A couple of days back my grandma (nani) was in the ICU down with serious stomach cramps and high fever. She is a septuagenarian and the vagaries of old age are starting to show clearly on her. She has been bed ridden for the last couple of years and finds it very difficult to even move an inch. Quite naturally, everyone was praying fervently for her recovery. Luckily, our prayers were answered and she quickly recovered and has been discharged from the ICU.
Thinking about nani, i was immediately reminded of the days with my grandparents. My grandparents hail from a small city called Bhagalpur on the southern banks of Ganges. It has been more than ten years since i last went to Bhagalpur but the memories of the fantastic time spent with my grandparents there are still as fresh as ever.
I very well remember the arduous journey that we had to undertake to get to my grandparents' place. Getting down at the small town called Jasidih in the dead of the night signaled the end of the first relatively easier part of the tour. The second part involved spending around three to four hours at the dilapidated Jasidih railway station waiting for the morning to dawn. For companions, we almost always had disinterested beggars and your quintessential chaiwallah. To add a little spice to the plot, there would invariably be a couple of small town ruffians loitering around who looked straight out of some 70s bollywood movie. The sun breaking through the horizon marked the end of our stay at the railway station. Half asleep we would trudge towards a vikram - a type of autorickshaw designed to carry 10 people at a time, but which always had 15 to 20 passengers inside. In another half an hour, we were at the Jasidih bus stand to board a bus for Bhagalpur. For some reasons, these buses always ran jampacked and the concept of airconditioned buses didn't exist then - atleast in this part of the country. The seat inside the driver's cabin was the coveted one because it helped escape the impoosibly increasing crowd inside the bus. Of course, we had to shell out extra bucks to get the prized seat.
The bus journey always turned out to be the most adventurous part of the entire trip. Bus drivers, by some designs of destiny, are always on a high. No matter what part of the day, how narrow the roads, how crowded the streets- a bus driver is bound to drive oblivious of all such facts. For him its always HIS road. So the next three hours of bus journey would give us enough tales of nail biting escapes either for the bus or for the smaller vehicles that plied on these roads. In defence of the bus drivers, it can be said that even the drivers of smaller vehicles consider the road to be their own property. Of course, this being Laluland, we would come across a bunch of buffaloes sunbathing right in the middle of the road every now and then. The three hours journey would have no less than five pit stops where the bus crew would get down at some roadside dhabas for refreshments. This also afforded the passengers an opportunity to relieve themselves in the nearby bushes. Hordes of people would get down together to pee on one small slightly bushy patch of land merrily chatting all the while. This setup hardly gave any sort of privacy but then who cares! By the time the three hours journey came to an end, the bus would be putrid with farts and sweat.The bus journey would have already taken its toll by then. My mom's migraine attack would have resurfaced, my younger sister and I would be down with nausea and my dad would be busy doing what he is best at- attending to co passengers turned patients. Back then, the only mode of travel in Bhagalpur were cycle rickshaws. The final lap of this Tour de Bhagalpur would involve a 15 minutes ride on the cycle rickshaw. Compared to the highly taxing bus journey, this was always a Godsend. At the end of 15 minutes, we would be standing at the gates of my grandparents' imposing house. Down but not out !