Sunday, September 16, 2007

Massa in Mangalore

No, that's not the latest update. Like one of those flashy things on a 24/7 (crappy) news channel which says 'Breaking News' all day long. It's more of what to expect if you take the public transport anywhere south of Maharashtra. That's what I've heard, but I can surely vouch for the Mangalorean stuff.

For those with a bad sense of geography, Mangalore is a big town to the west of Bangalore, on the coast of Karnataka. It's the birthplace of Udupi hotels, their owners and waiters, a handful of public sector banks and spicy chicken curry with kori roti. Of late, it has become a sub-hub of the growing IT industry, but that's beside the point. There's a huge amount of untapped talent in South India when it comes to automobile racing. Maybe a bit too much. Like this bus driver, for instance, whom we had the privilege of traveling with when mother dear was taking my brother and me to a relative's house. We don't have a vehicle of our own, so the bus was the obvious choice.

By the way, there's this funny rule they follow: You've to pay luggage charges for two or more traveling bags if you can't keep them on your lap (pretty straight-forward, it would take up standing space) but anything up to three gunny bags allowed free. So next time you go there, take all your belongings (even your neighbours' if you want) in a sack - nobody will charge you for that. How did I find this out? We had to pay only for our two suitcases and not for the three monstrous jackfruits, each the size of Umaga's rear end (WWE-ignorant people, note that this means very big).

Back to the driver. He was this typical southie - thick, dark moustache and long sidelocks, looking ten years younger than his actual age, subtly flirting with the women wearing flowers in their hair (and no Mangal sutra). He had this no-nonsense looking shirt that had been thoroughly pressed and his trousers were slightly bell-bottomed. Frankly, he looked much better than the bus drivers in our part of the world. As I said before - unexpected, hidden talent that would make Massa throw in the lungi.

It was like a typical F1 start, the guy warming up the engine in eager anticipation. Normally, the lights go out and then the vehicle shoots ahead; here this happened in reverse. Seated on the last row added to the suspense – whether we would fly out of the window first or get knocked out if the head made sweet contact with the bar behind. It was like those typical cartoons where the eyes say a quick hi to the ears and the wind forces the mouth into a wide grin while teeth chatter and saliva flies past. Not funny.

The driver then proceeded to use all the gears available on the bus. During this time, I saw weird blurs of different colours pass by the window; then there was a longish blur which turned out to be a slower bus. Boy, Doppler would have been proud of seeing practical observation of his work in optics. Not only that, the forces involved in high velocities became personal. The brakes, they proved to be in excellent condition, launching forty odd human-sized projectiles into the air every time a bus stop came by. I think it's since then that my stomach has permanently moved to the right bottom corner of the abdomen.

You have to admit these guys are too good. In fact, this fellow even managed a sip of water while going up a slope, whereas for me, the bus seemed to slow down from mach two to one. I couldn't help noticing this was a routine for the other passengers.

All said and done, there's no denying the fact that it was worth the ride, a mere six rupees. Here in Mumbai, they simulate the same thing, provide seat belts and call it Essel World. Oh, and I forgot, they charge three hundred plus. Hail South Indian public transport drivers.