On a normal day, there’s not much to say about a two-hour bus ride. Unless you’re already late and have less than twenty hours to explore a city of French croissant, Italian pasta, soulful coffee, and sinful chocolate.
In that case, a two-hour bus journey is one hell of a ride.
When it comes to planning and preparing an itinerary, everyone’s an expert. We aren’t any different, my friend and I. We’d planned to leave at 7.30 am, and I even chipped in saying we could leave earlier, too, if we could manage to. By the time we reached the bus stop at 8 am, we’d already missed a few buses that would’ve gotten us to our destination on time. When we, at last, boarded the bus towards Pondicherry, we took a deep breath. It seemed like we had crossed one great barrier: waking up early when the chilly December fog still pressed onto our bedroom windows.
And then came the next barrier: The great Indian problem of over-population and the people’s urge to travel. Squishing ourselves in between giant arms and travelling bags, we got tickets to what we knew would be the final stop of the bus. We had a long way to go and the crowds seemed unwilling to thin out. We stood for a while, jumping up and down to the speed breakers on the road, and dancing to and fro as the bus swerved to avoid potholes.
About a half hour into the ride, we found a seat. Being gracious and accommodating, I offered it to my friend, preferring to stand myself. Most people disapprove when I stand and hold on to a seat handle, but I had always felt comfortable standing. After all, when you’re five feet tall and sitting on a seat that’s your eye-level, you get to see a lot of stuff that you’d rather not. I love staring out the windows, but on an aisle seat, all I see is big butts. And I cannot lie that I don’t mind.
And so, I stood, jerking this way and that and looking at the watch whenever I could risk taking my hand away from the pole that I clung to. The first time I checked, it had been only an hour since we had climbed on. We had another hour and a half to look forward to, and I was looking forward to it less and less.
Meanwhile, my friend sat hugging her and my bags, looking as miserable as I felt. As we lumbered on, the crowd in the bus thinned and thickened from time to time. The scenery, however, grew greener; we were riding deep into villages.
But the more paddy fields we saw, the more skeptical my friend became. Perhaps, she doubted, the driver had taken a detour into all the tiny villages, dropping off and picking up villagers, and would take longer than Google’s fastest route. She checked the map, and sure enough, we were headed into a small unknown area that took us further from our destination. Estimated time was over another hour and a half.
She panicked. I was frustrated. So much so, that I couldn’t even bring myself to swear at the driver. I found a vacant seat by the window, grabbed it, and set to finish reading 1984.
My friend stood up from her seat, a valiant look in her eyes. She had decided to talk to the conductor. A minute later, she came back, a weird look on her face. She opened up Google Maps and checked the route again. We were just 20 minutes away. That was much sooner than we had expected in the first place.
She explained: Our driver had taken a route less travelled, a route that didn’t show on Google Maps. Technology still has a long way to go.
All of a sudden, the journey wasn’t tiring anymore. The roads had become smooth, a few grand old buildings whizzed by, a couple on the bus smiled at me, and soon, a woman showed us where to get off.
We had arrived. On time.