Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Biscuit tin Rider


During the summer vacation months of April and May, the buses which plied the route from Bombay to Mangalore ran full. Without booking at least a month in advance, it was impossible to get a seat on any of them.

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.
Photo Courtesy: www.columbuspolarity.com

12 comments:

Australopithecus said...

i can imagine...did an overnight(well not realy overnight midnight to 6 am.Madanapalle to Madras) standing once...it is way better than biscuit tin!

awingandaprayer said...

Ha! This is the price you pay for being a member of the "Bony-butt" family!

Oh, don't look all innocent like you don't know what I'm on about:-)

the K-veetil family are derierre-damned:-(

Razigan said...

I tried to visualize the scene, four people sitting in biscuit tins in a row in the aisle, between the Pushback seats......

ha ha ha......

Nicely written.......

Vatsa said...

I once travelled Pilani to New Delhi. Took the bus around midnight. No seats. Aisles totally cramped with luggages. The folks in the seats didn't like the standees sitting on there suitcases. It was January and my first North India winter. Can't imagine how I did that journey. After that I had to catch a bus to Agra, where thankfully I got a seat at 4:30 in the morning.

Vijay said...

ha ha good one...Were these full tins being transported or tins that were used as emergency seating?

Looks like you've done enough trips on the Mumbai-Mangalore route for this lifetime and the next...

Rada said...

@ Austro: Yeah, it's a bit like choosing between a rock and a hard place, I guess. :-)

@ Shal: I don't know. Even if I were well-upholstered in the butt, I don't think it would have saved me from that back-ache!

@ Razigan: I can think of it and laugh now, even though at that time, I did not find it so funny! :-)

@Vatsa: Reading your comment, I can confidently say that you completely emphathise with my post! Thanks.

@ Vijay: No. These were empty biscuit tins used as extra seating!

Cynic in Wonderland said...

yus much sympathies come. train from interior marathwada where the travel agent effed up so ended up ticketless in a train which had four people to a berth. *shudders*.

what did u do with the biscuit tin finally?

Thiruvengadam said...

This anecdote reminds me of my commuting in Mumbai locals to Dombivli. The journey lasts for a little longer than an hour. Obviously most of the commuters don't get a seat and have to travel standing throughout. But as soon as the train reaches Thane, most of the seating passengers vacate their seats to their standing counterparts. This 15 odd minute travel in the last leg used to be such a pleasure. This is one of the few gestures which makes Mumbai unique amongst rest of the metro cities.

Rada said...

@ Cynic: No, unfortunately, the biscuit tin (it was an empty one anyway,) did not come free with the ticket!

@ Mano: Yes, I have noticed this. Suburban railway travel in Mumbai has its own unique code of conduct, I should say!

Cris said...

>>Finally, the booking clerk in one of the offices offers me a biscuit tin. <<
LOL! I mean the first time you hear it - its kinda funny.

But I know what you are talking about. Last week for IFFK I had to share a seat with a friend for 100 minutes. I was late and deserved none better but oh dear I thought by the time we get up I will have no limbs to move - they were so strained!

My deepest sympathies!

Gypsy said...

Truely feel for you, Rada!

Once while travelling overnight from Coimbatore to Chennai I realized (when the TT told me rather rudely) that I have the ticket for the wrong date. Quite cheerfully I tried to spread my dupatta on the floor between berths and sleep off. Much to the horror of this burqua clad lady nearby,who shrieked in what I thought was Gujarathi and hauled me onto the berth with her.

I lay awake all night thinking about how kind strangers can sometimes be.

Gypsy said...

Truely feel for you, Rada!

Once while travelling overnight from Coimbatore to Chennai I realized (when the TT told me rather rudely) that I have the ticket for the wrong date. Quite cheerfully I tried to spread my dupatta on the floor between berths and sleep off. Much to the horror of this burqua clad lady nearby,who shrieked in what I thought was Gujarathi and hauled me onto the berth with her.

I lay awake all night thinking about how kind strangers can sometimes be.

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.