Stories from a Weekend at the Caves - Part II (Fighting for a Seat)
As previously mentioned, we traveled to Aurangabad this past weekend to see the Ellora and Ajanta caves.The caves were amazing - huge stone temples that had been carved into solid rock.Paintings that were created around 600 AD still covered the walls and ceilings.The Indian government has done a fairly good job of preserving the caves, and all of the intricate carvings were incredible to see.
However, once it was time to find a bus back to Pune on Sunday afternoon, we ran into some problems.We went from ticket booth to ticket booth, but we were unable to find a scheduled bus that left before late at night; all the earlier buses were sold out.Since clinical rotations began early the next morning, we needed an early evening bus back to PuneThus, our only recourse was to go for the second-class public bus, which didn't sell tickets for discreet seats.If you made it onto the bus, you paid for your seat once the trip beganSince it was Sunday evening, and many people were trying to travel back to their homes, there was a large number of people who were also not able to purchase tickets on the regularly-scheduled private buses. Thus, Stephanie and I were amidst a large group of people who were also waiting for the informal public bus to Pune. We knew it was going to be intense - people wanted to get home to Pune, and the number of people around me was much larger than the amount of seats available on the bus. I was watching the crowd carefully - tension was palpable in the air, and gleams of determination were shining in the eyes of the Indians who surrounded me. Suddenly, a dilapidated red and yellow bus came around the corner, and the race was on. The crowd surged towards the still-moving bus, battling for the precious, limited number of seats. I was amongst the fray. Due to my experience with the cat two nights before, I was sleep-deprived and also tired from a very busy weekend. I did not relish the idea of standing up for the entire six-hour ride back to Pune. With my backpack strapped tightly to my back, I took off with the crowd. This is where I found it was a huge benefit that I was taller and bigger than most of the men and women that surrounded me, (Indians tend to be a bit shorter and more petite.) Amidst the large crowd pressing in tightly towards the bus door, I used my best basketball rebound stance to "block-out" those who were trying to surge around and in front of me. I pressed towards the door, and was about the tenth person to reach the bus steps, when I felt something drop out of the side pocket of my backpack. My water bottle! I had just bought a fresh bottle of water, and I wanted it with me on the bus. I turned on the steps and looked at it rolling on the ground just below me. Stephanie was right behind me, and in a heroic gesture of strength and will, she bent down amidst the frantic mob to pick it up. I didn't want her to get trampled, and I also didn't want anyone else getting on the bus before us, so I blocked the bus steps with my body, turned towards the crowd, and put my hands up in the air in a gesture that indicated that they should stop. I looked at the determined and half-crazed faces of the people below me, and said the first thing that came to my mind."Chill!" I cried out shrilly. "I've dropped my water bottle. Just chill!" Few of the people around me spoke good English, and even fewer understood the slang word I had used in an attempt to get them to calm down. And yet, amazingly enough, everyone "chilled." It was like a freeze-frame from a movie, as if someone had pushed the "pause" button on the mass of people that were leaning and pressing in towards the bottle-neck formed by the bus door. The intense expressions remained on their faces, but for a split-second, they were motionless while Stephanie scooped up my water bottle from the ground. Then, as if somebody had immediately pressed "play," the battle resumed. I watched as a short and spry elderly woman attempted to dart past Stephanie, and was met by Stephanie's elbow, which she'd stuck out in an attempt to delay those who were pushing past her. Finally, we were both on the bus. With less than a dozen others on the bus before us, we thought that we were home-free. But we were wrong. Each of the individuals that had made it onto the bus before us were stretched out along an entire row of seats. Everywhere we tried to sit, we were told, "Saved! These places are saved!" In other seats, people had opened the bus windows from the outside, and had thrown their bags in to make it look as if the seats were already occupied. Finally, towards the back, Stephanie found a two-seater that appeared not to be taken. I quickly joined her, and we both let out a big sigh of relief, thinking that the battle had been won; we had managed to get seats. Suddenly, there was a loud rapping on our window, and the glass was slid open by someone standing outside the bus. Stephanie was next to the window, and I saw a woman looking up at her, saying something heatedly, but I was unable to understand the gist of it. Whatever it was, I knew it wasn't good. We tried to ignore her, but she continued rapping on the glass with her hand, more and more insistently. Unable to comprehend what she wanted, and in a state of denial, we tried to pretend she wasn't there. Then, we watched as a young woman boarded the bus and determinedly approached us. She stated that her friend outside was trying to tell us that the seat we were sitting in had been "saved" for her. "What?!" we cried out. "What do you mean, "saved" for you? Saved how?" She stated calmly that her father had thrown his keychain and handkerchief in through the window from outside, and this meant that the seat had been "reserved" for her. Now, after the battle that Stephanie and I had just fought to get those seats, this logic sounded absolutely ludicrous to both of us. Neither of us moved. Excitedly, she asked us to stand up and at least look for the possessions that she claimed had been put there, as if that would prove her case. I looked underneath me - nothing was there on the seat. Then, as Stephanie stood halfway-up, I saw that she had indeed been sitting on a black rubber-coil keychain, hooked to a small black key. No handkerchief could be seen. We both looked at each other, and then back at the woman, and again stated that we had no intention of moving. As our debate continued with her and her family members, who were yelling at us from outside the bus, more shouting matches broke out amongst the other passengers, as they heatedly debated the unwritten but extremely serious rules of "seat-saving." In an attempt to end the conversation with the woman's family members, we slid our window shut, which seemed to enrage the man who was out there demanding that we move. He pounded loudly and repeatedly on the window with the palm of his hand, the blotchy red of his face in odd contrast with the clean white turban wrapped around his head. He shouted at us in rapid and impassioned Hindi, interspersed with a few fragments of English. We didn't understand most of what he said, but we were both sure that he was not wishing us a happy journey.Finally, the bus began to pull away.The shouting matches quickly died down and the keychain woman magically found another seat.We were on our way to Pune! Next time, I think I'll buy my ticket a few days in advance.