Khaki fears

One of the perks of studying in a school close to home is that you can just walk down to it. And one of the perks of living in Chamarajpet was that you could walk down to pretty much everything. And then we moved to “faraway” Srinagar. Srinagar, so far away that there were snakes on the street, where jackals were said to howl on the banks of the Vrishabhavati that flowed behind the house. Never mind that it is only 5-6 kms from the railway station and only 2 kms from Gandhi Bazaar. When you have to walk 0.75 km to get to a bus stop and sit in a (black board) bus to get anywhere, you used to think you were living far away.

I was in the 9th Standard when we moved to Srinagar. For the next 1.5 years I used buses and autos to commute to school. And that was my initiation to the world of BMTC. And it wasn’t pretty. Buses hated students. Schools all leave at around the same time. Between 4 and 4:15 PM bus stops got crowded out by students of different schools. Drivers and conductors hated that crowd. Students come with passes and are not ticket-buying. And most annoyingly, for them, students come with huge bags dangling from their backs making it difficult for them to move around. A close friend was punched in the eye by a bus conductor and had to get admitted to Narayana Nethralaya. His father duly approached the media, and the next day we woke up to our friend’s face, swollen eye and all, gracing the City pages. The conductor was suspended, “pending inquiry”, and silently reinstated later I guess.

We were scolded, cursed, called names, pushed around – basically bullied every day as we tried to catch buses that didn’t want to be caught, sometimes waiting at traffic signals before the stop and jumping into moving buses. Buses didn’t have doors those days. We had to hang onto footboards in crowded buses.

You learned to fear the driver and the conductor, trying not to earn their attention in the first place. The only defence was friends. You learned to negotiate buses with friends, to not really care for the crew too much. The mark they left turned up much later.

As an adult you enter a bus with the same fear. You learn to be defensive when the conductor shouts in your face to go to the back even though your stop is next. You have your moments when the bus gets stopped at random places for the conductor to finish issuing tickets before a stage, and you speak out. Sometimes a few more join in. Most times, you are on your own, everyone else having fought their battles, lost and silenced to suffer.

You learn to also be careful with the staff. I once chased a 500K from Bellandur to Silk Board in a 500C after he refused to stop at the stop I was waiting at. The standard approach is to hide behind another bus while approaching the stop, overtake and scoot as the bus in front slows down. I caught the bus at Silk board, and in a moment of anger started raging at him. What are your names, I asked them, having been encouraged by BMTC’s site to complain there. “I’m Ramesh and he’s Umesh” said the conductor and laughed. As I was getting down he warned me that he knew how to keep track of people’s stops, so I better be careful with him. I have never been happier to permanently leave buses.

Having said that, most of my problems with buses have happened on the ORR side. West Bangalore has generally been peaceful for me with buses for some reason, maybe the lack of competition, and lack of Volvos makes like easier for them too. Also, there are a lot more women conductors this side of the city for some reason. I am yet to meet a badly behaved woman conductor.

And when you think Khaki, there’s the next version – Autos. I know friends who swear by them, and also friends who just can’t deal with them. I’ve oscillated regularly between the two. For every auto driver who accepted what I had when I ran out of change (surprisingly common post Nov 2016), I’ve had auto-drivers with parents in hospitals, whose meters are broken down with no money to repair, who believe that the rate per km is Rs. 26.  But the toughest part is always the negotiation. There have been those who asked for 20 more, but “seemed to agree” to a smaller rate, only to bring it up as you are paying the fare. Once you get past that, and having sent some of them on their way, you can usually have a peaceful ride. Being an adult helps here a lot. The West of the city also has a lot more autos that run on meter. Days when I used to take them regularly to get to the bus stop, some dude would not turn on the meter. When asked, he’d quote the standard meter rate and add “I’ve dropped you so many times, saar.”

The coming of the Metro meant that I could easily jettison all the khaki dealings and have a peaceful ride. Only to be confronted by them right from the point you enter the station. Have your body and bag scanned, and if the scanning machine is broken, open your bag and subject it to wider scrutiny. I was even asked to open a box of tea-bags at the station. “Illa!” I insisted. He didn’t press the issue, as he didn’t speak Kannada, and I refused to answer in Hindi. Of course, when in a hurry, I have smuggled the bag in without scanning multiple times. Wonder what we are protecting by inconveniencing people so much!

And then you hit the escalators. Depending on station, you might have a security guard shouting at you for walking up the escalators, never mind that most of the time people like to stand next to each other, block the path and even scream at those who rush past. You enter the platform, and the guards look at everyone as if they’re out to either walk around the platform or jump in front of the train. “swalpa hinde banni”, ” illi ninthokolangilla!”, “alli hogangilla!”, “photo thogalangilla!”. There are no rules as such, but hey, I can make them up and you are bound to follow. The train arrives, the doors open, and the guards go into a frenzy of orders – “horage barorige jaaga kodi!!”( leave space for those exiting, I admit, needed with our kind of etiquette), “olage hogi” and a version of “munde hogi” directed to those standing inside. Probably the only peaceful thing you can do in a metro station is exit it. No one gives a shit.

I am not even going to talk about the epitome of Khaki – the Police. There are almost never good experiences. Almost every transaction has meant a constable asking how much I earn to know how much to ask as bribe. There’s one here detailed.

The gist is basically this: If you’re going to use your own vehicle to get around, you’re going to get pissed and stressed out by those like you. If you’re going to use public transport of any kind, you’re going to get pissed and stressed out by someone in Khaki. Getting around is stressful, no matter how you want to! We just cannot communicate smoothly and make life easier for ourselves. It shows in the way we drive. And this paragraph is becoming too big for a gist.

I’ll end this with this song of Kamalagasan playing the mythical benevolent bus conductor. Also a piece of Bangalore nostalgia. Wonder why they don’t have his photos all over buses like Shankar Nag(who did the equivalent for autos) on autos, eh?

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Bye, bye BMTC!

It has been 2 years since the Metro was launched between Mysore Road and Byappanahalli. Since the day it opened, it has been my main transport to get to work. So much so that I can’t think of any other way of commuting to work! The issue since then has always been the last mile, the last 6K from the station to the office. I decided to go with BMTC and the results have been mixed.

On mornings, it would take anywhere between 20 mins and 45 mins for that distance, not considering traffic. Evenings, anywhere from 25 mins to 1 hour considering traffic. Mornings, I was mostly down to using one bus, and evenings I had to switch once. None of my colleagues who use the metro chose this option. There is a campus feeder that runs every 20-30 minutes and takes a lot less time between the destinations. I am not a fan of waiting for a feeder and being restricted to its timings. But I realised I was doing pretty much the same with the buses. Once I ditched using BMTC to get to the metro station from home, parking my vehicle there, I was mostly consistent with what time I was reaching BYPL. This made the argument moot. Continue reading “Bye, bye BMTC!”

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.

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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.