Today’s morning had started in Bhuj. Bhuj hadn’t changed much since I had last visited it 15-16 years ago, as a kid. The bus stop was still recognisable and the late night back then and early morning now was pretty much the same. We had come here by travelling in a private ‘luxury’ bus. We had planned to do the first visit to the village (that we intended to study) on the same day. The closest town to that village, Rapar was about 2 hours from Bhuj. Due to change in plans, we had to go to Rapar by bus.
We bought the tickets for a private ‘luxury’ bus to Rapar and waited for the bus. Reaching there, we realised the bus was standing right there but it was nowhere close to a luxury bus. I looked at my ticket and the absence of a seat number made me wonder how I would locate my seat. It was then I realized that people are rushing into the bus and settling in. I was surprised to see people willingly subject themselves to the heat inside a stationary bus. To quench my curiosity I stepped inside and saw handerchiefs and ‘potlis’ spewed all over the empty seats. Unaware of the logic I sat on a seat where someone had left his ‘gamcha’. This is when I heard someone howl at me for occupying their seat. The logic now dawned upon me: The handkerchiefs, ‘potlis’, ‘gamchas’ were to reserve seats. I realised that its not easy to communicate and manage things even if you know the language. Clearly, I was an outsider who didn’t know how the buses work there and that led to discomfort for a few passengers. When the bus got full, the journey started but this bus would stop in every village/town that came on way and people would keep climbing in the bus. The bus that had a capacity of around 20 people had at least 45 passengers travelling. A few ladies understood that we didn’t understand what’s going on and she asked us where we wanted to get down. We told her the place and she said she’d let us know when it is about to come. And suddenly she asked us about our castes and regions. I had a notion that it is very difficult to ask someone about his or her caste but here she asked us very casually. After travelling for almost 4 hours, we reached the place and someone from the organisation (Gram Swaraj Sangh) had come to pick us up. This was the first experience we had about the ‘luxury’ bus there and it had made us question the concept of ‘luxury’. Coming from urban areas, this notion was very different for us before this incident.
Later when we started interviewing people in the village, we were told stories about this luxury bus and state-run bus. Few years back, the state-run buses were more, its frequency was better than what it was now. Now, there were only 2 buses in the day between the village and Rapar (the closest town), one in the morning and one in the evening. If you miss that, then you have to take ‘luxury’ bus, which was more frequent than the state-run bus. These luxury buses were similar to the one we had taken to come to Rapar. Then you have to get off on the main road and take a jeep to reach the village, which was obviously more difficult than to travel by the state-run bus, which would directly drop you at the village. Moreover, the tickets for private luxury bus were much more expensive than the state-run bus. In the recent times, the luxury buses have become more popular among the villagers because they are more frequent than the state-run buses. But people also said that the frequency of state-run buses have decreased because people have started depending on the private luxury buses. Because of the entry of ‘luxury’ buses, the state-run buses have taken a back seat and the services have deteriorated.
Isn’t it weird that people started preferring ‘luxury’ buses over ‘state-run’ buses even though the state-run buses were much more comfortable comparatively? And because of this, the state actually had to cut down on the frequency. What was it that attracted the villagers to ‘luxury’ buses? Generally, cities and towns have more number of private vehicles and dependency on private vehicles/modes of transport is more as compared to the villages. Usually the state-run buses fall under public transport. But is it okay to call state-run buses a public mode of transport when people (public) are heavily relying on private modes of transport? Was it the idea of ‘privatisation’ that made them feel modern or city-like or was it something else? Is the presence of the ‘State’ becoming more and more invisible from our daily lives?