Last week, I got in touch with my English professor in college after ages. I read, re-read and proof-read my mail atleast five times before sending it to him. (he was my English professor after all). At the end of the mail, I had written, “Do you still live near Padma?” And smiled… and a little later, laughed out loud.

Well, for the casual reader, living near Padma would mean ‘living some place near where Padma lived’… But no, Padma is the name of a bus-stop in Cochin. Hop onto a city bus and do not be surprised by people telling the conductor, “Oru Padma’ or ‘Oru Menaka’ (One Padma, One Menaka)… Nothing scandalous here, folks! We’re merely asking for tickets to the Padma stop or the Menaka stop… And why do we have stops with women’s names? Simple… because most of them are names of theatres as well… And we’re a cinema-friendly people, you see! If you travelled the straight M.G. Road route, you could stop at either Deepa, Kavitha, Shenoy’s or Padma. Oh! I forgot Jose…  that is Jos Junction and home to Jose Textiles and the like. If you took the circuitous scenic route via the Children’s Park and the Jetty, you can keep your date with Menaka at Marine Drive.

This post, though is not about bus-stops being an ode to the fairer sex. It’s about the buses themselves. I travelled to school (that is about 3km away) by cycle-rickshaw (waving at all passers-by) until the third grade, until it was decided that I was grown-up to accompany the other neighbourhood children to school by the city bus. Early mornings saw me and my friend leave for school at the unearthly hour of eight so that we missed the early morning rush and reached school at 8.20 (school actually began at 9.15am). Evenings were however a nightmare, when you had hop onto a bus from the Boat Jetty stop and be in close proximity with hundreds, jostling and pushing, for it was indeed survival of the fittest. But it was fun… And much of my personality has been shaped in these buses. If a friend got a seat, all our bags were piled onto her lap like a mountain… We were the classic pile-ons! And at other times, we’d practice the glare effect… glare and stare till those sitting on the seats reserved for ladies were shamed into getting up. We laughed, joked and after exams, debated over the answers and the marks. So much so one of the boys from the neighbouring school after we entered college on spotting me said, “Hey, I will never forget you! You used to discuss the paper loudly on the bus after exams!” Well, I was quite infamous that way!

So  eight years passed by in this fashion. One must note that Cochin buses can be rightly called ‘killer buses’. Traveling on one is an exercise in patience, balance and agility. Most buses are manned by two conductors (who gave out the tickets), one driver and two people who stood on the steps, also known as kili (now, why would anyone call them a bird (kili in Malayalam and Tamizh is bird) is beyond my imagination. The kilis were real exhort’ionists’ who would bang the doors and say ‘Potte, potte’ (Go, go!) so loudly that any driver would develop a killer instinct. Most drivers had two roving eyes, one to keep on the girls sitting on the side ladies’ seat and one, supposedly on the road.

College was mostly bus-free since it was just a 20-minute walk away that I simply loved. And while attending university in Nagpur, I often went by the city bus reserved for the campus. A month after joining my course, a guy came and sat next to me.  Before I could practise my ‘glare effect’ on him, I realised that Maharashtra does not practice gender segregation in buses. When I did not respond to his smile, he just said, “Aap mujhe nahin jaante? Main aapke class mein hoon!” (you don’t know me? I am in your class!). So much for my powers of observation!

I had to again resort to city buses when I started working. Ten kilometres sometimes took an hour or two. This was because there were very few buses to Mattancherry. I don’t know whether the ratio is still 8:1. We’d be forced to wave to our friends in eight Fort Cochin buses before one to Mattancherry came along, overflowing with humanity. And when you went over that part on the old Mattancherry bridge (the one that once up on a time, could be opened up in the middle to let barges pass) and the bus jiggled, you prayed that what hopefully stood between you and the backwaters below would be British ingenuity.

I don’t travel that often in Cochin buses on vacation. My pampered and ageing Muscat heart cannot simply withstand the killer instincts of the drivers. So, I was pleasantly surprised this June, after a photoshoot at Fort Cochin beach to be dropped at the bus-stop by my friend Sivaram. I had wanted to take an auto and Sivaram countered with, “Are you mad to travel 15 km by auto.” And then a shiny Volvo AC bus came along. “Go in this,” he said. I got in and instantly fell in love… Plush seats… the cool AC and no ‘kilis’, just a conductor and a driver. I got into conversation with a couple of Bengali tourists (I showed them the way to Angamaly (near the airport) using Google Maps on our Android phones), saw a foreigner reading Paulo Coelho and best of all, reached home in 25 minutes flat for just 26 rupees.

If this is the changing face of Cochin and its buses, I’m simply lovin’ it!

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24 thoughts on “Nostalgia Series – Of bumpy bus rides and killer buses

  1. No bus rides for me either to school ya college when at kochi…. but always got to witness drivers racing, or honking as fortunately or unfortunately we resided right in that junction (parvana mukku) where buses take a turn towards left for Fort kochi & right for Mattancherry. Recently know of an incident where one of a known contact lost her hubby in an accident with these killer buses while travelling to office in the morning 😦 😦 really saddening…..

  2. Well, Bombay buses were the BEST!!! The suburban transport was too good, any part of the city was connected to another, one way or the other; the bus drivers & conductors were a tribe apart; getting on the bus in Bombay was an art in itself & I learnt it the hard way much later in life when I was a lecturer at a suburban hospital in Juhu. But riding the double decker was an experience, especially the front seats; Route 66 was the cinema route, covering the maximum number of theatres from Rupam at Sion till the last stop at Ballard Pier. I stll love to travel 85 or 90 Ltd from Fountain to my earlier home in Sion & present one at Prabhadevi. & the AC buses have made travel a totally different experience. A joke about the conductors – they had to give a test – pronouncing the bus stop “Glaxo” if they said “Glaxo”, then FAIL, if they said “GLASCO”, then PASS!!!

  3. Good one Rekha. There is a joke regarding the bus stops in EKM. A new comer travelling in the bus saw travellers telling their names and getting tickets. One Zeena, One Saritha, One Laxman, One Menaka, So the traveller gave money to conductor and said One Ananthanarayanan….

    BTW The redline buses are called ‘Red Killers’ and not ‘killer buses’.

    After the introduction of AC VOLVO, Non-AC Volvo and Thirukochi services, the numbers of redlines started decreasing. And sadly the manpower also came down, ie instead of five staffs, now only two (driver and conductor). Poor thing is the conductor has to manage the doors also.

    So keep on blogging with the nostalgic topics.

  4. I could probably ride, I mean write, a few episodes — such was the joy of bus journeys in Delhi. To begin with, I had the distinct (dis)honour of getting ticketed in my first bus ride in the Indian capital.

    I had no idea what the hell was going on, what with the rush, losing my grip as I boarded the bus with my brother — with both of us assuming the other must have bought the ticket — when the checker arrived at a Cannaught stop.

    Soon I was motioned to descend and get into the waiting van. I waited for the checker to pull up the other offenders but soon decided it wasn’t worth belonging to the crowd. So after what seemed like an eternity of half a minute I eased into the milling crowd without being noticed.

    I met my brother later, who did the more honourable thing by quickly buying the ticket at the tail-end before the second checker could close shop from that end.

      1. There was a time when we had government buses, but no longer. Privatate transport rules the roost and it isn’t fun at all. We’re fortunate to have our own, which spares us the “experience”.

        In Delhi, I would have a bus pass which allowed me N number of journeys to and from the given city limit for three months. Of course, we indulged awaaragardi — like bunking a few classes on occasions to go to the theatre. However, in my group, I was the only one who didn’t chase girls!

  5. Good one. As interesting as the names of the bus-stops are the names of these private buses thay ply there. From ” PeePeeKay” to “Costal” to ” Jayalakshmi” to ” St.George’s”, they could carry right from family surnames to that of the great apostles and even that of movie stars. By the way, “Kili” is a shortened and dignified epithet for ” Cleaner”.

  6. “what hopefully stood between you and the backwaters below would be British ingenuity” – Literally laughed out reading this. A well thought out, brilliant piece of humour there.By the way, Kili, I guess is short for cleaner, the guy who is supposed to be washing the bus after the trips, and who is also the apprentice driver-in-waiting.

  7. You seem to be re-living those good old times.. Nothing to beat the carefree days of school, always in the company of friends and simple needs! Am all nostalgic now:) Beautifully written.. Don’t know how i missed reading this!

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