I arrived to school on Monday exhausted and out of breath, but instead of being greeted with sympathy from the other teachers, they all took turns pulling my leg. They couldn’t believe I actually walked to school when there was a city bus I could have taken from the local market (a five minute walk from home) directly to the school!! It was one of those ‘you have to be kidding me’ moments where all I could do was throw my hands in the air.
But the next morning, I set out for the bus depot super excited to tackle Mumbai’s form of public transportation. I’ve mastered LA and Portland’s, so I was pretty stoked to add Mumbai to the list. I knew I had to get on the 231 bus, but the confusion started when two 231 buses rolled into the bus depot. I started asking people around me what I should do and everyone said, “Just pick a bus – either one, it doesn’t matter.” So I climbed on the bus closer to me and waited for about two minutes when all of a sudden, people started banging on the bus. Apparently the other bus was leaving first, so everyone was trying to get me off this bus and onto the one rolling out of the station. It felt like a scene from a movie…I’m running with my hand outstretched, waving at the bus to wait for me while it’s slowly driving away. I manage to catch up to the bus and grab the handlebars to pull myself on, and then once I’m in, I’m being jostled around until I plant my butt on a seat. When I finally settle down, I look up and there’s 10 faces staring at me.
One of those faces is of the bus conductor. He ambles down the aisle and stands in front of me… like he’s expecting something. I stare back at him with a completely blank expression and start looking around for some cues. After enough of an uncomfortable silence has passed, he asks for my ticket. Ticket?! What ticket?? None of the teachers at school had mentioned anything about a ticket. Completely embarrassed, I tell him,
“I don’t have a ticket.”
“You don’t have a ticket?! How did you get on the bus without a ticket?”
“Listen, I’m really sorry. I’m new in town and this is my first time on the bus, and I didn’t know I needed a ticket to board the bus.”
“In what country do you not need a ticket to board a bus?! I don’t care if you’re new or if this is your first time on the bus, you need a ticket.”
Wow. He has a point. How did I think I could just get on the bus without a ticket? Anyways, this is India and I can’t let myself get pushed around. So I gotta fight this one out.
“Ok, just tell me where I can get a ticket. I’ll go get one.”
Santa Cruz is a good 20 minute drive away from Juhu, which is where I stay. There is no way I am going to Santa Cruz just to buy a ticket!
“What?! Santa Cruz?? Listen, I don’t have time to go to Santa Cruz. Just tell me how much a ticket costs, and I’ll give you the money right now.”
Now the teachers had told me it would only cost 4 rupees to go to school. So this 60 figure sends up a red flag.
“60 rupees?! All I have to do is go down to the stop outside the JW Marriot! And for that, 60 rupees? I know I don’t have a ticket, and I’m sorry about that, but I’m not giving 60 rupees!”
At this point, the conductor starts to smile and all I’m thinking is, “This isn’t funny!!” With the same smile, he says, “If you don’t have a ticket, all you have to do is tell the conductor to make you a ticket.” Then he pulls out a portable receipt dispenser, punches in a few things, and out scrolls my receipt. “Here’s your ticket,” he says, “that’ll be 4 rupees.”
At this point everyone is laughing because the whole bus just managed to pull a fast one on the foreigner. The conductor keeps smiling and moves on to the next passenger, satisfied that he had managed to keep a straight face until the end. As I got closer to my stop, all the passengers yelled “jao!!” meaning “go!” In India, the buses don’t stop at bus stops. They do California roll-overs…so if you need to get on or off, you better be prepared to move!