Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ab Bus!

How do you spell a sound?

That was the first question I asked myself this evening as I boarded an air conditioned bus- Vayu Vajra -loosely (and badly) translated as 'Throne of the Wind'- at the Bangalore Airport. Clutching Cool Blue- a drink I'd long coveted but never got down to having, I settled myself in a window seat and wondered. Words like tch, humph, duh, tut- tut, eh- all sounds we make to express ourselves- are perfectly captured in the spellings of those words. I remember marvelling at tch in particular- whoever came up with that spelling did a wonderful job in adding the t. There must be a method to coming up with these spellings one would think.

No one has yet managed to spell the sound one makes while sucking the last drops of liquid from a glass of crushed ice. A sound that never fails to annoy and frequently infuriate, for people of my ilk who love that sound, we do not have a properly spelt word for it. And that was the task I set myself aboard BIAS 11.

One never really gets used to buses I think. Being cooped up in an enclosed space with utter strangers and sharing a common destiny until you or they disembark, or the bus blows up, or has an accident where either all live or all die or some live and some don't, never quite weighs easily on anyone- no matter how nonchalant they are. And especially if it is air conditioned and comfortable, one's thoughts invariably turn to different things.

Shhh! could be a possible sound for it I propose to myself. Eh. It does not accurately depict the gurgling noise water makes when it is pulled by vacuum through a straw into one's mouth. Besides it is an exhaled word which could not possibly capture inhalation.

I watch as an interesting mix of people tumble into the bus. First up is a girl with someone who is presumably her boyfriend. They have the hesitancy of a new romance- not without charm in its naivete. As there are no other seats, the guy sits down next to me and the girl in front of him.

Now to most guys- barring the ones who have attained sexual sainthood at 24- the sight of a couple stirs up a curious mixture of thought. There is a moment of wistfulness- memories of past glories, flashes of what could have been, what should have been - all pass by in a blur of images- a moment of weakness we hastily chastise ourselves for. This then gives way to scorn and superiority- pretending we have more important things going on in our life and that women are naught but a waste of time right now. All this while we know that deep down we want what they have with a girl we'll never get. That last sentence is a betrayal of my race- by acknowledging that guys too are privy to flashes of envy when it has nothing to do with our careers. Because NEVER do we acknowledge this feeling- not even to ourselves.

Swiiissshhh? Tch! That does not seem to work either. At all. Too disconnected from the spirit of the thing. Besides it is a word that already exists, so it will not be recognised (by whom is a question that we won't ask right now).

There is a cacophony of sounds in the bus. A middle aged gentleman has just discovered the joy there is in rhythmically slapping one's hand against one's thigh while listening to music. Either that or he is practising some masochistic ritual listening to adult erotica. I really hope it is the former. From behind comes a loud snore- like an elephant with its trunk blocked with mucus. There is the beep-beep of someone getting a message. It goes in an astonishing rhythm- Snore-clap-msg-snore-clap-msg-snore-clap-msg. On and on till the regularity is broken by the sudden cutting of of a snore- like when you realise in your sleep that you're snoring and try to stop suddenly.

An air hostess sits with perfect posture in one of the seats- her eyes full of nothingness.

The bus conductor comes to collect ticket fare. The guy next to me knows only Hindi and in a hesitant low tone asks for a ticket to Sadashivnagar. The conductor's eyebrows disappear into his hair and with a faint curl of the lip he answers. What I wonder must go through his mind when he has to use Hindi or English. Does he inwardly laugh at the pitiful tourists lost in the maze of another tongue twisting South Indian language? Does he shake his (figurative) head at how Kannadigas are being depleted from this great state of his? And does he plot that one day he will reclaim his state from the invaders?

By which time he has moved on to a nice old man in a beige shirt talking on the phone. I'm cringing listenting because he is valiantly ploughing thorough 'the Hindi', in the process conforming to the worst South Indian stereotype there is- the Southie who speaks bad Hindi. Through endless maine bukaar ta and maine jaldi aaya, he finally ends with a triumphant humma gar ko jara hoo and puts me out of my misery and my clandestine South Indian hating self breathes a sigh of relief.

Sheeesshh? Tut-Tut. Pitiful. There has to be a 'c' somewhere I think. The spelling does not work without a 'c'.

Particle physics is being discussed at length by two guys right in the front. They seem to be good friends.

In the reflection in the window to my left I see my neighbour leaning forward and whispering something in his girlfriend's ears. She throws her head back and laughs. A twinge of envy notwithstanding, I force myself to read my book- Orhan Pamuk's The White Castle.

Finally my stop arrives. The particle physics blokes and I get off the bus. As I get off and the bus passes me, I see the girl's face in profile- in my vacated seat. She's laughing again with her head thrown back- with the guy's hand around her shoulder. And next to me, the particle physics blokes have reached some sort of agreement to the problem they were discussing. Raising a mock toast, 'To Hari and Ehsaan, best friends forever!' they shout in corny fashion.

And I realise- to my self loathing embarassment- that even in an unremarkable, soon-to-be-forgotten bus trip, some things strangely never change. That even in today's cynical, modernist times, the same old love and friendship are merry flags on the arctic wilderness of our calendars.

Schwirrsch. I think that's it.

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Pri said...

One of the best pieces I've read in a really long time. Left a happy feeling :)

KG said...

:) Thank you. That means a lot!