The free ride

'The passengers in the last seat? They are travelling for free: bitti,' the conductor said.

Every family has its stock of anecdotes. With repeated telling, the anecdote gets embellished and tweaked but doesn’t fail to elicit a smile from the players involved even after all the years. But for those who were not part of the incident? Well, it depends.

The anecdote I am going to narrate involves a bus ride. It was a lazy summer afternoon decades ago in Mysore. My sister, three cousins and I had walked to Kitty’s office. At 7, I was the youngest and the oldest was probably 17. Kitty was no friend of ours. He was a venerable gentleman and the grandfather of my three cousins. But addressing elders by name and in singular is the norm in my family.

Kitty, perhaps, knew that this bored brood had to be kept off his harried daughter’s back. After a while of letting us putter around the transport facility which had many buses, Kitty asked us whether we would like a ride.

Of course we would, we chimed in unison. Kitty told the bus conductor to take us to T Narasipura, about an hour’s ride from Mysore and bring us safely back by the same bus. No tickets required, thank you.

The bus conductor must have been very irritated at this loss but was unable to refuse a senior in age and position. Off we tumbled excitedly into the empty bus and even as each of us rushed to grab a window seat, the first salvo was fired. “No, no, you all will sit in the last seat...”

As the rickety bus trudged along the rocky road, we had to literally hang on to our seats. At the next stop, people got in. The conductor issued tickets and then added loudly for everyone to hear. “The passengers in the last seat? They are all travelling for free: bitti.”

My sister and cousins insist that they were terribly embarrassed by this slight. The bus trudged on and the next stop saw more passengers climbing on. People were standing and the conductor asked my older cousins to stand up. “People who have paid for their tickets get to sit.” he declared.

As the bus continued on its journey and our status as “bitti passengers” was announced many times over, we were squirming, or at least that’s what we say anecdotally. And suddenly, who should we spot en route? Jaya, another cousin who lived in T Narasipura!

“Hop in, Hop in, we are going to your ooru,” we bellowed. Our loud cries made the driver slow down and the lithe Jaya had no difficulty getting in at all. So, not only did we travel bitti but even got another passenger a free ride.
Our return trip to Mysore and whether my aunt gave us a sound thrashing for disappearing for hours are not part of the anecdote. Our children who have heard the story ad nauseum, try to dampen our narrative spirit by announcing the “bitti” part in the beginning itself. Undeterred, I add that most good things in life are for free.
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