Learning on Buddha Purnima

Sometimes you feel like asking, ‘What’s worse than working on a holiday?’ And your experience tells you, ‘It’s starting your work early on a holiday.’ While the rest of your neighborhood is busy having a second round of morning tea and planning for an elaborate lunch, you’re thinking, ‘Damn, I’m late, again!’

And the day started like that, for yours truly.

After a brisk walk, I was able to get to a standing microbus. The conductor – with a mask on his face and wad of money in one hand – waves me to hurry in, as if I was the passenger they have been waiting for ages.

Once I get in, the vehiclewallah’s hurry evaporated. They are in no mood to move now. Thankfully, there are less people today. I don’t have to feel oversized for the vehicle today. No squeezing in. I proceed to take the backseat, my favorite. No difficulty at all. Apart from that, everything is normal.

Passengers with weary looks make me feel as if they were forced to hurry out of their abode, just like me, against their wishes. A Bollywood number from the ’90s – ‘Maine pyar tum hi se kiya hai’ – blares out of the speakers hidden below the seats. The speakers seem to be placed so strategically that the sound coming out of them vibrates your being. Oblivious to all that, the driver and conductor are urging people to get in, as if they are competing on a decibel scale. Just like any other day!

Everything is normal, except… There’s something that just doesn’t seem like everyday. Is it the smell? The size of the bus? Or the seat? And just at that point, it struck yours truly like a lightning. It’s not him. Yes, the conductor isn’t a ‘HE’. The voice tells him, it’s a lady. He gazes out of the window to have a look at her, ever fearful of being caught in a case of VAW (violence against women) for staring too long.

This was the first time I had seen a lady conductor in a microbus in Kathmandu. And what I saw didn’t fail to make an impression on me. Dressed in a full-length black track suit, wearing a mask and a woolen cap on the head, the conductor was busy in her duty. The body language – hand waving, small walk in circles, shrug of shoulders – hardly suggesting she was a woman. The authority with which she was conducting her business, as the microbus moved on, gave no hint at all that she was an alien in a man’s world.

Except, she was polite to passengers.

The lady conductor
The lady conductor

Unlike every other day, I saw a conductor carefully asking each and every passenger where they got in and where they intended to get off. And she asked every passenger, if they had an identity card (for discount on fare).

Another microbus, competing for passengers, overtook the automobile I was in, with a roar. Louder than the engine’s roar was a shout of a conductor from that vehicle. The adolescent boy, with hair not trimmed from the time he was a toddler, was hurling expletives at us for being slow. The words from the yet-to-be man improved upon my vocabulary as I wondered at richness of our language.

Just then, the series of Bollywood songs stopped, followed by an English number. Justin Bieber? Or Miley Cyrus? I had no clue. Seems the driver couldn’t fathom it, either. He stopped the music altogether, mumbling something only he could understand.

In the following silence, you could hear two of my fellow passengers talking. A boy and a girl in their school uniforms. Busy in their conversation, they hadn’t found out the silence. The girl was saying, “Thank God, mom didn’t ask too many questions for coming out on Buddha Purnima. I was so scared. What did you say at home?”

The boy said, “I stared at my dad before shouting at mom because I didn’t like the tea she served. They didn’t ask anything. I think they were scared of me. Fooled them!”

The girl, holding his hand tightly, said, “We should call it Buddhu Purnima. You made Buddhu out of your mom.”
The giggles that followed made yours truly wonder: ‘Did the Buddha just hear that?’

PS: This write-up appeared in the weekend edition of Republica, The Week, on 16 May, 2014.

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