Vantage point

Wednesday, April 30, 2003


He was so glad he got the window seat in the bus. Wondering about the crops that must usually fill these yellow fields during other seasons, he looked around him.

People did not seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere. In fact most of them were absolutely staid. The more he looked at them, the more unsettled he felt about their calmness. Though it was a hot summer afternoon, the silence reminded him of a dark night.

He had expected the bus to be full of people in a hurry to get somewhere. The speed with which it had been hurtling down the Delhi-Jaipur highway certainly made him think so. As he had stood there in the sun waiting for a bus, three hours had passed without any response. It was what people called an "expressway", though it lacked the sophisticated feel of the Mumbai-Pune expressway he had often used. But here too, like there, it was forbidden for vehicles to stop. So he stood there with his bag in his hand, braving the torrid summer heat for three hours.

Then this bus came. It came faster than any of the previous buses that had ignored him. So he had absolutely no expectations of it stopping. But as it sped down the highway at a breakneck speed, it advanced towards him. He took a few steps back and it closed in on him. Then suddenly it stopped. He had been surprised at the sudden halt of the bus. It was almost as if one moment it had been flying at 100 kmph and the next, it was stationary.

He had pulled the door open, and got in. There were only two empty seats in the bus, near the front. He took the window seat. As was his habit he tried to strike a conversation with the people around him, but they did not give him any response. So he looked out of the window and kept thinking about what he planned to do that evening.

As he looked straight ahead, he saw someone standing on the road a distance away. That person was still about half a kilometer from the bus. He heard a slight commotion in the bus. It seems that everyone had noticed that person standing there. Some people started laughing, some started talking loudly and some even started crying. The man sitting behind him grabbed his shirt and hissed "The last seat is going to be filled. The last seat is going to be filled. And it will be the one next to you".

He did not understand the big deal but noticed that the bus had sped up. The driver seemed to be really stepping on it as the bus gained speed very fast. The wind whizzed past his ears making a noise as the bus sped down the highway. He could see the person on the road now. It was a girl. She was waving to the bus frantically hoping it would stop. The bus swerved left and headed straight for her.

There was a combination of yells. He let out a shriek of fright while most others shouted with delight as the bus rammed into the girl at full speed. The sound it made was a combination of a thud and a crunch. The girl's body flew for about 50 metres and landed in a ditch near the road. The bus then slowly ground to a halt. The door opened and he watched dumbstruck as the girl got in with a smile on her face. He looked out of the window, and saw her body still in the ditch. But the bus started moving as the girl sat next to him and smiled. His face was frozen.

"Hi. I am so glad I finally got into a bus." she smiled at him. "So where is this bus going?"

"Where is this bus going?" he echoed. Then he broke down and cried