Say you and I are complete strangers forced into each other's company for a couple of hours -- by an accident, or a quirk of fate, as it were. Would we still stay aloof? Or will we talk, become friends in those few hours?
I think you and I have more of a chance of becoming friends, if there is darkness around us. No, it's true, though that might sound a little on the shady side. On Sunday, I was part of a bus-load of people stuck on, (well, it could have been the middle of nowhere) one of the narrow, forested roads that connect Ooty to Bangalore. At approximately 1 am, our bus came to a standstill just outside a little town called Gudalur -- a log-laden truck, further up the road, had overturned, thereby blocking both sides of the narrow road. Traffic backed up about a km on both sides -- and this is forest area I'm talking about.
So, there we were, surrounded by lush greenery, swaying trees, an eerie breeze, a whippingly cold chill and a moonless sky. What is one to do? Not one of us complained, or cribbed or made a fuss. It wasn't the driver's fault or the conductor's fault, or anybody else's -- it just happened. A few of the male passengers got up to explore, to scout around so they could come back and expound on various theories -- you know the way we Indians love to analyse everything -- on why the truck overturned, the approximate weight of the logs, when the road block's going to be cleared, how long it's going to take, "It'll take till next day evening", said one, to groans from some female passengers; "No, no. The Gudalur police station is just a furlong away. They've sent for a crane. It'll take till morning, though," said another. And so on and so on.
Some passengers decided to sing songs -- they were drunk to begin with, the quietness around them seemed to inspire them to higher decibel levels. So, they got off the bus (thankfully!), squatted on the road and started an impromptu antakshari -- with what else, but Himmesh Reshammiya's 'Tera Mera Milna' and 'Jaane do na, jaane bhi do (the original 'Cheeni kum' tune) and horrors! 'shakalaka, shakalaka... boom boom boom". These songs are now seared onto my synapses for all time to come.
So the hours passed in such constructive exercises. By morning, most of the passengers were on talking terms to each other. One woman offered fruits to those she spoke to. Another had chips and crisps for all and sundry. Children were pampered -- this 'aunty' had oranges, that 'uncle' had a repertoire of stories to keep the kids happy. Water was in great demand. I was astonished and happy -- here we were, a busload of humanity, stuck in a forest till god knows when -- and we were all being nice to each other. Regardless of whether I had an IT job or was married or single or in love or child less. It didn't matter just then. The bus, nay, the road block, it seemed to me, had helped us open our hearts to each other.
And then the road was cleared. Locals had worked all night to clear the logs because, apparently, the police were on the spot. The police were on the spot, apparently because (at least that's what my friend and co-passenger found out), they were under pressure, because apparently, the military was leaning on them, because apparently, some military chap's family was stuck in the block too. So, because of all this, the road was cleared in 6 hours, not 12. Ah well, that is the way it is in India. And if it works this way, then why complain?
The minute the bus started, there was a change in the atmosphere. People were still friendly, of course, but not so much. We didn't have to cling to each other, any more. We had our own destinations to look forward to. Staying quiet seemed a good idea -- I for one, began to calculate that we were spending 18 hours in the bus -- why, deep vein thrombosis seemed a distinct possibility.
By the time, we reached Bangalore, the camaraderie had mostly dissipated. We were more interested in stepping back into our own lives, our own spaces.
For some reason, I missed the forest.