The Fastest Masala Puri Ever

The 4:36 PM Metro drops me off at Attiguppe at exactly 5:06 PM. I make the long walk of close to half a kilometre to the Income Tax Layout Bus stop. Buses pass under the station, but BMTC is strict about not stopping for metro users. Lots of people waiting at the IT layout stop. It’s always for buses that go as far as Nagarabhavi Circle. There’s one every 15 minutes approx. It can be better, but BMTC prefers the Moodalapalya route, where the roads are narrow and buses move like bogies of a train.

A Pani puri vendor has his cart near the bus stop. It’s a bigger cart than the usual, and he attracts a fair trickle of customers, even as early as 5 PM. Most ask for ‘parcel’ and take it away, to be eaten in the comfort of home, instead of by the street. I watch him, keeping one eye on the turning from West of Chord Road for any incoming buses. One question on my mind, every time:

Given foresight of an arriving bus, what’s the minimum time needed to order, prepare, pay for and eat a Masala puri without missing said bus? Continue reading “The Fastest Masala Puri Ever”

The assured passage home!

I quit the cab a few days back. All it needed was an announcement from BMRC about the Metro UG line opening. The rest in the cab who’d been claiming about moving to the Metro are taking a wait-and-watch approach. Might be the sensible thing to do, to slowly offload from a reliable cab into ‘unreliable’ public transport.

The issue is what even I am worried about – connectivity from my workplace to the Byappanahalli station. It is all of 5 Kms, but can take close to 30 minutes or even more on bad days. And it would take 2 buses. It is the latter that has people worried all over.

The commute that I am likely to see looks somewhat like this.

Mornings -> Take bus to Attiguppe. This can be 1 bus or 2 buses. This can take 15 minutes from my place or 20. Take Metro to Byappanahalli. This should take around 30 minutes. Take bus from there to Tin Factory. This is the unreliable part. Bus frequency to Hoskote side via the Hanging Bridge is pretty good. So this might just work out fine. Take 500D from Tin Factory to work. This can take some time. But it is reliable, and comfortable too. I can get to work by 30 minutes from the Metro stationis what am guessing. Overall should be doable in 1:30 hours, max 1:45 hours.

Evenings -> For the return, it should be somewhat easier. The most unreliable part is the 500D to Tin Factory. Mostly in terms of time. But I can read during this part. And I don’t expect to be in too much of a hurry to rush home, considering that I plan to leave by 4:15 PM. There are usually buses hanging out at Tin Factory heading towards the City that I can get in for the last 1.5 Kms to the station. From Attiguppe, there are C4s, K4s and 238VBs. So am not too worried about this last part. I do come with a lot of experience with public transport closer to home, remember. Overall, again, expect to have an average commute time between 1:15 and 1:45 hours.

But the key thing is not the time. I can READ. Reading means something significant. That I won’t reach home with a headache. This matters a lot more than one can think of. Days when there is a bit more work to finish off, I can get them done at home. Days when there are night meetings, I won’t have just arrived at home after a stressful commute.

And also, I’ll be passing over MG Road. I can get off, visit Blossom’s, exchange books, and get home. On stressful days, even grab a beer somewhere there – I can loiter on the way home and still be assured of a commute home. Remember the days of 500k? You miss one, you never know when or even whether the next one will be!

The Metro mainly gives me this – the reassurance of a guaranteed passage home. Only someone who’s used BMTC for long will understand the significance of that.

The end of BMTC woes

First up, let me confess that I am not a fan or supporter of individual company transport. Ideally, I’d like everyone to use mass transit. But still, compared to 1000s of employees arriving in their own cars, it is a much better option. But the main mass transit option in Bangalore is BMTC. At least for now.

So for 4 years I struggled through BMTC, steadfastly refusing to drive or ride to work except on days where there would be early morning meetings. It provided me material a lot of blog posts to write, and even helped me contribute to citizenmatters. I could write surprisingly authoritatively on public transport when using it, as compared to being someone sitting in an ivory tower in California or Singapore, or even Bangalore, and making lofty comments on what needs to be done there.

I even got a lot of time to read comfortably in the Volvoes. I could get through book counts of more than 40 each year mainly thanks to being able to read in buses during my commute.

Having said that, the last few months, at least the ones this year, have been nothing short of hell. I had to move to using trains to get to work in the morning. The evening commute remained a pain point.

  1. Buses are increasingly prone to breakdowns. Have noticed a lot more this year as against the last. It has almost become a hobby counting the number of broken down buses seen each day. And yes, sometimes you end up in a bus that is moving really slow, or is smelling like something is burning. My morning one even has a message beeping on the driver’s console “Brake system failure!”. Scary eh?
  2. They just aren’t there anymore. There used to be buses towards my area in the evenings from Majestic. Those still exist on paper, but I haven’t seen one in a long long time. I tried multiple options, but they are all, there today, not there tomorrow.
  3. Trouble getting them going. Most of the buses on the Outer Ring Road are sticky with some bus stops. They just stop at intermediate stops and refuse to move. They wait and wait for people to get in, almost like a ‘share auto’. Usually some shouting from the passengers helps. But many of these passengers are those that benefit from the waiting bus. The odd thing is that these are high-frequency buses. As it waits, you can see some other buses of the same number stopping for a few seconds and moving on. The trouble is always in knowing whether you’re in a slow-haul or a fast haul bus. I usually skip buses if that’s the case, but it is an added stressor.
  4. No 500Ks. The last one gets past Marathahalli bridge before 4 PM. There are 2 of these buses that get through in a window of 5-10 minutes. The next one is an hour later. Considering that these buses used to be once every 15 minutes back in 2011, it has been a struggle the past 3 years after those glory days. Sometimes have spent close to an hour waiting for just the one bus to turn up.
  5. Deve Gowda Petrol Pump – Now, they cut down the majestic rain trees around this junction and are planning to build a flyover. And, (surprise!) it has been delayed, like every one of the “infrastructure” projects in Bangalore. So after 6 months of activity, there are 2 pillars that have come up and another 3 still coming up due to some activity the past few weeks. This has meant at least a 20 minute increase in my commute, just waiting to cross the junction. And considering that there are no 500Ks, am on normal buses and the dust and the sweat gets to you while waiting those 30 minutes to get past the signal.

All this has meant that the stress of getting home is just humongous. I reach office between 9:30 AM and 10 AM depending on the moods of the trains. And I have to leave by 4 PM to reach around 6:15-6:30 PM or risk getting stuck somewhere in traffic and reaching home closer to 8 PM. There are also meetings in the night sometimes.

It comes as manna that the company finally decided to come up with some transport. It is in the form of Tempo-Travellers. Am not too enthused about that, I don’t know if I’ll even be able to read comfortably in them. They aren’t as comfortable as the Volvos when it comes to reading is my guess, considering the state of Bangalore roads and the humps that need to be covered. But it needs to be seen.

Either way, real Nirvana will be when the Metro becomes operational. Can then take it from West of Chord Road to Byappanahalli or to the City Railway station and switch to a train there. The return would be more peaceful than any road-based modes of transport. More than anything, it offers the flexibility of leaving office whenever I want. But that’s still quite a few months away. There is hope as they started trials for the Magadi Road-Mysore Road stretch, and the trial train was pulled along the UG. Now if they can start the trials on UG section soon, that will be cause to celebrate.

Simpler solutions…

BMTC raised fares of Volvo tickets and passes sometime around mid-Feb. Usually they clear out the older stock of bus passes before the ones with the newer rates start appearing the next month or so. So on Feb 27th I got my pass from the conductor paying Rs. 1800 for what used to cost Rs. 1650. The pass also said Rs. 1650 and for a second I was wondering if the conductor had conned me. But no one else who bought monthly passes was complaining so I let it be.

Two days later March 1st came along and the morning commute was nice and pleasant with its BTM layout crawl. The evening though, the conductor took a deeper look at my pass and said that the pass says Rs. 1650 while the rates have been changed. So began an argument with me saying that I did pay 1800 while I only got this. He did ask the perfectly valid question as to why I accepted a pass which says 1650 and should’ve asked the conductor about it. Turns out March’s passes would have a sticker on top which says “Revised to Rs. 1800” and a signature below. After much arguing, he noted down my pass number, called up his depot and found it valid. He asked me to get down at Kamakya and get a sticker pasted there.

Kamakya came, I went to the depot and described the strange problem. “Which conductor was it?” they asked. “The lambu guy” I said – well he was close to 6’4” or 6’5”. “He’s from another depot” one guy said. OK? Technically one organization you’d presume? But there was a simpler solution – “Ask him in the bus tomorrow, he’s in the same one that leaves at 7:20 AM from the start”. Sounds cool, except that ‘tomorrow’ was a Saturday and I wasn’t keen on waiting at a bus stop that morning for a sticker!

I figured that he’s the conductor on Monday mornings too. (AM freakishly disciplined about the bus I take. So days I commute am at the bus stop at 7:25 AM waiting for this bus to arrive. It takes 5-10 minutes to get from start to my stop.) So Monday morning came and came along the conductor. At first there was denial – “I did not issue this pass”. Then there was some validation with some sheet with the pass number – “Why didn’t you ask then itself?”. Then there were solutions – “Give this pass to me when getting down and take it back on Wednesday.” and the look I gave him got this out “Or can you come to the depot at 11:30 AM or so today?” to finally “Leave the pass with me when getting down. I’ll give you my number. Come by the same stop around 11:45 AM and I’ll give you the pass with a sticker.” I resigned myself to that and the rest of the journey went along quietly.

But then, as they say, you’ll never know what’s possible until you ask. So just before getting down I asked. “Can I just take a printout of the sticker and stick it myself?”. “You can do that?” he asked. “Yes, just let me take a pic of the actual sticker.” He gave me the roll of passes to take a picture!

Back in office, I looked it up, decided on the font, (it was the basic “Times New Roman”), sizes, tried them out on multiple text boxes and printed it out, and chose the one most identical. Did a signature as in the photo, took a photocopy to match the actual one and stuck it.

The main presumption was that, every month they need to look up the notch and whether it is on the right month. This month, the sticker would be the distinguisher for quick looks. Has sticker? March pass only. So having a white sheet stuck would get through around 99% of conductors. No one would do a signature or paper material analysis. Not a soul has given it a second look yet.


Not for nothing is Occam’s Razor revered!

Something stolen…

It’s been an interesting year so far. More lows than ups. Or maybe, to be fair, more lows than previous years. The ups have been there alright. The last few months especially have exposed me to a new kind of experience, of stuff being stolen. Not exactly new, have been used to it in school and college, but those were different. Probably didn’t rankle as much.

It started a couple of months back. Lazy September afternoon. After laundry, parents had taken over and put it out to dry in the ground floor clothesline. Around afternoon it was put back after a brief fear of rains. After my parents had their nap, around 4 PM, we looked out and a sweater and pair of jeans were gone. I looked around for it having fallen off, but it was clearly stolen. Living in a silent residential area means that around noon there is hardly any people movement around. A good time to perch yourself on a one inch projection where compound wall meets foundation, squeeze your hand through the grill and squeeze a couple of clothes out. The gap between the all-round grill is barely 4″ X 4″.

The sweater was a normal diamond patterned one. Not something I wore much and had put out to wash only so that I could show it more favour. The jeans hurt. I barely have 4-5 pairs of jeans and am extremely choosy about jeans. I don’t have any other trousers, working in a product company. Have never had more than that, and believe in an out-flow in-flow approach. You stop using or lose a pair to age or girth, you buy a new one. This one was a Levi’s 501 I had picked up in the US on a sale. Even there the sale was barely 4$ out of 48$, costing around Rs. 2.5K. They cost well above 3K in India and never come on any sale here. It hurt. The effort to choose it and having come on sale, all that. I still haven’t been able to replace it and probably won’t for a while.

The next one happened a day back. Evening commute. 500K Volvo. Crowded bus. I get in as there are no other options. Colleague with me, so didn’t wear earphones, talking to him. Someone gets in at Agara and stands close to me. Apparently been running, so stinking of sweat. Me and colleague both turn our heads away from him. Next stop, HSR layout, he gets down. Next stop, Silk board, I realize my phone is gone. Just like that, it was gone! That was all there was to it – one moment yours, next moment someone else’s.

Had to spend the rest of the day asking people to keep an eye on whatsapp if he manages to get in etc. I did the usual – blocked outgoing calls, set it up to be wiped if he went online. I had a passcode so he wouldn’t have got in. But then, you don’t steal a Rs 35K phone just to look at someone’s personal data. Thankfully my contacts info etc had been backed up. All I need to do on buying a new phone is to restore from there and go back to where I was.

Now am limping back to some degree of normalcy. A duplicate sim has been got, the old dumb-phone dusted out and recharged. But it still hurts. Getting used to living without a smartphone again is not easy. Every time I see the charger cable or reach out for the phone subconsciously to check mail, twitter or whatsapp, it hurts. So much taken for granted, gone poof. Just like that. Stolen.

It’s not a pleasant feeling. Something that you had, something that you got after much coveting, all of a sudden taken away by someone. It’s plain unfair! A less mature time and I would have cursed “May it bring him bad luck and destroy him completely – Naashama pogattum!”. What do you do now? Suck it up and move on I guess. Guess I have also been helped by friends who have given a saner perspective. “Sorry about that. But what’s the next phone? :)” they ask. In the end that’s all there is to it. Yes, it cost a lot of money. But monetary losses are stuff which you go through all the time, along with sudden windfalls which balance them out. As certain as death and taxes.

But I will have to get another smartphone – I need it for the long commute. There’s a lot of reading that I get done during that time, makes the long commute productive. Plus the music. Might just have to be more careful in future. Plug in the music all the time inside the bus. If with colleagues or friends, still keep the earphones on. Phones being stolen on BMTC buses is not an uncommon occurrence. They get stolen all the time. Just need to keep an eye out.

My colleague told me about his manager’s story. He caught a thief trying to flick his phone in a crowded BMTC bus and slapped him around. The rest looked on curiously. Thief got down at next stop and walked away, to try his luck in another bus. The rewards clearly outweigh the risks. All you can do is be more careful, to the point of being paranoid, especially when standing in crowded buses. Especially Volvos.

BMTC strike: We are the losers…as always

It was supposed to happen some months back, around end of April 2012 and then they postponed it saying that the Govt has agreed to look into their issues. The main issue was that the union wanted a say in the salary hikes for the employees. The Govt agreed to involve them in the discussions. Five months on, hikes were done without involving the unions and they decided to go on the strike which people are suffering from now.

Main trouble is, this can go on indefinitely as the only people who really care about people being affected are not to be seen. Apparently the minister R Ashoka did not turn up for the first round of negotiations and the union also rejected everything the Govt came up with. With the minister not involved, it only means that whoever is negotiating does not have any backing from the top honchos and has limited power to offer anything. No wonder the talks failed. The traffic police, to some extent even BESCOM and some private travels are helping people out by running services, but you just can’t replicate the BMTC with its, even though decreased, fleet of services. Imagine having to hitchhike to work with no idea how to get through the next leg of the journey. With distances to workplace increasing, this is going to be a complete nightmare. Also note that many schools and even tech-parks use BMTC services on a contract basis to ferry their employees. These are also going to be affected.

Now, with the increase in diesel rates, the KSRTC/BMTC will be hard-pressed to get the unions to toe their line. They might even succeed- all they need to do is wait for a week. Let the common man suffer, the striking workers will soon have to start thinking of their families and will have to come back to work. They might accept a compromise formula which will give them maybe 30-40% or, if lucky, 50% of their demands and get back to work. The press will be told that a compromise formula was reached, so that both parties are winners and everyone’s face is saved. All can celebrate.
Continue reading “BMTC strike: We are the losers…as always”

The bus home…

I stood there at the bus stop, the comfy Volvo having mercifully ejected me out with dodgy knees suffering from the lack of space and the driver’s penchant for speeding not seeing fruition due to errant drivers on the roads despite repeated attempts. The timing was not great. I had to wait for another Volvo, which I had to bring to a stop by dancing in front of the bus, hoping to catch his eye or turn into roadkill. The conductor would welcome me with a “In all my years of service (and there are many mind you) I’ve never seen anyone get into the bus at this stop” look. But then, there would also be the Atal service, something that still amazes me as probably the only transport service bearing the name of a Non-congress Non-Nehru-family person, barring TN of course, and maybe Gujarat. Or Rajasthan. In Karnataka, OK.

But the timing this time was bad, I realized after 10 minutes of waiting. It wasn’t a great spot to wait, with people nearby going “thoo..thoo” like there’s no tomorrow. I saw a ramshackle bus coming in, one of the older ones where we are not at the bus driver’s mercy to get out or in and driven by drivers who want to enforce their mercy against that. It was a normal blue bus with a number 238 followed by some random alphabet(which looked like P). They all go to AIT I thought and got in. The plan was to get down there and then wait for anything that runs perpendicular after doing a life-risking crossing of the road.

The lady conductor looked around with half closed, totally bored and uninterested eyes and waved me off when I said “Pass” and showed it up for her to see. I stopped trying to do a US cop thing by just waving it with a seriously indifferent look while making my way meaningfully to a seat, a long time back! Most of the attempts got stymied by their insistence on a closer examination and a demand to see the ID card which would lead to a mad scramble in the bag balancing in a speeding and jerking Volvo. So not Cool!

I found a seat where I could peep backwards to keep an eye out for passing Volvos or Atal services. At AIT, I was spat out along with all others and ran across the road, with a dozen vehicles honking and threatening to kill me the next time our paths crossed! This bus stood there, waiting in the signal while I waited in the perpendicular direction for the next bus. I expected this bus to take a U-turn. After a long wait of more than a minute, waiting for the green, while no vehicles seemed to be interested in taking the green in other directions, this one moved. Instead of the U, it did a clean right and went along the direction home!

Ah 238P, now I remembered! This one goes as close to home as possible! A bus came, after a few minutes, barely taking me in, and squeezing me out at my stop, brimming and overflowing with people. So much for memory…