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Stories. 
The IGNOU Bus
by Dr. Moumita Das
I. The Party

“So what are you having for today’s party in the bus?” asked Jyoti to Monisha one fine morning over the mobile.

Monisha had always interesting things to say about the activities in the bus and the lives of its daily passengers (the passengers liked to call themselves members of the bus). Jyoti had been once a member of the bus and was missing the parties in the bus and also its members.

“Let me see”, replied Monisha, trying to make herself audible over the din in the bus. “Yesterday evening for almost an hour, much deliberation and voting went on in the bus under the supervision of the Chairman, food committee of the bus, Mr. Sharma. Finally, the members decided upon Chhole Bhature, and orders have already been placed to the favorite restaurant over the mobile. The stuff will be picked up on the way and members will eat inside the moving bus”, informed Monisha.

The bus in which Monisha used to travel was no ordinary bus, although the members seemed to be ordinary, simple people. Every morning, on working days, the bus picked up the members, residing some 40 kilometers away, to the office, and every evening, it deposited them safely at their homes. The journey from home to office took about two hours, thereby making the members spend four hours every day together in the bus. In these four hours the members lived a unique life, although connected to their daily life, but at the same time, separated from their daily life. When they were in the bus, they were in tune with themselves, far removed from the influencing factors of their families and professions. The members shared a unique bond with each other--the essence of human bond. Their simple joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, disputes and travails, all found honest expression in the jovial environment of the bus.

The bus traveled all the way from Mukherjee Nagar in north Delhi to Maidan Garhi in south Delhi passing through interesting areas such as Kingsway Camp, Ashok Vihar, Karol Bagh, Chanakyapuri, Moti Bagh, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Saket. The route was dotted with interesting food outlets that served the choicest of food and drink, including street food, and was patronized by the members of the bus.

The members were a diverse group. They comprised professors, lecturers, administrators, and senior and junior staff of IGNOU. There were also a few other members who were not from IGNOU. Needless to say, the temperaments of this diverse group were equally diverse. It is important to mention here that the members were carefully handpicked after a formal interview, conducted by the coordinator Mr. Lal followed by consultations with the veteran members of the bus. Mr. Lal himself was an experienced person, and in a relatively young age of forty, was a great connoisseur of human nature and could smell out the right member for the bus from among the candidates. After all he was the one responsible for maintaining the harmony of the bus for four hours daily, and harmony is a fragile thing. It is interesting to note that the members were selected for their three common traits—sensitivity, an open disposition, and the love for good food. These three traits usually surfaced among the members either simultaneously or disjointedly to give rise to many memorable moments in the bus.

Mr. Lal was a very understanding person who spoke in a high pitch voice. You could not miss it, even in the din of the bus. He had unbound energy, especially in the mornings, and his enthusiasm for life and all things living used to get reflected not only in his soprano voice but also in his endearing, dimpled smile for everyone in the bus. He even smiled at the Mr. Ram, a nice person but often surly-droopy, who used to respond him with an indifferent look. However, there were times when Mr. Lal used to get even with Mr. Ram by vehemently opposing his favorite cricketers. Mr. Ram used to get really irritated with him, much to the amusement of the other members of the bus. The members were always on the lookout for such occasions because this would mean that when Mr. Ram got annoyed, he stopped talking with others in the bus. The others would attempt to make him talk through various appeasement measures. When finally in a day or two Mr. Ram would be appeased and smiled a bit, the sun would seem to come out of the clouds, and it would be a time for much rejoicing….a party in the bus!

Today morning was such an occasion. The Chhole Bhature was decided with resounding majority the previous evening and now it was time to collect it from the food outlet on the way. The outlet dished out some great Chhole Bhature and it had been discovered by the foodies of the bus on a similar previous occasion. The driver duly stopped at the place and the trained members of the bus immediately got down, soon brought back packets of the piping hot stuff, complete with onion salad, pickle, chilies, plastic spoons and paper napkins, and handed over one packet to each member. The bus started on its way towards the destination with the members settling down to their breakfast inside the moving bus. The members had become expert at eating inside the moving bus.

Mr. Amit who usually kept to himself but was behind most of the mischief in the bus, including instigating Mr. Ram from time to time, looked up from his food and between gulps, asked, “what will be occasion for the next party in the bus?”. He added, “it is Mr. Vijay’s birthday two days away”. All this happened while the current party was still in progress.

Now, in the bus, Mr. Vijay was always busy talking to someone or the other on the mobile, over the din of people speaking and loud music blaring on the battered radio, most probably providing people tips and tricks to deal with the various problems in everyday life. Occasionally the signal of his mobile would break as the bus moved, and one could hear his annoyed “helloes”. Mr. Vijay was a person who did not mind celebrating his birthday many times in a year, if people let him alone with his mobile chatting. So he did not object to the celebration of his birthday again and again in the bus and even offered to sponsor it. So, before the members could finish their Chhole Bhature and the coordinator could offer the customary heartfelt thanks to Mr. Ram for making today's party possible, another party was announced in the bus!

The following day Monisha told Jyoti about the next party and Jyoti was ready with the familiar question again.

II. Ipshi

Monisha was worried. Her friend in the bus Ipshi had not been coming in the bus for three days now. She tried calling her on her mobile but it was switched off. Monisha was very close to the beautiful and sensitive Ipshi and most of the time they shared many thoughts, ideas, interests, jokes and philosophies of life sitting together in the bus while they were on their way to the office. Ipshi always used to remember Monisha’s birthday but Monisha was very forgetful and used to miss Ipshi’s birthdays. She used to tell Ipshi, “So what if I have forgotten your birthday. Every day is your birthday till your real birthday comes again next year”. Ipshi used to laugh at that. Monisha used to confide in her about her stressful office work and Ipshi used to tell her about the intelligent antics of her little, four year-old son.

After many attempts at contacting Ipshi, in the evening trip, Monisha finally asked Mr. Lal, who works in the same department as Ipshi, what had happened to her. Mr. Lal somberly replied that Ipshi had lost her father a few days ago and had to go to her native village. Monisha was shocked beyond words. Ipshi used to simply adore her father. She used to tell Monisha during their trips about how hard her father, a school teacher, had struggled to bring up their family of three children. Her parents had been married very young and her father had supported her mother to take up her studies till she did her post graduation. He always had faith in his children and today his efforts had borne fruit and all of them were very well settled with their jobs and families. Her father, a simple but great soul, was indeed a role model to emulate.

Monisha’s heart went out to Ipshi in the hour of her tragic loss. Ipshi was very popular in the bus for her pleasant and friendly disposition. In this hour of her grief, the sympathies of every member were with her. As a mark of grief and solidarity, the parties in the bus were suspended for two weeks till Ipshi returned from her village.

Ipshi boarded the bus after fifteen days and sat in her usual seat, next to Monisha. Condolences started pouring in to her from every member of the bus. Ipshi could no stop her tears as much as she tried to. Monisha waited for her tears to subside. Slowly, Ipshi regained her composure and began to tell Monisha how it happened so suddenly.

A month passed. Everything in the bus had come back to normal, including the parties. Two birthdays and one marriage anniversary had been celebrated in the bus along with another birthday of Mr. Vijay. A few on-the-spot parties were also organized during the evening trips.

One day Ipshi suddenly said to Monisha “You know something. When my little son learnt that his grandfather was no more, he said to me in all his innocent wisdom ‘Mamma, so what if Nanaji is not there, you keep him in your heart like the flame of a candle’.”

Ipshi says that, from that day onwards, whenever she remembers her father, she feels him with her, watching over her, guarding her from all ills. Ipshi’s guardian had become her guardian angel.

III. Mr. Ram's Daughter Goes to the USA

There was a lot of excitement in the bus. Mr. Ram was throwing a party this morning. He was bringing idlis and vadas from a special outlet near to the place he lived. Mr. Ram was a generous person and very highly paid too. Whenever he threw a party, it was straight from his heart. He always made it sure that everyone in the bus had got his or her share and offered some more till everyone had a feeling of fullness, and the memory of the morning party, that lasted the whole day. It was a different matter that the evening trip was spent deciding the occasion and menu of the next party.

It was a happy occasion. Mr. Ram’s daughter had been selected in a University in the USA for higher studies. It was a dream come true for Mr. Ram. Other members of the bus, most of whose children were studying in schools, congratulated and remarked that his daughter was always bright in her studies and won many prizes. Some of the members openly expressed the desire that one day their children might also grow up to be like her and go to the USA. Mr. Ram and his wife had devoted a lot of care for their daughter’s studies and upbringing and this was a proud moment for them.
Precisely at 9 am, the bus found him standing at the bus stop wearing a coat with a tie and expectantly waiting for the bus. Peopled wondered about the tie in the sweltering heat. He was carrying a heavy bag of the idlis and vadas with the three different chutneys-red, green and white in different containers. There was a whoop of delight in the bus at the sight of him. Actually, it was the food that brought out the whoop. The members had not taken their breakfast and were starving.

The active members rushed out to snatch the bag out of Mr. Ram’s hands and soon he was relieved of his load. They settled in the bus and the chore of distribution was handed over to the ladies who did an efficient job of it. Mr. Lal also pitched in, as he too was efficient in spooning out the chutneys into the paper plates. The swaying of the bus did not make things better. There was the danger of spilling and the first casualty was Mr. Ram’s tie. People rushed in from all sides to help him and there arose the danger of his tie being snatched away. So he removed it and put it in his bag, which contained many things. Mr. Ram had the habit of putting away everything in his bag, including unpacked food, such as laddoos and jalebis. As a result one-day ants had got into his bag and got all over him. Mr. Amit had to almost beat him up to save him from the ants crawling all over his body.

Finally, the distribution was over and people settled down to eating. The party over, a formal vote of thanks by Mr. Lal was given to Mr. Ram, as was the custom of the bus, for arranging the food and supervising the distribution of food so lovingly, and good luck was wished for his daughter’s future.

Slowly the noises in the bus fell silent and only the strains of the latest film song could be heard from the battered radio as the bus rushed towards its destination.    

Image under license with Gettyimages.com

4-May-2008
 
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