“I wish everyone on this bus could just get off! “
Arthi, my Indian-Malaysian friend groans at me from the side. I look at her, stuck in the middle of three seats on a rickety old Bus, in the middle of the desert in Andhra Pradesh, the sweat rolling down her cheeks, her face flushed. I now regret that we didn’t make it onto that first, AC express Bus to Bangalore. I could be sitting in a modern Bus, with a cool breeze on my face and spacious seats for a mere 2 $ more. I would already BE in Bangalore, refreshed, awake, drinking fresh lime sodas and eating chaat. Or drinking sweet lassis and sharing a plate of dahi puri. Or drinking a coconut….mhmmm..coconut.
So why am I here? Welll…..
I am in Anantapur, a city on the road between Hyderbad and Bangalore in Andrah Pradesh. It is known for two things apparently: religious fascism and spicy food. I kind of doubt the religious fascism bit and think that it was fabricated by my roommates who had probably heard it from someone who heard it from their aunts-sisters-cousin who heard it from their uncles-brothers-son and so on. Because Indians love to be the authority on every matter she told me with such conviction “ In Anantapur you must be careful, they are all fanatics and don’t like foreigners, very very dangerous” that for a while there it had me worried. It turns out it is just a normal small Indian city with a large amount of Muslims that doesn’t receive many tourists because…well…because there really is nothing to see. It is flat, dry and in the middle of a desert. But who knows, maybe they secretly hide foreigners in their basements and flog them with bamboo sticks or something and I just got lucky.
The spicy food on the other hand was not exaggerated. Man! As usual when it came time to eat I loaded my plate and sat down to eat. After the first bite my eyes where watering and I was gulping back curd(Indian style watery sour yoghurt). My mouth was on fire. It was actually so spicy that I think even James Wells (who is the guy that can probably tolerate spiciness the most out of all the people I know without ever showing pain) would have winced. About 3 liters of curd later I had managed to eat about a tenth of the food but, needless to say, was pretty full.
I was in Anantapur for a Conference of the four Southern Indian States on the proposed Food Security Bill for India. Arthi and I, unable to find a train seat back had decided to wing it and just catch a local bus back. Our hosts dropped us off at the Bus station and for the next 30 minutes it was pure chaos. For anyone that hasn’t been to an Indian Bus Depot it is a zoo. Buses coming and going and people running around and sitting everywhere, drivers yelling their stops, Buses playing musical chairs where a bus will fire up their engines and people will run on, only to have it turn off their engines and a different bus (going to the same destination) will fire up its engine. So everybody races off the first one and crowds onto the second one.
I must be a bit out of practice because when our bus, the AC express bus to Bangalore comes it doesn’t pull into where it is supposed to (surprise surprise), instead it just stops in the middle, blares its horn and somehow everyone knows that this bus, looking only mildly different from the other buses is going to Bangalore. I am swept up in the stampede towards the door. People are hurling themselves at the bus, climbing in through the windows or passing luggage (and small children) to passengers already seated so that they can claim a seat. It makes absolutely no sense to me and when we finally get on of course all the seats are full. We have to jump off the moving bus as it pulls out of the station, trudging back through the sun to where we hope another bus will stop.
When our bus finally does come ( a non-AC old timer that stops at every single village along the way and goes at an average of 40km an hour) I am prepared. Although it goes against every Canadian fiber in my body I race to the front and cut the line, pushing and shoving my way to the door while Arthi passes her bag and my shawl through the window to a random stranger who secures us two seats. I admit, I feel a mild sense of accomplishment as I get on the bus and find our “reserved” seat.
Funnily enough I am not bothered by the bus conditions, in fact, more than anything the lack of windows, omnipresent dried vomit on the sides of the bus and cramped position makes me feel at home. The only thing that is lacking is food. Especially after sitting for 5 hours with the dust blowing in my face drinking only water and seeing the hundreds of roadside stalls selling fresh watermelon and guavas and oranges I am drooling.
“I wish someone would come in selling pineapples” I voice to Arthi. There is no better thirst quencher then succulent, sweet, tangy, ripe pineapple. And I am not even kidding you; 1 minute later the bus stops outside of a small village. Not one, but two people get on with trays on their heads showcasing their goods.
“Pineapple pineapple pineapple hey”
Arthi and I can’t help laughing. Only in India. I buy two bags of sliced pineapple, sharing it with my immediate neighbors, savoring every last bite. They accept some slices, smiling back at me, sharing the only trait that can truly cross cultures. 5 minutes later I have the cutest, chubbiest Indian baby on my lap staring back at me with it’s grandma chatting away with me, oblivious it seems that I do not understand a word of what she is saying. I feel tired and dirty and my cotton pants are thoroughly damp with sweat but I am oddly content.
Maybe, after all, it was good that we missed that bus.