[This was written for a descriptive writing contest.]
Cars sped at sixty kilometers per hour, two-wheelers whizzed past; driven by people always in a hurry, cyclists rode by with huge baggage tied to their carrier with a rope of coir, dense trees in a shade of deep olive green passed by in blackish-green streaks, people were bustling here and there doing this and that, ladies inspected good vegetables for an insect bite or a squelched dent on the potatoes and tomatoes and broke off the pointy tips of the ladies-fingers in the prospect of bargaining the vegetable prices from the vendor, slouched school children stood in the neatly pressed uniforms (it was a Monday after all) overstretching their overweight school bags’ straps waiting for their bus, waiting like the words of a pen.
My forehead rattled against the iron bars of the no. 56 bus to Siruvani. I’d been on this bus numerous times, mostly overstretching my overweight school bags’ straps clinging on to the steel rails with their steel smells until someone got off the overcrowded bus. And then I’d sit on the newly vacant seat and doze off on the overweight school bag, shored up on my lap. Later I’d take the same bus, during weekends, when I came home on two-day holidays. I’d get on it, on the dot of daybreak, buy the eleven rupee ticket (where the one rupee change is a must) and again doze off, like an unsung ritual with a longitudinal cheap translucent paper strip of pale blue: 11 rupees and a list of all the bus-stops written below the fare in Tamil, clenched in my palms which would be wet by sweat by the time I got off at my stop.
Traveling on a bus is a no biggie, at least the buses that took my route. They weren’t jam-packed, even if they were; they were during rush-hours, when people got off work and when children got off school. Mornings were different; I was returning from my grandparents’ place and took the 10am bus. Usually buses are super-free in the morning after the school kids are put away behind the school gates and working-people are put away behind their office gates, maximum of five or six passengers would be there, apart from the driver and the conductor with an unknown song playing in the quondam stereo over which the passengers spoke loudly, topics pertaining to politics, vegetable rates, household matters with a perpetual expression of shock and faux involvement. Sometimes the conductor would join in the conversation, leaning on steel rails with his brown, coin-bag slung across his torso and responding to the conversation in stochastic bursts of derisive laughter.
Coimbatore has a cordial weather, even when the sun scorched, it never parched. It felt good instead, like the vacuum band of warmth between the surface of a woollen sweater and the skin during a winter night. The heat never bothered anyone; it was just there like a ball of cotton in the sky, giving enough sunlight for photosynthesis, for clothes to dry and for red chillies on the terrace to sear. The slender outline of the hills with Kerala on its other-side traveled along 56, to the left and the hills we went towards, Velingiri, with its set of seven breathtaking hills covered with sacred ash, thirunur and the Siruvani with its sweet, crystal water on the foothills laid out in front of us, 56 took us closer to it, with every meter its diesel covered.
The panorama commuted from loud dynamics of crowded bus-stops with saree clad women buying fresh fish, men dressed in baniyans and lungis unloading cartons and gunny bags from mini-tempos and Matadors, trudging to the provision stores, a Race Course filled with people desperate to lose weight, a Town Hall filled with businessmen who took frequent tea breaks with a bajji or a bonda or both. More people got off on their stops, lesser people got on the bus. When the bus, stopped at Perur Patteeswarar temple, some in the bus folded their hands, bent down the necks, tapped their palms partially on both sides of their cheeks as an act of redemption, a habit that took 30 seconds. The urban constituents of concrete, people and chaos thinned out after Perur.
Plantain plantations covered one side of the road, the other side was filled with corn crops and an Aavin milk factory. Occasionally a stretch of tall coconut trees would appear, perched on laterite accompanied by the coconut-farm owner and his affluent mansion, an Audi or a Skoda parked right behind the closed, beautifully contrived gates. A ten to fifteen-minute drive down this idyllic route will get you to my humble abode. 56 carried the gossipmongers who spoke loudly over the unknown Tamil songs, coconut-farm moguls and grandchildren returning from their grandparents’ place. The coconut-farm moguls took out their Cars, bought out of coconut-money and sons’ earnings from America, only to crowded events such as weddings, to name one. Trivial matters such as going to Town did not call for the Car or the cost of diesel that came with it. They counted in coconuts. If they had spent thousand rupees on filling the car fuel-tank, they would account it as fifty coconuts. Why spend fifty coconuts on going to Town in a Car when you can go and return at the cost of just on coconut by 56? I get off soon after the Perur temple, way before the whole stretch of coconut, palm (they come later on, as the weather gets cooler and close to the Seven Hills) farms come to an obscure end. 56 stops off at the small (but enough) bus stand. After a ninety minute respite, they hark back from the coconut-farms to the ever engaged concrete domain. But the same dulcet weather remains same throughout, impartial.