1966 to 1971 – Those Anecdotal Five Years …. – Commuting – to and from the college : My second vehicle promotion

The memories that Suresh Jani shares with us of his commuting by route no #47,  is typically very sketchy, but enough to rekindle similar memories in our minds:

My second vehicle promotion – from two wheels to four large-sized wheels mode of transport

Diwan Ballubhai Secondary School, Kankaria, Ahmedabad, was hardly a couple of kilometres from my home. So as was the customary practice of those times, walking was the natural mode of commuting to the school. But when I entered the 11th standard (SSC) class, I was awarded my first promotion – from two legs to two wheels mode of transport – of commuting on a bicycle.

I had joined Gujarat College (Ells Bridge, Ahmedabad) for my Prescience. The college was around four kilometers from my home. So, I continued to use bicycle for commuting to the college.

After my Inter, I joined L D Engineering college, which was still at more distance from my home. So I got my second vehicle promotion – from two wheels to four large-sized wheels -of traveling to and from college by AMTS bus service, by the pair of circular routes of #46 and #47.

I had to take my Kalupur Station to Delhi Darwaja-Income tax office- side route of #47 for my ride to college. I would walk up to the Sarangpur Garden bus stop, just outside the Sarangpur Gate. Even though the bus route was a circular one – one that does not have a specific terminus point for the reverse journey – we used to get almost no-passenger-situations when we would board the bus. After two stops was the Kalupur Gate stop, where two other colleagues, Bhupendra Doshi and Vinod Solanki, would join.

Bhupendra Doshi went on to reach the position of Chief Engineer at Aryodaya Ginning Mills and had retired from a senior position from Delhi. Vinod Solanki had risen to become professor at the engineering college.

Presently, our bus journey would progress towards Dariapur, where at Upadhyay would join us. He went to reach the position of Superintending Engineer at Head Office of Gujarat Electricity Board.  When our journey would reach Shahpur, Pancholi would join in. Unfortunately, I do not recollect the full name of Pancholi, nor have whereabouts of his career progression. Both of them normally had to travel standing till Income Tax office bus stop, from where they generally used to get a seat till our last stop of Gujarat University.

Many other contemporary LDites also used to join in this bus service during the whole route. However, since they all belonged to other classes, our relationship remained at the level of high-hello stage only.

We used to remain fully occupied with some or other topic of discussion during the trip every day. The topics would range from the films that we may have seen of late or filming the skits of our teachers. The actors of those films or our teachers would be awarded with most innovative fishpond titles as part of our story sessions. During the ‘submission’ season, the discussing would remain focused on the woes of meeting the ‘submission’ targets, duly interspersed with any improvisations that anyone had had benefit to try out to ease the load.

The return journey from college to home was on the pairing circular route of #46 service. The return journeys were invariably the standing ones for most of the part of route. Many a times we must have felt that additional burden over hectic studies of the day. Sometimes, in order to beat that boredom of travelling in standing mode, or just for the sake of fun because that would also cost us 5 paisa, we would choose the longer route of #47 service that would take us Paldi Jamalpur etc. The bonus of that longer route was company of many other friends who normally travelled by that route. Unfortunately, I am not able recollect more details of them.

Of course, after the graduation during the service, I was beneficiary of company-provided Royal Enfield motorcycle, which wen onto scale up with my own scooter and company-provided car too.

Post-retirement too I have been rewarded with a car gifted by so lovingly by my daughter and son-in- law. Added to this is frequent long-haul air travel to USA and India once every few years, the share of promotions of travel means seems not to end…

But,

Nothing of these luxuries would stand any chance with the innate pleasure that 5-paisa student concession travel that route #47 had provided……..

An aside memory:

That takes me back to my bus travel to commute to Democratic High school during early 1964, because of our mid-academic year shifting to the H colony, a government servant residential facility opposite the then Secretariat. I would normally take Lal Darwaja to Polytechnic route (#43) for one leg of my daily commuting. That route, as well many buses of routes #46 and #47 had Leyland model known as “Tiger cub’.

The Obvious difference of this bus was its seating arrangement. Its ‘out’ gate was right at the front wall of the body. As a result, the first the first passenger seat in the left side was so close to the front wall that when sitting there, you can feel that the traffic ahead is just a hand away. Even at the age of 15 /16 years, that feel gave me a great thrill. However, I still remember those buses for its another feature, At the start, when the driver would engage the gear, the bus would get into the motion with a very soft jerk. Then, once it would gain speed, it has a very different rhythm. Interestingly, today, when I ride the modern Volvo or Mercedes buses, with their ultra-modern automobile engineering, I get the same feel of rhythm!

1966 to 1971 – Those Anecdotal Five Years …. – Commuting – to and from the college : The Walk Commutes

Walk commuting to the college was not uncommon to the college-going class of our H/L government-servant colony locality in those days, since most of the colleges like St. Xaviers and MG Science Colleges or Gujarat College; LD Arts or H L commerce College or even HA Commerce college were within a distance where travel by AMTS bus or walking probably would take the same time. Those who could afford a bicycle did opt for that mode.

When I joined LD Engineering (1966), my close childhood friend, Kusumakar Dholakia, three years senior to me, had already entered SE (the second year of 3-year degree course). And of course, our other close friend, Mahesh Mankad too was pursuing his Diploma in Mechanical Engineering, So, he too was a natural member of the walk-group.  Since they walked to the college, it was natural that I join them too.  I think we had couple of more friends from our area who also used to join the walk-group commuters to LD Engg.

In those days, LD Engineering was almost a crow’s flight path-like walk form our homes at H/L Colony. What is today a densely packed residential area was a barren ground those days. As such, once we crossed the first man-made modern landmark, a main road connecting (the then) Sachivalaya – The Secretariat – presently the Government Polytechnic – with ATIRA, then a bloc of Senior Government Officer’s flats would come into the sight. Our L D college was just behind these flats. As result, our walk would traverse the shortest possible straight line thereafter.

The walks used to be so casual to us that I do not even remember whether it took us half an hour or even some more, nor do I remember what topics we had had every day to keep us so mentally occupied during that walk that we did not feel the distance. When I reflect over it now, I realize it was that strong, informal, bond of (real) friendly comradery among the same-age group persons of those times that bonded us so cohesively during our walk to the college. I would positively recollect that the topics never touched shoptalk of either our studies or our residential area issues. Even though we hardly could have major other- extracurricular – interests in common, our small talks would keep us so occupied that before we would realize, we would be entering the LD Engg campus from the rear side.

Another very striking feature of the bond among our walk-commuter group was the sense of timing, In the days when even now the almost the relic of the bygone area, landline phones, was a rarity, beyond most of us, each one would invariably reach the usual meeting point simultaneously, with a clockwork precision a minute or two gap. If someone had not made it till that time, it was simply presumed that he would have some other plans for the day. So, the group would never wait for that person, or even would not casually inquire the reason thereof the next day. It was ‘time and tide do not wait for anyone’ in real practice.

The current oft-heard phrase – water-logging – was almost unheard of in those days. Wherever the human intervention of planned town planning had not spread its shadow, most of the rainwater would easily flow away through the natural waterways. The open ground between end of L Colony and Sachivalay-Atira main road did become too muddy sometimes. When that would happen, we so easily ‘suffered (😐)’the inconvenience of taking up the ‘little longer’ route of Sachivalay- L Colony caol-tar-paved road !

Most of the walk-rides back home in the evening would be solitary. If there would a couple of others in the company, it was more a matter of chance than that of design. I now wonder, why the members who would so automatically get together at one informally appointed time would never have attempted to ascertain who would be leaving when in the evening so that there would be some company in the back-home journey. I think the real answer lies in the strength of that informal bonding of those friends.

These small pleasures of life then that had made our lives so wonderful to live!

If my recollection is right, it was from second year that on some random occasions I would get to coast along anyone of our professors S/Shri N V Vasani, P K Patel or N R Dave who also used to live in our area. Of course, the chance meeting would hardly last more than a few minutes of formal expression of our respect and then a deliberate increase in speed of our walk so that we would drift away as naturally as we had coasted along.  To the best of my memory, ono one our daily-walk-commute group had ever tried to reach these professors at their home for seeking any help or favour or even for a social call on the traditional festival days of New Year. Neither these professors had expected that of us.

That was the level of respect we the students would have had for our teachers and that was the level of decorum befitting their status that the teachers those days would so easily maintain!

Even after I was bestowed with a bicycle in second year, I used to walk with our group. If I had some planned need for the bicycle in the day at the college – which I plan to take up separately a little later – I would walk with group with my cycle too ‘walking (!)’ alongside!

1966 to 1971 – Those Anecdotal Five Years …. – Commuting – to and from the college : The Cycling Perspective

Cycling mode of commuting had its own glory and glamour, apart from it being a conveniently available mode of intra-city transportation. Many of the contemporaries of our (government servant) parents used to cycle to and from commuting to the office. Primarily because it saved the ‘cost’ of bus travel, which was not that insignificant ‘saving’ in comparison to theirs the then take-home salaries. Moreover it saved the commuting time and was also useful aid for shopping other day-to-day domestic requirements.

On the other hand, during the years of my 10th and 11th standard years, at Gujarat Law Society High School (GLS), Ahmedabad, we had at least two classmates who were sons of millowners, one was son of a newspaper baron and two were son /daughter of the leading legal luminary, who easily could have used cars for commuting to the school, but they rather preferred the cycle option. Maybe it was the glamour factor of bicycle riding, even when the bicycles were simple vanilla design variants.

Purchase of a cycle, perhaps his/her first independent possession, as the son /daughter steps into the college life was certainly a moment of pride for the parents and the ward too. However, for the college going students it was a very convenient mode of maintaining communication link with their partners of budding love relation. Occasions to manage surreptitious double ‘sawari’ pillion ride had their own charms. Even the films of those days used cycle to depict developing love story between hero and heroine. In fact, the songs filmed with cycle as love-carriage do happen to be some of the most adorable romantic songs of Indian Cinema.

Apart from mine, the other two other very interesting variations in the way we got our first bicycle, by the way, are perhaps the classic case studies of acquisition of a cycle in the then middle-class family.

Vasant Pujara[1]  had one bicycle in the family. The priority over its use was obviously for his father, for commuting to the office as well as for other domestic purposes. Moreover, the shortest route from his home, near Sharda Mandir Bus Stand on the South-westerly corner of Gujarat College, those day was via Gulbai Tekra (Tekra is a small hill in Gujarati). He found it difficult to manage the uphill journey in that passage. So, he opted for commuting by bus. However, in spite of some the rare luxuries of those days, perhaps the difficulties – over-crowding during college timings and additional time in waiting for the bus to arrive – he “got tired of bus journey in two years, got company to go by bicycle and luckily father got transferred to Education Dept. at Gandhinagar. So, I switched over to bicycle journey. …. It was nice company of a two-years junior student of mechanical branch of our college, who wanted to learn engineering drawing. In three years of cycling my legs got stronger. Moreover, as an add-on bonus, I learnt complete dismantling and assembling the bicycle, especially to know the construction of freewheel.”

Aside trivia: One of our co-travellers of pedestrian mode of commuting to the college, and one of my other three chums friends, (now late) Mahesh Mankad, joined a factory at Naroda after completing his studies. Soon he purchased a Rajdoot motorcycle.  He had formed a practice to open up one or other assembly of his motorcycle every Sunday c during his self-service routine. Of course, most of the time, the motorcycle had to be taken to a mechanic to refit that opened-out component and put the motorcycle back to normal working condition!

However, his never accept any failure spirit led him to rise to the level of IAS cadre in his career. We always saluted him for his never-say-die spirit!

However, there were many families in our social strata those days where the cycle would a first major purchase as the son (to the best of my memory, not the daughter, normally those days,) would enter college study level. Even as it was considered a prized possession, the actual purchase was not that easy, as is so vividly narrated by Dilip Vyas:

“When I was in SSC, my parents had told me that if I get percentage over 70% and get into Xavier’s, they will get me a bicycle. Well, I did secure more than 70%, and I got admission to Xavier’s as well. Butt in those days, it was not easy to manage ‘huge’ payment of around Rs. 275 or so needed to buy a bicycle. So, when college started, I had to decide. I tried commuting by AMTS for the first couple of days but it did not make any sense because one had to walk to Sachivalaya bus stand, wait for bus and travel standing, and then walk from University to Xavier’s. So, I decided to walk and save 10 paisa as well to enjoy a packet of Chinai sing (salted ground nuts)! Walking was not much of a problem but since I had no one else to walk with, it was a drag. And then a miracle happened.

As you might remember, Bhavan’s college had opened that year. But for some reason that I can’t remember now, their science side got disapproved by the University just before commencement of the term. Therefore, to accommodate Bhavan’s batch of some 200 first year students, University approved four other existing science colleges in the city to add 50 students each over their limit. So, H-L Colony friend Girish Makwana luckily got in to Xavier’s with 55 %! Now I had company. More importantly, he had a bicycle. So, we commuted ‘double Sawari’ – two-seater ride on bicycle – for most of the year. Just before the end of the year, my parents finally managed to get a bicycle for me and then we commuted together for next year. When I got to LD, it was again just me commuting by myself but now on bike.

Just before BE, another miracle happened. My father had for some reason registered for a scooter under government quota (those good old quota days !! ) many years ago and his name came up. After debating what to do, he applied for a loan and we bought a Vespa! My father never even learned to drive but me being Prince of Wales in the family got the first dib on it. Commuting to college was not allowed because petrol was very expensive (I still remember Rs. 1.75 per litter. Including oil.) but I managed to sneak on to it, occasionally, to commute to the college”.

In my case, several other factors played the role of the final push for purchase of the bicycle.

We had opted for Gujarat Government’s loan scholarship scheme – Rs. 850 per year – to finance my engineering course education. During the first year,

I got my basic study instrument aids like drawing board, the drawing toolbox, the slide rule etc. from my uncle (husband of mother’s sister) and a few textbooks from the free-to-rent-study-books scheme being operated by the association of our community. So, halfway through the second term of the first year, we could see that there was some surplus from the first installment of the loan scholarship, and no major expense appeared in the horizon till the next installment would be received next year. So, one day, my parents decided to purchase a bicycle for me. And lo, that evening I was riding my own bicycle to home from Pankor Naka, the (only) market where goods like bicycles were available those days, through THE traffic of Ellis Bridge.

I started using the cycle in the normal course of commuting to the college only next year, because our preferred commuting mode was walking – which I will deal with a little later.

Apart from the benefits of commuting by cycle, there were a few more, fringe, benefits, at least, as far as I was concerned. But these will have to wait till I link them up later with the relevant main story

I would end with the present part with a very pertinent observation made by Ramesh Doshi – now settled in USA – while we were returning from our reunion luncheon of Ahmedabad-based LDCE71M batchmates in November 2011. Just  as we passed the present BRTS bus stand of ‘L D College’ he spontaneously recalled that those days this track was heavily laden with fin-dust, ground under the repeated crushing under the tyres of the AMTS buses. He then seemed to sleep into reverie of those days as he said: the movement buses had created two, relatively, clean tracks. It was a challenge to drive through that track as we used to continue talking among each other, in the company of others, while riding the cycles. It was not uncommon to get the wheel of the cycle stuck in the dust, get down, lift off the trapped wheel back on to the track, and commence the ride again, While the victim got his act together, the others had to ride on, for if they would stray off a look at what had happened, they also will be down to the dust.”

I do not recall if Professor Kellogg, of Machine Design, who would not tolerate getting late to the class – his was the first period of a day – unless supported by a reason, other than the time-worn excuses like bus got late or the cycle had a puncture etc., accepted this reason for the late coming!

Do You? If the reasons not accepted and reasons accepted could come up live presently, that itself would have been an episode in itself!

[1] Vasant Pujara is one of the key active links in reuniting the LDCE71M batch after a good 48+ years. It was his catalytic role that prompted Ashok Thakkar to prepare our “Selected Life Stories-LDCE Class of 1971-Mechanical”. That has further promoted me to collate the present memoir.

1966 to 1971 – Those Anecdotal Five Years …. – Commuting – to and from the college : By Bus

One activity that did not catch much of our attention in those days but had had a very telling effect on the way the years @ LDCE shaped up was to and from commuting from the college.

The most used modes of transport were either public bus service (Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service- AMTS) or bicycles. I do not really remember that possibly barring one or two students any used scooter those days. I, and my friends at L colony, near the then Secretariat building complex of Government of Gujarat, did commute by walking down to the college, but that was as more an exception as it was more convenient option.

Our senior friend Shri Suresh Jani, as he has narrated earlier, had been critically ill in the first year. After three months of convalescence from that illness, he could resume going to the college. With a weakened body, commuting by bicycle was ruled out and so the choice was that of using the bus. He could manage a seat, but he found return journeys an ordeal.

Except for some exceptional circumstances that some like our senior friend Shri Suresh Jani was placed, the commuting by bus did appear to be an enjoyable experience, as may be observed from the following narration of memories of 9.38 AM trip of route #60 by Ashok Thakkar –

We used to live in Maninagar, a large, and quite a noted eastern, suburb of Ahmedabad. As such, a fairly large number of students used to commute to the (Gujarat) University area. The public bus service, managed by AMTS, was quite efficient those days. Whereas a normal ticket from Maninagar to University would cost 50 paise, the students were eligible for a ‘concession’ charge of just 5 paise!

The number of students travelling to the University areas was so large, that three bus routes – 52/2, 52/3 and 60 – used to ply from Maninagar to and from the University. There used to a morning service of route # 60 that would leave Maninagar bus terminus at 9.28 and would reach University by 10.00 o’clock, in just 22 minutes flat! Comparatively, the two other two routes – 52/2 and 52/3 – would easily take around 45 minutes.

One aspect of this jet-speed travel was that the bus would be so chock-full of the students going to the University, right from the Maninagar bus terminus that there was no need for it to stop any where along the route, thus making the journey a non-stop whistle journey. Moreover

the driver of the that service, apparently an elderly person, would be so energised by the boisterous crowd of young students that he would drive the bus at the top speed through the entire route. However, in order to reach the University in 22 minutes, one may need to stand in the queue at the first stop for almost same time!

Our the then close-knit posse consisted of LDites Suresh Desai, Mukesh Parikh, Mukul Parikh, Bharat Desai, Umesh Parikh, Sushant Mehta, Jitendra Shah, Arun Shah, Jitu Bhavsar, Pamu Parikh, and of course me. There were a few of seniors also as the regular co-passengers, besides students of science and commerce students. Every trip was an experience in merriment, except that it always used to an all-boys trip, notwithstanding even the students of science and commerce stream!  Apart from me, other batchmates, Suresh, Mukul and Mukesh have settled in the US. Bharat Desai, from the Electrical Engineering discipline, too has settled in California. I am getting so sad to note that Umesh and Sushant – of the electrical branch- and Arun – from Mechanical – have travelled out for the final journey.

Sushant Mehta was fondly addressed as ‘Mama’ – the uncle, mother’s brother. Our ‘great’ Mama was a sole exception to the practice of cooling the heels in the queue for that 9.38 trip. Compared to all of us, he used to stay quite near to the boarding-stop. But he so much abhorred the idea of waiting in the queue that he would so fine tune his start from his home that just the bus would take tun at the corner, Mama would be there. Our driver was also so considerate of him, that only time in the trip, he would slow down the bus just enough to enable Mama yo jump in the running bus. This had become the most happening SOP for Mama and the driver, too. Both had so mastered the art of implementation that, to the best of my memory, Mama had bever missed the trip any time during the five years!

As I end my present anecdote, I recall one more sweet memory. In our final year, some time in December 1970, Mera Naam Joker, of Raj Kapoor, was released in the theatres of the city. The songs of the film were released two/three months prior to the release of the film. In the days when portable tape-recorders were things from the Mars, one day someone alighted the bus with his own portable tape-recorder and kept playing the song – Aye Bhai Jara Dekh Ke Chalo – from the film. I so much got liking to the song in that trip that, even after a good fifty years,  it remains one of my most favourite song.

That 9.38 trip – full of all kinds of jokes, pranks, sharing of experiences that Suresh Desai so fondly recall even today – remains one of most charmed experiences of my life.

How one would wish that clock would turn back so that we can happily go living in those sweet capsules of time!

I am sure many of us will have such sweet memories to share. I invite you to please share them here before I take up my memories of commuting on foot and /or bicycle in the next episode.