By Joanna Lawson
Of all the virtues, patience is the queen…” or something along those lines my grandmother used to say while I squirmed away from her lap and run off to do something else, growing tired of the seemingly endless minutes it took for her to relate her words of wisdom to me.
Always a “fidgety child” (mother’s words), this condition of constantly needing something new or interesting to flow into my life has become a feature (and vice( of adulthood. If it were an illness – and some might propose ADD – then surely God made a cure, and that is trying to get anywhere or do anything in India.
People had warned me beforehand: “you know, lines are long and babus like to always send you to the next counter till you’ve done a whole round of the office.”
The filibustering of getting paperwork done is legendary – but I just wanted to catch a bus to Pune, and rumour had it that one left every half an hour from the Dardar bus stand (a major hub of transport in Mumbai).
The 11 O’clock bus looked just the pick of the bunch and after getting stuck in traffic it looked a little dicey as to whether I would make it (luckily that New Year’s resolution to always be five minutes early was still going strong) and from there meet a friend at the train station who was arriving at four in the afternoon.
At a couple of minutes to 11, flying down the footpath along which the tickets to the bus are sold, one chap yelled out that there was still a ticket for a bus leaving “right now”. He said it with such emphasis, an pointedly struck his finger to the desk as if not another second would elapse before the bus would trundle off without me.
“Go there…” he motioned to his partner who was making his way through the crowd. I followed and he deposited me at a corner where a collection of students and an old Muslim man were waiting. But there was no bus. Nor was there one in five minutes. Or ten. Right now had passed a long time ago, and I was off to find out what had gone wrong.
The following hour was a sideshow of being shuffled around, left at other corners, enquiring for the time and complaining rather loudly about the situation. A whole hour of precious time that could have been spent on other activities…gone! At a quarter past 12, the 11 O’clock bus left Dardar, and I was happy.
Meanwhile, on a small stretch of road in Santa Cruz, wedged in between two stalls selling salwaar kameez, a husband and wife were unfolding a small patch of cloth, on which they placed neatly cut and bundled neem sticks for people to chew and clean their teeth. They do this every day, sitting there, waiting for someone to buy, but hour after hour, people walk past. And they sit…and sit, completely aware that they are ignored by everyone.
How long is a lonely hour? I remembered this couple while I was on the bus and shamefully thought of how I could not even stand to “waste” one waiting for a bus. They spend every day waiting for a customer, patiently.