My editor at the technology media company I work at often exhorts me to go one Sunday on Bangalore’s City Heritage Walk tour, but I never found the courage to tell him why I chose not to. Just as I never found the courage to pen my thoughts about Bangalore’s bus passengers for so long. No, I didn’t have the courage to say that I am a part of a community of shameless and dishonest residents.
But something happened that made me reconsider and shout out aloud, “yes, we are cheat stakes!” It seems to be the time to get it out in the open. Was it the battery of Anna loyalists on their motorcycles, carrying the national flag that fluttered in the gale, shouting Anna’s name and racing down the road? Or was it the picture of Samnad’s resolute face in my mind’s eye that brought in a change in my attitude? It seems to me that both played a part.
First let’s get the story about the Bangalore bus passengers out. It begins with the conductors. They have three ways of giving you your ticket: either giving you the correct fare back, or marking the balance on tthe back of the ticket or,.. not giving you your ticket at all! The third, which is the most difficult one to believe, is also the most common and follows this sequence: Your fare is seven rupees. You count the change in your hand but when you have picked three or four rupees, the conductor, with a nod of his hand, pockets it and turns away. When you ask for the ticket, he rages at you and demands three more rupees before giving the ticket.
But I was talking about the bus passengers’ story... Among them, no one notices anything amiss whether you ask for the ticket or not. It’s a non-event for them.
It must have been at least in some part on account of passing Anna’s motorcycle brigade that gave vent to my pent up anger. Yesterday evening on my way back from office, when the conductor once again made a face while handed me the ticket, I made a fuss. The words sprang out as if they had a life of their own for I hadn’t planned any talk. “What is going on?” I asked, speaking in Hindi. “Have you given him a ticket?” I asked the conducutor, pointing to a boy who had just paid the toned-down fare for a no-ticket ride. “Why are you not asking for a ticket,” I next asked the boy. “The money is going in his pocket and our government is getting cheated. That is why we have buses with poor maintenance like this which pollute the air...” I stopped after a minute seeing that no one seemed to empathize with me.
When did this happen? We couldn’t provide clean air in our cities and we couldn’t provide clean water to our villagers, but we weren’t shameless, were we? Shame was what kept us from going in bikinis on the beach, right? When did this change? Have we, bus passengers of the Heritage-Rich City of Bangalore and residents of the jaha-dil-mey-safai-rehti-hai India, become so thick-skinned that we can’t raise a voice when the conductor is plundering the government in broad daylight?
As the bus trudged on, there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned back to look into the eyes of the boy whom I had chastised just a few minutes ago for not demanding a ticket. “I got it,” he said with a resolute face as he waved the ticket.
The boy’s name, I found out later when I befriended him, is Shamnad. He is a trainee safety officer in a construction company, with a pittance of a salary. If he had kept quiet and pocketed the three rupees (the balance of the actual fare from what he paid), they would have added to his savings in a way that mattered. But he spoke out and asked for a ticket. Aah.. somebody in India stirred!
We will need lots of such stirrings if we are to stop this dangerous culture that has swamped the city.
Auto rickshaw riders routinely charge more money and passengers generally pay without objecting. Then, aren’t the ones who charge ‘normal’ fare getting cheated? Every day the honest rickshaw drivers will go home with a couple of hundred rupees less, with less vegetables to feed their kids and less note books for them to practice their studies. Nothing is ever done to the dishonest drivers who ask for more money. Why, do the kids of such drivers know at all the source of his father’s ill-gotten wealth? Or do we, as passengers, stop to consider that we are abetting a practice that is encouraging cheats? Let’s think again for a moment about the honest ones – who choose not to have their bread buttered in this manner – and then reply.
Isn’t Bangalore known as India’s electronic capital? We could put that knowledge to some use... Audio-record demanding auto drivers when they ask for hefty fares and capture sly conductors on the video. Show them at police stations and ask for action to be taken against such persons. Better still, fix a date with other enthusiastic friends to initiate a concerted action. It’s going to take our time (you want to make certain the policeman doesn’t let off the errant driver lightly by pocketing a bribe, don’t you?), but then we would have played our part.
For my part, I could finally carry out my editor’s suggestions and go and join the Bangalore Heritage Walk... without carrying a guilty conscience of not being able to do anything to support the honest workers of my Garden City.