It took me about forty five minutes to get to work a couple days ago (usually takes ten). I was caught in snarling, pulsating, ululating, rickshaw-car-boat-truck-bus-motorbike traffic jam some two minutes from home. Boat? Oh yeah. You call it a Scorpio, an Innova, or some such. I call it, very simply, a boat. This reminded me again of another place it used to take me forty five minutes to get to. Long time ago.
The school bell rang at 9 am. My (bestestest) friend and I left home at 8:15 (am). We cycled the three kilometers in forty five minutes flat, stopping at every possible interesting scene along the way, screaming for any classmate whose house happened to fall along the way, going back and forth over puddles till we were completely wet, and in general extracting as much fun as we possibly could even before we hit the school. This, of course, was after we both lucked out one birthday (hers in March, mine in April) and were bought shiny red bicycles. Mine was an Avon SLR. Hers was a BSA SLR. Mine cost about Rs. 100 less than hers. But I did not mind! Mine was redder!
Before that fateful birthday we got to ride in Appa's scooter. A green Bajaj Super. If a Scorpio is a boat, this one was surely at least a bus. We again stopped at lot of places along the way, and picked up lots of kids in the green uniforms heading to our school. Being the smallest of the lot (this had nothing to do with age), I got to ride up front, standing. Rest of the gang piled up behind, wedging bags and water bottles and sundry other things around the place. In addition to the colourful appearance thanks to bags and uniforms and what not, we managed to call attention to ourselves by a few other means. One by the fact that Appa did not believe in hurrying anywhere so we went at 25 kmph, max. Then there was the singing. Sometimes one of us would loudly recite a poem that we had to learn by heart for the exam. But mostly Appa sang his special compositions for us. I was always 'kulli' (short girl) in the poems. He switched deftly from Kannada to English to Tamizh. He managed to include all the riders, and siblings of the riders that he was aware of, into the songs. It took us a good forty five minutes.
On rare days, we would walk. Appa's scooter would be broken. He would be out of town. My cycle would suddenly get punctured, the front tire would lose all air, the chain would fall off just as I was leaving. Walking to school was a bit laborious. Uphill in parts. We did not mind, but stuck to the roads so as to save some time. Walking back home though would be awesome. We would dawdle a fair bit. We would walk through the woods (yes! such things as trees existed in those days!), we would scare each other with ghost stories, and sprint past especially tamarind trees (everyone knows that tamarind trees house creatures that grab little children). We would collect the red seeds that I only know as Gulganji. We would grab a Gulmohar flower, take that sepal or whatever thats under the yellow petals, and attach them as nails. No one doubted that this was the purpose it was meant for, if not why would it have exactly five things, one for each finger? We would come home all flushed from the activity, very late, to find adults hanging on the gate with a scowl. 'How long it takes you to get home. We were so worried..' We called this Route No. 11 - as in bus number 11; 11 representing our two legs (you get it?).
Time had an elasticity then. That three quarters of an hour packed in so much fun. Now I am cursing at the green Auto, flinching at the red spit from the Sumo, and in general cannot wait to get to where I am going. Perhaps I should try more of Route No. 11. Will need a face mask (too much pollution); backpack (cannot carry laptop in sideways bags anymore); water break (may get too dehydrated otherwise); extra dress (cannot go to work so sweaty); baseball bat (just to whack a few of the more nastily driven automobiles).....