Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Six Rupee Bus to Work

My office has shifted to another part of town that  has a bus route from Besant Nagar, where I live during the week, to Mylapore, where my office is now located. Prior to the move, I took auto rickshaws to work. The bus ride takes about 30 minutes and costs all of six rupees, or about 10 cents. I take a taxi home at night right now since the crowds seem to be heavier after work, and I can't seem to figure out where the bus stop is to return to my flat.

In the morning mayhem, the buses are crowded and I rarely get a seat. There is a men and women's side to the buses, which gives women a fighting chance of getting a seat. Today as I rode along in the tightly packed bus full of office workers, students, and retirees headed into the city, I felt a sense of camaraderie with my fellow bus riders. Young boys hung out of the bus doors running alongside until the last minute and then jumping into the bus as it picked up speed. An old woman shouted at the boys. She told me in broken English that it was, "Very dangerous." We were all off to God-knows-where but for some 30 minutes or so we were all packed into this tin can of a bus, making our way through the morning traffic of Chennai.

I have often sat in air conditioned taxis and watched as these overloaded buses trundled past and thought how hard it must be to travel to work that way. Well, now that I am trying to save money plus spend my time learning more about the day-to-day activities of my fellow Indian office workers, I find the bus ride and it's sardine-like discomfort a bit more bearable. I have been asked to hold hold lunch boxes and have had my bags held on the laps of complete strangers who see me struggle to stay upright while being sandwiched into the tight fit of the bus aisle. It gives me a sense of being part of the Chennai work-a-day scene and today I felt very satisfied to be part of the whole colorful collage that is India.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Return to Chennai

It's hard to believe but nearly two months have gone by since my last blog post. I have a fairly good excuse; David and I took a 6 week whirlwind trip to the UK and US where we met each other's families/friends, got married (!) and moved my two college-aged daughters into their university dorms in CA. It was a wonderful trip, and I am now back in Chennai working and commuting to Tiru on the weekends.

Today it took nearly five hours to get from Tiruvannamalai to my office in Chennai. The anti-American riots have found there way to South India. The same impetus for the riots that began in Libya, and which killed the US Ambassador to Libya, have arrived in peaceful South India.

On Friday before leaving for the weekend, an American friend emailed me to say that the US Consulate in Chennai was warning its citizens to take precautions due to anti-American protest being planned for Friday and Saturday. My office is about four blocks from the Consulate so I was concerned about being able to leave the city if the roads were blocked by demonstrators. I was able to leave at 3 PM and missed the first wave of protesters that started moving towards the Consulate at 4:30 pm.

There are more demonstrations planned for today and tomorrow and the US Consulate has decided to shut its doors for the next few days. It processes many visas and has a lot of foot traffic during a normal business day, so it's probably a good idea.

More from The Hindu.com.