Half Ton to ST

May 30, 2010

Hapton. That is what those buses were called because the capacity was half ton, i.e. about seventy odd people weighing an average of sixty Kg. There is nothing wrong here about the math. “Half ton” was manufacturer’s math and “seventy people” was driver’s math.

I usually travelled with Anna, my Grandpa, in the front seat by driver’s side. The front seat always used to be reserved for us on Mondays if we travelled to my parents’ town and on Saturdays to grandpa’s town.

These Haptons had one separate ladies’ compartment and one section for men. In men’s section, hens, sheep, snakes and dogs were not charged extra.  If you were a no-ticket-escort below four, you would be sitting pressed or standing somewhere between twenty chatter boxes; fifty chili and turmeric sacks, seventy pickle jars and hundred tiffin boxes. If you were above five, you had to share the animals. Seats, so to say, were wooden benches devoid of cushions, friendly with bugs and capable of taking five persons each at the most but fifteen was the order. The entire bus body was made of musical timbre to entertain people during travel.

For late arrivals, the rooftop was available at no extra cost, but without insurance. The speed was limited to fifteen Km per hour provided the bus was overflowing with passengers. If not, it was not uncommon for it to open its jaw and sit like a cow in the centre of the road until passengers arrived. During such breaks, children were allowed to go to nearby fields and finish their tasks that had remained unfinished because they had left their homes in hurry.

Good thing about it was that the Hapton used to wait for Grandpa and me on Saturday evenings and Monday mornings.

To compete with the ailing and long nosed Dodge and Fargo Haptons came a newly built, third-hand, short nosed Layland bus, accompanied by a driver sporting satiny red bush shirts, skin tight pants, a kerchief tied around neck and funny mirror like sun-goggles. The size of the passenger compartments did not increase much, but the number of passengers definitely did.

Layland prospered and the Haptons gave away the prime routes. They started trips to smaller villages where Layland would not dare traverse. As the Layland monopoly was established, so did the driver’s tantrums. He was not from our town. Naturally, he had no compulsion to allot for Grandpa or me the front seat. Grandpa was becoming visibly old and needed a front seat more than ever.  But Layland would not oblige and started insulting him in front of other co-passengers. I could have confidently said those days that this was the reason why he started reducing the number of his trips to the court at my parent’s town and then slowly started passing on his business to younger lawyers. Our trips diminished to a few and a fewer in number.


I had a Grand aunt – Anna’s sister- called Jiji, very fair, with piercing grey eyes. She used to visit us in summers or for family functions. She was widowed when she was in teens, had no children and was required to manage their vast agricultural fields all by herself. Naturally, she was always bitter, practical, outspoken and business like in her demeanor.  Everybody was afraid of her anger. So was I. She always wore red saris and shaved her head clean to remain in perpetual mourning. She used to carry all her brass gods with her and was very fastidious about them. 

Jiji had a special liking for me. Whenever she came to our house she showered love without bounds. However, I was required to stand guard twenty four hours in her service whenever she was around.

When she ordered that I would accompany her to my Father’s town, nobody could refuse. Grandpa sent a message to reserve our seats for the Layland but was not successful. We were advised to report at the time of departure and if seats were available, we would be accommodated.

Unfortunately, there was a skirmish in the house between Jiji and Grandpa on the day of our departure. She was crying and red with anger when we left the house.

Layland used to leave at around eleven in the morning. We reported in time. Layland arrived. The driver in goggles said there were no seats for us. Angry as she was, this was the last straw for Jiji. She charged on to the driver, made him remove his goggles, fought tooth and nail for the seats. The driver started to back out a little.  Guessing this, Jiji started pouring on to him all the anger gathered since morning. This is where I told her about the driver’s ill manners and his habit of insulting me and Grandpa. Now she questioned his ability as a driver, as a man, his intellect and his forefathers.

He asked the onlookers who was this old lady, then went somewhere, came back running and told us that there were indeed reserved seats for us. He must have had a discussion with his local agent.  The bus was delayed by one and half hour in this process, but nobody dared to blame Jiji.

Jiji had a carpet hold-all. I lifted it, carried it to the bus roof with effort and tied it there securely, Jiji supervising me all the time.

 We were about to board, when a brand new flat fronted noseless bus in red and yellow arrived creating a huge dust cloud. Jiji told me to find out which this new ghost was. I went to query.

Haptons and Layland used to have drivers and cleaners. Instead, this bus had a driver and a conductor. I came to know from the conductor that this was the State Transport Non-Stop  Bus that has started its service today. There was not one passenger inside and he urged me to get in quick. They had to reach the destination early.

The Layland was waiting for me. I went to Jiji and told her the story. Now she was really happy. She made me climb the Layland bus-roof and untie her hold-all. Looking at this, the Layland driver got down from his seat and started complaining and cursing us. But Jiji was having revenge, enjoying the after-fight and laughing uncontrollably. Her laugh was so childlike and addictive that everybody in the bus and onlookers- except the driver- joined in. He was so nonplussed  in the end, that he threw his goggles in the dirt.


We boarded the ST bus. The hold-all went on roof. The bus started. Jiji promised the conductor that she will buy the tickets, but the money was in the hold-all. Conductor said, OK, pay later, no problem. 

Image Courtsey Tata Motors

 This bus was too fast compared to Hapton or even Layland. There were no passengers except us…..breeze….I dozed off……and suddenly woke up by the jerk. The bus had stopped. I peeped out. We were in the middle of nowhere.

This bus is the same as Hapton, I thought.

“What happened?” I questioned.

“The hold-all has gone missing.” Driver said.

I got down. Jiji and the conductor were pretending as if they had binoculars about their eyes. I sighed. As expected, Jiji ordered me to walk and seek. I requested the conductor to turn the bus around so that we would save some effort. He said that turning the bus was against regulation. I therefore went searching for a kilometer, had a pee, went further, found the hold-all and brought it back – First on shoulders, then on the back, then on the head and finally dragging it on the tar road, Jiji’s brass gods clattering and complaining all the time.

It required hoisting again on to roof. This time we tied it in double ox-knots. All done, the bus started once again….breeze….I dozed…..and woke up…..another jerk. To my dismay, the bus had stopped again.

“Now what?” I inquired, feigning to be fast asleep.

“Same. We dropped it again.” Conductor said.

“I am not going now.” I said.

Jiji supported me and started getting vocal. The conductor had to take the brunt this time.

The conductor and driver both looked at each other, had a wordless conversation and the bus started cruising in reverse.

“Regulation. We cannot turn the bus back. Remember?”  Conductor explained, went to hatchback window at the rear and started to guide the driver in safe reversing practices.

Regulation or no regulation, I was relieved that I did not have to get down again. My legs and arms had started complaining of the exersion.

We tracked back for I don’t know how many kilometers but found the hold-all once more. It was given a king’s treatment this time and stashed under my seat. I was requested to keep my feet on it all the time, lest it may go missing again. The hold-all had become a big ball of a rag with several tails.

We got down at my parent’s town. To our big surprise, a sizable crowd had gathered to receive us. The bus, driver, conductor and the first passengers were ceremoniously greeted with garlands. Something to cherish, at last.

Once we hired a rikshaw to go home and got settled in it, Grandma said, “Good we did not lose this idiot hold-all. All of my silver utensils are in there. Anna got them polished yesterday.”

“And what was that quarrel in the house?”

“Anna paid money to silversmith. I wanted to pay, but Anna would not take the money from me. So, I had to show off….You think I should control my temper?”

“Keep getting angry” I said, “Anger is useful.”

“But there was no anger…..When you are branded ‘angry person’ for life, acting helps…..You know something? I did not buy tickets from the conductor. Free ride today.”

I was all laughs, although tired to the bones.

ST was an instant success on that route. ST did not have the front seat, but the conductors were polite and never insulted Grandpa like Layland did.

State Transport records of their inaugural trip on this route will not show all these details, I am sure.


5 Responses to “Half Ton to ST”

  1. 5 stars.. many times over!! This was amusing.. entertaining.. and informative with those pictures.. where did you get them?

    To single out one piece of humor would be unfair in this brilliant article. The second part reminded me a little bit of one scene from the movie ‘Naya Daur’.. the scene where prospective passengers choose the petrol-driven bus over horse carriages!

    • rajeevelkunchwar Says:

      Thanks Nikhil. The pictures are from the web – antiqe dealers, and Tata website.
      I have to watch Naya Daur. I have not yet watched it.

  2. […] holiday plans when I was called to Grandpa’s room and he told me to go to Wani by Hapton Bus (https://rajeevne.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/half-ton-to-st/) the next day and that too alone. Grandma refused to allow me travel alone, but Grandpa was […]

  3. […] stream, the yet open restaurants clad in the pale yellow glow of lanterns, the old Hapton bus ( https://rajeevne.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/half-ton-to-st/ ) in grey slumber and the jasmine bloom at Phatak grandpa’s house. But I told him to tread […]

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