Let's find the BEST solution
As the city gingerly steps into its sixth month of the dreaded virus, our sutradhars wonder how despite serving the city throughout the lockdown, the beloved BEST double decker bus, is facing an existential crisis
"Pheroze, you really missed it. And I missed having you for company, at a safe distance, of course," Lady Flora was definitely in one of her good moods, Sir PM could easily figure despite the fact that she was wearing her face mask. These were strange times, he thought to himself: Having to keep a safe distance during their walks around Colaba and Fort.
"Tell me, Lady…what's the reason for all the happiness?" Sir PM asked, hoping it was something that it would bring him joy in these glum times. "I was finally able to get the front seat on the upper level of a double decker bus, and saw Bombay with newfound love – not that I needed any reaffirmation. The bus was nearly empty; I'm pretty sure that if there were more passengers around me, they would have heard me hum my favourite song - "It's a beautiful Sunday,"" she added, clearly elated at her morning adventure, and went on to rattle off about the sights and sounds she had only heard about during her over 150-year-old association with Bombay, and finally spotted during this recent ride.
"That front seat offers an unbeatable view of the city, especially when the bus passes by Queen's Necklace," shared Sir PM, recalling the days when he would board a double decker bus from near his home to the Bombay High Court, and the carefree bus rides with the missus. "Of course, you were lucky to have the bus nearly to yourself; it's because of the social distancing policy that has to be followed by BEST. I salute the drivers and bus conductors who have been plying these buses throughout the pandemic, putting duty before everything else," he carried on; Lady Flora was all ears. But he had to also play killjoy, much to his own reluctance, especially after witnessing her sunshine-y avatar after ages. Then again, the news about the decision to scrap some of these vintage beauties by the powers that be had been afloat, and he didn't want her to hear of it from anyone else.
"Well, I don't know how to say this any better, Lady… there has been some development on this front," Sir PM stuttered. The mask made it worse for her to sense his tone. "You can tell me, Pheroze," Lady Flora nudged him to spill the news. "If you must know, there have been calls to retire these double-decker buses as it is becoming financially unviable to run them. The company that owns them is cash-strapped, and a Herculean effort will be needed to contain the losses. Hence, some of these might head to the scrapyard," his voice lowered as the words came out. "Goodness me! Just as I was planning my next joyride, I have to hear this. Please tell them the authorities will reconsider this move," she exclaimed, "I mean, is there no way for the city to help them out?" Sir PM thought so, too. "The economy is not doing great now, hastened by this damned pandemic situation. Imagine, while the city is building new infrastructure projects to ease crowds and traffic, there seems to be no inspired thinking to save this valuable transport system that has ferried the city during floods, terror attacks and now, this horrid virus," sighed Sir PM.
Just then, the duo spotted a double-decker halt near where they were standing – it was a bus stop near Regal Cinema Junction. They glanced at each other, and in a blink hopped on. As if on autopilot, both headed to the much-loved front seat on the top that offered a front and side view of the city. The two didn't say a word. As if they wanted to soak in every bit of their favourite Bombay in all its nightly charm, minus the crowds and traffic. By the time the bus finished its run, it was well past their bedtime. But they didn't want it to end. With a prayer on their lips for its survival, both alighted off the rickety bus to Lady Flora's pedestal. "I had the best ride ever, Pheroze. I hope they find a way to keep them alive," she told her friend as they bid goodbye to each other. "They need to find the BEST solution," Sir PM smiled.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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