Tuesday, June 13, 2006

(Mis)Guided Missile

It would be a safe bet to say that it was with the advent of the space age that Trivandrum took its first step towards going cosmopolitan. Surnames other than those native to this region were uncommon in the city till TERLS – Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station – was established.

TERLS attracted a good number of technically qualified young professionals from other parts of the country. Around the same time, young professionals in other walks of life hailing from other states too started flowing in. Being in the early part of their working life, they could not afford two-wheelers, let alone cars. They had to depend on public transport for local conveyance.

The fact that the destination of the buses was invariably written in Malayalam posed problems. Many were the occasions when the bus would have sped forward by the time they could decipher the unfamiliar script and make out that the bus was headed for the place they wanted to go to.

Amol Banerjee, a young bank officer whose repertoire of Malayalam vocabulary was bankrupt, worked in the branch located at Statue Junction and lived in Sasthamangalam, then a quiet residential area. After office, he would make a beeline for the bus stop for boarding a bus that would take him to young Nibedita waiting for him at the door.

In the early days, he had his share of difficulty in identifying which bus to board. With much effort, he learnt the letter ‘Sa’ as in Sasthamangalam. Those were the days when double-decker buses were as much a novelty in the city as they are a rarity these days. A keen observer, Banerjee discovered that a double-decker sporting a board with a ‘Sa’ on it would transport him to Sasthamangalam.

So, he would board the double-decker arriving the bus-stop at 5.10 and ask for a ticket to the ‘Last stop’ in exchange of a 50 paise coin. He enjoyed the experience of getting onto the ‘uporer-taala’, occupying one of those front seats which afford a bird’s eye-view (Okay, a low-flying bird’s) of the sights on either side of the road and relaxing with an imperious ‘I am the monarch of all I survey’ demeanour. He would get off at the terminus.

Initial difficulties overcome, now things were perfect like clockwork, he concluded. Soon, God made things even more easy for Amol. He observed that a young woman would also be at the bus stop at 5.00 pm, taking the same bus and getting off at Sasthamangalam. When he saw her getting into the bus, he knew that this was his bus too. He did not have to take the trouble of looking at the destination board. When the bus reached the terminus, she would get out, so would Amol. She became his guide for the journeys homeward.

One day, things proceeded like usual. Except that, at the Rama Rao Lamp, the bus took a turn to the left (instead of to the right towards Sasthamangalam) and went Pattom-wards. Our absent-minded and dreamy-eyed hero did not notice it. When the bus stopped at the Medical College Terminus, everybody got off; so did he too. He looked around, discovered that something was amiss because it ‘did not look like Sasthamangalam’.

Perplexed, he located his honorary guide (who, of course, was not aware of this advisory status) walking fast towards the hospital, caught up with her and asked her, ‘Where do you think you are going?’ She turned round and asked our hero, ‘Why, my uncle has had a heart attack this afternoon. I am visiting him, but who are you?’

History has not recorded the events that took place immediately thereafter, but suffice it to say that the records in the police station do not mention about an eave-teaser named Banerjee trailing unaccompanied girls before nightfall, accosting them and interrogating them.

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