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One of the many things I wanted to be when I grew up was... a bus conductor.

Thursday, February 19th, 2004

Kolkata, India

Enviable Conduct

Indian bus conductors

I had to get one of the local Indian buses today. When I was a kid, one of the many things I wanted to be when I grew up was... a bus conductor. Not just an ordinary bus conductor, mind you, but a bus conductor on an Indian bus!

You see, when I was growing up in Durban, in province of Natal, South Africa, in the late fifties and early sixties, Durban was — and probably still is — home to the largest concentration of Indians outside the sub-continent of India itself. About three quarters (825,000) of South Africa's total Indian population live in Natal (now KwaZulu), and eighty percent of those (660,000) live in Durban, according to this Zulu Kingdom site.

So, like just about everybody else in Durban, I grew up with the eastern influence of the enormous Indian population: curry and rice, sweetmeats (jelebi and murukku), Diwali, incense — and Indian buses! Indian buses were so much more lekker than the Durban Corporation buses: the bland Corporation buses were a uniform green (or red, for whites during the apartheid regime!); the Indian buses were gaily decorated with dozens of gaudy colors and red, purple, or green flashing colored lights, and had exotic-sounding names like Krishna's Bus Service or Prem's Pride.

One of the best things about the buses, for me, was the conductor. Unlike the staid conductors on the Corporation buses, the Indian bus conductors: could wear regular clothes instead of a uniform; could stand outside the bus soliciting passengers — "Warangal Road, Clairwood, Merebank, Warangal Roaaad!" — instead of remaining in the bus; and could walk down the aisle collecting the fares while ka-chinging a row of coins in the palm of their hand, instead of using one of those boring coin collecting/sorting thingies.

But best of all — and this is what clinched this choice of occupation for me! — was that all the Indian bus conductors used to run alongside the bus when it took off from the bus stop and, while the bus was in motion, jump onto the lower stair with an exaggerated flourish.

That was so, so cool! I used to ask my mom if I could get on the bus last so that I could emulate the conductor, but for some reason she would never allow me to. Something about slipping under the wheels. Moms! It wasn't like I was a little kid or anything. I was seven years old!

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Layout by imonk — February 19th, 2004.