A moo point, basically …

Arbit/ Random


with 2 comments

1. This post was supposed to have been published when the BEST buses (the local bus transport system of Mumbai) radicalized its fare structure, but I ended up procrastinating.

2. Then, this post was supposed to have been published on the day of the ‘3-day’ autorickshaw strike in Mumbai (which unfairly got over in 1/8th time), but by the time I got around to posting this post, the strike was long over and forgotten.

3. All characters mentioned in this post are fictional unless they’re obviously non-fictional. The opposite is true for all facts – true unless obviously untrue.

Called BEST because it was Bombay’s Electric Supply and Travel Undertaking, the f//www.flickr.com/photos/15654600@N06/2307011558ull form has been juggled around quite liberally to persist with the acronym – Bombay thus became Brihanmumbai (Greater Bombay). The Electric Supply part is still maintained (for nostalgia I guess) although Reliance Energy now has the responsibility of keeping Mumbai from darkness. Travel, though, is still spot on.

It is generally observed that there are two categories of people in Mumbai –

1. People who hate the buses and who find them painful, time-consuming, extremely frustrating and sweat inducing beasts whose sole aim in life is to prey on unsuspecting pedestrians or smaller vehicles (especially autorickshaws).

2. People who don’t hate the buses although they find them painful, time-consuming, extremely frustrating … etc. 

Most people in Category 1 are ‘outsiders’- rather, most ‘outsiders’ end up in Category 1. Note that I do not say this in a derogatory/ accusatory/ inflammatory/ Raj-Thacky manner – it is understandably hard for people to suddenly reconcile with the ‘horrors’ of bus travel. I, though, belong to the second category of people, I’m an Insider, a man on the inside, the son of the soil, boy of Konkan, a true native and all that which fills me with a lot of irrational pride – I still sometimes suggest bus travel as an alternate mode for getting from point A to point B and raise quite a few eyebrows in the process.

Given my obvious affinity for this oh-so-obvious sign of non-affluence (“Colon ‘O’! You rode in *gasp* a bus to office! *roll eyes* how cheap are you?”), it is quite natural that I should personally know a few bus conductors/ drivers. Unnaturally enough, I personally know only one bus driver. This fellow used to work in my dad’s office more than a decade ago, and I happened to chat up with him some time back.

Excerpts from a conversation with this fellow, hereby referred to as Fellow –

Me: Why this general derision for buses?

Fellow: Bilaadi snooty Mumbai people

(F is prone to using a lot of foul words which have been changed on request. Must say that his style of uttering vernacular word-barbs is quite spectacular. Some of his words can be found here, although I urge you to not spew these at random people on the street, especially those wearing orange bandanas and chanting “Marathi manoos jaaga ho” i.e. awaken, O Native of Maharashtra!)

M: Why the general disdain for all people outside the bus- people on the road, in the car, on pavements, everywhere?

F: Bilaadi snobs these Mumbai people. Not having any chendu to stand their ground and face only.

M: Huh?

F: (With a glazed look in his eyes) Yeah.

M: Glad we got that out of the way. Now, how about telling me how great BEST actually is?

F: Not yet. First, I should mention how thankless our job is. Everyone gives us infinite traas! People – for running them over; Passengers – for not waiting for them to get on/get down, or when we pain them into giving us exact change. This is a bit unfair, given that our motto always has been ‘Krupya Soote Paise dyaa’ (Please to be giving exact change). This and ‘Thou shalt aspire to drive a Ferrari’ being the two founding ideas on which our Bus-chalak Mazdoor Union was built. On top of this, our Bosses –  paining us into completing a requisite quota of passengers serviced …

M: … (interrupting) Oh ok, so that’s why you’re all grumpy and yet willing to wait for people running behind buses with arms flailing like wild chicken?

F: (With a stare that can preempt the imminent Polar Cap meltdown) … Please, do not interrupt my mousum (flow). The last time someone interrupted my mousum, I almost ran him over.

M: Thousand apologies. Please continue.

F: I am not one to crib though. All I will say is we have enough trouble. More than enough, actually. But still, I do not envy my conductor one bit. Just imagine – he has to dispense the correct fare for all possible stop combinations, ask people to give him ‘chhutta paisa‘ (correct change), yell at people to move forward – “Aage badho, idhar khadha mat raho” … Move your sorry a$$es ya’all – and at the same time not forgetting to ring the bell at every bus stop.

M: (Seizing the moment) And how ironic that when he is polite and good, he is susceptible to getting electrocuted! Ha! (Seeing the blank stare, proceeds somewhat disappointed) …  Surely getting to ring the bell so often must make it worth the trouble endured? It sure made my day quite a few times!

F: . . . *fingers drumming*

M: Anyhoo … I’ve heard that the bus routes are routinely updated?

F: Yes actually. That is something that makes me hold my head high with ‘fakr’ – we have an elaborate tracking system developed by some fairly bright people constantly monitor earnings for routes, conduct surveys and chart new routes. All this is done with the most basic of technology. Don’t be surprised if you see abacuses lying all over the planning department. Ha ha ha. (Pauses to wipe eyes)You must have noticed several routes which seem pointless in terms of traffic, or some which go through areas of apparent wilderness, eh?

M: Actually, now that you mention this …

F: Well, these routes are often expected to be future earners. Sometimes they end up being like a self-fulfilling prophecy: Projected increase in people density -> New routes -> Better connectivity -> Increase in viability of place -> Increase in density -> Voila!

M: That sounds too good to be true.

F: Well most of the times it is too good to be true. But even if it works sometimes, it’s worth the effort 🙂

M: And what about the fares?

F: Well, 15p of every fare goes to the PM’s Education Fund, which is a lot. Fares are monitored such that they are as fair as possible. Ha ha ha. (Pauses again to wipe eyes). You know, however gas guzzling the buses might seem to be (they don’t go more than 4 kmpl), it still translates into a lot of savings if you factor in the number of commuters.

M: Yo! Stop press! Important question I almost forgot! Why are you guys phasing out the double decker buses! Think of the exclusivity factor – no city in the world other than London has these monsters still running on her roads! (Nostalgically) Riding in the front seat of the upper deck, imagining that you were driving the bus all by yourself, watching tiny rickshaws getting swallowed by your bulk … sigh, those were the days. Plus, having the wind peel your face off when you vainly tried to keep your eyes open was probably the best Titanicesque moment one could had ever had! And here you are, depriving future generations of the chance to dangerously peep out of the front windows as they hope to wave to the driver downstairs? Shame on you.

F: Dude, the economics and logistics just don’t work out. A double decker bus is just not viable. Plus it is physically very unstable. And it’s too much of red in my opinion.

M: (Shocked at the jargon F just uttered, but recovering with amazing finesse) Hmm … I noticed that we now we have the daily pass/ monthly pass thingy, right?

F: Yeah. It is quite surprising that it took us so long to implement this. We now have incentives for daily users, frequent travelers, tourists and senior citizens. I am sure that the number of passengers will increase drastically now. Think about it – in just 25 bucks, you can now travel all over Mumbai as many times as you want. And soon we’ll have an integrated pass-system for Buses AND trains. Plus you have the Reliance Metros coming up. I just hope that people respond positively and use public transport more than they do.

M: Amen to that. And I sincerely hope your kind drives with less vengeance.

F: Well … (hitherto unknown red lights suddenly light up eerily in the background) … that is something we can only wait and watch! Mwwuuhhuhhaahaahhaah

M: Goodbye, and have a nice day. And don’t forget the disclaimer mentioned at the outset.


Written by sujaybedekar

April 28, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Posted in Mumbai

Tagged with ,

2 Responses

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  1. Wonderful post.
    Loved the other link as well.
    Nothing better than the BEST!!


    May 18, 2008 at 11:28 pm

  2. Danke! 🙂

    given the humungous scale of operations, the BEST service is not doing bad at all!


    May 19, 2008 at 11:11 am

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