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Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Random thoughts on Public Transport

One of the most pleasing moments in life is when one’s bus or train is approaching after a long wait. Apart from that, public transport rarely inspires any moment of glory among common people. The immense concentration of people forced upon commuters by public transport systems is hardly a pleasing experience for the clichéd “social animal” and goes to prove that public mentality is yet to be conducive for communism.

In crowded cities with stressed infrastructure such as Mumbai or London, there are just two categories of commuters, those who smell and those who don’t smell. But in cities with better infrastructure such as Singapore or Seoul, the categories of commuters are different. The most cheerful category is that of the elderly, who maintain a happy face throughout their journey if they can get a seat. May be the world would be a content place if everyone had a seat for her own. Then there are the young machineheads, who shut out the rest of the world, lost in their magical handheld world of car racing and first person shooting. But the majority is constituted by the zombies, who have shut themselves off from their surroundings with blank faces, eyes gazing into a distance of 10 light years. Except for when they are alighting, these zombies show any sign of life when someone in the vicinity coughs, farts or gets a call on mobile. All the same, irrespective of the location, public buses and trains are lined with rows of people who hate humanity for that duration of the journey, each seemingly hating everyone else in the coach for drawing from her share of oxygen and space.

Anywhere in the world, public transport has always been a splendid place for leering at the opposite sex. But they also provide a great avenue for artistic expression. Often seats are marked or engraved with lines ranging from the elegant such as “John loves Julie” to the profound like “For hot massage call 9999999”. Public transport also provides good opportunity to bully minorities. In Mumbai trains, some commuters from the majority community gang-up to sing devotional music loudly, often to the discomfort of non-believers. Not too long ago, racism and the resulting segregation expressed itself at its worst in public transport systems. Happily now, journey using public transport in some cities like New York can be an elevating experience where one is dazzled by the concentration of so many races and classes within a 20 meter by 5 meter coach. But with so many people holding on to overhead belts to support themselves at any point of time worldwide, it is just possible that evolution will act on us to make our hands capable for tree dwelling again.

But then, while every other system with the word public attached to it is being disgraced, public transport is making a remarkable comeback. With even the pope sounding knowledgeable about global warming, commuters using public transport have finally found the respect they deserve for having to withstand the twice-daily dosage of human sweat, smell and pressure.

1 comment:

Dena said...

I so agree with you that the only moment of glory for a public transport is when it arrives after hours of wait. Wonderful read.