Down the memory lane
N J Ravi Chander
My octogenarian friend, philosopher and guide for the past four decades, G R Murthy, often regales me with anecdotes and stories of long ago. Few know that he is also a supremely gifted artisan, who can create wonders with wood. That is not all. He is a voracious reader and can hold you spellbound for hours with his conversation.
During his playing days, he was a competent opening batsman who could also turn his arm over when required in the State senior division league where he represented the State Bank of India (SBI).
When we caught up over a cup of coffee sometime back at our favourite haunt, the iconic Koshy’s restaurant, on the bustling St. Mark’s Road, he reeled off his experience of travelling on a steam-powered bus. Murthy and his brother idled away their summer holidays visiting their maternal grandfather, who lived in a sprawling mansion in Penukonda along with his family. The enormous group of uncles, aunts and cousins from far and near would assemble at the house and have a whale of a time frolicking on the nearby hill.
Murthy’s eyes lit up, recalling his 1950 picnic journey in a steam-powered bus from Penukonda to Anantapur. The family packed lunch and assorted snacks and set off early in the morning for the unique one-hour journey, and returned late in the evening. Unlike today’s fuel-powered buses, the vehicle ran on steam, and massive firewood logs would be fed to a rear furnace. The tail end of the bus also had a chimney for the smoke to exit. Passengers would deliberately avoid sitting in the rear to prevent ash from flying into their faces. The ride cost just a few annas, and the kids found it amazing!
Another unforgettable experience that he recollects is commuting by bus from his house in Basavanagudi to his office on Madras Bank Road (now State Bank Road) in Bengaluru. The dashing Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, who became the iconic superstar of Tamil cinema, Rajinikanth, was the route’s bus conductor.
Rajinikanth amazed people by issuing tickets in a flourish and returning the change in his trademark style. One gathers that passengers preferred to board the bus where the ‘entertaining conductor’ was on duty and let other buses ply empty. The celluloid hero knew the art of pulling in the crowd and playing to the gallery even then.
The man who replaced Rajinikanth as the conductor after the latter entered filmdom also became popular. He had the peculiar trait of reeling off the names of bus stops in chaste Kannada, which went off well with the locals.
Back then, roads were devoid of traffic, and no one was in a tearing hurry. Murthy recounts that factory buses had wooden benches for seating and long journeys were back-breaking.
When buses didn’t arrive on time, there was always the humble cycle rickshaw or the horse tonga to count on. Even at a leisurely trot, one could make it to their destination in time. Compare this with the mad rush of today.
Though motorised vehicles are a dime a dozen, one has to go through the wringer. The traffic snarls, the swirl of people, pollution and signals every few kilometres make travelling on the city streets nothing less than an ordeal. One wishes to go back to the good old days when life moved on the slow lane.
(The author is a former banker who has taken up writing as a pastime. He writes for the Deccan Herald, The New Indian Express, The Tribune, The Hitavada, The City Tab, Bangalore Mirror, The Hans India and Kashmir Vision)