Monday, 27 January 2014

Hemantha Kalam - 13 'Matters of Regret'

Hemantha Kalam

Kalam - 13

'Matters of Regret'


When young (maybe upto about 30 years of age), I was a person who worried and brooded much and suddenly there was a change in my attitude and I stopped worrying or brooding - literally, practically and virtually. As a human being I erred many times, and failed many times thus causing reasons many for regretting. But despite worrying and brooding regretting was not my Achilles heel.

But then, hold on, hold on.., I am not a super human and I do have my share of some personal and professional regrets in my life.

My father is a good swimmer. When a boy, I have seen my father's swimming trunks in the house-those days when he used to dive into the swimming pools. As I grew on, I also saw him getting into our well of water and search for things that we used to drop into the well, inadvertently though, while drawing water. I have also seen him helping in de-silting the well. But none of his four children can swim and that includes yours faithfully.

Maybe it is still not late, but then there it is. During my expeditions across India and several countries, there have been many opportunities where I could have taken to the water. And nowhere it became more evident than the recently visited Erawan Waterfalls, Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

But Hemantha cannot swim, saala (to borrow from a recent song)! This is one regret.

I had worked in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, India and even got my wife from there. But I never learned that elixir of languages, Urdu, which I could have learnt comfortably in Hyderabad. True, to some extent, I can speak and understand Urdu but I cannot read or write and this has been a regret.

When I was four to 11 years of age, we had stayed in the outhouse of a big house in Chennai, in T. Nagar. The owners used to stay in the first floor (as per many South-East Asian countries, this should be referred to as second floor) and there was Mr. R. R. Sajip, an architect who used to teach in the Engineering College in Guindy, in Madras (Chennai those days) occupying the Ground Floor (first floor). Being poor (my father was struggling to establish himself) we had occupied the one room tenement adjoining the car garage, in the backyard of the main house.

Call it coincidence or whatever reason, the whole compound had only one child, myself. The landlords did not have children, the Sajips had already a grown and college going daughter. Even, in our family, I did not have any siblings during that period. I used to be mischievous, mostly controllable but once in a way could be menacing.

During those days, one Mr. Vithal used to frequent the Sajips helping them with some odd jobs, a bit of indigenous shopping and generally being a man-Friday around, whenever he used to visit them. He was always friendly with me.

In those days, it was a practice of the school going children to sprinkle ink from their fountain pens on to the others' shirts on April First, every year on All Fools Day (glad that now children mostly use only ball pens and cannot sprinkle ink). So most of the children going to school on that day used to wear old shirts or try to avoid being sprinkled upon, which any way was a herculean task in itself. Over years, the children became more and more innovative in making concoctions to be mixed with ink so that the sprinkled patterns on the shirts would become indelible. and mind you the market was not filled with such detergents and wash ingredients as today.

One particular year, around the mid 1960s, I had ground the juice out of Day Queen seeds (or is it night queen?) and mixed to the ink which I had filled into a stout pen. Armed with that, I was waiting for my victim (any victim) in the compound from the first floor. I do not remember the occasion, but Vithal wore a brand new shirt gifted to him by the Sajips and was coming to show them the new shirt worn by him. I can see he was elated. and the devil in me worked. From the top on the first floor, I sprinkled the whole ink in my pen on to his shirt in all criss cross patterns ensuring that the whole shirt was re-designed. He looked up in such agony which I could not wipe out of my memory 50 years hence. He just walked in without uttering one word or shouting at me.

The landlords, who always liked me and gave a free run of their home, radiogram and the refrigerator, chided me when they came to know of this; the Sajips shouted at me and later my father thrashed me. Yet, Vithal never said a word and I was ashamed and also afraid to see him later. Thus I had lost a good soul who liked me. 

Over a period of time, we vacated the house, and started staying in our own house elsewhere and lost touch with the Sajips and Vithal. Once we came to know that Vithal joined some catering outfit and later we totally lost touch with him.

But not the memory of this incident which haunts me to this day and I am sure would plague me till my memory is in tact. I regret this sorrowfully, every day, but there it is-just to remain a regret.

My only professional regret was caused by an experience sometime in the year 2008.

The Managing Director (a British National) of a highly visible organisation fixed an appointment to meet me as a CEO of one of the units of a large NGO in India, and my boss the chairperson of my company at our office in Chennai, three months in advance, to discuss possible assistance to our organization. I did not have a dedicated secretary and relying much on my memory, I did not jot the appointment on any paper. I had informed my chairperson orally of the meeting.

As time neared for the said appointment, my memory failed and I forgot and on the specific day of the appointment, both of us were in Kancheepuram, 75 kms from Chennai, attending another meeting. Only when the PA of the MD called in to say that her MD was on the way to our office did I remember my folly and we tried to rush in. Despite maverick and neck braking speed we took about one hour to reach and the MD and his wife were furious (justified). I realized the blunder and even while we were travelling in the car, I offered my head on a platter to my boss.

Finally we reached office and my boss advised me to stay away from the meeting and only she met them. They were indeed annoyed and irritated and were in fact recommending to my boss that my services should be terminated forthwith. And at the concluding time of the meeting, my boss summoned me and introduced me to the MD and his wife. Though I could see their annoyance, they downplayed it on seeing me and shook my hands with a smile and took in my apology. But the damage was done. We could not get the help intended by them. My boss condoned and continued to retain my services, till I left on my own in 2012.

But, to this day, I regret this avoidable incident. I was hoping that one day or other I would get, maybe, another chance and explain for whatever it is worth and make amends.

But a look at today's news paper drenched all such hopes with cold water; for I read that Karl Slym, the MD of Tata Motors fell to his death from the 22nd floor of a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand where he stayed on an official visit. For, Karl Slym was that MD who came to meet us and at that time he was with General Motors, India.

My meeting with Karl was only for a few seconds, but due to continued guilt he was always there with me. And today is a very depressing day as Karl died at 51, hardly the age to die.

May GOD bless his soul and that he Rests in Peace.

If amends are to be made do it at the earliest opportunity-else that itself could lead to regret.           

What do you think? You tell me! :-)


Till then, 


Krutagjnatalu (Telugu), Nanri (Tamil), Dhanyavaadagalu (Kannada), Nanni (Malayalam), Dhanyavaad (Hindi), Thanks (English), Dhonyabaad (Bangla), Gracias (Spanish), Grazie (Italian), Danke Schon (Deutsche), Merci (French), Obrigado (Portuguese), Shukraan (Arabic), Shukriya (Urdu), Aw-koon (Khmer), Kawp Jai Lhai Lhai (Laotian), Kob Kun Krab (Thai) and Asante (Kiswahili).


Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy

Chennai, India

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Hemantha Kalam-12 'Finding Joy in Finding'


Hemantha Kalam

Kalam - 12

'Finding Joy in Finding'


2014, this 'New Year' has opened very interestingly for me. Being a Cancerian that I am, I am supposed to be, and truly to a large extent, after old things. Old books, old wine and old friends not to say of the innumerous old memories which help me dream better and while away my time when I do not have much serious work to do.


My education took place in two schools, two colleges, one university and several institutions and in all these places I had acquaintances, class mates and friends, out of whom very few are in touch with some or each other.


The first school was ‘Sri Bala Gurukul’ a school that was (I use the past tense as the school no longer exists) headed by a foreigner called Duncan Greenleys (I do earnestly hope that the spelling of his surname is correct), a kind, white gentleman with an equally white hair and a long white beard, and managed by a Tamil gentleman called Sarangapani.

My father vaguely remembers Duncan Greenleys as a person from South Africa but who liked to run a school in India. Either he was not married or had forsaken his family, as he used to live alone in a room in the first floor of the school itself. I am not certain of the time but remember that he died while I was in my 4th standard, I think. I long to find more details and write a tribute on him with more and relevant details. At this point I only know him as a very kind, ever smiling, child loving gentle soul. He used to stand at the gate of the school every morning and every evening and children used to crawl on to him like monkeys. I remember him having no less than a burden of a pack of at least six children, like monkeys, on him at any given point of time, while he was at the gates.


During the time of classes, he used to gently visit the school premises comprising of a bunch of huts for class rooms always kept very clean under the shade of Mango trees. A few classes for the seniors (4th & 5th standards) used to be in the main building which also partly housed a hostel, a vegetarian mess, Teacher’s room, Office on the ground floor.


The school offered three mediums of study I think. English, Tamil and Telugu as yours faithfully studied in Telugu Medium till he completed the 5th Standard and left the school in 1966.


The school catered, among others, to the wards of film personalities. In my own class, I had classmates Harsha Latha, daughter of the famous Telugu film actor and later producer (Amrutha Films) Balayya (his son Tulasi Ram Prasad was my junior by a year), Kesava Rao, son of A very famous and popular Telugu Film Hero and producer (Pratap Pictures I think) Late T. L. Kantha Rao (his elder son Pratap was my senior), Rajya Lakshmi, daughter of the very famous Telugu film Actor Late ‘Mukkamala” who used to be of a towering personality and his mere presence in a role of a villain (which he was very famous for) used to be applauded by the audience (his other daughters, who were like dolls were juniors way under us). Rajya Lakshmi herself was a towering personality. Then there were Ravindranath, son of the famous Late Drama and film Actor Nagabhushanam, Suresh Chand son of the famous film director Late V. Ramachandra Rao (of ‘Paapam Pasivaadu’ and who for long was an Assistant director to another famous director Aadurthi Subba Rao) and Rama Linga Raju, son of Film producer Subba Raju (Chaya Chithra banner). Then,  T.D. Sekhar, brother of the famous Tamil Actress T.D. Kushala Kumari (Being Rich and famous most of them used to get their lunch hot in the afternoons, mostly delivered in cars by their chauffeurs or others in their employ. T.D. Sekhar used to get dishes of crabs for lunch quite often that he got the moniker ‘Nandu Pudi Sekhar’ (crab catching Sekhar).

The famous Telugu music director and singer Ghantasala's children were also studying with us. While Ratna Kumar was one year junior to me his sisters were juniors to him. Then there were Ravi and Shankar who were my seniors. The famous comedian Padmanabham’s children were my juniors. My own grand uncle and famous Music Director Pamarthi’s daughters (my dad's cousins) were in the school. The elder daughter was a teacher and the younger, Sarada (now holding an important position in the Central Government of India) a student.

And then there were others too. T. Venkateswar Rao (TV as we used to call him and till date refer him to) the son of an industrialist (today TV himself is an industrialist-his was the first house in Madras/Chennai to have a dish antenna since more than 30 years when none even heard of a dish antenna), G. K. Venkat Kumar whose parents had a then famous textile shop in the prime Pondy Bazaar (called Samsons Dresses) next to the then Police Station. Today, I think Rajiv Jewellers have their shop in that place. B.H. Subrahmanyam used to be so tall that he earned the moniker ‘LIC’ Building (LIC building in Madras/Chennai with 14 floors was the tallest building for a very looong time and was a landmark that it was on any tour itinerary of vacation goers coming in). V. Madhu Babu, J. Prabhakar and C. Lakshmana were my other class mates. Interestingly, apart from Rajya Lakshmi, I remember only few girls in my class – Raj Kamal, Devaki, Geetha and Kanchana (who modeled for ‘Binny’ uniform advertisements).


In 1965 I left Sri Bala Gurukul to join Kesari High School which was not only the haven for the wards of the film personalities but also a fertile ground for future film personalities. Majority of the entire school’s staff and students alike were one way or the other connected with films.


Here, our entourage of students flocking from Sri Bala Gurukul, were joined by more like Venkataramaiah and Sarojini, nephew and niece of the most adored and famous multi-lingual and multi faceted film actor Late S. V. Ranga Rao. Then there is Varalakshmi Devi daughter of the famous producer of movies like ‘Jarigina Katha’ on the banner of ‘Naagaavali Vijetha’ and later ‘Ramalayam’ on the banner of ‘Raama Vijetha’ (of the Producer duo Prabhakar and Babu Rao). We had a senior called Vidyullatha who acted in a one film but a well known film called ‘Sri Sri Sri Maryaada Raamanna’. Later heroines like ‘Jyothi’ and ‘Archana’ who became very famous heroines in Tamil films as also in Telugu films were my juniors in the school.


We had a Teacher who used to write stories and dialogues for movies and one teacher who went on to become a Talented Actor, Producer and eventually to become a Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha or the upper House). Then there is T. N. Srinivas who was our teacher’s son and with whom I always had to compete in English, studies, elocution, oratorical and essay competitions. If he was first I was one among the next two and vice versa. While leaving the school I lost to him in English by one mark and he went on to becoming the school first. Today he is a doctor and is settled in Australia.


Leaving the High School, I went to Pre-University to Dhanraj Baid Jain college (D.B. Jain College-I was the first batch with my roll number as 197 if I have not forgotten) for one year - between 1972-73. I had many classmates there (in fact 100 exactly) but I was rather close to Sudheendran coming from Perambur, Durai Mohan from Aspirin Garden and Ramachandran from Saligramam. Today I am in touch only with Ramachandran.


Then I did my under-graduation in commerce (B. Com) in Agurchand Manmull Jain College (A.M. Jain College) and had several class mates but now am connected only to Narsimhan in Delhi.


And the story goes on.


In the dusk of my life and when lack of adequate work affords more time, I keep thinking and try to remember as many names of my class mates as possible, list them out and try to find one after another to see where they are, what they are and how they are.


It is an interesting pastime and helps (I fervently hope) keep Alzheimer’s away?


But the interesting thing is despite all the new tools like Google, Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter there are many who still manage to hide away. And then there will be some who simply abscond and these people add more mystery to ponder about and to life in itself.


It takes scrounging the internet, trying to contacts of contacts of contact with a hope to contact ‘the missing person’ and in the process, I have now become something like Simon Wiesenthal ( -ferreting out people/contacts-of course for different purposes altogether though J


So, coming to 2014, this year has opened quite well for me in that that I could trace out K. V. Narahari Babu, Re-traced Madhu Babu, Varalakshmi Devi, T. Kesava Rao and as a bonus, could trace out Gourishankar (Internal auditor-Apple Credit Corporation) with whom I lost touch in 1977 all in about 2 weeks. I could trace out that Rajya Lakshmi has become a Judge in Andhra Pradesh and am trying to contact.


Yet, I need to still find so many and so much that I had lost and lost touch with.


I need to trace V. Someswara Rao, whom we used to call a ‘Scientist’ seeing his interest in science. I need to trace P. Jaya Kumar, who liked to be equated to ‘Clint Eastwood’ though no resemblance whatsoever. And within just a decade’s time I had lost contact with my mentor Mohan G. Gurjale.


How I wish 2014 would continue to be kind and resourceful so that I can add more ‘heads’ to my count.

While working with Godrej Soaps Limited in Chennai, I had a colleague called Parameswaran whose table always used to be filled in with a variety of knick-knacks and anytime he needed something a search used to be mounted. Interestingly, he also used to have on his table, the legend “Those proud of keeping an orderly desk never know the thrill of finding something they thought they had irretrievably lost’


Now I am sure that this quote of Helen Exley is so true to the ‘table of my life’ which has been anything but orderly as it now appears in hindsight and every time I find some person / contact, only I know how good ‘finding joy in finding’ is.


What do you think? You tell me! :-)


Till then, 


Krutagjnatalu (Telugu), Nanri (Tamil), Dhanyavaadagalu (Kannada), Nanni (Malayalam), Dhanyavaad (Hindi), Thanks (English), Dhonyabaad (Bangla), Gracias (Spanish), Grazie (Italian), Danke Schon (Deutsche), Merci (French), Obrigado (Portuguese), Shukraan (Arabic), Shukriya (Urdu), Aw-koon (Khmer), Kawp Jai Lhai Lhai (Laotian), Kob Kun Krab (Thai) and Asante (Kiswahili).


Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy

Chennai, India


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Hemantha Kalam - 11 'A Paean to 12B'

Hemantha Kalam

Kalam - 11

'A Paean to 12B'

Today is 'New Year' and as is wont of me I spent time in introspecting on who I am, Why I am, What I am, Where I am and Where I am likely to go from here. During this storming, I was also fondly remembering the contributors to my present status and I am glad to acknowledge that one major contributor to my growth or otherwise, has been the bus-route number 12B.

I do not clearly remember when I took my first ride on a bus. I guess it must be somewhere in between 1960 & 1961 and I remember taking a bus from the Vani Mahal Bus Stop on Gopathi Narayanaswamy Chetty Road (G.N. Chetty Road) in T. Nagar to Panagal Park in T. Nagar-just one bus stop in between. The fare was Rs.0.07 (7 Naya Paisa).

There is a little explanation for this Naya Paisa business. The earlier coinage in India was something like Paisa, Kaani, Chillu Kaani (Kaani with a hole), Dammidi, Artha Anaa (Half Anaa-Three Paisa), Anaa (6 Paisa), Beda (12 Paisa), Paavalaa (1/4 of a Rupee/ Four Anaas / Rs.0.25), Artha Rupayi (1/2 of a Rupee / 8 Anaas / Rs.0.50) and so on (These names are of Telugu Language-India with so many languages will have different names for the same coinage).

Over a period, the government felt the need for a simpler and uniform coinage and just reduced the monetisation to Paisa and Rupee. The new system was called Naya (New) Paisa and so on. Paisa is singular and Paise is plural in Hindi, which is the national language of India so it is now Paise and Rupee.

Coming back to the main story, as long as we were staying in T. Nagar I seldom rode on a bus as there was no need. My school was about a kilometer from my house and either my father dropped me on his bicycle or I walked, i.e., when I became old enough to walk. For a long time till I was in the 3rd grade I guess, my mother used to carry me and drop me much against my wishes though.

Sometime in 1966 my father purchased a small plot of housing land in the suburbs of the city (now it is in the heart of the city with close proximity to a mall and several good hospitals and thus a prime property) and started constructing a tiny house. Since my father was mostly busy, it was my mother and myself (just about 10 years old) who had to regularly visit the construction site and supervise the progress, by using the bus services.

                                                Photo Courtesy:

We used to walk from our house for about half-a-kilometer to ‘Maattu Aaspathiri’ (Veterinary Hospital) and board one of the 3 buses that would take us nearer (about a kilometer) to our newly constructing house. The routes were 17B, 63 and 88. These were the only buses which used to go beyond the Vadapalani Temple stop, as the city limited itself upto Vadapalani Temple. Most other buses used to ply till this stop, take a turn back and return to their starting points.

Beyond Vadapalani were the villages of Saligramam, Virugambakkam and Porur and beyond. Excepting Poondamalli, other villages were hardly known to any of the city dwellers and only the Jutka (Horse carriage) was the carrier that could go beyond Vadapalani Bus stop. For a long time Kodambakkam was synonymous only with the film making activity and quite an amount of human soliciting / flesh trade and was considered a ‘bad’ area for many of the city genteel.

It was around the same years between 1965-67 that the area started developing; first with the Kodambakkam bridge being constructed and opened and next the Vadapalani Bus Depot being constructed. With a limited area to hold about 12 buses in the front uncovered bays, the Vadapalani Depot had a vast fortified area behind, for its workshop and fuel storage. The bus stand had its offices and a nice canteen and was quite clean. Adjacent to the Bus depot was the long road called Vadapalani Bus Depot Road (now called Kumaran Colony Main Road) that connected Vadapalani with Kumaran Colony, Dhanalakshmi Colony, Dharanisingh Thottam, Telephone Colony, Gandhi Nagar and so on.

With the opening of the Vadapalani Bus depot most buses started coming till the depot with an extension of two more bus stops. While this was relatively convenient to the villagers of Saligramam, the casualties were the Jutka owners who, overnight, lost most of their custom.

Our house was completed by April 1967 when I had just completed my 6th grade and we took possession in April 1967 and started living there since 30th April, 1967. As it was summer vacation time, there was no imminent requirement of my having to go to school but from mid June I had to commute to my school, which now is over 6 kilometers, by bus and the route was 12B.

The route of 12B plying between Vadapalani and Foreshore Estate is quite unique in that that the bus covered, in addition to government offices like Accountant General’s office and All India Radio, many educational institutions like;

·       Government School (opp. Ram Theatre)
·       Durga Nursery School (Kodambakkam Powerhouse) Government School (Puliyur/Trustpuram)
·       Saraswathi Vidyalaya (Kodambakkam / Liberty-Now this is relocated to Vadapalani itself)
·       Indian Institute of Engineering and Technology (IIET-Kodambakkam/Liberty-Now its associate Meenakshi College for Women also is in the same campus)
·       Stree Seva Mandir & Ramakrishna Mission School (Bazullah Road/T. Nagar)
·       Sarada Vidyalaya-Girls School & Ramakrishna Mission Main School (Panagal Park / T. Nagar)
·       T. Nagar High School (Pondy Bazaar / T. Nagar)
·       Sri Bala Gurukul (Pondy Bazaar / T. Nagar – since closed)
·       Holy Angels Convent & Besant Montessori School-Daniel Street (Pondy Bazaar / T. Nagar)
·       Kesari High School-My School (Teynampet)
·       SIET College for Women (Near to Teynampet)
·       Government School in Eldams Road (I am a bit vague about this though)
·       Vivekananda College for Men & Sanskrit College (Mylapore)
·       Rosary Matriculation High School (Santhome)
·       St. Bedes Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School (Santhome) and
·       Santhome Higher Secondary School     

This was one route which was fully occupied and most of the time beyond the capacity and thus became a vital link in the education of many nerds like me.

                                                 Photo courtesy:

During the holidays I made friends with the local children though there were only a few of them in the relatively new and developing area without much habitat. Krishna was one of those first who made friends with me and we remain friends till date. Then it was Late Sriramamurthy who was already working in Indian Airlines.

On the first day when I had to go to the school in a bus on my own, I had joined the entourage of Krishna, His grandfather who was dropping his tiny tot cousins in the school, Sriramamurthy and other children in the area.

Dr. K.V. Swamy of the famous Madras Homoeo Pharmacy and Clinic in South Usman Road, used to travel with us, accompanied by some of his children sometimes. Immaculately dressed his presence and demeanour itself was a brand.

Singer siblings Surender & Narender and their sister Sobha (Actor Vijay’s mother) used to travel. As they used to board the bus from the Vadapalani temple stop, by which time all seats would have been filled and many standees used to occupy the bus (yes within two stops), we used to reach out to help them by holding their book bags and food carriers.

This was a real pain where most of us needed to carry our books in bags or aluminium boxes (now in backpacks) and also carry our food boxes and water (children in India still need to carry donkey’s loads of books to school. Despite struggles by famous writer R.K. Narayan and in a very micro and limited way by me, the education department in the country is totally insensitive and apathetic towards the burden of books for small and tender children. Hope the Aam Aadmi Party would trail its guns on this aspect as well soon and deliver the children of the country from the drudgery of carrying loads of books).

With such physical intimacy, the passengers in the bus became known to each other within a very few days, as at specific times the same commuters used to use the same service. But as always, the supply of seats were far lower than the demand and even if one fellow got in first into the bus, he used to ‘reserve’ some seats for his / her friends / colleagues by putting in some article representing the ‘ person’ to come. If any such reserved seat could not be occupied by the intended person before the bus started, the seat used to be magnanimously offered to some other person. Such a system may not be easily possible today without a fight; in those days we could manage with just frowns and jeers / sniggers.

We did not have electricity in our house for almost a year and I had to read / study like Abraham Lincoln – in the light of hurricane lanterns or other sources if any. So if I failed to complete my homework before the dusk or within the school on the same day, I needed to do it in the bus and I needed a seat for this. If no seat was available we used to squeeze in the front near the driver to grab any space that could be had and observe the gear changing and driving methods and mannerisms of the various drivers. The buses in those days were not having powerful engines or power steerings requiring a lot of physical exertion on the part of the drivers.

Very quickly we became friends with the crew of the buses. Some people whom I could never forget are Mr. Kasi, Mr. Singaram, Mr. Jayaraman, and Mr. Mani - the drivers, Mr. Fiddle and Mr. Joseph the conductors. Among them, Mr. Fiddle later went on to become a member of the ticket checking squads as a promotion.

To my knowledge, the journey of public bus transport in Chennai began as Madras State Transport Department (MSTD) which later became Tamil Nadu State Transport Department (TNSTD). When the state government decided to bifurcate the TNSTD into smaller corporations, the Chennai bus transport became Pallavan Transport Corporation (PTC).

Due to over work in trying to catch up to the demand and also due to limited technology, several buses frequently used to break down on roads and the passengers were asked to lend a helping hand in pushing the buses either to start (due to ‘self’ problems of the battery) or to push the bus aside of the road. So people used to call the Pallavan Transport as ‘Tallava’ Transport. The word ‘Tallava’ in Tamil means ‘To Push’. But it was so much fun and after pushing the bus we used to show off like 'heroes'. Though today the corporation has been re-named as Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) the break downs keep happening, though in lesser intensity and frequency, than in those days.

                                                      Photo Courtesy:

During the time of PTC the buses, despite the Registration numbers given by the Road Transport Offices, had been given fleet numbers. The Fleet numbers of 12B in those days used to be A-722, A-724, A-733, A-736 and so on. Most of the time the drivers were allotted the same bus and it is with these fleet numbers that we used to recognise the bus drivers from afar even without really seeing them.

Though while going to the school we could board at the starting point and so were lucky most of the times in getting a seat, it was not the same case while returning, as we had to board the bus somewhere in the middle of the route and by which time all the buses were over-crowded and people hanging out of the entry and exit ways.

During the 1960s, the incentive scheme, for the bus crew members, on earnings, was not introduced and many a conductor used to ‘double whistle’ once he felt the bus was fully crowded or if he felt that the bus was being late. The driver needed to stop at the bus stops if the conductor gives out a long ‘single whistle’ or should not stop and continue to drive if it is a ‘double whistle’ where the conductor whistles quickly two notes.

As almost all schools and colleges close at the same time, the school leaving time everyday was inevitably over-crowded and buses never used to stop at a bus stop but stopped either before or after the stop to facilitate the alighting of those passengers already in the bus desiring / needing to.

Over a period, the passengers waiting at the bus stops also become wiser and adept in the technique and took their chances in waiting before or after the specific bus stops and trying their luck.

Children like us could not decide and that is when the proximity to the crew used to help us. If the driver sees us, he used to give us a signal that he is either not stopping or stopping a little ahead. Once he stopped, he used to ensure that we got in and for us it used to be a triumph of the day. We used to chat happily with the driver and generally have bon homie atmosphere thereupon.

But there were drivers who were newly inducted or filling leave vacancies who did not know us and thus we could not use any privilege. On such days, we used to run behind the buses in a bid to catch them where they would stop. On many days we used to chase buses from one stop to another stop and cover more than 6 or 7 bus stops without catching a bus, in the normal 14-15 stops from our school to Vadapalani Depot. those days we used to save some money on our fare and buy toffees with them.

Sometimes the crew used to treat us to some snack in the canteen. One day the driver Mr. Kasi became wild at my shouting at him as ‘Kasi, Kasi’ He told me to wait in the bus till all alighted in the  Vadapalani Depot. I waited for a special treat from him and suddenly he started boxing my ears and asked whether I will again repeat calling him as Just Kasi and not Mr. Kasi. My ears were ringing and I could not bear the pain anymore and tears welled in my eyes when he left me with a stern warning that I should always respect elders whoever they maybe. What a lesson? Catch me even today where I call or address anybody without a title? Elder or not J

There was one driver whose name I am unable to recall, who apparently had a large family to support and so used to drive autos or a taxi in his spare time to augment the income.

Mr. Mani was the most humorous. I distinctly remember one conversation between him and another depot worker whose job was only to fill water into the radiators of the buses while in the depot. He used to carry water in tin containers and climb on to the bumpers of the buses and pour water into the radiators. Those were the days when chemical coolants were not heard much about and water was the common coolant for the radiators.    

One day they were having a friendly banter when the guy pouring water had somehow managed to incense Mr. Mani. So Mr. Mani simply retorted saying that employees should earn appropriate trust from PTC. Since he (Mr. Mani) is more trusted he has been entrusted with a bus costing Lakhs of Rupees where as the other guy has been trusted with only a tin container not costing more than 2 rupees. The passengers following the banter had a hearty laugh with this exchange.

There used to be days when we had lost our money and so could not come home using the bus service. That is when the conductors used to buy tickets for us with their money.

Mr. Singaram was one person who for some reason always liked me and always waited for me to catch the bus even at the peril of getting late. He was in service even when I started working and when I needed to use the bus 12B again but later I could not see him. For sure, he must have retired from services. After I stopped using the bus service and took to bicycling and later scootering I lost touch with these people.

Today in retrospect, I ponder how much they had silently contributed to my growth and so many others like me. And all because of the route 12B which till date caters to the needs of so many students like me. What we would have done without this route and service? Long Live 12B and its services.

Where are those gentlemen today? Where is that warmth and where is that affection? What I will not give to meet them again?

You tell me! :-)

Till then, 

Krutagjnatalu (Telugu), Nanri (Tamil), Dhanyavaadagalu (Kannada), Nanni (Malayalam), Dhanyavaad (Hindi), Thanks (English), Dhonyabaad (Bangla), Gracias (Spanish), Grazie (Italian), Danke Schon (Deutsche), Merci (French), Obrigado (Portuguese), Shukraan (Arabic), Shukriya (Urdu), Aw-koon (Khmer), Kawp Jai Lhai Lhai (Laotian), Kob Kun Krab (Thai) and Asante (Kiswahili).

Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy

Chennai, India