“There! There! There comes the bus!!!”

“Do you think that the bus will be as big as our goddess’s little chariot?”

Telugu: Satyam Sankaramanchi.

[If we lose our sense of wonder at everything new and beautiful which made this life on earth so dear to us as children, after we grow up, with our familiarity with every means of mass transport, we fail to imagine what kind of commotion, wonder, and perhaps even fear, that first vehicle of mass transport might have generated in the village folk when it made its debut.

Satyam Sankaramanchi takes us to those times, winding the clock back, to give us a feel of it and describes it so picturesquely that we forget ourselves for a moment and identify ourselves with the people of those times. Being a master craftsman that he was, he gives a wonderful twist to his narrative, presenting a touching flipside of mass transport in the end.]  


“The first bus is coming from the town.”


“Today itself.  About twelve noon.”

“Oh, me! Bus? Is it an engine-bus?”

“What else? As the driver turns the wheel, it flies off from town to our place.”

“Do you mean, it comes flying in the air?”

“Nay. It comes running on the land only. But it comes so fast as if it was flying in the air.”

“Oh, my mother! Bus is coming!”

That a bus is coming for the first time to the village spread like wildfire across the village within minutes.  It was the subject of discussion at the bathing ford, under the giant tree near goddess Mahalakshmi’s temple, on the down-street, over the hillock, at the Shepherds’ hamlet, in the Weavers colony, and everywhere else. All discussions centered around the bus arriving in the village from town that day for the first time. This news also spread to the farm fields far away. The whole village was agog with anxious enthusiasm.

Bus is coming… bus is coming… that was the refrain playing on every lip.

At the ford near Tamarind grove where woman arrived early to leisurely wash their clothes, completed their work desultorily and retreated to homes in wet clothes with their half-washed garments. Washermen declared a holiday for their duty that day. Looms fell silent in the weavers’ colony. At the ferry, which on other days always teemed with people, gave a deserted look with nobody being there now. Agricultural labour working in the fields put a stop to their work and ran towards the village centre.

Women expedited their lunch preparations and fed their kids well before noon. Children started pestering their mothers asking: “Where are my new shorts?” and “Where is my new frock?” Elderly persons donned well ironed dhotis. Women turned up tucking varied flowers in their tresses and wearing golden waist-belts.  Before the clock struck twelve, they locked their homes, called out one another from their neighborhoods and arrived in a procession to the big bazar area.

The whole village turned up as if it were the village goddess, Poleramma’s festival. People lined up on either side of the road. Making room among the crowd to make a fast buck, Subbayya and Veerayya started selling salted chickpeas and fried home-made cookies competing with each another. And sensing an opportunity to showcase his talents, a mountebank commenced his performance. But people paid little attention to his feats. They were all preoccupied with the thoughts about the bus and its arrival.

“Do you think that the bus will be as big as our goddess’s little chariot?”

“What do you say? It will be as big as two hay-carts, man!”

“Hoy, bus!”

“Ahoy, bus!”

“Here comes the bus!”

All the people stood up in a Mexican wave.  Children climbed over the shoulders of their fathers. The mountebank’s show ceased abruptly.

“Ahoy…hoy…”  there were whistles all around.

But no use. The bus did not turn up.  After eagerly waiting for it long enough, people squatted collapsing like a wave in utter disappointment. The sun was blazing hot and getting hotter by the minute. They were all sweating profusely. All their looks were glued to the road. The bus had filled their imagination.

They heard a sweet honking from afar.

They had goosebumps all over the body.

They had never heard such a sound before.

The whole village rose on its feet.

The honking came closer.  It sounded like a victory bugle. A wave of dust surged in the air.  All of them got up pressing, pushing, and jostling each other.

The bus had arrived at last.

“Ahoy! Here comes the bus!”

“Here it is.  The bus!”

The bus was surrounded from all sides by the village.

They all looked at the bus with wonder. One could see some inexplicable pleasure on their faces. There was such a glow in their eyes that something, most valuable in this world, had come to their village.

At such a moment, the driver got down the bus.

Wow! What a grace was there in his footsteps!

He stepped out like the triumphant Arjuna from his chariot!

He surveyed the swarm of people around with a pleasant, satisfied look.

He threw a smile at everyone.  People were under a great spell.

To them, he looked like he had descended from a different world.

The driver removed his cap … a mark of his office… and let out a deep sigh.

People watching him felt sorry for him.

Some of them tried to fan and dry his sweat with their towels.

Children caressed his khaki uniform with their little fingers and wondered.

“Is there any meals hotel in the village?” the driver enquired casually.

“Sir! How can we allow you a modest meal with dal and chutney? Please follow us. We serve you from a Military hotel[1]” and walked him to the place nearby.  The driver walked amongst the crowd as though he was taking a guard of honour.

As the woman and children tried to touch and feel the bus, the conductor and the cleaner tried to refrain them. They collected a pie[2] from each child to allow them to sit in the bus once.

Of all the people in the village, there was a lone person who did not partake in the festivity!

It was Jatka (horse-cart) Sayibu[3].

He parked his cart  on the adjacent street and was watching the whole spectacle. He was observing the arrogance and style of the bus driver on display.

He was simmering with anger…

From tomorrow, nobody would ask him for a ride. Till yesterday… he was giving rides to people from Lam farm, from crossroads, from promontory… to every other place in the surrounds driving his horse at full gallop.

He was indispensable at marriages!

He was indispensable at small household festivals!!

The rich always commissioned him!!!

All that glory has been lost!

That luxury had become a thing of the past now! …

The very thought overwhelmed Sayibu with grief and choked him.

There weren’t many people around the bus now. He drove his cart forward. Racing close to the bus, he lashed at the bus with full force with the whip and encouraged his horse saying, “Come on my boy, let’s move forward!”

The old horse leaped up to full speed at the lashing sound.


[1] Military hotel is a synonym for a place where non-vegetarian food is served.

[2] one twelfth of an anna, a sixteenth part of a rupee.

[3] Sayibu is a generic denotative for a Muslim

Murthy Nauduri

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