which they live for very short time. Familiar faces in the building smile and I smile back or nod a hello. Kids are playing and shouting loudly, but the mind and body are at peace. The 90 minute ride has taken away all the job stress and I look forward to a wonderful evening with my family. I will stop here before you repeat the title of this post :-)

P.S.: All photos are taken from my cell phone camera while in motion, so please bear with the quality.