Till April 2011, over the 1 year and 5 months that I had made Bangalore my home, my entire span of knowledge about Bannerghatta Road, Dairy Circle, could be summed up in two words – far away. It could be in Uruguay for all I cared. But an unexpected turn of events later, to my utter disbelief, I found myself settling for a job that would require me to travel (FYI: I am acquainted with the word ‘commute’, and I know it would be more appropriate in this context; the usage of the word ‘travel’ is deliberate and as you would come to realize over the story, totally appropriate in this case) to the fabled Dairy Circle five days a week.
After several the less-said-the-better-incidents—including getting down at all the possible (and impossible) wrong stops, crossing deadly roads with my entire life flashing before my eyes every moment, getting contradictory directions from passers-by and trying them out all, and handing over enough money to autowallahs to support a small family for a month – I finally settled for a way of reaching office that was unanimously agreed by all the wise ‘bus public’ I am acquainted with as the easiest, or least difficult, whichever way you wish to put it.
It consists of, to get into the minute details, a five-minute walk from home to the Brookefields bus stop. And patiently wait for Bus No. 500c. However, to be fair, this does not involve much wait, or much patience either. The 500c appears with endearing frequency. Once in it, it is time to sigh and settle down at the window seat in the last row with a book or take recourse to the only Bollywood FM Station in Bangalore – 94.3 Radio One – where they play music when they run out of ads and utterly dumb contests. An hour of ploughing through the kind of traffic that would have made Mahatma Gandhi scream expletives, it is time to disembark at Jayadeva Hospital and begin a 6 minute march to Gopalan Mall. Here I always allow myself a moment to be cheered up by the Pantaloons, Westside and Taco Bell banners, because the next step in the drill needs to be handled in a good mood, which consists of getting into another bus. The good thing about this leg of the journey is that the wait is rarely long as several buses coming this way are headed to Dairy Circle. But that’s about the only good thing. Even after two months of practice, my heart refuses to not skip a beat at the sight of at least 25 pairs of eyes (the rest of the owners of the eyes being covered in burqas) taking me in. But there is never much time to soothe the fluttering heart, what with trying to find a corner to squeeze myself into where I and my bulging laptop bag, especially my bulging laptop bag, would earn the least number of scowls. Two kilometers of balancing act and I am free to get down at Dairy Circle and breathe fresh air once again. With the newfound excitement of almost having made it, I walk over to this ‘hump’ where an extremely bored looking traffic cop helps even more bored looking people sporting Accenture and Oracle tags to cross over to the other side. That, and twenty steps down an almost non-existent pavement and I can finally ‘give missed calls’ to mom and hubby, a pre-decided signal to let them know that I survived yet another day of traveling to office, at the end of 1 hour and 40 minutes of leaving home, which by this time, seems to be a figment of my imagination or safely tucked away in a planet light-years away.
Two whole months of this, and I had just about succeeded in convincing myself that this was a small price to pay for all the ‘Wows’ that come my way when I tell people I work at Oracle and the priceless, incredulous ‘how-on-earth-did-you-manage-that’ raised eyebrows from the chosen few. And of course, the free gym played its part in keeping me going. To make my life more rosy, before I could open my mouth to wonder aloud what the world was coming to, after the price of diesel spiralled recently, and consequently, the bus fare went from expensive to more expensive, there drifted into my life the Monthly Bus Pass. Suddenly I was saving 700 bucks every month, the price of that nice powder-blue kurti at Pantaloons…
Then one fine morning, the Bus No. 411L (referred to as 411L hereafter) swerved gracefully and parked itself into my life. And life, as I knew it, was never the same again. Like every other morning, I was innocently waiting at the bus-stop for my second home (500c), when I had this vision of a bus with a red digital marquee announcing Dairy Circle. Dairy Circle. Dairy Circle?! I rubbed my eyes and looked again. And surprise! It was still there. Just as the doors were about to fold close, I snapped out of my trance and timidly ventured to ask the severely unfriendly looking conductor ‘Dairy Circle?’, prepared to be rebuked for daydreaming. Instead, what I get is a ‘Can’t-you-even-read’ grunt with an almost imperceptible nod in the affirmative. I stepped in gingerly. Little did I realize that it would be like stepping into Alice’s Wonderland, where things-undreamt-of happened.
The 411L turned out to be no less than a city tour bus, what with it manoeuvring through all the uber-cool patches of the city – The tree-arched, blissfully green HAL area; majestic Leela Palace (I had once had coffee at their Barista and never stopped talking about it for months afterwards); the superbly sophisticated Embassy Golf Links which I would have been proud to call my workplace; and the oh-so-posh Koramangala, where I so want to but can’t afford to stay; and the last few stretches of openness and wild greenery, resigned to the idea of being slaughtered by software companies, not unlike the indifferent-looking goats tied to posts in the mutton shop. The 411L also happened to offer a sneak-peek of my guilty-secret-den, Ooty Chocolates, before gliding past the breathtaking Oasis Mall and Forum Mall (breathtaking because they were all announcing Season-End Sales), before screeching to a halt – no, sorry, definitely not screeching to a halt, let’s say before coming to a graceful stop – hold your breath – a mere three minutes’ walk from office! And that too, three minutes of unbroken pavement! Could there be no end to its ‘awesomeness’?
And I fell in love.
Since that morning, most of the things I have done have revolved around the 411L. Now I have to finish dinner and go to bed at the right time, the library book, no matter how alluring, lying neglected on the bedside table. This would be followed by a fitful sleep, during the course of which I would either dream that I am running after the 411L all the way to office or wake up in a cold sweat at 3 a.m. wondering if I had overslept. The morning would have to adjust itself around the digital clock in the drawing room. I – the modern day Cinderella – would have to be out of the door when the clock says it’s 9:10. Period. My Prince Charming can go without his goodbye kiss, my half-eaten toast can lie insulted on my breakfast plate, the maid can be gleefully bunking the dusting, the bedsheets might lie crumpled from the previous night’s fitful sleep, but nothing can make me budge from my focus: Out of the door at 9:10, followed by that 5 minutes trot to the bus-stop, during which I am busy peeling petals off an imaginary rose and chanting ‘Will I? Won’t I?’
However, in spite of such unwavering devotion, I am solely at her mercy. The 411L, intensely desirable in its rarity, is as unapologetically irreverent about punctuality as the next superstar. Depending on the direction in which her mood would happen to swing, she can come earlier than schedule, expecting her fans to be prepared and waiting. Or she can come fashionably late, no doubt smiling smugly to herself as she imagines her eager admirers waiting with their hearts in their hands, their eyes fixed on the distant horizon for a glimpse of her flawlessly smooth, glossy face. Whoever it was who had come up with the smart-ass remark ‘Bus aur ladki ke pichhe kabhi mat bhagna; ek jaati hain dusri aati hain’ would have to eat their word – and how – when they meet the 411L. If you happen to miss the 411L at 9.15, you can resign yourself to any of the other immensely unappetizing routes to office, unless of course, you are prepared to wait up for the next 411L, which, according to schedule – and that’s the key phrase – is due after 45 minutes.
I have basked in the sheer exuberance of making it to the bus stop just in time to be engulfed in its cool embrace. I have suffered the heartbreak of being cast aside by it even after discarding all dignity and jogging after it with my arms flapping at my side like the wings of an injured bird. I have known the long, impatient waits rewarded by its arrival, never failing to make me smile.
Suddenly, the 500c route turned dusty, traffic-infested, too-tiring, too intolerable in my eyes. I couldn’t believe that I had almost brought myself to accept it as a part of my life. What could I have been thinking?! Sure, we went back a long way. Sure, we have had some good times. But it was not 411L.
Pre-411L era, life used to sprinkle a few bonus pleasures every once in a while – which, of course, feel juvenile, meaningless, silly even – in the post-411L era. Whenever feasible in terms of mutual timing, hubby and I would head for office together, in our dear little car, listening to old favorites on the stereo, till it was time for me to get off at Bellandhur near his office and take the 500c towards my destination. Post-petrol-price-hike, we would take the 500c from Brookefields together every once in a while, sit close together on the last row, haggle over who would pay for the tickets, I filling him in on the latest happenings in my universe while he dozed off behind deliberately-too-dark sunglasses, feeling that unmistakable pang everyday when it was time for him to get down at his office, that last stolen smile through the window as the bus would heartlessly separate us for what always seemed like too many hours. The 411L doesn’t go anywhere near Bellandhur. So bye-bye stolen smiles. Simple. Nobody could accuse me of not having my priorities straight.
How the rest of the day would go would depend on the results of the morning drill. For example, the days I do get the 411L, I am in a merry mood throughout the day. I offer my umbrella to strangers. I bounce into office and announce to whoever would care to listen (or not) that I got ‘it’. I get this feeling of goodness about life in general. I don’t even mind working. Now, that’s serious.
The days I miss the 411L, the sky appears to be an extra shade of gray. Sweet nothings in the 500c would often be replaced by long silences or blaming hubby for everything from inflation to global warming. At 11 in the morning, I tell my best friend over GTalk that I am having a bad day, and spend the rest of the day in an acute sense of apprehension, convinced that a day which started so terribly was bound to get worse.
I am probably one of the ten people in the city (if not the only one) to log into the BMTC website and look up (and memorize) the timings for 411L, though the suggestion came from the most helpful colleague in the world, who by some stroke of sheer luck, happens to be my colleague as well. My conversations with him these days keep coming back to strategizing about how to nail the 411L, no less elusive than the proverbial ‘shonar horin’.
Even after having promised to myself over and over again that I wouldn’t obsess over the 411L and after trying my utter best to forcefully generate in myself a strict nonchalance to its availability, I still find myself waving off one 500c after another, each time promising to give the 411L one more minute, not a second more, to make its appearance.
I have also come to realize a permanent fact that might one day go down as a scientifically proven theory: You don’t get the 411L. It gets you.