Finding it difficult to breathe, I was still trying to break at least one hand free to make a bit of space around, grasp for air and squeeze through a crowd wherever is possible. I was stuck – people were pushing from everywhere, blocking all the possibilities to move in any direction. People were silent and highly concentrated, as everyone had a mission – to get a seat, and sometimes even two.
I was in despair. I just wanted to jump out of the window and never get back in this crazy people’s mass. Unfortunately, windows were closed – we got tickets for a luxury a/c bus. There was no way out. There was no way in.
Then I remembered how it started. Srikant put his hands on my shoulders and said: “Don’t think about anything and don’t try to be nice. Just get on the bus and get a seat”. I didn’t understand why his voice sounded so pathetic and giggled. Honestly, you don’t teach a girl from Moscow underground how to fight for space in a crowded metal box on wheels! That was my thought before the bus started approaching… Two seconds later I was stuck in the middle of the tired crowd, feeling lost and hopeless.
… 15 minutes later someone moved. Two centimeters of space on the left got free and I rushed through the crowd, pushing people on my way: was not my will, but rather a necessity. I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but I threw my bag to the left, my backpack to the right, my butt somewhere else, and after I’d been already comfortably sitting for couple of minutes I realized that I got three seats. I could breathe!
Not that I found the whole situation inhumane – rather I was taken by surprise. Just couple of days before I happened to travel on a train from Chennai to Bangalore. Six hours, comfort and food. Food, food and food again. 15 minutes after boarding they started serving tea and coffee. Snacks, starter soup, mango juice, and tea again, then chicken biryani, and then endless snacks and bottomless coffee again… “all included”. I call it luxury, luxury for 10 euro. I love trains. In Indian trains you can stick your head outside. And if you travel between Goa and Bangalore – you don’t want to miss the view.
The first transport I ever used in India was a legendary rickshaw 6 years ago. We used to squeeze five people inside and enjoy it like a roller coaster. When once I was put in front to share a place with a driver (as there was no space behind), my fun-trip-attitude towards rickshaws was a little bit spoiled. The driver tried really hard to touch me, slowly moving his butt closer and closer to mine. Being confused, I was slowly moving away, trying to avoid any physical contact. The driver was very persistent. As a result I was hanging somewhere at the doorway and the rest of people were about to die because of laughter. Later I heard so much swearing about rickshaw drivers from the locals, that they completely lost their exotic charm. So did cycle-rickshaws. There is something really wrong when you are sitting on a soft pink pillow, while a skinny worn-out person is pushing pedals, trying to bring you wherever you want.
This time I preferred cars to rickshaws. However, the very first day as a passenger I was numb with fear, which worsened on the way between Delhi and Jaipur. Trucks without traffic lights facing us (because they were driving on the oncoming lane) made me behave like a nervous hamster every time I would see them. I was admiring reaction of every driver in the country and trying to imagine myself at the wheel. However, my friend from the Russian embassy shared that his female colleagues found driving in India much easier than in Moscow, where people could drive with crazy speed and would be happy to push you off the road, if their day at work was bad. The rule in India is easy – if there is a bigger and faster vehicle coming – give the road. Beep, beep and then beep again. Basically you shouldn’t stop beeping. And you’ll be heard.
Motorbikes also scared me but for a different reason – speed. As no car can go in an Indian city faster than 40 km/h during the day, this fear disappeared promptly, and I understood all the benefits of a 2-wheeler in the traffic. You take 4 times less space on the roads, and hence, you are 4 times faster. Still, I would always prefer walking, rather than jumping on a two wheeler. And on some days, standing in traffic for hours, I thought, it could be a much faster and healthier option…