The human body is compressible, and although lacking all sense of biology, the mini-bus conductors are well aware of this fact. So between 9 to 11 in the morning a hundred such human bodies are compressed into the 12 inch by 20 inch tin boxes.
The technique is to pile the bodies towards the back of the boxes, so that it seems empty from the front door so more such bodies are attracted to board the box. However, what the conductors fail to realize is that there are rectangular openings on the sides of the boxes through which the people outside may surmise the population per square inch within. But it’s all a vicious circle. The people outside must appear at their respective educational institutions and occupy desks over which they bend and scribble hieroglyphics, and these tin boxes are their only conveyance. So wholly aware of the lack of foot-space on the minibus, they board them, and are elbowed and shouldered and kneed and heeled while they stand on others feet and yet others on theirs.
The taller ones are lucky because there is less competition for oxygen up there, the average Bengali’s height being 5”5. The vertically challenged changelings, however, not only duel in an eternal battle for oxygen, but are common victims of collapse resulting from odour pollution as their faces are shoved into the un-deodoranted armpits of those more vertically endowed.
The winter months aren’t as bad, while they last that is. But what really are the winter months in Kolkata are hard to define. It was like my father chose to say, “Kolkata has only two seasons, summer and less summer.” While odour pollution was at optimum levels during summer, the months of less summer were a welcome breath of fresh air that smelt merely of household garbage and diesel fumes, quite free from the acrid smell secreted by sweat pores. The smell of sweat intrigues me, especially one that has been allowed to cook on medium heat over the day. Close your eyes and breathe in a lung-full through your nose slowly, a trickle at a time. It is a fascinating concoction of 2 tbsps of lemon juice, 5 drops of vinegar, 1 sock worn for at least 2 weeks, with a pinch of blacksalt. After that description I’m sure you realize that I am a pedigree cross breed between a Bengali and Gollum who speaks of faces shoved in armpits out of pure personal experience.
(to be continued…hopefully)