I have decided to post all the experiences of my trip to Madras in installments. This way I will have many posts. And I shall start off by describing My trip to Mount Road.
This was on Sunday, 5th inst. I wanted to go to Higginbotham’s and Landmark to buy some books. My mother did not know if she could come. I wouldn’t have time any other day. Ergo, I decided to go alone, and to save money, I would go by Bus.
Public Transport in Chennai is different from Public Transport in Kolkata. Public Transport in Madras is different from Public Transport in Calcutta. Public Transport in Madras is different from Public Transport in Chennai. However, Public Transport in Calcutta is the same as Public Transport in Kolkata. The more things change…
Calcutta has many forms of Public Transport. It has buses, minibuses, share autos, the Metro, taxis, trams and cycle rickshaws. Taxis are the most expensive form of transport. The rest are fairly cheap. The Metro has the problem that it runs on only one route, but you can get to most parts of the city( at least, the parts that are important.)
Chennai however has buses, the MRT, autos and call taxis. Buses are the cheapest. The MRT is also cheap. However its route is fairly limited and since it does not go to Mount Road, it was useless for me. Hence I would take a bus.
I should state that my Tamil is moderately good. I can make myself understood and I can usually understand others. I chose to take a bus, not only because it would be economical, but also because a bus is a safe way to get to your destination. You get down at the nearest bus stop, ask some passerby for directions and start walking. In my case, I knew the way from the bus stop. I asked my relatives which bus would go from Mylapore (which is where I was staying) to Mount Road. I was informed that Bus No.21’s route included Mount Road ( as did Bus No.21G and Bus No. 1).
I set out around 12:00 in the afternoon. My deadline was 4:00 PM. Plenty of time. I set out for the bus stop. No.21 apparently would not stop at the Mylapore Tank bus stop but at the Luz Corner bus stop. Luz Corner is a good five minutes walk from Mylapore Tank. It is strange that No. 21 does not stop at Mylapore Tank, since its route is Mandeveli to Broadway, and it thus passes by Mylapore Tank. Strange things.
Here I must digress a bit. Buses in Chennai will not stop unless they are at a bus stop. If you stick your hand out at them, they will blow their horn and drive past you. The conductor will hurl abuses at you and tell you to come to the bus stop. If you can get to the bus stop before the bus leaves, good for you. The bus will not however wait for you. The conductor knows you are coming. He can see you running. But the bus will still set off. This is different from Calcutta. In Calcutta, buses and minibuses will stop the instant they see someone stick their hand out. It doesn’t matter if they’re sticking their hand out to check the time or to scratch their back, they just have to see some motion of the arm to stop. Sometimes they will stop even though no one in sight has expressed any desire to board the bus.
Also, in Calcutta the staff of the bus includes the driver and two conductors. In a minibus one conductor is replaced by a khalasi. The work of the khalasi is mainly to stand on the foot board and yell out all the stops on the minibus’s route, not necessarily in order.(GolparkGariahatPhariDharmatalaDalhousieMintuParkExideParkStreet)
In Chennai, the conductor will just take your money and hand you a ticket. The Conductor in Calcutta will also yell out the approaching stop, tell all those who will get down at the stop to get up, urge them to get down quickly( paa chaalan, paa chaalan) and inform the driver if there are any women among the people getting down ( aaste ladis. It always sounds like he’s warning the ladis to be careful) The last is very important as the driver does not always stop the bus, being content with merely slowing down. If you’re an able bodied male, then you are expected to get down from the running bus. The bus might suddenly speed up or you might trip. That is your problem. Hence the aaste ladis.
Now back to the story…
I caught a No.21 Bus. I checked with the conductor that the bus would go to Mount Road and sat down. The charge from Mylapore to Mount Road is apparently Rs 3. I was damn kicked at the cheap fare. The minimum fare in Calcutta is, to the best of my knowledge, Rs. 4 (It keeps changing, sometimes increasing, some times decreasing) and here I was travelling a fair bit for only Rs.3.
I carefully noted the bus route. It went from Luz Corner, through Royapettah High Road, West Cott Road and General Patters Road and emerged at Anna Salai. I had a vague suspicion that Mount Road had been renamed to Anna Salai, so I looked out the window to see if I could spot Higginbotham’s. ( The bus stop is right opposite Higginbotham’s. It’s called Mount Road LIC bus stop.) I could only see some building for some Travel agency so I relaxed. The bus went on and turned into Pallavan Salai. I got a little surprised, but reasoned that perhaps that was the route. Bus routes can be long-winded sometimes,and the conductor would tell me when to get down. After all, it’s not like he wants to give me a free ride.
I started having doubts however when I realised that we had reached Chennai Central railway station! I asked the man sitting next to me where we were (just to be sure). He gave me a strange look and said “Chennai Central”. I don’t blame him for looking at me like that. I asked him in Tamil where we were. Anyway, I couldn’t figure out whether I had missed my stop or whether the bus was taking some strange route. I was wondering whether to get down and catch a No.21 going the other way or to stay in the same bus and see whether it would take a strange route to Mount Road.
The bus went on from Central into Poonamallee High Road, Muthuswamy Road and Esplanade Road before arriving at Parry’s. That’s when I realised that there had been a mistake. Parry’s is the Broadway MTC Bus Terminus.
(In case you’re not familiar with Chennai, Here’s a Google Maps link The route is slightly distorted. Ignore steps 9 and 10. Turn right after emerging from General Patters Road)
I got down at Parry’s wondering what the hell to do. I should mention here that I had left home without any balance in my mobile phone. I was therefore unable to call my relatives and ask for directions. I asked this old man which bus would go to Mount road. I have decided not to ask old men anything from now on. This one stared at me for about 30 seconds, then muttered some bus number and hurried off before I could ask for clarifications. I got onto the same bus which had brought me here. It only stayed for about three minutes.
This short stay confused me even more. In Calcutta, if a bus reaches its terminus, it usually plonks itself there for at least 45 minutes. The driver will get down, yawn, stretch, scratch himself all over, spit, light a smoke and abuse the other drivers. Here the bus just left after three minutes. The conductor did not ask me for a ticket this time, which confused me even more.
It went on the same route till the turning into General Patters Road. I saw Chennai Central twice, which convinced me that I had missed my stop and was on the return bus. Not even the strangest route would have the same bus stop twice on one trip. At the turning into General Patters Road however, it did not turn and went on straight. After about five minutes I saw Higginbotham’s Book Shop and the LIC bus stop and got down. You can jaywalk across Mount Road, but there’s a fairly wide divider to cross, the road is a bit wide and the vehicles move very fast. Experienced jaywalker though I am, I decided to use the Subway. The subway is a fair walk from the bus stand. I got there at 1:20 PM. I spent 45 minutes covering the distance from Anna Salai to Broadway twice.
I walked till the subway, where I saw The Complete Yes Prime Minister. It’s the book version of the BBC series. I bought it for a hundred bucks. The second-hand seller wanted Rs.150(as its original price was Rs.295). I offered Rs. 80. He jumped down to Rs.120. I refused. He then went down to Rs. 100 and I bought it. I think I should point out that I was bargaining in Tamil throughout. A few words of Malayalam might have crept in but I am not aware of any glaring mistakes.
Higginbotham’s is a beautiful book shop. The façade itself is wonderful and their collection is also brilliant. I bought Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum for Rs.230. I browsed there for about an hour. I saw many books which I wanted to buy but I resisted. Especially since I did not want to run out of money.
I saw the lamps where I freaked out those firangs on our trip to Bangalore last year. I bought Jerome. K. Jerome’s Three men in a boat for Rs. 100. I also bought The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam for Rs. 120.
I walked back to the LIC bus stop. The bus stops in Chennai have the numbers of the buses that stop there printed there. I did not see any 21. I asked a middle-aged gentleman about a bus going to Mylapore. He told me to to to the other side and catch a bus from there. I went over to the bus stand where i had got down. I waited for half-an hour. It was 3:30 PM when I caught a No.21 to Mylapore. I paid Rs.3, got off at Luz corner and walked back home. I got home at 4:03 PM, 4:00 PM or 3:57 PM depending on which watch I was following.
Mistakes aren’t always regrets
I got to ride around Chennai for Rs.6. I was very happy. Although when I related this incident, people were slightly amused. I now however know a fair amount of Chennai’s roads thanks to this bus ride.
There is a reason why I am going to post my experiences one after the other. One of them being I cannot write 1800 word posts all the time. I have a life. Also, this way I have many posts already lined up. All those people who were complaining about short posts…
Enjoy yourself. See you next week. Also, if anyone of you could see you way to getting me that t-shirt… *hint hint*