The golden ticket
As the BEST woos passengers with slashed rates, loyalists of the transport system discuss why they still obsess over punched tickets
While most people buy a ticket to travel, 54-year-old Pramod Navare travels just so that he can buy a ticket. Here, he admits being biased towards local buses. "Train tickets across the country are uniform in appearance. Bus tickets, on the other hand, radically change with every city and state," say Navare, who works with the Mumbai Port Trust. What reeled him in was that the tickets "had character". As a result of this fascination, he now has over 3,000 bus tickets not just from Mumbai, but also Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Bihar, and 18 other states. But if you browse through his collection, it's the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) bus tickets that form the largest piece of the pie. They rub shoulders with passes from Frankfurt, San Francisco and Paris and still, stand out.
In the wake of the BEST reducing bus fares to boost ridership, loyalists, who have travelled extensively in these buses, continue to hold on to the tiny red, blue and green coloured tickets as keepsake. "This affinity is part of the Bombay experience," says Navare, who has even held exhibitions of his collection at the Trust.
Thirty years ago, when he started collecting them, he didn't know that they would end up being collectors' items. Today, the tickets occupy an entire drawer at his Goregaon home and have been arranged in ascending order of denomination. "I go back to it on weekends, just to ensure they are in mint condition," he says. Although he started collecting it from 1987, the collection comprises tickets that date back to 1930. "Unlike the later ones that featured the amount and the serial numbers, these also mentioned the route and were larger in size." Turns out, Navare is so famous in his circle for this fixation, that when friends and acquaintances stumble upon a crumpled bus ticket in yellowed books, they sound him out. "I've been lucky to have people who understand this fascination."
City historian Deepak Rao, who also has a massive collection, says every bus journey is divided into number of stages depending upon the distance. "Earlier, the buses had alphabets, and not numbers, to denote the route. For instance, the C route stood for present day 123 that plies from RC Church via Marine Drive to Tardeo. They were changed to numbers in 1962 because there was an increase in the fleet of buses," he says. The punched holes were for reference and proof to ascertain the stop where you boarded and the one where you alighted. Filmmaker Ankit Suvarna, 26, says the surcharge on the ticket indicated the money that went to the state government as tax. In response to a public interest litigation, the state clarified in 2007 that the money was being spent on nutrition schemes for children, pregnant women and new mothers.
Gautam Sheth says the random juxtaposition of numbers on the tickets, first intrigued him
Juhu-based communications consultant Gautam Sheth says it's the random juxtaposition of numbers on the tickets that intrigued him. "Back in my school days, I was curious to know what they stood for, because you wouldn't see so many numbers on train tickets." It's only a year ago that his wife learnt of his fascination, when they moved homes. "She chanced upon it and was shocked when I said I wanted to keep them. 'What will you do with them?' she asked. I think I will keep them for my daughter in the hope that she doesn't trash it," he laughs.
Although both Navare and Suvarna continue to collect the tickets from the electronic ticketing machines (ETMs), they are disappointed with the quality. "They run colour. If you see the ticket a week later, the digits would have nearly disappeared." Navare agrees. The digits on his ticket from 1930 are still crystal clear, when compared to the ticket purchased a fortnight ago.
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