I have never been able to understand my association with bus conductors , especially the BEST bus conductors of Bombay during the sixties – BY Ali Peter John
I lived in a compound where for some reasons beyond my understanding , there were a majority of men , mostly from U.P and from Mangalore and many bus drivers of the same communities , but I was always intrested in following the conductors and trying to know how they went about their jobs .
I used to spend all my holidays and my entire vacations with these conductors and my favorite were two men , one called Victor D’souza whose identity number which I still remember was BC3365 and Shiv Charan Shukla(BC 3112).
These two men took an immense liking for me and let me travel on the buses in which they were on duty .
Initially , they only took me for long rides all through their working hours and I enjoyed every moment of being with them during their duty hours .
Gradually , the two man gave me a “promotion” and took me with them during their night shifts and a time came when they gave me the freedom to call out the names of bus stops which was their job and then I was even allowed to ring the bell after every stop .
It was a scene that amused many of the regular passengers who found it very difficult to imagine how a little boy could be so intrested in the job of a bus conductor.
D’souza and Shukla were so carried away by my love and interest in their profession that they even brought me the punch with which tickets were marked and even bundles of blank or unused tickets .
I used to take empty boxes of sweets and fix the blank tickets in them to look like the ticket bags of the conductors .
I used my mother’s” thaali” in which she used to knead wheet flour to make her chapaatis and used her bench as the bus and placed the “thaali “at one corner and asked my little brother to be the driver .
This unusual game of playing “conductor conductor”went on for a long time and my mother was shocked when I told her that I wanted to be a bus conductor .
It was only after I went to college that I realised that there were many other jobs more interesting and paying than the job of a conductor and circumstances and people gradually took me away from my ambition and look where I am today !
But my love for bus conductors and their profession is still as strong as it was sixty years ago ….
I have a strong feeling that my love for tea started with my trips with my conductor gurus who used to end every trip with a cup or half a cup of tea which was then available for “ek anna “(six naya paise).
And I also believe that my love for observing various characters and the language they spoke and the circumstances in their lives also played an important part in helping me to grow into a journalist , writer or poet or call me whatever you want ….
It may sound like a believe it or not story , but I know that it is the truth and nothing but the truth .
I often imagined a bus to be the world and the bus conductor the guide who led different people on the bus to diffrent destinations and took all the care to see that the travellers on the journey through life were safe and reached safely .
I have always felt that the pilot of a flight ,a driver of a train or any other kind of vehicle and the conductors are like gods who have controlled over lives of passengers who travelled with them with complete confidence in them ….
Who says the job of a conductor can not lead you or anyone to greater heights ?
I know of a Governor of the Reserve Bank Of India who started as a canteen boy in a Udipi hotel , went to night school became a bus conductor and landed up as an accountant in a bank and then finally became the Deputy Governor of the RBI and then the Governor……
And in this good , bad , mad and sometimes even sad world of films ,we have had bus conductors who made a name for themselves and will now never be forgotten , even if god tries to change their stories
Badruddin Kazi was a bus conductor in the late forties and fifties . He was known for keeping his passengers entertained with his jokes, wisecracks and making funny remarks and funny faces .
As his luck would have it , he met the renowned actor Balraj Sahni who loved what he did and asked him to meet Guru Dutt and his one meeting with Guru Dutt during which he played an alcoholic (he had never tasted alcohol all his life) and Guru Dutt was so impressed with his act that he changed Badruddin Kazi to Johnny Walker ,a name and that name stayed on to be one of the most loved and popular names .
Hasrat Jaipuri was a conductor working for the BEST in Bombay during the early stages of the company .
He was more interested in writing about the beautiful women on the bus in which he was the conductor .
He was so romantic that he did not even issue tickets to beautiful women , but recited poetry in honor of the beauty of the women .
His talent to write romantic poetry is said to have caught the attention of many in the film industry and he together with Shailendra ,a great sensitive poet became a team of lyricists who worked together in all the films of Raj Kapoor and then of many other filmmakers .
He must have made a big name for himself and he was right if he thought so about himself because after all he has written the most romantic songs for some of the biggest stars of Hindi films .
When I last met him on the ground floor of a building called “Kailas”, he was sick and old and had finished giving an interview to a TV channel to which I had introduced him .
When the interview was over , he quietly asked me if the channel would pay him two thousand rupees for the interview .
I didn’t know what to tell him , but I finally got the channel to pay him . Little did I know that his wife had saved all the money he had made and had used the money to build a bungalow somewhere in Juhu which I am told is named after Hasrat Jaipuri, the name goes as “Hasrat”.
One evening somewhere in the sixties ,a young , jobless and ordinary looking man called Shivajirao Gaikwad got into a train at the Kolhapur Railway Station without knowing or caring to know where the train was heading.He found himself at the Madras Central Station .
And when he did not find any other way of making or living in an unknown city , he took up the job of a bus conductor.
He too soon became very popular with the passengers especially because of his tricks worked with his hands and especially with cigarettes , tricks he had been inspired to play after watching Shatrughan Sinha as the villain .
He was interested in acting and found his opportunity in some travelling theatre groups where he became very popular .
The well known filmmaker K.Balachander who had discovered other talents like Kamal Hassan and Sridevi heard of this unknown actor who was very good .
He travelled from Madras (now Chennai) to find out more about this actor .He was fascinated by his work , offered him a role and gave him the name Rajnikant and the rest like they say is a very colorful and sometimes controversial part of history .
He may have become the “thalaivar”(legend), but he can never forget his days as a bus conductor .
Till some years ago Rajnikant used to host a grand party for all the bus conductors of Chennai at which he served the best scotch and the most delicious kind of food of every kind
Why am I telling these stories now ?
I have a purpose .I know how most of us treat men and women working in professions that are not very attractive and are not given any kind of respect .
This is my opportunity to make a plea to one and all to see that every proffesion is respected and every man and woman working in these professions can and may be will take you all by one big surprise.Don’t tell me that I didn’t warn you .