Cars and bikes…

I have been driving in Bangalore for the past 5 years now. When I moved back from the US I took a 6 month break from all driving, to rinse out any nice ways of driving, took off on two-wheelers all that while and then bought a used car to drive. The plan was to use it for 5 years and then look for a new car.

5 years have come, and I don’t intend to sell my car. The usage is so minimal that I don’t really need to change it. There is a temptation to go for an electric one, but again it’s costlier than a petrol car given the cost of battery and my usage. The more you use it the better it works out. In the current market, a petrol car works best if you don’t drive to work everyday.

But my plan is to hopefully sell my car and not own a car after that. Every time I drive, I come back home nerves frayed, after enduring what can only be called traumatic experiences. People constantly cutting in, slow moving vehicles suddenly speeding up without indication just because you might be thinking that since they’re slow you might take a right some 60ft in front of them. How can anyone allow that!

Two-wheelers doing blind turns, or blind lane switches, or just plain scared in some cases and taking over a whole 10 ft side of the road by plonking themselves in the middle and not responding to anything.

And then the signals. Each one at least 2-3 minutes and not guaranteeing a move ahead on green even if you’re 2 rows behind the front. Possible that one car couldn’t get started, usually private and you have to wait it out. And after all this, you fervently hope you don’t have to deal with a traffic jam.

I have tried everything – being stoic, being Zen, playing music and closing windows and trying not to care. Except that the experience of constantly jerking slow for near misses does get to your nerves. It’s like having your reflexes on every moment for an hour or two. We are just not designed for this kind of stress. The only thing that works is to give enough time to get to your destination, but it is mostly the constant reflexive nature of driving that gets to you.

The sad part is it feels so much better to be on the Bullet. I don’t cut people off like other idiots, follow lane discipline, and try to ride the way I want others to when am driving. And it is so much more stress free. Am not sure if it is just the bike experience or the thump of the Bull that helps here, but it is overall a much better experience than driving. Of course, the kind of experiences you usually hate are life threatening when on the bike. A goods vehicle that decides it has had enough waiting and suddenly hurries across the road, or BMTC buses deciding to jump signals, those are always there. Defensive riding helps, and if you’re the one at front your side of the road, you can expect to be cut off by crossing vehicles. The main reflex intensive nature of driving is not there. On the highways though, you have to deal with farmers on Hero Splendours spitting around them, or bikes with rowdies throwing out cigarette butts (not even stubbed), but on bigger highways safe distances can be kept. A lot of temper management is called for here.

I really wish one day I can sell my car off and just manage with the bike. When it rains there are always taxis or autos. Probably manageable. I don’t know. Worth trying some time, but given my usage am already doing it more often!

Can’t say where we are headed this way, every time things get worse we get used to it and move on to the next level of worse. Seems to be our fate.

Oh well, a pointless post, I know. But hey, didn’t want my blog to open with the last one for too long. 🙂

 

The metro commute after 3 weeks

It’s been 3 weeks now of using the Metro for my commute. I resisted writing about it until the dust settles and some routine is established. And a routine is now established. It has been an interesting, and somewhat, tiring 3 weeks. It is not easy going from a sedentary, get in, sit down in a van near home and get out only at work, and vice-versa commute to a lot of walking. It will take some time for the body to get used to this. And it will be good to get all that walking done. There used to be a lot of that before the cab happened, and will take some time getting back to that.

The Metro itself:


This is the best part of the commute. Yes, the trains are crowded. Sometimes you have to stand, but it gets there fast and it isn’t stressful. My brain is still not used to getting to another part of the city that fast on weekdays! By the time you get within 4 kms of home, you’re supposed to have sat through multiple jams, not just breeze like clockwork. It’s just insane!

There are issues though:

  1. The frequency is…odd. For some reason they believe that in Bangalore more people commute between 12 PM and 3 PM, per train, than between 7:30 and 8 AM. They run once every 15 minutes until 8 AM, and every 10 mins after. It’s just…odd. Even though is isn’t technically peak hour when leaving, you do end up in peak hour traffic on Old Madras Road. And makes for very crowded trains in the morning. And if you miss one, the wait is pretty long for the next one.
    Even the evening trains are crowded. They do run trains every 7-8 minutes on weekends, hopefully regular weekday users can also be shown some love.
  2. The stations are somewhat hourglass shaped. To climb up, you start from a bottom side, climb up to the middle regions, then again diverge out and then get back to the centre. Makes for a lot of walking. But when you’re cutting too close to a train, it isn’t easy. But I guess that goes with a 3 tier system.
  3. Trains are massive refrigerators. This is kind of expected. Anyone who’s used BMTC Volvos will know that the only way AC services are deployed here is at high intensity. Who doesn’t like a nice cold box to travel in?

But yes, the frequency apart, rest is just nit-picking from my side. The Metro is the best thing to happen to Bangalore in a long time. And hopefully they’ll fix the frequency issue soon.

BMTC:

There wasn’t much good being expected here, but I was surprised that they seemed to pull up their socks and get some feeder services into play. With BMTC though, you really need to use a service to know how it works. And it’s not that good.

  1. A feeder should be aligned with some timing. If your metro is going to leave at 7:30 AM, ideally you target 7:25 AM so that you drop off people and pick up those who arrive by that train. But no, they run on independent schedules and even end up making you wait close to 15 mins. I almost missed a train because the driver was busy telling the conductor his life story and brought the bus down to a crawl on a road where the rest of the traffic was zipping at 70!
    From Byappanahalli, almost always the bus would’ve left a few minutes back! This means those in the previous train would’ve waited 10 mins for this bus to leave. But the feeders seem aligned at SV road, so that might be the route to take. But strangely, the conductor has to make entries near Byappanahalli. So you get in at SV road, the bus starts. Then stops at BYPL and waits while the conductor sorts out issues with the “entry” making there for some 5 minutes. I just don’t get it.
  2. While going, the biggest problem is the bus stop location. For Attiguppe, the station is exactly between 2 stops. Buses are willing to stop at the 2 different Chandra layout stops set 50m apart but not here. People getting down vs people getting in matters. But some drivers are nice enough to drop off people near the station, most aren’t. I did raise some requests on twitter and on their website. Not sure if anything is being done there. If you’re reading this, and use Attiguppe station, please file requests at mybmtc.com. They can at least have a “Request Stop” there.
  3. Topography of West Bangalore plays its part. Buses are fast on flat terrains. On slopes they either struggle to pull, or they have to keep one leg on the brakes to prevent it getting too much momentum. This means that getting past Chandra Layout which is almost a valley is a bit annoying.

The key is alignment of the two services here. If the train frequency is raised to once every 10 minutes, this wouldn’t rankle as much.

Traffic:

Sadly, traffic still plays a part on my return journey to get to the station. Just this Thursday there was a massive jam to get to KR Puram railway station. This meant that I missed 2 trains and took the 5 PM one, which was crazily crowded. And mind you this was just a traffic jam to cross some 500m. All caused because the timing on the traffic signal was too short. I wanted to get down and walk, but it had rained and the service road near B Narayanapura is now a functional landfill. You don’t want to walk near that!

Oh well, it is an interesting ride home. But if the traffic doesn’t play truant I am usually home in just over 1:30 hours. Considering that I leave by 4 PM, am home soon after 5:30 PM. Mornings am at work by 8:45 AM, no matter which bus I choose. Apparently, the tin factory pileup normalises all traffic. It’s around the same time that all the company cabs get in. I do manage to do a fair bit of reading on the train both ways, so am not complaining. And I don’t have to deal with traffic for the most part.

I did see a guy carrying a foldable cycle. They do allow that. So maybe that’s something to think of? There is ample parking at Mysuru Road station, a surprisingly humongous amount of parking to be honest. That could be another option, but the bigger problems are on the BYPL side, and I really want to be using buses to do the commuting. This can be a backup.

(Got cross-posted here.)

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.

Bangalore in my thoughts

It’s been a hot few weeks. Much hotter than usual. Twitter went berserk once people found that their apps were showing temperatures of 40°C for a city that has been teetering on the edge of 38 for a few years now. Of course, the met refused to bite and said it was only 37°C. Either way, it has been hot. Am sure you’ll agree if you’re in Bangalore and reading this.

I miss the April showers. I remember those years when the Fort High School concerts were headed to with one eye on the weather. An umbrella packed, and the car usually taken early to get parking. This time, the two times I went, I did take the car. The weather app promised rain. The first evening, I saw drops falling all over, but it did not rain. The second evening was plain dry.

There’s a different rhythm to the city now, something that I never associated with Bangalore. Afternoons were lazy, siesta inducing with the odd itinerant hawker pushing his cart and yelling in sing-song, crows doing lethargic crrrraaaaaws, instead of the stronger caws. You slept through whatever heat there was.

And when you woke up it would be post 4 PM when officially the heat would’ve subsided. And you can start your evening game of cricket. I cycled 23 kms, leaving at 4:45 PM, and returned at 6:15 PM. The temperature was close to 35 at the time of my return, drenched in sweat. Read that again. 35°C, at the time of sunset. Maybe we’re just retaining heat.

***

Amidst all this heat, people burned buses and autos demanding that their money be given back. The first day the news was about a huge traffic jam on Hosur Road near Electronic City. “Oh, someone was protesting there”, they said. The next day was more traffic jams all around the city, and “alternate arrangements”. Some months back, there was a traffic jam on Airport Road and “many people missed their flights”. The cause was secondary – farmers protesting. For water.

Sadly, things have reached a stage where we see every event in the city in terms of the traffic chaos it generates. Nothing else matters. “Do whatever you want, just don’t harm the traffic, ok?” They even built a park so that people who want can go there and protest without disrupting traffic.

Somehow, Traffic has become this monster that is subsuming the whole city and taking on its identity. Think Bangalore, think Traffic.
“Hey, there is this marathon being planned in the city”. “Oh, how will the traffic be?!”.

“There’s a jaathre for Ram Navami”. “Oh, Mysore Road will be blocked! Will be chaos.”
It was chaos. One hour to cross 3-4 kms from what I heard. What I did was to not turn up there, to cancel all plans of going that side. But of course, “how dare the traffic come in the way of my weekend at the mall?!”

When you’re always worried about getting home or getting to work in one piece, it is only natural that your biggest fear will take over the identity of the place you live in. And of course, with all these vehicles, and all those trees being cut down everywhere to accommodate these vehicles, and all those black tar roads, what else will you get but the weather to complain about?

We shape our cities based on our fears and insecurities, as much as by our lifestyles. What we have right now, is what we have created ourselves.

The eyes of others…

And once again I sit staring at the ‘Add New Post’ page wondering what to write. The page technically has not fully loaded. So for all you know what am writing now might just vanish. … . Well, it just loaded and the text is still there. In the next tab I opened my blog and that has gone for a toss. WordPress is having a bad day in office looks like. Unfortunately this seems to be an everyday thing. I don’t know whom to blame, the internet connection or WP. Other sites load just fine. So might be just a WP issue. But then, with the much better connection at work, WP is seamless. So I guess it’s a combination of the two. Just doesn’t work too well unless you have blazing multi MB speeds. (The next tab is still loading.)

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I don’t have anything to write. This is a random post just to fill things up. Am counting on what I see as an ability to start with nothing and come up with something by the end of it in some 20-30 minutes and not cause too much boredom. And I’ll try not to do a recap of life. Except some vignettes maybe. (The tab is still loading. A blog I visit on blogspot opened up within the second. I even did a define:vignette and confirmed that it is the right word in this context.)

A few days back I had to drive my parents into the city – all the way into the KG Road, Majestic area – through morning peak hour traffic. It was a cloudy, gloomy day, and as with all cloudy gloomy days the traffic had the extra edge in frayed tempers, after having to deal with more cars everywhere. Near my place there is the new Outer Ring Road which stretches signal-free all the way from near PESIT to Kanteerava Studios, which is a whopping 10 Kms of signal-less 6-lane goodness. Trouble is, to get from one side to the other, you need to follow the service road parallel to the Ring road, turn into the tunnel under the Ring road and then get to the service road on the other side, and this is where the trouble happens. There’s never enough space for four-wheelers to turn at right angles without disrupting traffic on the opposite lane. During peak hours, combine this with the usual lack of discipline and “You’ll get an inch from me over my dead body” mode of driving and it is absolute madness. So we ended up in the madness and waited and waited for the gridlocked traffic to move. Once I was almost into the tunnel to get across, after a long wait, a Tempo-traveler came all the way from the left and wanted to get in – the equivalent of jumping the queue. I blocked him. Unfortunately, a scooter was on my right who wanted to go straight and he couldn’t because I had blocked him. Now I couldn’t move because he was too close to me to be able to turn safely. And he couldn’t go back because an auto was right up his arse. The traffic in the opposite direction was now blocked by the auto and the scooter and the person expected to clear this gridlock was – Me. I wriggled, and wriggled and got the scooter to wriggle. Dad started an angry signaling match with the TT driver as both had AC on and windows up. After a brief struggle I made it through and looked at all the two-wheelers standing and waiting for me to pass as I went by. They looked back at me as I passed through – eyes burning with anger and hatred. The stress accumulated over a period of time negotiating the unruly traffic, waiting for a vent to burst through in the form of rage. I returned the look and made angry gestures as I went by. Dad was screaming it out about the TT driver’s behavior. I wondered what the cost of even scraping another two-wheeler could’ve been, especially with an angry parent on the side. I stopped when I could, had a drink of water, and went my way. Surprisingly the traffic in the rest of the city was mild.

There is a small chapter in Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never let me go’ where a bunch of students in school – whom you realize aren’t normal in some way, but you aren’t yet aware why – accost a woman who visits the school often, but stays aloof of the students. They have this theory that this woman, who is referred to as Madame, is actually afraid of them and they want to prove this theory. So one day, when Madame visits, a group of them turn up on her suddenly and then excuse themselves after registering her reaction:

..she just froze and waited for us to pass by. She didn’t shriek or even let out a gasp. But we were all so keenly tuned in to picking up her response, and that’s probably why it had such an effect on us. As she came to a halt, I glanced quickly at her face – as did the others, I’m sure. And I can still see it now, the shudder she seemed to be suppressing, the real dread that one of us would accidentally brush against her. And though we just kept on walking, we all felt it; it was like we’d walked from the sun right into chilly shade. Ruth had been right; Madame was afraid of us. But she was afraid of us in the same way someone might be afraid of spiders. We hadn’t been ready for that. It had never occurred to us to wonder how we would feel, being seen like that, being the spiders.

…that there are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you – of how you were brought into this world and why – and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it’s a cold moment. It’s like walking past a mirror you’ve walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange.

Seeing silent hatred and rage towards you in the eyes of others is a strange feeling and leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. You read about riots, people killing each other, but those are always read in the comfort and safety of your home and are thus strictly SEP(Somebody Else’s Problem). My hands trembled as I picked up the bottle of water and took a few sips to calm myself down.

The next tab didn’t load eventually and I did a reload. Within a second it’s up. And I have close to 1200 words out of nothing (without making any presumptuous claims on quality). Hopefully this will get uploaded and you’ll be reading this sentence.

Borrowed time

A month back:

The morning traffic was building up. It was still around 7:30 AM. Roads were still being ruled by buses. There were many of them – the red Volvos, white company buses, blue and white tin-boxes, healthier red and blue ones with digital scrolling signage. Two-wheelers had started swaying in and out, but they lacked the numbers to bully the buses and were mainly getting out of the way. The signal had just turned red. I stopped my car by the petrol pump at Udupi Garden on BTM. A siren rang out behind me. I barely had time to turn and see a beige single-door what-once-used-to-be-plush-but-since-neglected Pushpak come at me from behind, weave itself to my right and then back into my lane missing me by inches, and then come to a halt bang in the middle of the junction, objective accomplished – traffic from my left had been disrupted. They had seen a green and started off only for this monster to lie in the path. The hurry was to get there and now he took his time to get across while angry helpless horns blew themselves hoarse, while I sat there all nerves, trembling at the narrow escape and imagining the worst possible what-could-have-been – my car with me inside spinning around after impact with a flying bus, with another bus on my left ready to stop the impact with a crash of metal against metal.

A few weeks later:

I called my colleague from the bus. He had kindly agreed to pick me up from the other campus and give me a lift to the actual place where am supposed to work. I had been sickly and didn’t see myself doing the long walk in my campus from gate to the actual building in the cold. He picked me up promptly from the bus stop and we made our way in his car to our workplace. The U-turn was negotiated and we got off the main road which is Outer-Ring-Road, needing to cross the service road and then to the gate. A siren sounded. Like an approaching train it reached a crescendo. He suddenly braked and we looked left to see a Tata Sumo speeding at 70 kmph on the service road, with no intention of slowing down for the junction, driver’s hands on the horn. We had gotten well into the road and were on his path. He swerved left, using up some space for the main entrance and then came back on the path and sped away, right foot not for a moment coming off the throttle! We said a silent prayer, thanked our stars and went along.

And just a few days back:

St. John’s junction. Morning 8 AM. Traffic not quite anywhere near peak. Me waiting with an angry Innova on one side and an irritable MUV 500 on the other. On bike this time. Main road dug up for the aborted underpass, forced onto the service road. Service road on the opposite side is closed. So everyone has to move slightly right to make it to the main road. Signal still red. A few make it past in the few moments while the vehicles from the opposite side realize it’s their green and start up. Signal eventually turns green. I start off on first gear and move to second immediately. And just like that a blue BMTC monster starts off from the left on its red. My path and his path on a collision course. I slow down just a little bit. A lifeline on my right – a gap. I move to the right. I keep a finger on the horn and keep heading pig-headedly – my green! He seems to speed up. This time my vocals also join in in a frantic attempt to stay alive and to not let him. He slows down just a tad to let me go and I make it past in one piece showing a hand at him for good measure. Biker on my right gives me a WTF look. A moment is all it took to realize that the general opinion was that I had overreacted. Buses jumping signals was no big deal. I was supposed to get on with it.

***

One of the main advantages of traveling in a BMTC Volvo for your everyday commute is that you are at the top of the traffic chain. You are part of the red monster that bullies its way around two-wheelers despite their numbers, other tin-boxes, drunk and weaving private buses and cabs, slow moving sand lorries and even the mafia-controlled water tankers. It gives you a feeling of absolute power, so much so that when they jump signals it feels like the right thing to do. For those who say that being on a Royal Enfield makes you feel like a king, try being on a BMTC Volvo.

The BMTC Volvo is part of and at the top of the Bangalore traffic ecosystem which is often compared to a “Jungle out there”. After numerous outings to the Jungle and seeing how few animals are left, I beg to disagree. It’s a whole different ecosystem – more like our own. And the sad fact is that you live there on borrowed time. Dents from drivers on the phone who didn’t see the red you had stopped for, two-wheelers swerving in to avoid the parked car that suddenly took off and came into your path and claim it’s your fault, to the dangerous buses or Sumos that jump signals even after red. The overbearing feeling is that it’s just a matter of time before you get caught under one.

The stats talk of about 5500 odd accidents per year of which 750 result in death[1]. It’s not hard to imagine why. A signal turing green starts off a cacophony of horns and resembles a flash mob coming together to dance. The odd lady with a dog in tow walks across nonchalantly oblivious to the dancing ‘mob’, except that it’s more of a BMTC bus, truck or Sumo and someone too eager to get across on seeing green could get killed.

Defensive driving helps you to some extent. Always assuming that the guy in front who’s slowing down is going to turn right, or has a phone in hand. Giving more space for autos to do their thing, knowing when they probably are going empty and hence crawling, liberal administering of the horn when overtaking. Assuming that even though you’ve had the right indicator on for the last 50 metres, the biker on a pulsar behind you is still going to overtake you from the right in the narrow gap and letting him do that. Little things, they help maintain sanity and safety. You still leave it to sheer luck. Like when driving on dark roads and blinded by the high beams from the opposite direction, you hope no one is jumping across the median and trying to cross the road, no one is trying to take a U-turn while on the phone or no one has discovered a black hole on the road and stops or swerves into your path or in the worst case, you discover one and stop while a speeding bus or truck behind you, also blinded, doesn’t.

Borrowed time. It’s all borrowed time before the traffic gets you.

[1] Accident stats: Bangalore traffic police webpage.

Out of my way!!!

I drove along at break-neck speed. The stretch of Mysore road near Bapujinagar sees the worst of the bus and lorry traffic with only a single lane on both sides available for buses and lorries to snake through. If you are on a two-wheeler you are either stressed with the narrow space available to you on the left where you have to deal with sudden and rough road edges, or you have a field time weaving in and out between the big vehicles, feeling almost like elves taking on Oliphaunts. From a nervous starter on a bike a month back I can say I strictly belong to the latter category now.

I stayed on the left for the most part, cutting past the buses and lorries while sidestepping the road edges by inches, before maneuvering to the right between a bus and a lorry, inviting angry honks from the cut off lorry. On the right there were more big ones from the opposite side- buses, lorries and tempo travellers trying to beat each other before the bottleneck of Bapujinagar. I stayed a narrow course on 3rd gear, at a steady 30 Kph between the big vehicles on both sides before the traffic from across tried to merge in. The speed went up as I noticed a narrow gap between a bus that was stopping, a Maruti omni that was turning right from the opposite direction and was waiting for me to pass and another lorry behind the bus which I figured would block the auto trying to make a quick left. The calculation was precise and I just made it in a narrow gap before I sped along to take on a bus climbing up the hill, along with scores of other two-wheelers, like a clan of hyenas trying to take down a fleeing elephant separated from its herd.

The bus done, the road widened into a massive 4 lane stretch where there were more vehicles trying to climb up the hill. All of them were raced past before Guddadahalli was passed and the road narrowed again. This is the most treacherous part of Mysore Road where the traffic is also higher and moves along at a weird pace, faster than it normally does for that volume. Buses have stops on the left and tend to swerve left without notice, while on the left, there is a fall of at least a few inches at the edge of the road where you are likely to lose control if caught on the wrong foot.

I sped along. There was only one bus with a lone Activa on its left. I sped up to the bus and tried to take him from the right. The median was too close by. I moved to the left. The Activa had positioned himself right in the middle between the bus and the edge of the road. I honked. It was my right of way and no one was going to deny it. He did not budge. The bus and the Activa were going at the same pace, the Activa barely managing to stay on the road. I let out a long angry honk trying to induce him to speed up and overtake the bus. Still nothing. Forced to reduce speed I fell behind the Activa waiting for the road to widen before I could overtake.

The gear dropped to the 2nd and I felt myself losing it. An angry honk followed. I swore at the man inside my helmet. I kept on with sudden advances at the vehicle. There was nothing to go on. I imagined being next to the guy and kicking his Activa out of the way. These are the ones who are slowing Bangalore traffic. These are the kind of drivers that should be banned. You can only do that much to improve the traffic. The ultimate solution is to eliminate all slow driving. It sounded right.

And then, there was a gap. The man immediately moved to the left giving me way to pass. I sped in and as I passed, turned around to look at the man- the object of my utter fury. It was an elderly man, easily in his 60s. And instead of obstinacy all I could see on his face was a trace of fear. At having to be in such close quarters to an unruly bus with a 6 inch drop on his left.

Without a word, I moved on, ashamed at my own reaction to what eventually amounted to less than a minute’s delay, a gain which would have been wiped out at the next big traffic junction. Moments spent in the bus gazing out at traffic are spent swearing that I’d never be one of those drivers, cutting across, speeding along and whizzing past others at unsafe speeds. And the moment I am on the bike, I realised I was becoming one of them – adding to the insanity in an already insane and unsafe environment.

And where was I in such a hurry to go? I couldn’t even remember the destination. There wasn’t any in particular. What is it that was driving me mad? It definitely wasn’t that I was late for something. Was it just a simple thing that I could not do as I pleased on the road and someone’s slowness was the reason? Or was it just our normal reaction to anyone whom we consider slow?

The last one is sadly our reaction to anyone in every walk of life. The colleague who can’t follow what we are saying and needs to be explained slowly, the man at the ATM who is reading through all instructions and thinking ten times before pressing the next button, or the one who’s at the head of the queue and takes longer than usual because she has a set of ‘dumb’ questions to ask.

Either way, the lesson was learnt, and more than for the sake of others or the traffic I resolved not to end up that way for my own sanity. It’s meant less cutting through unsafely, a lot less honking unless someone is on the phone while driving or crossing the road, (in which case I go closer and give them a long, deliberate one, just for the love of it!) and a lot more patience on the road while respecting others’ choice of speed or driving ability.

But of course, I still swear under my helmet, but mostly at people on the phone, cutting through or trying to make a quick one across the road before the signal…oh well, you know the kind!

The final deal…

So after much iterations over 2 weeks, trying different routes I ended up with the following set of guidelines:
1. Reaching within 1.5 hours on a weekday was next to impossible. If BTM layout won’t get you, the HSR layout flyover construction will. If that also fails, the Bellandur flyover construction will.
2. Given 1, the best way to get to my destination was through the shortest possible paths, bus wise.
3. Given 1 and 2, the shortest route is to take the first available bus towards Kengeri and make my way through the University after bus-swaps and make it to the Nayandahalli junction. From there, take the next bus to work coming from Vijayanagar or a host of other sources.
This meant that if I left at 7:30 in the morning, I would be near the ORR-Mysore junction by 7:50-7:55 and on the bus within a few minutes. The bus still reached around 9:45 or in the extreme best case, by 9:30. This was because of 1. The bottlenecks became bottlenecks pretty early.
4. Given 1, 2 and 3, the only other option was to go the other way around. Cut to KBS(Majestic) and take the Marathahalli bus from there.
This means that everyday I take the normal buses, swapping my way through to Majestic, before taking the Volvo to Marathahalli bridge and a usually very crowded bus from there to work(the last 10 minutes). Majestic can be reached by 8:10 or so and Marathahalli by 9:10-9:15. Buses from there are slower in the morning and I hence am at work by 9:40 after getting down at 9:30. Its a long 10 minutes walk from the bus stop into the tech park. Makes me wonder which nincompoop designed the campus so far inside the ‘campus’!

So far so good. This seems to work for me now. No idea for how long. But will have to do for now.

Return journey:
As per my previous posts, I gave up the route via Banashankari. Considering there is only one bus route with a frequency of one per evening going to my place, the amount of grief and anxiety caused over taking Vijayanagar buses and getting down midway and swapping around in the evening was not worth it. Coupled with all the bottlenecks again, it made for a very long journey. Spending 3-3.5 hours in the bus was definitely a no-go. Or I’d have to leave really early, around 4:30ish. That did not make much sense to me, considering the time I got in.

I now leave at around 5 PM and take the first bus to Marathahalli bridge, and from there there’s 333T which takes me directly home in less than 2 hours, through peak hour traffic! Am usually home before 7:30 PM. I wish I could use this bus every morning, but the late start for the bus, coupled with its terrible punctuality rate makes it a bad option.

That now adds up to around 4.5 hours of travelling on average and 7.5 hours of working. So I leave at just before 7:30 AM and reach home just before 7:30 PM. So far this seems like a workable solution. (I can already see some people jumping around saying how I could possibly consider that workable, but trust me folks!!)

The time in the bus is spent browsing and tweeting with some really good 3G from Airtel, and reading. Morning time is a lot more difficult considering the amount of bus-swapping I tend to do, but evenings are a lot more peaceful. The 2 hours of uninterrupted bus-time is spent reading a book, tweeting, browsing, reading and answering emails, and games. Considering the noise and dust-free experience in the Volvo buses that’s 2 hours of quality time which I’ve started looking forward to everyday now! Mornings I wish I could do something more productive, but I fear risking my eyes reading in moving vehicles too much. Plus watching Bangalore as it wakes up and goes about its day is too compelling! Its interesting watching the two worlds collide – the office-goers hurrying along in formals on bikes and the elderly starting another day in their retired lives with power walks and chats over coffee (I still believe there’s a pensioners’ city hidden inside the hustle and bustle, and one reason I’ll never live in any of the newer BTM layout-Sarjapur type areas).

Thursdays are drive-to-work days considering that I have a meeting at 7:30 in the morning. Works great for me as am in by 7:30 after leaving at 6:45 and can leave by 4:30 and back home by 5:30 (which is usually a projected time, but never happens considering that I travel through Basavanagudi and Gandhi Bazaar, and its hard to pass through without taking a break :))

Worry is, I shouldn’t get too addicted to the long commute. There’s also the factor of spending only 7.5 hours at work! This usually means I try to squeeze as much as possible in those 7.5 hours. No unnecessary browsing during work, no long breaks talking to people, trying to be as efficient as possible. Need to see how long that works.

27 kms in 90 minutes… – II

[Continued from here]
Day 2:
Tuesday morning I decided enough was enough and that I should try the old city route – cut through the city and go to Marathahalli and take another bus from there for the 3-4 stops into the ring road. Considering not much construction was going on in the middle of the city it should be faster. 333T was the magic number for this day and was supposed to leave at 7:45 AM. I realised it might take less than 1.5 hours to reach Marathahalli bridge and then another 15-20 minutes to my workplace.

I reached the stop at 8 AM. I had seen buses coming in that early the previous day so thought it was a good bet. Nothing happened for the next 15 minutes. I figured I might be jinxing these buses by waiting for them and should try to wait for something else while planning to get into some other one. At 8:15 the 600KC came by followed by 333T at almost 8:20. Again a half hour delay for the bus that I was waiting for. I got in resigned to my fate. By 9:05 however he had gone inside the Majestic bus stand and gotten out of it without spending too much time sitting on the horn. Very impressive!

At 9:30 he had crossed Domlur and the huge mesh of flyovers at the Indiranagar-Kormangala road junction with the Old Airport Road. And then it stopped. And I was greeted by the old sea of vehicles stretching into the horizon again. My theory had been that since the airport had shifted out to Devanahalli there’d be much less traffic on the Old Airport Road. The bus moved slowly, gaining inch by inch and when I reached the Manipal hospital junction I saw what the problem was. The huge sea of vehicles were waiting to take a U-turn there. There are at least 3-4 tech park type buildings on the other side of Airport road and the only way anyone can access them coming from Domlur is to go all the way up to Manipal hospital and executing a U-turn there. I so, so, wanted to meet the guy who had planned this. A perfect example of pure bad planning ruining the traffic flow. After that, the next major one was the one at ISRO where the vehicles waited to take a right turn. Nothing much to complain there. But the lack of sensitivity to lane-discipline clearly showed. If people could clear off the left lane which went straight traffic would flow much easier. But then, that’s just wishful thinking.

After that, traffic was a breeze, but by the time I got to Marathahalli Bridge it was 9:55. The next bus journey was uneventful except for being packed into a Volvo with scores of other techies till my stop. I reached work at 10:15. In hindsight, I guess, if only the bus had come 15 minutes earlier, might have made it before 10 considering that the bus could use more of the pre-9 AM traffic flow.

Having not been able to put in much hours the previous day I decided to spend sometime in office. Coupled with a presentation which was to be finished at 4 PM but went on till 5 PM, by the time I got out of my office it was 5:30 PM. The plan was to do the return journey along the same route as the morning. But on getting into the ring road I saw one going to Vijaynagar and was immediately tempted. I got in. One hour later I was still passing through BTM layout with no signs of the traffic speeding up. Eventually by the time I got to BSK 3rd stage it was 7:30 PM. 2 hours to do half of my journey. I got down there and decided to wait for a bus that would go left on Mysore Road or take me home. At some point I got confused about the whole thing and decided to wait for 500KC instead. I guess I felt slightly lucky, no idea why!!

At almost 8 PM when I figured I wasn’t getting anywhere the same Vijaynagar route turned up. I got in putting off worrying about the final journey home later. The problem was, on committing to this route I was depending on just one or two routes to take me home and I had already lost confidence in BMTC’s scheduling and adherence to schedules. Turned out it did not matter. The bus stopped a km away from the Mysore Road, ORR junction at Nayandahalli and I was greeted by the old sea of vehicles. Brilliant!!

The Nayandahalli junction is special in many ways. It is one of the main hotspots for all vehicles going from the west to the south of the city. It is also the place where metro work is going on in full swing. And it also happens to be the place where some grade separator work is going on. I’ll let you imagine the rest.

20 minutes later I realised I was still some way from the junction itself and had managed to move inch by inch to somewhere where I could see the perpendicular traffic. After another 5-10 minutes the bus managed to get past it and promptly turned left at BHEL. I knew I had to make a call here and got down soon at the Chandra Layout junction. On walking around I managed to find an auto who did not bargain with me and agreed to come where I wanted him to without much difficulty.

I reached home at 9 PM finally and was happy to pay the auto guy Rs 50 even though the meter said 40 and he did not ask for more!
I was tired and more than tired, crazy hungry!! Lesson learnt : Leaving at 5:30 would not do. Ever.

Day 3:
Considering my trouble getting the bus I wanted in the morning, I decided to get into the first red Volvo I saw and improvise later. Again, nothing came for 15 minutes. Some severe jinxing going on. At 8:15 I saw a 600KC and got in first thing. At close to 9 I got out after Banashankari and got into a 500-something going to ITPL. Was a quick swap. The traffic wasn’t so much of a killer at BTM layout as before, but then Hosur Road happened and I wondered if I’d ever cross that junction. Then the 2 flyovers and after considerable waiting I reached work at 10:10-10:15 AM. Pretty much similar in timings to the first day, I guess I wasn’t in so much hurry and did not notice the waiting so much.

The return journey began at 4:45 PM and I was strong on my resolve to cut through the city. At 5:00 PM I was in Marathahalli waiting for 333T. There were a lot of Volvos flying by, all of them headed to Majestic. Considering that I’d have to plan the next phase of my journey from there and would have to fall back on 333T I decided to wait for it. At 5:30 PM I forgot all such decisions and got into the next Volvo headed to Majestic. Seating myself there I was still restless and kept looking back and around for the magic number.

At 6:05 PM the bus had reached Viveknagar without any major traffic waiting incident. Looking around I saw the 333T standing right next to my bus. I convinced the driver to open the doors for me and the next moment was knocking on the doors of my magic bus. Getting in I seated myself again, settling in with some documents which I had picked up to read. At 7:20 the bus was at AIT and I was home at 7:30 PM. So 2 hours to get to my place, but almost 3 hours considering the half hour wait.

What I had learnt over the past 3 days was that my problem was not the time for the buses to reach as much as the time I spent at the bus stops waiting for buses that did not turn up. BMTC’s problem was not with the number of buses or routes, but with the old Indian problem of time-sensitivity. Given this, I figured I was left with 2-3 options now.
1. Going to work, neither route worked too well. I had to leave earlier to beat the traffic, but there were no buses so early. Something else had to be done.
2. Returning – If before 5, going via BTM layout and Banashankari made sense. But after 5 I had to cut through the city and that was the better route. What option I would choose and what time I would leave would depend on option 1.

Day 4 and 5 :
On day 4, there was a meeting at 7:30 AM and I figured I would have to ride down. I left at 6:30 and reached work at 7:15 AM. The roads were mostly empty and it was a breeze driving through. Left at 4:30 and reached at 5:45 after a break at Jayanagar to buy stuff. So pretty good! Considering the distance and the amount of vehicles on the roads I realised it wasn’t safe even though effective. And I didn’t want to go the way I went before I went to Australia, with a broken back.

Day 5 being Kannada Sahitya Sammelana I decided not to risk the traffic and stayed at home and worked from there. So that was my week!

I wondered if everyday was going to be an adventure getting to work and figuring things out! But then, there is still a small ray of hope as there is a bus that leaves from my place at 7:30 AM which am hoping will take me to Vijayanagar or at least the Chord road from where I can get the Vijayanagar bus at a time earlier than 8. Might just be able to sneak into work before 9 or 9:30!! Will keep the blog posted on how that goes….

Also, I might just have to start looking for a place at a much saner distance!!

27 kms in 90 minutes…

…and using public transport, and in Bangalore. That’s the equation. My three weeks of pre-joining vacation were spent figuring out how to solve it and involved extensive use of google maps and bmtc’s own website. The result of this was that I came up with one bus route(500KC, a Volvo) which would go from my place all the way to my work place and left at 8 in the morning and there was only one bus per day. Surely something that leaves at 8 in the morning can’t really take that long.

To do a trial run, well almost a trial run, I landed at the bus stop at 8 in the morning to observe buses. After 15 minutes of not seeing a single red coloured Volvo bus I saw 2 hurrying along. They said 333T and 600KC, the former going to ITPL via Majestic and the other to electronic city via silk board. Both going disconcertingly close but not quite there. After waiting till 8:20 AM I returned home believing that my magic bus 500KC was no longer in service and had been canceled and most likely BMTC did not care to remove it from their website. That seemed pretty plausible. With that background, here is how the week unfolded…
Continue reading “27 kms in 90 minutes…”