Back in my school days, Dashain more than anything meant a long holiday, the one-month elongated break mostly used to empty, a riotous Jhapali chatpate at a time, what our teachers tried so hard, year round, to pummel into our vacuous heads.
The icing on the Dashain cake was the nearly 500-km night-bus trip—a luscious 1,000-km two-way—to Bhadrapur. Oh those magical nights spent perched, owl-like, on the edge of my seat, in the forever-oscillating bus, back and forth, left and right, lurching, juddering, or, my favorite bit, racing other buses. I was only half-joking those days when I said I wanted to grow up to be a night bus driver.
I still remember the names of those buses by heart. One year was particularly memorable in my night-bus odyssey, the year of the famous race for Bhadrapur between our cream-colored ‘Pashupati Travels’ and the dark-green ‘Welcome Travels’.
So this day our Pashupati beats Welcome, hands down, to the first pit-stop of Mugling. This was where the buses on the east-west highway stopped for dinner in those days. It is with not a little relish that I watch the green blur of Welcome enter Mugling when we the passengers of Pashupati were nearly done with our dinner. No way in hell is Welcome reaching Bhadrapur before Pashupati tomorrow.
Yet sleeping is out of question. My heart jumps every time a bus overtakes ours, and I hate it each time. Didn’t driver dai have enough bhat at Mugling, or what? But I still forgive him. Unless it is Welcome overtaking us, I am fine.
But what about ‘Ganesh Travels’, which also plied the Kathmandu-Bhadrapur route in those days, you ask?
Are you kidding me? It was my grandfather’s favorite bus, for a reason. It never sped. The stops were often, and with all the diabetics and heart patients on board, you know, they had to be careful.
In Bhadrapur, I would sometimes cycle to the local bazaar, the final stop of the buses from Kathmandu, early in the morning. Without fail, Pashupati and Welcome would have occupied their spots by the famous Mama ko pasal while the slot for Ganesh would invariably be empty. It was a disgrace. What were night-buses with speed limits, a bit like Mama’s samosas minus aloo, no?
No threat of the fat Ganesh spoiling the fun of the feisty Pashaupati this day, then. But when we reach Narayanghat, I get thinking again: Where is Welcome now? Perhaps just starting out from Mugling.
Hopefully, no sooner has it left Mugling, all its four tiers explode, like Jugmug bombs, what with well-wishers like me sending plenty of luck its way.
As we trundle into Hetauda around 2 am, there is still no sign of Welcome. As I sip my early-morning tea, I am a touch worried. As much as I want Welcome to go kaboom in the middle of nowhere, I also, as a committed Michael Schumacher fan, want a fair game, a race to the end, with Pashpuati barely piping Welcome, say, somewhere around Chandragadhi. Racing is no fun when you can’t even see your nearest competitor.
With the break of dawn, we are in Lahan, and still no sign of Welcome. Now I am cursing myself for not being more welcoming of Welcome, and for blighting my year-long wait for some hardcore nigh-bus racing. As we leave Lahan, all hope seems lost.
Then, somewhere near Inaruwa, I near the trademark bus horn—sound of ambulance on fast-forward— from behind. Something is approaching us, fast, very fast. Before I know it, the dark green of Welcome has passed us. I jump from my seat. No, this is not happening. Here I was looking for an all-out race and what does our benighted driver do but let Welcome pass without any fight. Pussy.
Luckily, my driver turns out to be an ever bigger crank than I was at the time.
Pashupati suddenly picks up speed on the now flat, nearly empty highway. My heart starts thudding again. I can see the back of Welcome get closer and closer. Before we know it, we catch up to the green monster. Our bus lurches to the right, and the driver hits the gas to overtake.
Not so fast. With the finish line close, Welcome seems to be in no mood to concede. The two vehicles are now full-throttle, side-by-side, completely blocking the road. Welcome still does not allow Pashupati to pass. Pashupati pulls back.
Then, at a big turn, our bus tries again to overtake again, this time with half the vehicle hugging the grass-track beyond the kerb. Another inch and the whole bus would topple.
Howls of protest emanate from inside the bus, and expletives rain down from every side on our brave bus driver. He is forced to slow down. I spend the rest of the journey silent, fuming, my Dashain already down the drain the bus nearly avoided: Why can’t people have fun, won’t we all soon be dead anyway?
The writer is the op-ed editor at Republica. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org