The summers of the early 90’s were hotter than what they are today. I still remember those particular days where a women would stand with her little kids under the sun, waiting for a bus which would take them to her native. The women was Mom and her two little kids were Arun and I. I remember them like looking through a framed photograph. The day, the bus stop under the splendid sun, those brown sarees that Amma wore, those bags which travelled with us, the flowered slippers and "irumbu-kai” mayaavi comics that I would have just completed during the travel. I remember them because that is the way that particular day unfolded, summer after summer, year after year.The first day after school closure, we would have travelled from our home in the sub-urbs of Madurai towards my mothers native home in a village distant from Coimbatore. In the last leg of our journey we would stand there in the bus stop, waiting for our bus. Arun and I would make a cushion with our bags, calling names, cursing and fighting. The bus was the only means that we had those days to reach our village. The bus had its own timings, so we had to wait for hours at times. My eyes would have been frozen on the road, looking at the distant vehicles to find our bus in their midst. I would be looking at the name boards from a distance and updating their numbers to Mom. A hundred busses would cross my eyes then 2, 47B, 62, 28, 31A each had their own numbers and their own routes. The bus was my only hope to take me to a place where i loved being. My little village. My escapade of school days. Hours would pass, and sometime in the evening when the sun drops down, I would see the bus at a distance. I would shout “Amma, namma bus ma”. And the moment would come to life. The wait for a bus to arrive has its own share of surprises. As we lift the bags the bus sporting the number 36 would float towards us. When we get in, I would know i am going nowhere else, but home. I would go sit near the windows with a grin which overflows my lips. I would hold those iron rods of the window and sit there like I shared something special with the bus. As if the bus bus belonged to our ancestors, as if the bus was a car that my family never had. For my mom, getting into the bus was like getting into a neighbours house in the village. For she had travelled in it from the day it started visiting her village. It was this bus she would have left her village after marriage.It was in this bus she would have brought me and Arun when we were born. She would sit there in peace as if she was speaking with an old friend. People in the bus would be those she knew from childhood, smiles would be exchanged and greeting be shared. The bus was a part of my village that travelled on roads. I would feel safe in there, and sitting in the lap of mom i could see it travel through the same village roads, the same groves, same cactus grown lands, same moon lit nights, and stopping exactly the same stops every time. We would be the last to alight. I would run down to hug Mama who would be waiting for us, and when i look back the empty bus would honk its good bye and would be slowly fading in sight.
The world was a more closed place then, we all lived like drops floating in the bottom of a glass bottle. There were imaginary walls built around places and we stayed inside the warmth of those walls. I spent my summer inside those walls that were built around my village. And the bus was like a magical dragon which took us through the city. The bus came to the village fives times a day, twice in the morning and night and once in the noon. To catch another bus the people had to walk at least for 3kms. the bus no.36 was the lifeline of the place, from taking people to work, affording distant learning to the village children, bringing raw materials to agriculture, bringing grooms to the possible brides, transporting the aged and the sick, the bus was their only way to keep up with the world. We were not so rich then, we only had our grandpa’s old cycle in our place. So we only had the bus to move around. I still remember every time i came home i would prepare a timetable of the bus timings and stick it in the back covers of my comic books. We left the village once a week. Arun and i would dress at our best and stand with Mama on those sand ridden bus stop by the village temple. Then it had a very silvery white paint with thirukkural written on all the possible curves, there were some happy looking conductors and drivers. We travelled a lot sitting by the window seats, to parks, to temples, to doctors, to hotels, to get seeds to plant, to get chocolates for our birthdays which fell in may, towards distant relatives, to those summer exhibitions, to travel in giant wheels and eat masala pappads, to movies which were a craze for all the three of us. I remember the day when we travelled back from watching Jurassic park, i was excited like hell jumping and making dinosaur movements in the pathways. Telling to people how huge those animals looked and how big and sharp each teeth was. A part of life happened in those journeys. The sense of belonging the bus gives you and takes from you cant be explained. The toughest of journeys happened every year on the last day of summer hols, when we would be reluctantly taken back to Madurai. I cried a big deal then, i would lock myself in a room for hours believing that they may let me stay. I would never want to go back then. I would go hug patti and bleed my heart out to her “naan pogala patti, ill stay here and join the village school” and all those childish cries. But after hours of threatening and pleading I would be standing at the bus stop to catch the last 36. When the bus leaves, in the distance i would see either Patti or Chiti wiping their eyes. I would with a long face, lie on the windows of the bus. The moment I had to get down fro 36 would be the toughest, like all the strings of the holidays were cut down, like i am no more inside the warmth and love, like bidding goodbye to a very dear friend. A huge pain would plunge the heart to see the bus move away from sight, for it would take one more year and one more day under the sun, to see the bus again and to step back into it.
Years of the same cycle passed, I came to the same village to continue my graduation. To a college located in the busiest roads of the city. The first day when i went to college no one came with me, but i took the bus .That day was exciting, to dream of the next phase of your life sitting in the same old bus which has seen you grow up till day. When i got down looking at the huge arch proclaiming the name of the most sought after institution, i stepped down from 36 and it felt like there were hundreds who came with me to drop me at college. Before i left for the stint at hostel, and before i got a bike to roam around, the bus took me to college. To wait for the bus with those single books in hand, to cling at the footboards challenging life and death, to seat three or four school going kids in the lap, to start behaving like a grown up, to get home with a heavy heart after getting my first arrear, to hear a romantic song on the FM playing in the bus and to think of the girls who disturbed sleep then, the windows of the bus opened up to a lot of dreams. The bus was a very part of all those transformations. Then with time i got my own bike and the dependency on the bus became minimal. We have had enough cars and bikes at home then, the bus was only a way of alternate transportation. But, whenever i found a chance to be in the bus, i could see that it gave me the same warmth like when it gave me in my childhood. Now, the bus is no more the life line of the village, but it has not lost its love to the people it still visits the place five times a day, still transporting them in its huge rusted compartment. I have not travelled a big deal across the world. I may or I may not, but a journey i would want to take all my life would be the journey again sitting near the painted steel grills of the bus and looking through the window as the age old breeze scatters around. Through the same windows of 36 i would look at the way the landscape has transformed, the way the little tress have grown in those distant grooves, the way the cactus grown lands have started hosting houses with little children, and in the soothing closeness that the ambience of the bus gives, in my aesthetic loneliness i would be lost in the thought of those thousand little journeys which i had in the bus. Journeys which began in the insides of a little bus, journeys which have ended up becoming the most cherished memories of my lifetime.
PS: Sometime last week when the night slowly opened up to another morning and as the first rays floated around the village, i left the house for work. At a distance from the village i saw the bus. After months i saw the bus again. The driver and conductor should have left for a cup of chai. The bus stood there, empty. I parked my bike nearby and stood there looking at the bus. The same old bus. The same old friend. I didn’t go up to it, but we both kept looking at each other for a long time. A very peaceful moment passed in between us. Then I left, and from a distance i could see the bus slowly fading in sight, honking its way into the village.