One hot summer day in May, I find myself stranded in Mangalore without a ticket to Bombay. Lugging my suitcase, with sweat trickling down my spine, I visit the tiny offices of all the major bus operators for a seat on a bus leaving that night, only to be turned away every time. No seats are available. All buses are totally booked out.
Finally, the booking clerk in one of the offices offers me a biscuit tin.
“Sorry?” I don’t understand what the man is talking about.
The booking clerk patiently explains to me since the bus is completely full, he cannot offer me a seat of course, but he can place a tall biscuit tin in the aisle, provided I was willing to undertake the 24 hours travel sitting on top of that biscuit tin. Normal charges would apply, he adds for good measure.
Such was my desperation that I agreed and forked out the money.
Only when I boarded the bus did I realise that I was not the only “biscuit tin rider” on the bus. The intrepid bus operator had ensnared three other unfortunate souls besides me and there was not one, but four biscuit tins in the aisle, placed at strategic intervals.
Although years have passed, even today I can think of that journey only as a metaphor for sheer physical agony. By the time the bus stopped in a roadside restaurant in Kundapur for a short break a few hours later, my back was on fire. Somewhere along that long night, I guess I became inured to the pain but the pangs of regret and jealousy I had felt seeing the other passengers leaned back in their seats in quiet slumber, were enough to keep me awake the whole night.
Talk about the kindness of strangers, relief came the next day morning when a passenger offered to exchange his seat with me for the biscuit tin for an hour. I was touched by this gesture and told him I couldn’t possibly accept his generous offer. Fortunately he insisted and very soon my protestations sounded too feeble even to myself.
Ah! The sheer pleasure of sinking into a proper seat and allowing your inflamed back some much-needed succour!
Believe me, it is in moments such as these one starts contemplating the possibility of God and such other weighty philosophical issues.