Monday, 8 June 2015

The Commuter

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after two years in Bangalore, it’s that commuting is a downright pain. Do not consider living more than 5 kilometres from your workplace or you will resent your decision every single day. Let me take you through the various ways in which the average person commutes in the city.

 Trusty Personal Car

This is probably your best option by far. At least to some extent you feel in control of your destiny (read: commute time). Begin with ignition. Next, turn on music/podcast/radio and cover eyes with dark sunglasses. Set a/c to high. This shall be your igloo for anywhere between 20 and 90 minutes. Before you make this your primary mode of transport, please note you must be well-versed in frequently used swear words and threats which you can promptly return to the auto/cab driver that cuts you off at the signal. Speaking of signals, these are the bane of every Bangalorean driver’s existence.  Trying to avoid as many signals as you can, you find yourself in a small, sparsely tarred by-lane that can barely take two scooters going opposite ways, let alone your vehicle and a mini-lorry.  Try not to overreact when the cow in said by-lane decides to plant herself right in front of your bonnet, exposing her aesthetically pleasing rear end. Breathe a sigh of relief when by blind luck you find yourself on a relatively empty road. Know that this will not last beyond a few kilometres and savour the moment. Congratulate yourself if your numerous time saving tactics (turning right from the left-most lane, giving yourself the liberty of taking illegal u-turns, running red lights, giving cows mild bumps to keep them moving and so on) have allowed you to reach office even 0.23 seconds ahead of time. It will help ease the immense stress you’ve put yourself through during the commute

Zippy Two-Wheeler

You can swerve and weave through any traffic jam on your trusty bike. Of course there are the limitations of only two people per vehicle but for those lone wolves, this is the ideal mode of transport. You may spend an unnecessary amount of time picking out the right helmet, not to mention a hideous raincoat that you'll need if you want to brave the rains. Top this will full length gloves to protect your arms from sunburn and a face mask to avoid the fumes exhausting from the water tanker humming next to you at the signal. At the risk of looking like an alien specimen you are now ready to brave the elements as you ride with the wind in your hair and construction dust in your eyes. Within two weeks you will be required to enroll in yoga classes or visit a chiropractor for your constant backache.

Namma Very Own Metro

I’m not sure this counts as a mode of transport considering it only has five operational stations. If you tried hard enough, you could walk the entire length of the metro and still have energy to spare. Owing to this limitation in stations, Namma Metro has assumed that any commuter must certainly know which way is which without the help of signs. After all, you can only either go up or down! The platforms are named 1 and 2. But of course, no one really tells you which one goes up and which one comes down. While you’re figuring out which platform to head to, you hear the metro screech into the station and by the time you run to the platform, the train has taken its leave. Remember what I’d said about being the controller of your own commute time? If you miss the train, please be prepared to wait another ten minutes for the next one. As most metro riders have learnt, no ride can be tolerated without a pair of headphones or a book. You don’t want to be caught staring at anyone and you certainly don’t want to listen to the incessant announcements telling you which stop is next. And by the way, if the lack of signs leads you to take the wrong train, be forewarned that you cannot just get off and switch platforms. You need to check out and check right back in like a monkey and conduct the entire arduous exercise again. But don’t get me wrong, there’s a silver lining. Unlike your trusty personal vehicle, the metro isn’t subject to the vagaries of traffic or weather and you don’t need to haggle with auto-drivers or struggle to find a cab. Just step on and step off.

The great KSRTC

Considering Bangalore is quite the cosmopolitan city, it is beyond me why KSRTC buses still have signage only in Kannada. Oh, there are bus numbers too. More than a hundred, it seems. Do not bother checking on Google Maps for buses nearby. It will give you bus numbers that never turn up at your stop or if they do, probably not at the time it says it should. Your only hope of ever seeing signage in English is on the new Volvo buses, but they come once every half an hour at best. Your best bet is to get on a random bus to Shivaji Nagar (they all eventually end up in Shivaji Nagar) and then swim through a sea of more Kannada signs until you find a conductor to guide you to the right platform. Try to refresh yourself with a contaminated lime soda or stale popcorn while you wait. This is going to be an adventure. After much sweating and mental swearing, you will reach your destination. You can reduce stress if you try not to wonder how exactly you got there. Instead think about the fact that you just travelled 10 km and spent only Rs. 15. Now that’s a bargain!

Bhaiya Auto? (No, this is not an auto. Can’t you see it’s the latest BMW 3 series?)

You’re waiting at Old Airport Road. Bhaiya, MG Road? He looks at you, completely disinterested. Bhaiya?! ”Nahin Madam” Move to next auto. “100 rupees, Madam” Move to next auto while anger levels gradually increase. You wonder what the magic location is that these auto wallahs want to go. If only you knew, you would change all plans to go there instead.  Finally, after ten minutes of pacing around the auto stand, haggling with numerous uncouth auto fellows and agreeing on an exorbitant 60 rupees to go till Trinity Circle, you take a breath and settle into the auto. Of course, our Bangalore roads are no friends of the three-wheeled contraptions. No wonder these auto guys are always in such a bad mood. They have to rattle and rumble from A to B every single day while avoiding minor potholes and making abrupt swerves to weave through traffic. The cost of your ride is directly proportionate not only to your distance but also to the level of traffic, amount of rain and general mood of the driver. Don’t even dream of telling the auto wallah to take you even an inch away from your initially agreed destination. You will immediately be met with swiftly delivered cursing in Kannada. Any by-lane you enter from the main road will be charged Rs. 20 extra because, “waapas koi nahin milega, Madam”. Auto wallahs are particularly brash to women passengers and if you ever find one who is pleasant and gentlemanly, please pay him 50 Rs. extra to take you to the Ganesha temple and pray for his good health.

 Can somebody call an Uber?

No, that somebody cannot be you because your Paytm wallet is so empty that there’s an animation of buzzing flies every time you open the app. Even if you manage to scrape 200 rupees every day for your daily commute, be warned of the demon that is “Surge Pricing” which is almost always active and invariably doubles (or when it rains, triples) your fare. Ditch Uber and head to Ola? The app has made it a habit to crash every now and then but even if you make it to the booking page, all you will hear are the sound of crickets because lo and behold, “no cabs available”. That being said, Uber drivers are friendly and it’s by far the most convenient way to travel if you have a reasonably high disposable income. Especially on Saturday nights when Auto wallahs take on an extremely pompous air and declare that your trip from Toit to the end of 100 ft. Road will cost you nothing short of Rs. 250.

So what do you do in this situation? It all really depends on what you can tolerate. Meanwhile let’s hope our auto wallahs learn to be nicer, our metro grows a little longer, our Ubers become cheaper and our cars learn to self-drive.