She boarded the Chandigarh to Delhi bus with three small kids, the smallest just a few months old. A man with two bags helped her find a seat on the bus, right in front of us. The women herself was so young, looked just like a teenager. At the most she must have been in her early twenties and yet there were three children with her.
She occupied two of the three seats in front of us and later one guy sat next to the kids. No one else tried to move the children and occupy that seat. Sometime into the journey, the conductor started giving tickets, and he started from the back. We paid for three tickets and told him one of us is sitting in the front (my nephew, Dilip). Then he moved to the row ahead of us.
He advised the young girl to buy two tickets so the kids could travel in some comfort. The girl said she wanted only one ticket and she would take the kids off the seat if someone else wanted the seat. She asked for a ticket to Delhi and gave some money. The conductor shouted “Dilli ka kiraya 135 rupaye hai, 70 nahin!” (A ticket to Delhi costs 135 rupees, not 70). She replied in a barely audible voice, “mere paas itne hi hain” (I have only 70 rupees). The conductor was hassled and said “tum abhi ye paise rakh lo, mein baad mein dekhta hun kya karen, aakhir bacchon ko bhuka nahin maaroge naa” (you keep this money and I will see what I can do, after all you have to feed the kids too). Later he had doubts and said you probably have money and are not giving it? She again stated very quietly that she had no more money. The conductor moved away.
All of us within the earshot were surprised and almost all the eyes were on her. She just kept hers’ down. A few stops later, a ‘branded shirt’ entered the bus. He spotted the children and immediately told the man sitting next to them to move the kids as he wanted the seat. The man told her to ask the lady as they were not with him. ‘Branded shirt’ showed some surprise but asked the girl to take the kids off the seat and took it.
There were a few people standing in the aisle and among them was a young college going couple. The kids being squeezed in one seat started crying one after another. The young college girl brought some fruits and told the other young girl to feed it to the kids. After a while all of them started falling asleep and the girl with the kids was falling on the branded shirt’s shoulders, half occupying his seat.
We were nearing Ambala city now and the conductor came to the girl with the kids. He gave her 20 rupees and said why don’t you get down at Ambala and take a train from there? The girl said yes in a whisper. The ‘branded shirt’ looked jolted! As he had come later, he had no idea of the situation. I was whispering to Sesha that let us her pay for her fare. Before we could do anything, an ‘unbranded shirt’ sitting next to Sesha, took out money and gave it to the conductor asking him to use it for the fare and let the girl and the kids travel. People from behind us also offered to pay for her fare. The conductor returned all the money and just let her travel. A few seconds later, the ‘branded shirt’ quietly got up leaving the seat for the children.
We stopped at Pipli for dinner. When we all came back, the conductor had brought some food for her and the kids and a bottle of cold water. I heard a lot of laughter while they were having the meal. And of course later, they all promptly fell asleep.
As we were nearing ISBT (New Delhi bus stand) the conductor woke her up saying, “Dilli aane wala hai” (we are nearing Delhi). The two of the youngest kids refused to wake up. When the bus stopped at ISBT, she asked my husband, “Ye bus aage jaayege kya” (Will this bus go further). With a horror it dawned on me that she was probably coming for the first time to Delhi and had no one here. Sesha said, “haan yahi Dilli bus station hai” (yes, this is the Delhi bus stand). She had two bags and three children and looked like a child herself. She forgot something on the seat. The bus stopped and Sesha got down to give it back to her.
A bus full of well meaning people and none of us had a clue as to what more to do. And how damn inadequate our well meaning gestures were. A few minutes later, the bus took a turn near a bridge and under the bridge there were at least 50 people sleeping out in the open.
All of us were quite upset for a few days. We raked our brains as to what should we have done. I was thinking of finding about some NGOs who could be contacted in such a situation. Then when Sesha went to Ujjwal Niketan to teach the violin to the kids, the sister who runs it said we should have given her number to the young girl. I am never going to forget this. And I will often curse myself as to why it didn’t occur to me on my own.