The Bus depot, not far from Jamna’s house, looked different today. She used to look at everyone going to the bus station from her verandah every day and wondered when her turn will come. Her eyes were looking at a mysteriously transformed bus depot today now that they were going to take off on a bus, themselves.
When Bhikhu was very young, he would ask “We come here only to receive and see relatives off. When will WE board a bus?”
She even treated herself with a cup of tea from one of the vendors, against her conscience. One is allowed the luxury of indulging in minor pleasures, occasionally. Bhikhu just looked on, like an obedient son.
The bus rolled in, the passengers waiting at the depot rushed to the bus in a heap. It was the turn of the matured Bhikhu to hold his mother’s hand and lead her into the bus.
“Maaji, where the hell are you going?” Asked an acquaintance
“Why? Can’t I board the bus with my Bhikhu? We are going to Bombay, you know, to console my solicitor Dayalji bhai over the death of his second son” Jamna shot back with pride. Bhiku nodded his head.
Bhikhu, seated next to her, looked around for Ravji, the brother of the postman.
“Maa, Ravji kaka is nowhere to be seen,” Bhikhu said, nervously
“Doesn’t matter Dikra, you are here – to hell with others” The Azad woman quipped stressing the ‘you’
The bus driver honked one final time to alert the passengers around; the conductor irritatingly muttered some profanity – no one seemed to be boarding the bus anymore
“Drive on, you silly man” he let out a stream of more swear words and motioned the driver to move, ringing the bell.
The bus, or the “Motor’ in the local lingo, roared and emerged out in a menacing fashion from the bus depot. The driver, with a scarf around his sweaty neck, emboldened by the conductor, pressed the accelerator, making the crowd run helter-skelter.
The bus had barely made its way out of the depot when Bhikhu saw Ravji, running towards the moving bus from the front side, waving the bus to halt.
The bus came to a halt abruptly, for huffing and puffing Ravji to get in.
The conductor frowned “ Why the hell you can’t you people learn to be in time?” and banged the door close, in a huff, as soon as Ravji got inside.
Ravji gave an impish smile “ Arey, Why are you so worked up, Bhai? These things happen. God is great”
He surveyed the group of passengers and let out a soft cry on noticing Jamna Maa and Bhikhu.
“Arey, very good you boarded the bus. I was worried” and promptly took a seat next to the acquaintance of Jamna, behind the mother-son duo, nodding to him for no apparent reason.
Jamna turned and Regally acknowledged his presence and resumed viewing the scene from her window.
Bhikhu, seeing his mother’s faint and no-nonsense reaction sat motionless, with no clue on what to say.
The bus rolled on, halting at each village, small or big, and taking more passengers on. Some festooned bullock carts carrying a wedding party passed by, taking some passengers by surprise. “ What a time to organize a wedding? So hot and humid?”
The acquaintance of Jamna lurched forward and asked: “ Do you know which family it was in the wedding party?”
Jamna did not react.
Not to be disheartened at the cold response, he continued “ But Jamni, your brother is a big solicitor in Bombay, so why don’t you seek financial help from him? What a rogue brother you have who turns his head away from a poor sister”
Jamna lost her composure. “ Hey, you stop meddling in my affairs, understand? I never seek help – not even from God – as you guys do. I am going to see him out of a sense of duty towards him in his hour of tragedy, and not to complain to him about my needs. Now shut up and let me enjoy the journey in peace”
The guy was dumbstruck. He settled back in his seat with a wry smile on his face. Ravji too took the hint and vowed not to provoke the widow further.
The bus trundled on. The sign of the village of Gandeva – Jamna’s ancestral village where she grew up – flashed by. Jamna perked up and asked Bhikhu to ready himself to the view of Gandeva.
“That is your Dayalji mama’s village, Bhikhu. I grew up here as a young girl until I was married off” the eyes of the woman swelled up with tears.
“Look at the outskirts of Gandeva, see that board ? That is where I had once escaped to avoid being thrashed by my father for picking up a physical fight with a boy 2 years senior to me” Jamna reminisced the past scene in front of her eyes.
“I wore just a ghaaghra-choli without an odhani!”
Then the neighbour saw me and caught me;
“Arey Jamni, why the hell are you here, so far from your home and with a glum face? What happened? Does your father know? Come, come, let me escort you back to your home. They all would be worried”
“You know, Bhikhu, I was a tomboy here. I used to light up firecrackers in my bare hands and climb the trees like no other boy” Her pride was visible on her face.
Bhikhu, and the other two, eaves-dropping from the back seat, were in the awe of the woman.
He didn’t say a word.
“Bhikhu, are you hungry, Dikra” The mother asked her prized son with all the love that only a doting mother can.
“No no, I am a big, grown-up boy now. Don’t worry about me” The Azad woman’s tale of courage had finally rubbed off on him
Jamna smiled approvingly. The other two looked at each other and decided that silence was the best virtue.
Navsari Railway station:
Nothing of great significance occurred on way to the Navsari railway station.
Bhikhu, the big and grown-up man, took the cash from the courage woman and walked with a deliberate gait to the ticket window and bought two tickets to Bombay Central that had “Teesra Darjaa Maamulee” prominently displayed on the ticket.
The British English of translation of the word ‘Third-class ordinary’ to ‘Teesra Darjaa mamulee’ was a further sign of degradation of the status of being mamulee – of Indians in general.
Jamna insisted that Bhikhu had a cup of tea on the railway platform before boarding the ‘local’ train. The transformed young man enjoyed the new status of being a ‘grown-up’ man, declined and joined his maa to wait for the train as if he owned the station.
Ravji appeared from nowhere “Maaji, Don’t you worry. I am with you”
Bhikhu held Maa’s hand and asked Ravji to assist in getting onto the train.
To be continued…