6 MARCH 2012, the day before Holi, I was on way to my uncle’s place in Dwarka, New Delhi, aboard a DTC bus. After a few stops the flying squad stopped the bus and started checking passengers for tickets.
Suddenly, a senior citizen raised his voice, asking the squad to allow the bus to move while they checked the tickets. “By stopping the bus, many of us are getting late”, he argued. (It takes about 10 minutes for the checking.) None of them paid any attention to him and carried on with their work. The man continued bemoaning the squad as we all watched. When they got off he shouted, “Look at these idiots; they have stopped the entire bus for the checking. What if someone may have an emergency?”
The driver heard this and thought that it was aimed at him. Losing his temper, he strode up to the old man and started abusing him. The poor fellow tried persuading the irate driver that he had been shouting at the squad. But the driver was in no mood to step down. Other passengers tried to stop the mayhem but that only heated things up. Finally, in a fit of rage, the driver pushed and slapped the passenger, leaving us spectators stunned.
The man didn’t give up and rang the police. How could a driver on duty hit a passenger? True, the old man had been harsh with the squad but I felt anyone else would have done the same. “This man is in the right but who will listen to him?” murmured an elderly person sitting close to me. I nodded without realising that I could, and should, have done more.
When my stop arrived I stayed back to see what would happen. To my utter amazement the old man got off and stood in front of the bus, not letting it move an inch. He seemed adamant on standing his ground, which appeared justified to me now. Encouraged by his actions I decided to wait for the cops as a witness. I tried to get other passengers to do the same. Though a handful agreed, in the 20 minutes that it took for the cops to arrive, only three of us remained — the old man, another passenger and I.
The man registered his complaint and statements were taken from the driver and the conductor. My co-passenger, who had been arguing for the man against a dozen DTC drivers, also fled to catch an approaching bus. Left all alone, I had no idea whether only my word would convince the cops. A large crowd had gathered and the drivers were instigating that the man was drunk and speaking nonsense. Some told me to leave it be. The man was drunk no doubt. I could smell it. But whatever he said was true and I had to stay back to support that.
The cops called both parties aside to say something in confidence. The old man — my hero till then — returned and said to me, “Son it’s settled, you go home” Puzzled, I asked, “Uncle, why are you telling me to leave?” He smiled and answered, “We settled it with Rs 500” and marched off.
I was dumbstruck. Who could I blame for undertaking this silly crusade — the old man, the cops, the driver or the fellow passengers who had left me alone after promising help? Who had given whom the Rs 500 — the driver to the police or to the man or someone else?
The whole thing was a slap on my face. Was this the way our society worked? Would I, in the long run, become one of these people? Next time, do I speak up or simply move on? Today, I look back and realise that had it not been for this incident I wouldn’t have seen reality from such close quarters. Now, I think with a rational approach instead of a utopian one. In the end, I am a winner despite having lost.
Mukesh Rawat is 19. He is a student based in Delhi.