Riding the HRTC buses in 1980s

Hurled through a window, heart-first,
trailed by age seven legs, you land
‘thud’ on an HRTC bus-seat.

You are skilled in seat-battles:
say “its taken” if a stranger insists,
else, a head-shake suffices.

Mother drags in your sister, three bags,
and a smile. She sits, pats your head
twice. Your chest swells.

No medals or honors shall bring
a comparable triumph to your being.
But you, a child, don’t know that.

Your motion-sick mother and sister sleep.
You dare-act as the family’s security-chief.


July 2015
Chicago

*HRTC: Himachal Roadways Transport Corporation.

In 1980s, the state-owned HRTC buses rules the roads in Himachal Pradesh. Cars were too expensive to obtain or maintain in those remote hills, and private ownership of buses was not allowed. Seats in HRTC buses used to have a very thin cushion on them, hardly much leg space, no restrooms and many older buses had windows that wouldn’t open or close properly. The tell-tale roadside signs I recall are (Speed thrills, but kills), (Max Speed 20 km/hr), (Blind Curve Ahead), (Large rocks may tumble down the slope), (In hills it is a fashion to walk), etc. Often buses used to break down in middle of nowhere during those six-ten hour rides and now when I look back on our travels, I marvel at the bravado of all mothers (and my own!) who traveled long distance with their kids. Also there were no phones to rely on, if you were stuck somewhere, you just had to wait four, six, ten hours till the next bus arrived, full of passengers. I have no idea why I began writing this poem a few weeks back. Thanks to those HRTC buses, I managed to have a childhood full of adventurous rides and stay connected with my own village and grandparents.

Vivek Sharma is an assistant professor of chemical engineering at University of Illinois, Chicago. His research interests lie in optics, dynamics, elasticity and self-assembly (odes) of complex fluids and soft materials. His research on colors of beetles and butterflies, breath figures, protein rheology, gold nanoparticles and polysaccharide rheology is published or forthcoming in science journals (Lab on a Chip, PNAS, Science, Materials Sci & Eng Reports, Soft Matter, EPL and Rheologica Acta). Current focus areas include fizzics (study of bubbles, drops, emulsions & foam), protein rheology & spectroscopy, nonlinear viscoelasticity, soap films & bubbles, 3D printing, buifluids and colors, rheology & processability of complex fluids. Vivek is a published poet. He reads & writes in Hindi and English. His poetry and essays in English are published in Poetry, Atlanta Review, The Cortland Review, Kartika Review, Bateau, Muse India, Reading Hour, etc. He contributes columns and verses to Divya Himachal (Hindi newspaper in India). Vivek's first collection, "Saga of a Crumpled Piece of Paper" (63 poems, English, Writers Workshop, Calcutta) was published in 2009. Vivek spend his childhood in Himachal Pradesh and undergraduate years in IIT Delhi. He pursued a doctoral degree at Georgia Tech, Atlanta (2003-2008) and he was a postdoctoral research associate in Mechanical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge (MA) (2008-2012). He currently resides in Chicago.

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