March 23rd marked the day Charlie turned twenty four. Since the middle of February, we had planned to escape to Pondicherry (Pondi, to the locals) to celebrate her birthday. We had invited Alok and Neeraj to join us to 1.) encourage them to explore a part of their country which they had never seen, and 2.) to thank them for all they have done for us during our stay here. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond his control kept Neeraj from joining us; however, he was with us in spirit.
When the day finally came, we met Alok for an early breakfast before heading to the New Bus Stand to catch a bus to Pondi. Upon arriving at the New Bus Stand we were directed to about seven different locations to wait for our bus. And wait we did… for about an hour and a half or so. When our bus pulled into the bay at quarter past nine we were ready to start our adventure. We had no idea…
About half hour after leaving Vellore I noticed that our bus driver had become extremely fidgety. We were sitting on the second seat from the front of the bus just to the left of the driver. (Note to those back home: remember they drive on the right side of the road here, thus the drivers are on the right-hand side of the vehicle.) So basically I had a really good view of what was going on. Our driver was falling asleep. Feeling my own fatigue which was being compounded by the heat, I silently pitied the man. I know how awful it is to be driving when you are so tired. Along with my silent pity flowed a constant stream of silent prayer. “Dear Lord, please guide this fatigued driver safely to our destination. He’s only forty minutes into a four and a half hour drive. Keep us safe.” Now, a “keep me safe” prayer is not uncommon for me to whisper whenever I come within proximity to India roads, but seriously… a sleeping bus driver?!?! Bus drivers are scary enough when they are wide awake! I would like to note that our driver did not drive like he was tired. His foot lay heavy on the gas pedal and his hand rested constantly on the horn. He slowed down a little for lorries, but other than that he sped around bikes, cars, buses and pedestrians as if he were trying to break the land-speed record. The man sitting across the aisle noticed I was watching the driver which, in turn, alerted him to the fact that we had a situation on our hands. He started to talk to the driver and occasionally turned to me with an it’s-ok-I’ve-got-this nod. I foolishly mentioned something to Charlie about it, which set her on high alert. She was ready to climb over me and plunk him on the head if his eyes closed for any longer than a blink. Knowing that my fellow passenger and Charlie were on it and with nothing else to do, I smiled to myself, thought about how India has gifted me with a plethora of unique experience, and sat back to relax. I was mildly terrified, and yet peacefully comfortable knowing I would be fine. Little did I know that my unique experience was only beginning…
About fifteen minutes later a young boy sitting behind me completely lost his crackers. The front half of the bus soon knew what the poor boy had eaten for breakfast as it was all over the floor and some of the passengers. Unlike others, I was lucky to only receive a small sprinkling of his breakfast offering. What struck me the most was the reaction of others. Passengers shifted away, as much as they could, and swiftly cleaned their own persons. One person threw a half cup of water on the mess in a token effort to clean up the bus. For the most part people stepped over it, or through it, if they were unaware of what had just taken place. So now we have a hot bus with a sleepy driver and a sick lad. Adventure abounds.
By this time we have made it to the rugged roads far south of Vellore. Potholes everywhere. Big ones. Deep ones. It is hard to tell if we are still on the main road or if we have been redirected down someone’s rough driveway. Our sleepy driver seemed confident in the direction he was taking us. He also seemed hell-bent on breaking that land-speed record. So we raced on, sometimes getting air as we bounced off our seats when the bus hit a particularly large hole. The passengers handled the trip better than the window across from us. I soon heard the unmistakable shattering of glass. Again, no one reacted with alarm. The bus driver nonchalantly passed back a rolled up piece of newspaper so that the closest passenger could knock out the remaining fragments and “sweep” the shards of glass off the seat.
|The rugged roads of Tamil Nadu, with a bus in passing.|
From the time I noticed the sleeping driver to the time the window broke I would guess about thirty minutes had passed. I began to wonder what could possibly happen next. With two to one ratio of excitement and apprehension, I waited for the next catastrophe. Nothing happened. Three and a half hours later, hot, tired, sweaty, and thankful for our safety (and yes, ever so slightly disappointed that we couldn’t squeeze in just one more unique event), we arrived safely in Pondicherry.
P.S. I love India.
P.S. I love India.