In the US, a bus ride during “rush hour” can be crowded. You can’t always find a seat and therefore must use the overhead straps to hang onto. If my memory serves me right, my grandfather once told me these rides are called “strap hanger” rides. As a passenger on a strap hanger ride, you automatically increase your base of support by widening your stance, and lowering your center of gravity by slightly flexing the knees. This increased your ability to balance. Whether you know it or not, you employ an ankle balance strategy to compensate for the rough and unstable ride. This doesn't mean that you don’t get tossed around a little, but these strategies engage your larger muscles groups (quads, etc.) and core muscles to help you maintain your upright position rather than simply relying on your arms to steady you.
In India, a bus ride during “rush hour” is such that you are completely and entirely unable to employ any or all of the above mentioned strategies. First off, you’re lucky if you can grab a solid surface with at least one hand. Keep in mind you may be reaching through, over, and around people in order to grasp something stable. Personal space bubbles vanish. Secondly, the widest you will be able to make your base of support is the outline of both your feet stacked directly next to one another, if you’re lucky. I've had a few bus rides where one of my feet was stacked upon the other due to lack of floor space. As far as the balance strategies, well… you will be so close to the people around you that you don’t really need it. You will all gently sway together as the bus rumbles down the road. The best you can do is hold on to your one point of stability and hope your arm doesn't cramp up before you have to get off.
Just when you think that the bus has reached max capacity (meaning you don’t think any more young boys can ride the bus with their toes gripping the edge of the stairwell while their heels dangle precariously over the road below), the bus will stop and one person will get off while eighteen more get on. It is astounding, bewildering… and comical. On one of my recent rides I felt a rather forceful nudge at my knee, so I turned to see what was going on. When I looked down all I saw was a small child’s head looking up at me with a bright and slightly concerned smile. The little body attached to the head was so squished among the crowd that I couldn't see it at all… just a head, trying to stay afloat in the sea of bus travelers.
The ticket handlers on these buses are magicians. I’m sure of it. Somehow they manage to pass from one end of the bus to the other with hardly touching a person. They defy the laws of matter by slipping through the crowds with lightning speed. They also manage to keep track of who has and hasn't paid their fares. They patrol their route to and from the back of the bus with a stack of neatly folded rupees tuck just-so around the fingers of their left hand. In the same hand is a stack or three of ticket books which they tear off and hand to passengers in exchange for their money. A worn leather bag with rupee coin pieces jingles at their side for when they need to make change.
The ticket handler will also manage the space allocations in order to maximize profits. (The more people he can get on the bus, the more money he makes.) If you have a backpack (or rucksack as they say in the UK) on your back, he will make you take it off and hold it in front of you as if placing the mass in front of you will somehow make more room. Just because they seem to have defied the laws of matter doesn't mean they understand them.
|Because of the tight spaces in a bus during true "rush hour" I have not had the opportunity to snap a photo, so this is the best you get. :)|
Despite the discomfort of losing all personal space and the cramping upper extremity muscle groups, the “rush hour” bus rides I have had thus far have been pretty awesome. It is an experience like none other. When on this sort of adventure you are left with but one choice: to smile, hold tight, and be thankful that at least your head is above the crowd.