Life is like a journey by bus, folks!

This blogpost has loads of Hindi thrown in. And I am not in a mood to translate. You’ll know why… Read on!

I am going to offload all the love I possess for the public transport in Delhi NCR.

“Love for the public transport”? You must have formed an opinion that I am not in my senses, right? Because which right minded person says something as obnoxious as this. Haha, well! You’re about to read a love saga now…
The story starts in 2011, when after getting through the sucky twelfth standard board examinations, I had enrolled myself in Delhi University, for the English (Hons, mind you!) course. And my college happened to be in the North Campus, approximately 40 kilometers from where I put up, that is Faridabad. Call it a part of Haryana/Delhi NCR, I don’t care a tuppence about it. Now, prior to this, I had never used public transport (Let me clarify, when I write public transport, I mean bus, autorickshaw, rickshaw and the metro train).
So, one fine day, say, a week before the session started, our ‘family electrician’ was carrying out some repair work in my room, and it was then that my father tells me- “You’ll have to use the bus, at least to reach the nearest metro station,” which at that time was Badarpur. And I blurted out thoughtlessly-“ But only poor people travel in buses.” To which my dad gave me a ‘that was an insensitive reply, shut up’ look. I had forgotten the presence of the third person. Anyway, I shrugged my shoulders and carried on reading a novel, thinking it to be a joke my dad had pulled on me. The electrician was sizing me up. Goes without saying, he was thinking of me as a petty, arrogant child. I, on the other hand, wasn’t remotely bothered on being judged.
It turned out that my father was indeed serious. Both my parents are working, so obviously, they couldn’t afford to waste time to drop me off to Badarpur, wasting 40 minutes daily in the process. So, grudgingly, I had to travel by the bus, after all. Initially, it was very confusing and scary. I couldn’t understand why people got excited on seeing a bus and rushed ahead, ready to jostle and crush others in the process. Getting a seat was not the goal, rather, getting a place to stand was! I now understood that look I saw on people, while traveling by car. It was wrought with exhaustion and anger. How did I gauge that, you ask? That’s because I had that same look on my face by the end of the first week. It was almost like an existential crisis for me. Why am I here, Why did God do this to me, Why the hell isn’t the state extending  the metro line. Bloody buggers. Why did I even bother to bath? (this, because, I would be covered in sweat within an hour, all the while smelling the side waale uncleji’s armpit. Ugh, I know!) So, the first month was disastrous. The only saving grace was the presence of so many girls, who were travelling to DU daily, struggling like me. And that gave me strength.
Now, it was very, very confusing initially, identifying the difference between various buses. Since Faridabad is a part of Haryana, we had Haryana Roadways buses plying on the road too. A blessing, indeed. Why? Well, because of the erratic bus schedules, when at least the DTC isn’t arriving on time, you have an alternative. Now both DTC and HR ply two kinds of buses- AC and Non AC. The red Volvo and Blue buses are the AC ones of HR, while the white and blue buses are obviously the non AC ones. DTC is a tad more color conscious. Green buses are Non AC, while deep red ones are AC buses. People who are  little concerned about saving money often travelled in the non AC ones, but I always waited for the AC ones. Reason? The crowd wasn’t unruly and you would be saved from the scorching heat. My daddy, who was sweet enough to drop me off to the bus stop early morning, would wait with me in the car until I got one. Super lucky I am, I know! For a lecture at 8.40, I used to reach the bus top by 6.30. And that went on for three years.

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Now, I personally disliked the HR AC buses only for one reason- because their interiors were a little dingy. I felt claustrophobic when I had the seat in the back portion. They have these three seats in the middle portion, which are plain weird. It’s like a flap. You push them up when you got to sit and carefully put them back when getting up, trying not hasten, as your ass might get stuck in between. Caution is a pre requisite as the moment you wriggle out of it, it shuts with a bang. No, not a pretty sight for others around. Right? Haha! And taking things to an all time low, whenever I took their red volvo, some child puked his guts out inside, and you can imagine how the journey must be, with all the fragrance around. And listening to the sleazy haryanvi songs right in the morning was another drawback. Well, the driver rules the bus, yaar! Toh music bhi usi ki choice ka hoga naa?
But but but, inspite of that, HR is the boss! No contestations regarding that. I’ve been part of the road races between DTC and HR, with passengers cheering up for their respective buses. And the clear winner would be HR. If anyone was running late for work/college, they would hop onto the HR, without any second thoughts. My favorite seat was right behind the driver. You could feel the thrill every damn time he would maneuver in style on a treacherous spot on road, when you were certain that an accident was bound to happen. And what speed! God! They are called pilots, not drivers, mind ya! Even the window is named ‘pilot window’, you see. 😀

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Luxury, I see. Haha! source- http://www.projectsjugaad.com

One more thing I loved about the HR bus was that the conductor would personally come up to your seat for the ‘ticket kataoing session’, unlike the DTC bus conducters, the brutes who would seat themselves on the throne right next to the back door, on the upper portion of the bus. Then came into the picture the helpful bhartiya nature. An individual standing near the driver would safely get his ticket, without moving an inch, courtesy the ‘money paas kardo, ticket mil jayegi wahi’ trick. Haha, super efficient it was. The HR conductor and driver duo have a great bond and an even greater sense of humor. If you can remotely understand the Haryanvi humor they indulge in, you’ll have the ride of your life. HR never gave me a dull moment.

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The AC Haryana Roadways Bus. Tough looks, haan?

DTC was liked because it was spacious (at least, I felt so!) and bright. And cleaner too. HR could certainly do with a little more cleanliness. But I always avoided the dirt by sitting in the front seat. They are the best. Traveling by bus made me realize that no two days are the same. Sometimes, you will get the bus right when you step at the bus stop and that too, an empty bus, with you spoilt for choice, as to which seat to take. While, other days could see you waiting for over an hour for the bus to arrive, with no space to breath in it. It forces you to be patient and positive. And I personally passed time observing people around. I never stood on the bus stop, with earphones plugged into my ears as I wanted to be alert all the time, being a solo traveler. Smart choice, huh?

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The sight of this Red DTC bus gave me thrills for over four years. Big deal. Remember! Life is a race. Run, or you won’t grab a seat, bwoy! 😛

Traffic jams are just your bad luck. Yes. And though, DTC has seats reserved for the oldies, ladies, differently abled citizens, you don’t expect people to stand up for them. It’s pathetic, but true. As a woman traveler, I had to be strong. I have encountered eve teasers, been groped, heard pathetic comments from unruly male passengers and even encountered drunk passengers, but remained strong. Have the police helpline no. ready with you (and the pepper spray too!). Unless you’re absolutely lucky, the conductor and the driver would intervene and help you out. Though, personally, I never saw them doing this for any woman. Sad, I know!
But even sadder is the amount of ticket less passengers travelling in the buses. Guys, the govt is running these AC buses for you. And they require great maintenance. I have often encountered students doing so, and it felt pathetic seeing them shirking from their duty as a responsible citizen. I once saw these two aunties boarding the crowded bus. One was willing to buy the ticket and the other dissuaded her from doing so, saying that nobody would notice. I was standing right next to them. I gave that bad aunty a very demeaning look, with ‘shame on you, you bitch’ written all over my face, along with the disgust shining through. Guess she must have felt ashamed, and went ahead to request the conductor for a ticket. So, safe to assume that, there’s no need to shout and complain, if looks can kill the criminal. What say? 😉

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Now now, I know I bragged about being a patient woman, happily waiting for the bus in the sardi, garmi, baarish season, all year round. But the truth is, even I ran out of patience at times. I broke this rule once of never running after a bus once. I was waiting at the bus stop near New Friends Colony once. And after an hour, I spot this red DTC coming. I waved my long hand furiously to make it stop, so did an old uncle next to me. But the bus refused to stop and went ahead. I was furious! Quickly, I looked at the timer on the crossing and realized in the next 5 seconds, it’s going to be a red light, and the bus would have to stop. I ran after the bus, assuring the uncle to follow safely and slowly, for the road was choc a bloc with cars speeding dangerously. And after nearing the bus, I banged the doors loudly and shouted on the conductor, who immediately had them opened. I climbed in after the old uncleji, who by that time was panting. It was too much an exercise for him. But he turned out to be a pro! After having admonished the driver and conductor for refusing to stop even after he and the ‘bitiya’ signaled them to, he asked for the complaint register. And wrote a full fledged complaint, inspite of the conductor (who was shivering with fear at that moment) requesting him not to do so. That was one moment of enlightenment for me. I never knew such a thing existed. It pays to be well informed about all the rules and regulations of the transport corporation, when you travel in the buses.
Now, let me share the most quirky journeys I undertook in these years. The first one was when I took the bus at 8 pm from ISBT stand, which is near the north campus. I was attending my first ever college fest with a friend from another department accompanying me. We decided it was an intelligent option to take the bus straight from Kashmere Gate and de board at Faridabad, rather than get off at Badarpur and wait for the bus there. (Badarpur still occupies a place of pride in the list of the most unsafe places in Delhi.) And I’m talking about the year 2012, when the ISBT was not revamped. (I still don’t know how it looks like, post the beautification. Though, I guess, I must give it the benefit of doubt. Hah!). And the path from the metro exit gate (near Mc Donalds) and the bus stop on the opposite side of the main road (where we had to use the foot over bridge) was nearly 2 kms. We had to ward off all those shady men cropping up from nowhere, with their unsteady voices chorusing- “Madam, Dehradun/Haridwar chalogi? AC gaadi hai.” Super scary, I know! Anyway, we managed to reach the stop safely and boarded the bus which arrived in about five minutes (thankfully!). We entered the bus only to find no other female passenger. Haha, God made sure we had an amazingly quirky journey that day. My father was in Punjab for some work, and mom was cool enough to hide the details of my adventure from him. Hahaha! But guess what, I never had the enthusiasm to attend another fest season again. I guess the first experience was more than enough for me. 😀
Coming to the second journey, it was in the winter mornings (early January), when the new session started. I remember taking buses in pitch dark. It was (teeth clatteringly) magical to view the sunrise in the bus daily for the entire month. And unfortunately, the first lecture was always taken by my favorite professor, and I avoided missing any of those for some extra minutes of sleep. No sir, not at all.
The third and the funniest was when an irritating conductor was taught a lesson. He was almost lunging at every male passenger’s throat for threatening him with shouts of ‘AC chalade theek se’ and ‘Temperature kitna hai’ and lastly, ‘Fan kaun chalwayega, hum paise dete hain in sab suveedhao ke, samjha?!’. Haha, us Indians naa! Anyway, just as the abuse match was about to start, a group of transgenders came aboard. The conductor greeted them with the angry and usual crack of ‘ticket katwa lo’. They laughed amongst themselves, and climbed the upper portion and encircled him, caressing him superficially, running their hands in mock lovey doveyness and repeatedly uttering- ‘hum to upar se hi kate hue aayein hain’ (sorry, don’t expect me to translate any of this for you. Just can’t). Needless to say, he was aghast at their remark, all the while struggling to relieve himself of their grip, his eyes popping out and moving in all directions for someone to help, but we all were busy giggling, viewing his predicament. Those transgenders were sweet, but for once, I felt amused at them not paying for their journey and how they traveled ticket less in style. The conductor was so shaken after that attempt to lutao his izzat, that he didn’t dare pester any other passenger for buying the ticket. Hahaha, it was one hilarious journey, to say the least.

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Never traveled in this Orange DTC. Didn’t ply on my route. No regrets, though. Hahaha!

And oh yes, how could I forget that! The family electrician boarded the same bus as me one day, with his wife and kids in tow. On spotting me standing there, he took a double take, as if unable to believe my presence there. I smiled at him, laughing in my mind at the naïve, insensitive and foolish youngster that I was. And that day, I felt so grounded, wise and totally at ease with the life I had led, being a part of the DTC/HR family for about 4 years. Traveling by the public transport transformed me from a clueless, nervous and a pessimist woman into a confident, patient and an aware citizen.
And then Modiji arrived in style to inaugurate the metro rail services in Faridabad. And life was never the same, changing for the better, of course. But still, that meant my roller coaster journey with the bus was to end, with the suave, clean, hassle free and timely metro swiftly taking its place. The 5th of September was to be my last bus journey, and I wished to travel by both DTC and HR that day, so as to bid goodbye to both. And as luck would have it, I did get a chance to do that. 🙂

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Tickets of the last bus journey I undertook. 5th September 2015.

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The Delhi Metro and Autos- my new mode of journey

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The one thing I love about the Delhi Metro. Ladies Coach. ❤

Even, today, while standing in the metro, I look down on the road, and spot a DTC bus, (I rarely come across HR buses nowadays, unless I’m travelling in the car on the Mathura road, that is) a smile automatically comes to my face. I no longer have travelling stress, (which made me lose 10 kgs in the first month of undergraduation!), but then, I have a host of good/bad experiences to cherish (and entertain people with) in my kitty. And I’m proud of it.
What gets me thinking is that all the fresh out of school kids would now travel by metro, not knowing the struggle their seniors (like me!) had to undergo in order to get an education (okay, ignore the bragging 😛 ). Life would be so easy for them, taking the laabh of metro rail suvidhaa, moving about like swashbucklers. Hahaha! Spiceless is what their travel journeys would be, no? And the other day, I see this piece of news in some national daily about the Delhi Government planning to launch premium air conditioned bus services. “It will be a fully air-conditioned premium bus in which no standing passengers will be allowed. There will be dedicated bus lanes so that the buses also reach their destination on time like the Metro.” Kejriwal ji, it would be a revolution if you deliver as promised. Then the mango people, or even the elites would happily embrace the bus services, not relating it to something which only poor people travel in. Hehe!

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CAR OR BUS? 😉

Down The Mystical Alley In Dilli

“Do come in, oh truthful soul, so that we may become close and become trusted friends.
But if you are ignorant and have no wisdom, then you better go back the way you came.”

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I don’t know if this turns out to be a “shuru karo lekar prabhu ka naam” post. But, who cares! I feel like writing my first post about a beautiful (spiritual) experience I had recently. I must start by uttering ‘Bismillah’! Shall I? Hehe!

So, it was in the fourth semester of my graduation that I read about the Nizamuddin Dargah. Prior to which it was just another place in Delhi for me. I had opted for Medieval Delhi as an optional for that particular semester. Our professor made a quirky decision for our mid semester marking. He asked us to write about ‘anything’. It could be about a trip to a monument, or any such experience with history coloring the canvas in some way or the other. And it had to be fully furnished with proof and thorough research. The plagiarists that undergraduates can be sometimes, it would make sure we don’t just steal material off the net and vomit it out on the paper.
The announcement caught me in a fix. What was I supposed to do? For your information, I am always game for visiting historical monuments and places. It gives me a high. But I wanted my project to be absolutely different from everyone. So, I let my mind churn its wheels for a brilliant idea. On the same day, I was visiting some relatives in Delhi and on my way back home, I passed the magnificent Tughlakabad Fort. And there it lay, my subject! I had visited it years back. Had but faint memories of it and as an Army freak, remembered it as the site where the melodious song “Agar Main Kahoon” from Lakshya was shot (The instrumental of which is my ringtone). And I did possess some stray photographs of it with me.
So, I quickly got home and started my search to refresh my memories of it. In midst of that, the story of Nizamuddin Auliya and Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq caught my eye. I had heard the famous Persian saying- “Hanooz Dilli Door Ast” (translated in English, it means “Delhi is still far off”). And the reason behind it introduced me the larger picture. Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq was an erstwhile slave of the Khilji dynasty. You can well imagine the amount of intelligence, strength and cunning he must have possessed to overturn his fortune and become a ruler. It’s all about the correct strategies and planning, peeps! (Of course, sucking up to his master would have helped too!) Haha!

Anyway, the construction of his “dream fort” started on an inauspicious note, inviting the wrath of Nizamuddin Auliya, the powerful sufi saint, with a massive fan following, so to say. Now the story goes like this-
“Ghias-ud-din is usually perceived as a liberal ruler. However, he was so passionate about his dream fort that he issued a dictate that all labourers in Delhi must work on his fort. Saint Nizamuddin Auliya, a Sufi mystic, got incensed as the work on his baoli (well) was stopped. The confrontation between the Sufi saint and the royal emperor has become a legend in India. The saint uttered a curse which was to resonate throughout history right until today: Ya rahey ujjar, ya basey gujjar which can roughly be translated to “either remain inhabited or would live gujjars”. So, after the fall of sultanate, Gujjars of the area captured the Qila and till date village Tughlakabad is situated in it.”
(Source- Wikipedia)
Now, I felt agitated. I felt for the ruler. The son Mohammed Tughlaq is often held responsible for the murder of his father, while he was on his way back after a victory at Bengal. Look at the ruining of a man, who rose from the ashes to end up with nothing. He was a prototype of what we see in these quest narratives as the alpha man! But a simple curse changed the course of his life. Having a discord doesn’t lead one to wish death on the other party, does it? But I guess, the antagonism the sufi saint harbored for the materialistic and self centered rulers, just exploded on one man. How fair was that, I thought. So, I wrote extensively against the Sufi saint and saw the monument as testimony of defiance, and won an excellent grade for the paper.
That, I thought, was the end of the story.
But, during the first year of my post graduation, I met this woman, who’s now a close friend.  She came from the Nizami community, the clan which looks after the Dargah. It was from her that I often heard about the Dargah, and about the peace and positivity it supposedly gave her on regular visits. I was mesmerized. I thought, maybe I was too harsh in my judgement and gave a one sided view of the story. Adding to it, the accounts of the famous qawwali of the Dargah, and of the pilgrims prayers being answered miraculously added to my excitement.
So, after many plans failing to materialize, the Mehboob E Ilahi summoned us finally on the First of March. We had a two and a half hour gap between lectures that day. And an impromptu plan was made. The dargah was just 20 minutes away from us. We set off quickly, without wasting a second. And there we were, after all those moments of wanting to visit it! Something about that place was so different. No jostling for space, at least that day. It was full of energy, enthusiasm and devotees thronging all over the basti. I could spot little girls wearing hijab, along with their mummyjaan’s for a quick visit to the dargah. After waking some distance, dodging shopkeepers who were adamant on selling us flowers, incense sticks, chaadars, ittar, lockets and what not,  we finally reached the last shop before the entrance to the Dargah and dutifully kept our shoes outside for safekeeping.(One tip-unless you don’t care about your feet getting soiled, leave your footwear only at the shops right next to the dargah. They don’t charge you for it. Sweet folks, I tell you!) So, one of my friends (thoughtfully) bought a rose ittar from the shopkeeper as a thank you gesture.

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And I expected some security cover, and frisking before being allowed to enter, but was surprised to find none. I guess, it’s too blessed a place to be provided protection. Anyway, one friend from our group of five exclaimed- “Oh god, so this was where parts of the movie Rockstar were shot!” Hearing which we giggled, constantly taking care not to let the dupattas fall off, leaving our heads uncovered. (Tip two- they only expect you to cover your head there as a mark of respect. There is no strict dressing code. But I somehow feel wearing traditionals looks proper.)20160301_125919.jpg

We just sat there for a while, absorbing the atmosphere. People were busy praying all around. We went ahead and bought the mannat ka dhaaga from a shop in the compound.(You’ve got to pay for that, fella!). And one of my friend suddenly asks- “Can I get some black string for protection against the evil eye. The panditji here might bless it, no? Hearing this, we laughed. So used to going around in temples, she had forgotten we were at a sufi shrine. Anyway, we called our very own Nizami Bandhu, (my friend, the classmate) who sadly couldn’t join us, for the dargah prohibits entry of menstruating women), and she told us, we could just take a black string, rub it on the main wall of the sanctum sanctorum, while reciting a holy verse from the Koran Sharif, and that will do. Post the query session, we tied our Mannat ka Dhaaga and clicked pictures of the place.(They allow that. No problem there!)  Two of my friends recited holy verses and prayed silently, while I did a secular, silent prayer, for the saint understands you, your desires and language, no matter what. Ladies aren’t allowed inside, so we could spot them occupying the place right outside the four walls.


The best time to visit is in the morning, before noon. It is fairly less crowded. Thursdays and Fridays(Jumme ka din) are the days when they get the maximum footfall. My friend though visits it during the wee hours, that is, at the time of fajr. Suits her, as the Nizami community lives at a stone’s throw from the shrine. Coming back to my experience, I found it to be calming, just sitting there, doing nothing. I felt ashamed of writing the Sufi saint off in my assignment. And apologized silently. I felt one with the devotees. I felt blessed, loved and the air itself was magical. It was spiritually enlightening and a positive experience, where I felt, as mere mortals, we cannot fathom the ways of the mystique. We need to be acceptive, rather than rebellious. An aunty sitting beside me was teaching another kid about the merciful character of the saint, who loved and cared for his followers, being a benign paternal figure to them, in addition to speaking about the cruel sultans. And somehow, I felt the lesson was being meted out to me, never to read a one sided account of any tale, and look at both sides of the coin.
So, post the enlightenment and a successful darshan, we reached the Ghalib Academy and thereafter the Urs Mahal.

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Ghalib Academy. You need a membership in order to browse their collection, which lies on the first floor.

There we found some kids playing cricket. And amongst them was this munchkin- a pretty girl, less than five years of age. We were clicking a group picture when she just photobombed cutely, and sat close to me. I was enamored by her love and friendliness. She had that beautiful smile, which touched me.
As we were moving out from that compound, reluctant to wave goodbye to that cherub, her father called out to her from his house above. And her name turned out to be Iram! I was stunned! Being a Hindu, I just love this name of all the Urdu/Persian/Arabic names I have come across. It means “a garden in Paradise.” I felt as if it was God’s sign, telling me I was blessed on my maiden visit to the dargah. The girl was my lucky charm, I sensed. I wanted to share our pictures with her, but I don’t want her daddy to find and strangle me for posting his daughter’s photographs on a public forum. Hehe! Moving ahead after experiencing this epiphany, I joined my friends for the famous Nizamuddin ki phirni. (The non vegetarian fare holding no attraction for a vegetarian like me!) 

Having an enormous sweet tooth, I relished every bit of it. It was only after a friend squeeled after looking at her watch, did we realize we had to rush back for the important, impending lecture. And with heavy steps, we paid our respects to the Auliya, with promises to come back soon, with a belief that our prayers will be answered and the mannat ka dhaaga shall be untied. (Inshallah!)

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They often cut the threads if an enormous amount prevents new ones from being tied. Hence, you see the locks all over, ensuring no one touches them before the individual comes by to unlock them after fulfillment of a wish . Worried? Don’t be. Even if they cut your thread, you can go back and untie the one at the place where you tied your own one. It’s just a act of saying thank you. The Auliya won’t judge you for that. 🙂

Psst…
I was tempted to visit the Chilla Khanqah too! It’s still a well kept secret, despite my yelling about it down here. But my Nizami Bandhu advised me against it. She maintained it was okay if married girls paid a visit there. As it’s considered to be a little haunted, she was convinced some evil might befall us unmarried females. And, this time, instead of rebelling, I quietly accepted it, choosing to respect her beliefs. (The spirits don’t harm men, be assured! So much for Freud’s theory of Penis envy. Sigh!) 😀
And, oh yes, do listen to the song on the sufi saint from the hindi movie ‘Black and White'( a brilliant movie and a beautiful song, I tell you!).

So, this was me penning down my first memorable ziyaarat of sorts.