Jan 212000

Waiting Game

“VLADIMIR: Well? Shall we go?
ESTRAGON: Yes, let’s go.”
–Waiting For Godot

It is not new for me. I have grown to be patient. I have been told that patience is a virtue; for me it has been a necessity. I learnt patience waiting in lines all my life. I perfected it waiting for my village bus in Etukuru bus stand.

I reach Etukuru bus stand at around 3 PM. I have always hated late afternoons. They are not poetic like “praatavELala manchu chinku” of the early mornings. They are not mysterious like “masaka masaka cheekaTi” if evening either. They are plain and dull like working in the fields all day. They look forward to the coming evenings to get home in the twilight.

Nevertheless, I am at the bus stand at 3 PM. It is not an official stop. It is tradition for the buses that goto my village to stop there. It never had a shelter to wait under. The place looks exactly as it always looks: dusty, dirty, and busy.

The bus stand is at a “suburb” of Guntur. It has a few road side shops, and several gOLee sODa carts. The people selling sODaas probably see the waiting passengers every day. They know that people accept this long waiting hours with no murmur. They peddle their goods under the hot sun. I succumb and treat myself to a lemon sODaa. More than the taste, I like the production of the sODaa it self: the noise, the flourish, the fizz.

I see some other people waiting for the same bus sitting next to a wall. They say misery loves company. Or, “padi manditO chaavu peLLi laanTidi”. Waiting breeds the same kind of kinship. We all know we would have to spend the next few hours in each others’ company. So, I move towards them to start the conversation.

I join a group of old men sitting around. We start by asking where we wanted to go. We know which village we come from. Everybody knows somebody in every village in that parts. Quickly the names of acquaintances, relatives are brought up. We start gossiping about the people we know. We catch up on who is getting rich, who is poor but good, who is getting too proud for their own good.

The old men reach for their cheroots. I can never stand smoking. I slowly move away excusing myself. I go to the nearest hotel, “Bharat Cafe, Udipi bhaahmana hotel”. I am never sure if it is from Udipi. All I know is that every utensil here is stolen from Bharat Cafe, at least according to the engraving on the plates and glasses.

I remember coming to this hotel with my mother when I was young. It was not too common to come to the hotels in those days. We went into the family section, in small cubicles, and behind the curtains, and ate there.

I don’t think I can go into family section here. I sit down and listen to a waiter reciting the complete menu in one spiel. I order Rava Dosa. As a rule, I always order Rava Dosa when I go to restaurants, er… hotels. I suppose my inability to make them has something to with that.

I get back to the bus stand. I find the bus. The bus driver and the cleaner are sitting next to the bus unconcerned. They tell me that they have to wait for the other bus before leaving here. I never understand the logic.

The bus is slowly filling up. All of us who are waiting get seats in the bus. We know that it is not going anywhere. Some of us leave the kerchiefs on the seats to escape the heat inside. Eventually the bus fills up.

I sit there in a corner seat. I close my eyes for second and take a breath in. Tobacco smoke from old people, cigarette smoke from the young crowd, jasmin flowers from somebody’s hair, smell of fruits from some basket, sweat, oil from men and women, smell of crying babies all assault me.

The bus starts like a pregnant woman, slowly, gaining ground. It becomes sure-footed once it reaches the outskirts. At 20 MPH, it crosses cycles, carts, assorted people at an amazing speed. At that speed, with all the stops, it takes one hour and fifteen minutes to get to Sowpadu. I lean out and see the faces of people hanging on the door handles. The cool breeze comes at my face refreshingly. The bus, slowly, is taking me to my village.


* * *

I know I have to make this trip every week. I work in NJ for couple of days a week and get back to Detroit by the weekend. I travel on ProAir, a discount airline. I travel so often that the airline attendants know me.

I reach Newark Airport just fifteen minutes before the scheduled departure. I walk through the security after showing that my cell phone in deed is capable of functioning. I get to the gate 14 (no gate 13 in Newark!) only to find out that the flight is delayed for one more hour due to the weather.

I am used to it. Besides, there is a waiting place. I am generally prepared for these circumstances. I take out my book “Cold Comfort Farm”, a delightfully funny book, which even has been made into a movie. A well dressed old woman reads the title of the book and smiles at me. She tells me that this book was popular in her youth. We start a conversation. She tells me that she lived in Detroit all her life. She is visiting her daughter who lives in New York. She says that she can never understand why people like New York. Why, Detroit has museums, and art houses. She remembers the murals by Garcia. She tells me about Frida Kahlo and her stay in Detroit.

I get hungry and go for a slice of pizza. By the time I come back, my seat is taken by somebody else. I find a young black girl and sit next to her. I smile at her and ask her if she is going to Detroit, knowing fully well that everybody there is waiting for the same plane.

She tells me that she was visiting her brother, who makes phone cards with pictures of rap artists on them. She finished her high school and she is working at the Ford plant. She says she would like to undergo some training so that she can make $12 per hour. She is very excited about the prospect. But she feels that she really would like to be teaching kids, but is afraid that it would not get her enough money.

The plane comes. We all board the flight. In the spirit of total egalitarianism, it is completely open seating. I find myself sitting next to a middle aged guy.

By the time the plane starts the next person starts talking to me. He tells me that he is owner of a company that bids on making racquet ball courts. He is actually from a small town in Wisconsin. He built most of the courts in the Midwest. He is coming back from New Jersey after giving testimony at a legal case. “People slip and fall and sue the owners”, he tells me. “They never win”. He expresses strongly about the need for legal reform. He asks me all about where I am from. I don’t tell him that I am from Sowpadu.

The flight attendants come around asking what we would like to drink. They know what I like: water, no ice. I remember the poem “neerE praaNaadhaaramu” and smile to myself. It is strange that I live next to a fresh water body that contains 20% of all the reserves on the earth.

I bury myself in my book. Since I have seen the movie earlier, I start comparing the book to the movie as I read along. Before I know it, the flight attendants announce it is time to land. The flying time is one hour and fifteen minutes. I buckle myself and get ready. I am going to see Madhavi, and may be even Kamala, at the airport, waiting for me. I am all excited …

Ramarao Kanneganti

 Posted by at 7:20 pm