I was reading noted Marathi humorist P L Deshpande's story "Mhais" in which he describes his journey in a State Transport bus from Ratnagiri to Mumbai.
Towards the beginning of the hilarious description the author says he was getting "jealous" of the passenger sitting to his left. The reason: The passenger had taken for granted that the author's left shoulder was a complimentary cushion offered by the State Transport Corporation.
The sleeping man is awakened when the bus suddenly jerks; but he goes back to sleep after muttering a few words of annoyance. The humorist does not make any mention of waking up the sleeping man and telling him to sit properly. I was not so lucky. In fact, I feel sympathetic towards the sleeping man - when you are asleep how can you control the movements of your head, hands and feet?
And how can you stay awake at 3am? I think I am muddling up things; let me begin at the beginning. It was the general elections in 1996. As a news reporter, I was assigned by my organization to cover the constituencies falling in the scenic Konkan region of Maharashtra. In those days state transport buses were the most convenient modes of transport.
Before beginning the journey, my superiors had advised me to travel in the night. "You can get adequate sleep in the bus, and you can start your work in the morning without any feeling of weariness," I was told.
My first stop was Raigad from Pune. The distance was quite short. I spent a day in Raigad and after completing my work there, proceeded for Sindhudurg. Remembering the advice of my superiors, I decided to take a late bus so that I would arrive at Sindhudurg in the morning. If I arrived in the morning it would be convenient for finding a lodge as well, I reasoned. I decided to take a bus past midnight after taking my meals. Once inside the bus, I will close my eyes and hey bingo, before I know I would be in Sindhudurg. The journey from Raigad to Sindhudurg was a long one and since I was travelling in the night, there would be nothing to look out at from the window. So a nice sleep was a welcoming thought.
My calculations began to go awry right from the beginning. For one, the buses were far in between. Secondly, there was a huge rush of passengers. So, when a bus arrived all the other passengers would rush inside and I would be left standing where I was.
Finally, it was probably because of the late hour (it was nearly 2am), the number of travelers had thinned and when the next bus arrived I managed to get inside. I found myself a seat. Unluckily for me, it was not a window seat that I would have preferred. The window seat had been taken up by a burly and sulky-looking man.
The bus started and I closed my eyes. Suddenly I felt an earthquake. I was being rudely shaken I opened my eyes to discover that I had been mistaken. It was not an earthquake. The man next to me was shaking me violently. I looked at him through half open eyes. "Sit properly," he growled. I was sitting properly; why was he grumbling? "My shoulder is not your pillow," he explained and things slowly became clear.
I edged away from him as much as possible and bringing my knees together, rested my head on them. That was good posture. Now there was no danger of my head seeking out his shoulder. I closed my eyes and was lost in sleep. There was the earthquake again. It took me much less time now to understand my position. "Go and sit somewhere else," the man growled. Defying all my instructions to remain on the knees, the head had sprung up without my knowledge and had found the man's shoulder once again.
This was very embarrassing. I turned around and saw that the rearmost seats in the bus were vacant. Many passengers had alighted en route and, hence, the bus had fewer passengers inside. I picked up my bag and made for the last seat. It was a window seat, and there was no one next to me! I closed my eyes, and blissful sleep at once took me in its tight embrace. I was rudely awakened once again - not by an earthquake this time but loud noise all around. I opened my eyes and saw it was bright daylight. I had reached my destination.