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    Volume 9 Issue 3 | January 15, 2010|

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It is an everyday affair

Morshed Ali Khan

The Hino 40-seater of the Deluxe bus service stood at Mymensingh bus terminal five days after the long Eid holidays. A blaring loudspeaker at the ticket counter ceaselessly urged passengers to buy tickets for an 'extremely' comfortable safe passage to Dhaka in just two hours' time. Scores of passengers boarded the vehicle and waited for it to fill up.

Just ten minutes before the scheduled departure time, a middle-aged man in lungi casually sat on the driver's seat. He chewed betel leaf with great pleasure and incessantly spat deep red residue on the street below. He was a sturdy looking man with dirty hands that strongly suggested his involvement with the greasy engine.

The bus was soon on its way. And the leaf-chewing man was its driver. As he sped through the town the driver unwrapped a small pack to feed himself with yet another round of betel leaf with one hand. He coughed hard to clear his throat and shouted at his assistant, who was busy phrasing a running commentary on the road ahead. Like in many bus services in the country the assistant's job is to constantly remind his boss, the driver, what lies ahead and when to 'slightly slow down' or swerve left or press the brake pedal. With his running commentary he is virtually the second driver of the vehicle. He would however one day graduate into a full 'driver'.

“Oi you, get me my cigarettes,” shouted the driver at the assistant driving at a speed of over 60 kilometers per hour. He then held the steering with his knee and lit the cigarette with both hands. While most passengers remained oblivious to the speed and recklessness, few sitting on the front seats looked puzzled.

The bus now took to the so-called Dhaka-Mymensingh highway. The giant Hino engine roared even louder as the speedometer reached 90. It whistled past rickshaws, nasimons, bikes and other road users sometimes missing them by a whisker. With its powerful hydraulic horn blaring all the way, the deluxe bus constantly swerved from right to left and left to right to avoid collision. The speedometer reached 100.

Ahead lay a bazaar with hundreds of people hanging around. Totally undaunted, the driver roared through the crowded bazaar at a speed that would defy all norms and laws of driving. Some front seat passengers just looked on. The driver swore loudly as he suddenly swerved the bus to avoid hitting a rickshaw van.

Just then something sent the driver searching in his shirt pocket with one hand. He soon produced a glittering mobile phone that rang with a tune of a popular Hindi song. As he drove the huge vehicle with one hand, with the other he held the cell phone and swore loudly at the caller. The caller was a fellow bus driver who had just drove past from the opposite direction towards Mymensingh. The conversation centered around such insignificant matters as to whether the bus owners have agreed to a pay hike for the drivers. It continued for about three minutes before he decided to end it.

The journey seemed extremely uncomfortable and horrific. The speed of the bus now seemed even higher as it approached a slow-going truck from behind. The first attempt to overtake the laden truck on the two-lane highway was aborted when a convoy of buses, trucks and private cars appeared from the opposite side all blaring deafening hydraulic horns. The driver grew extremely edgy now, swearing at the slow truck ahead of him. He positioned his vehicle inches away from the moving truck and leaped right dangerously to find a gap for overtaking it. He suddenly moved away from the back of the truck and accelerated to overtake. To avoid a head-on collusion on-coming vehicles flashed their lights. The nearest vehicle, a private saloon car, abandoned the road and descended on the muddy shoulder. The bus driver, now chewing betel leaf even with more intensity, sped ahead humming a rhyme.

All the way reckless overtaking, swerving and speeding remained a feature of the deluxe bus. Not for a second was there a respite from the fear of a terrible accident.

His assistant, totally oblivious to the dangers of such recklessness continued with the live commentary, telling his boss what lies ahead and what to do. .

In one hour and forty minutes the deluxe was at Gazipur intersection. The road ahead was busy and crowded. But who would deter the driver? He sped through the bazaars and localities where thousands of garment workers walked in an endless procession.

To his utter disappointment the bus hit the perennial Uttara traffic jam and ground to a halt. The leaf-chewing roadrunner crossed the 120 kilometers between (Uttara) Dhaka and Mymensingh in just two hours thirty minutes.

Every hour from six in the morning till early evening a similar deluxe bus leaves Dhaka and Mymensingh.


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