By Nihal Bambulkar May. 09, 2018
With privatisation, BEST buses are due to undergo a Pimp My Ride-style facelift. A swank new fleet will be introduced this month. But without the badass drivers and rude conductors, riding a bus will be like having a vada-pao without garlic chutney.
First they came for our beloved kaali peeli. Now it looks like it’s the end of the road for the bright red BEST buses. In February, the BEST committee decided to bring in private contractors to operate buses in Mumbai, like a manager throwing in the towel when their boxer is too beat to continue.
Now, news of this sort does not tend to invite concern from people travelling in their Ubers or shiny sedans. But spare a thought for normies like me, who’ve spent more time commuting in a bus than we have in our homes. Life will not be the same without huddling at the doors of the bus, and arguing with the ticket collector. Here’s what I’ll miss most about our adored buses.
The Great Indian Huddle
No, not the kind that Sourav Ganguly introduced to lift the team’s spirit. I meant the group doggy pile that BEST passengers organise around the entrance. The one that crushes you and your spirit. If new buses come with automatic doors, we’ll no longer be part of the crowd that tries to squeeze its way into the bus through the always-open portal. You may be a manager or a peon, the entryway to the bus is a great equaliser. And you won’t make it, if you haven’t watched enough Wrestlemania.
I remember it like it was yesterday when I huddled for the first time with my co-passengers. There I was, elbows in my face, knees up my ass, tears in my eyes, suspended somewhere between the first and the last stair of the entrance. It was truly magical. The famous BEST Huddle was a great way to squeeze the entitlement and lethargy out of me every morning.
The BEST and the Boisterous
Vin Diesel has nothing on BEST badasses, the rash drivers who believe in breaking traffic signals, making swift turns, cutting lanes, and using their horn only to warn you of your impending death. They’ve also pioneered an intra-vehicle method of human transportation that spares you the effort of walking from your seat to the exit. Once the driver brakes abruptly, you swiftly move from the back to front in a matter of seconds, along with everyone else unable to find a handhold fast enough.
Meanwhile, BEST conductors forge a dictatorial reputation that even Kim Jong-Un will have difficulty living up to. The legendary inhospitality of the bus conductors conceals hidden wisdom. Like when I was kicked out of a moving bus for not having change. I knew deep inside that this was a metaphor for life, and how fair it was going to be henceforth. Thank you for that lesson, Mr Conductor.
The BEST Decor in Town
The old buses perpetually reek of struggle, coconut oil, and sweating men who refuse to move until you step on their shoes. It’s a hotbox of Mumbai’s different smells. Yet
finding a window seat is of little help because most of them are jammed. And the ones that aren’t jammed allow passengers to spray gutka pichkaari at pedestrians, Holi or no Holi.
The outward appearance of the buses is even more meaningful than their inner ambience. The route number of the old buses are displayed on a canvas scroll that sometimes roll up and display nothing, which irritates those of us at the bus stop no end. But I know that the lack of numbers are a metaphor for not living life by a plan. Sometimes, you just have to go wherever the road takes you.
This might be the swansong of Mumbai’s Big Red Bus, and we might soon see them replaced by sleek, privately operated vehicles that might offer upgraded amenities like air conditioning, polite staff, and comfortable seating. But still, Mumbai without these iconic buses is like vada-pao without its garlic chutney.
It was the worst of times, it was the BEST of times.