My friend and I took the same bus every morning. As our home was in the developing part of the city, the bus services were erratic and sketchy at best. We were grateful to our humble bus driver for he waited for us on the mornings we were running late. Even when we cut across a vacant plot of land running over brambles to catch the bus his wry smile and ‘careful’ gave us a feeling of some older brother taking care of his young siblings. Soon we outgrew our grades, outgrew our uniforms. The vacant land disappeared and houses sprouted, yet the bus service remained the same. The frequency may have increased, but it was the same bus and the same driver who took us to school every day.
We did notice that this driver stood out as compared to other drivers and conductors. He wore neatly pressed uniforms and sported shoes instead of chappals. Moreover, he was soft–spoken and he made a polite request for the standing passengers to make way. His way of dealing with the infamous Eve-teasers’ of Hyderabad was also very matter of fact and generally brooked no argument.
By and by, he started enquiring about our classes and grades. We did exaggerate our marks! During examination, we not only took the bus in the morning but managed our return journey before his shift ended. His interest in our academic performance was a novelty, considering that we, the convent educated brats believed that it was the not so-educated who became the bus drivers and conductors. It was considered a lowly profession by we school children who missed out on the grueling shifts of the drivers, the difficulty of coping with the weather and the surly passengers.
Finally, the day arrived when we were in the final year of our school life. The tenth grade was considered a milestone and we were reminded of the same from all quarters. After 10th, we entered Intermediate College.
We were quite simply put off by the most torturous period in one’s life. We were quite happy drifting along and moreover being just fifteen the advice rolled off our back.
It was close to our final. We had gone to collect our preparatory marks from the school and we were coming back in the friendly neighbourhood bus when the driver asked us our performance. We were aghast. Our results were not too good to be shared-even if it happened to be a driver! He smiled and said in flawless English, “My father and brother are both managers. I tried to cheat in my tenth board and the flying squad caught me red-handed. I was debarred for six years, and now I am a bus driver. Never cheat but try to do your personal best.” Before we could gather our thoughts, he continued, “opportunities are not meant to be misused!” We were left quite red-faced.
Among all advice, this unlikely pal’s suggestion worked best and remembered decades later.