4.30 AM in the morning…the temperature must have been a chilly 10-12 degrees…I pushed my cycle alone through the heart of dholavira village. I was headed for the bus stop. Silence had descended upon the village like a heavy veil.There was not a soul in sight and it was pitch dark.
Suddenly the silence was pierced by the shrill barking of a dog. As one dog started, the entire pack in the village woke up and started howling as one fierce unit against me. Because of the darkness I couldn’t even know if there was a dog nearby. Riding on the cycle was out of the question as both the tires were punctured. I managed to reach the bus stop with shaking knees and immediately sat on a bench and switched off my headlamp not wanting to disturb anyone anymore. But the dogs wouldn’t let up on me.
After 5 AM, one couple and another young man came to the bus stop. I was relieved knowing that I had not missed the bus after all. The GSRTC bus rolled into the village at 5:15 AM (bang on time) and came to a halt at our stop. The young man in question (Hitesh), offered to help me get the cycle to the top of the bus. I gladly accepted his help and after 10 minutes of huffing and puffing, we managed to get the cycle on top and tied it down to the railings. As, we got down, I thanked hitesh for his help and boarded the bus.
The cold was becoming brutal due to the fast moving bus and we had to ensure all the windows were shut tightly. In between my bouts of fitful sleep, I managed to chat with Hitesh. It turns out he had watched me cycle slowly through Balesar on my way to dholavira 2 days ago. I showed him all the pics I had taken in the Rann and he told me all about his life in kutch. He had gone to bombay in search of work and fortune a few years ago but he came back disillusioned. He said he hated the sheer size of the crowd in mumbai. “Sir, wahan toh khane ke liye,muthne ke liye, bill bharne ke liye, sab ke liye line lagtha hai…Paagal ho gaya tha mein” (Sir, you have to stand in a line in mumbai to eat, to shit and to pay bills, I was going mad). He had come back to dholavira and now ran a shop in Balesar.
As the bus stopped in Rapar for early morning chai/nashta, I got down with Hitesh and he ordered tea and biscuits on my behalf. The amusing thing to note here is, the tea stall was small and hence all passengers in the bus had huddled around and the tea vendor had distributed saucers to everyone. After getting their tea, people started slurping away. It was an ludicrous scene!! 8 to 10 grown men all making a ruckus by loudly slurping tea from the saucer!!! For a moment, i was nauseated by the sound but, a few moments later, I joined in the fun and slurped away!
I made sure to pay for the both of us and we boarded the bus again and i went to sleep. After some time, the bus stopped again for another breakfast stop at a major junction and here, I need to tell you about the great impromptu bus seat reservation system in rural India. Basically, when a bus stops at a major junction, a lot of people try to get onto the bus hunting for empty seats. But the existing passengers in the bus need to take a break and at the same time would not like to give their seat away!! So what’s the solution? A simple honor system where in, if any object is left on the seat (be it a water bottle, scarf, paper, bag, etc), it means the seat has been taken by prior passengers and no body will touch that seat! It’s a very effective way to save your seat while traveling in crowded buses!
Back to our story, at this second stop, Hitesh casually placed his scarf reserving both our seats and we went out for breakfast. I got my morning fix of parceled khakras (believe me, you’ll not get to eat anything else in the morning in these places!!!!) and I shared those with Hitesh on our bus ride to Bhuj.
It was 11:30 AM by the time we reached Bhuj bus stop. It was noisy and crowded. I felt disoriented for a few seconds (after having spent the last 4 days in the peaceful Ekal Rann and Dholavira, the cacophony was sort of disconcerting!!). Hitesh again came to my rescue and helped me get the cycle down from the bus.
He knew that the tires of my cycle were punctured and so, we set off to find a puncture shop. I kept on insisting to Hitesh that, he needn’t do this and he had already done enough for me but he wouldn’t hear it. After over an hour of searching, we finally found a puncture shop and Hitesh bid me good bye. I thanked him repeatedly for his hospitality and help and he said it was his pleasure. He shared his phone number with me and then we also connected on facebook!
After he left, I took another half hour to convince/bully the cycle shop guy to get my puncture fixed. After a considerable shouting match, he agreed to fix my cycle and after another half hour, I was whizzing past the traffic in bhuj on my way out to Dhordo!