Wednesday, August 07, 2013

That Bus Ride from Silchar to Capital

Growing up in a tiny little town had its advantages and disadvantages. First the advantage, you'll always be ambitious and eager to take up the next leap. Success stories of folks from your town who have made it to the big league will always be humming. And a chance for you to get acquainted with people is rather easy. You'll hear people, remember faces and never short of receiving and inviting them to your abode. 

Well, you can't always paint a rosy picture for the town you live has its disadvantages too. Firstly, the lack of infrastructure. In the rainy season, you will have more potholes than the town can hold and without rain you'll experience the potholes getting larger and larger. Ironical, it may sound but the town is in the leagues of Mumbai and Bangalore in the 'potholes' case. Then there is the massive communication failure. I am going to talk about one such failure and that if you have ever been to Silchar you bloody well know what I mean.

It was my first trip to the capital of Assam and in those days it was a big deal. With trains as noncommunicable than your ex it was a case to take a flight or travel in bus. I come from an affluent middle-class family and though I could have taken a flight my father a strict disciplinarian taught us never to take advantage of luxury when one could afford a rough one. Also, being young you are never short of muscles and could take strain. I thought that it was bit harsh on a boy weighing 50 kilograms then.

Anyways, there were two major Private buses plying from my town to the capital. But, I was booked into ASTC. ASTC stands for Assam State Transport Corporation-the picture of integrity and window to the North-East if that's not much grandeur. My abode was not far from the bus stand. I mean it was just a 5 minutes rickshaw drive. It was supposed to start at 5 and reach my destination morning 6-7. I reached on time and took my bus seat. 

It was a window seat enough decorated by my the last occupant's stinted beattle leaves. Then the other occupants entered and in a bit of 5 minutes the bus was full with already few co-passengers straightening their seats. When the other passenger protested, "ooo dada eita kita kora )bro, why are you doing this? " To this the other responded, "ghumatiam nani (I want to sleep):. I founded it strange though more comical with the burst of farthing now and then. Anyway, the bus move out of the platform in within few minutes we were on the way.

I think I was anxious a bit and you have to understand this was my first outstation trip alone. Anyways, after an hour-long drive we reached what I think was a place called KALAIN. The bus stopped for a while for refreshments and I could not understand why would people got down to have tea and refreshments. They could have had it at the bus platform. Hawkers and vendors of every kind entered the bus and soon it had turned itself into a tourist place. Kids from this place fancied a bus from my town to be one of the seven wonders and the passengers embodiment of success. 

I meanwhile decided to take a look at the place. I noted down the bus registration number should it leave me. I wandered here and there, took a nature call and then the 10 minutes break became 20 minutes and then the bus started again.

My co-passenger in this journey was a middle-aged man who kept on snoring during the entire trip. He made no interest in acquainting himself towards me nor I wanted honestly too. But you know when you travel with a person for more than 18 hours (originally scheduled for a 12 hours), you do want to exchanged pleasantries.

The Sun had retired by now and this is where North East spectacles you. The lush greenery everywhere and the mountains and hills takes you to their arms and for a certain time, which I did not keep a tab I completely lost myself. The beautiful and charming valleys enhanced me completely and I didn't know where time has got lost until something hit me. We were stuck.

I heard murmurs and could understand from the conversation that the bus had reached Meghalaya and stuck at a place in SONAPUR. This place has been in the news for almost every incorrect reasons mainly for the horrible roads and climate surrounding it. The bus stopped at a place and only when I got down I could understand the gravity of the situation. It was pitch dark but in this darkness I could view that there were a long queue of buses and trucks amidst a muddy road. Along it you could see the distant Sonai river flowing which if you fall down you'll end up in Bangladesh. To cut it short, it painted a very sorry picture.

Here, we had to wait 2 hours before we could cross the dreaded path and amidst much of commotion the journey started. Soon, the conductor put on a movie. I doubt the video cassette player was used because after 5 minutes the screen was blank. I was hungry by now and decided to wait a while the bus stopped again. I guess at 10 or 11 in the night the bus stopped at Lathumbai. 

Folks who have been to this part of the world know that Lathumbai has one of the largest restaurants in Meghalaya, and food is immensely fulfilling out there. But I have a policy of not having dinners or meals at a hotel whenever am traveling. I do have a good stomach but I don't take chances. Anyways, my adorable mother had prepared a delicious meal and packed it nicely for me. After having the dinner in the bus, I decided to get down and take a stroll. 

There was chillness in the weather and a kind of fog that could quickly develop into torrential rain anytime. I had put on my jacket and could see people taking food hurriedly inside the restro, few standing outside and having a smoke while others are busy purchasing vegetables. Meghalaya has one of the most fertile soil and 70% of vegetables in North East comes from Meghalaya. 

Amidst this chillness the bus started. I had by then became tired of the constant jerking of the bus. I cannot express this in words but this experience becomes a ritual when you travel frequently. But it was my first time.

I don't know when but it had to very late when I got a knocking on my arms. I hate someone disturbing my slumber but this was supposed to be an urgency. It seems that there was another stoppage. This time an accident. We had to get down from the bus. Someone obviously drunk had parked his car right at the middle of the road. Interestingly, an uprooted tree branch was also in the middle too. I can't believe both of them were aligned horizontally to each other. In later years, I came to know that these steps were taken by certain hoodlums to extract money from bus drivers.

The bus journey continued and though I was feeling drowsy I don't think the excitement of passing through Shillong kept me awake. The capital city of Meghalaya had been a constant dream for me. I had heard of the amazing places, the schools and colleges and of course the beautiful Khasi girls. In later years, I had been in relationships too with a beautiful girl from Shillong. Till today, she is amused as what I found in Shillong.

As I passed through Shillong, I could see from the window the town amidst a beautiful blanket of fog. Everything was serene, the church bells tingling, few shops still doing business and I could not notice a pollution free town. I don't know when I went to sleep but woke up again stranded. This time it was outside Dispur.

What possibly could now be the reason of this stranding? I had no idea. The cell was missing a few towers that meant I was incrementing tension of my parents awaiting for my call. It was the season of strikes and we had turned into one such occasions- people were demanding a hike in traffic fare. That meant another 3 hours.

Finally when I reached the capital city I saw more stars than I possibly could imagine. I called up a rickshaw and on getting in he told me "Dada, OTORO TOKA (18 Rupees).      

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