Somehow, out of the blue, I am thinking of my school auto route. The memory had something to do with this morning’s trip to my son’s school. I really think it is an indulgence for him to be dropped off and picked up by his mother for I had no such luxury. At an early age, we were packed off to school in the school bus, which fetched us a little way off from our home. Bleary eyed- for it would be early, we would squint in the distance to guess the approach of the bus.
Ironically, the luxury of getting to school in an auto was granted me in high school. I was old enough to navigate the public transport and reach school some 10 kms away, but a ‘tempo’ was arranged. Most schoolchildren used them. Privately operated, they took the place of a school rickshaw, school van or a school bus.
The tempo I used was shared by 18-20 children of different age groups which meant that the older ones could sit on the seats while the younger ones could be squeezed on the long wooden bench, wedged in between the regular seats. The tempo was packed as tight, as a ‘can of sardines’, but no one complained; in fact I cannot even recall us feeling uncomfortable. The hot noons saw us fanning ourselves with our dupattas and that was that. The younger girls in skirts had to make do with their notebooks for improvised fans.
Our bags firmly in our laps, we chugged along in a huge billow of black exhaust. The tempo driver, Ram Singh, was short, stocky, unshaven and always in the same pair of jeans and checked shirt. We liked to think that he owned many pairs of the same coloured clothes. He was perhaps, what could be called uncouth, always swearing and shouting at us to get organised and settle down in the tempo. But he was honest and reliable and the parents had no complaints.
At the end of school, he could be seen running around trying to collect all his ‘wards’. A couple of girls would always be at the ice cream shop, and when brought back, they would be gorging on milkshakes, ice creams and then apples from home. Politely, we looked away, smoothing our skirts and suits, shrinking a little to avoid getting those drops of the melting ice creams.
All through the journey back home, that took a good hour, we would chatter. Classes and homework were discussed, and friends, clothes, movies, comics and cricket. No body could escape the sport though we did not play it in school. We talked about teachers, and even world affairs, about our little sorrows and joys.
For two hours each day, we were in a world of screaming talking girls, a social circle of our own. Now, if I could, I would like to relive that tempo journey to my school.