If you are living in Maharashtra, you must surely have travelled by a ST bus. And if you have not, then you have missed an experience.
For the uninitiated, ST bus is the State Transport bus. It is the lifeline of Maharashtra, especially for the large population residing in villages. The people lovingly refer to it as ‘lal dabba’ which translates into English as the ‘Red Box’. It is so named because it is literally a travelling box on wheels.
Many of you will remember the tin boxes which you carried to school, especially in the primary division. It used to hold the books, pencils, rulers, tiffin boxes and many other things. And at the start and end of school timings and during the recesses, the boxes of all the students used to make a great racket.
When the ST bus travels, it too makes a similar racket. This racket is caused by the assortment of metal trunks and other luggage of the passengers and by the passengers themselves who want to make themselves heard over the great racket. Above all , all the nuts and bolts which hold up the bus, make a big noise since the buses vibrate while travelling.
It seems these buses are manufactured by an ancient bus manufacturer, who has been bypassed by all the advances made in the field of bus body assemblies. After all no other buses vibrate as much.
And these buses have their moods…
They will be taking you to your destination, your are trying to grab a few winks in all the cacophony, when suddenly the bus coughs and splutters and with a few jerks, comes to a halt in the middle of the road. And no amount of cajoling by the bus driver and the conductor is enough to make it go again.
As the bored passengers get down from the bus to stretch their legs or to answer nature’s call, the bus driver goes below the bus, with assortment of tools, with the conductor at his constant beck and call. Finally the driver gives up and emerges from the bowels of the bus, quite dejectedly.
In the meanwhile some of the passengers have managed to get lifts from private vehicles and goods trucks while some have decided not to give up on the resting bus. This attitude of the passengers, is what the bus likes and its mood changes for the better.
As soon as the driver decides to give it a one final try, the bus starts after a few false starts. With a great victory cry from the remaining passengers of ‘har har mahadev’ and ‘Ganpati bappa Mourya’ as they board , the bus is motivated to take them to their destination.
Now you will appreciate that I was very surprised to read in the papers that the ST Mahahmandal have decided to provide free wi-fi in these very buses. And the following images flashed before my eyes…
People have lined up in the ST stand for boarding the bus along with their assorted luggage, awaiting the bus to come inside the stand. Like always, their luggage consists of metal trunks, some carry pickle jars very delicately, some are holding long bamboo brooms made in their village, some holding their infants who have the propensity to emit ear piercing cries, while some are students who are going back to their colleges in the city after completing their vacations in their villages.
But most of them have one thing in common, they are all carrying their precious smartphones. After all they are very eager to use the newly provided wi-fi inside the bus.
Finally the bus arrives, the passengers rush to their seats inside . As they settle down in their seats they await for the bus to start. But more than that they await the passwords for wi-fi usage.
Already some are fiddling with their phones , they can see the wi-fi available but wait for the password is killing. You will never see a more silent ST bus, since no one, no longer wants to make small talk with their neighbours neither do they want to shout out to their friends sitting a few seats away.
They are not interested looking out of the window, neither are they bent on grabbing a few winks.
Then the moment arrives, the conductor distributes the scratch cards having the passwords to all those who ask for it.
And that’s it!
Those who take the scratch cards, they stop living in the present. Someone starts communicating with his office on office mail, trying to do his pending work so that he is not overly burdened when he finally rejoins office. A boy in the corner seat is trying to download the latest songs on his smartphone whereas another one is watching his favourite movie. A girl on the first seat is engrossed in chatting with her friends on social media all the while ignoring her best friend sitting beside her in the bus.
While the wi-fi users are happy, it has certainly mellowed down the environment inside the ST bus, which has always been known for its boisterous passengers.
But are we being over optimistic here. Maybe the wi-fi will not work. After all, a few years back, there was great talk of CCTV cameras being installed in public spaces. Now we know that most of them are mere non-working dabbas.
And the ST buses will continue to carry their boisterous denizens to their destinations across the state.