Wednesday 26 April 2006


What an eventful day of public transport happenings!

On my way to the city aboard the 412 bus, I squeezed into my seat. I wouldn’t say I’m much overweight but Sydney buses don’t make much space for large people. I sat beside a woman, showing appropriate disinterest. I immediately sensed she could have been cast as a nasty character in a Kath and Kim episode - miserable from the start. Can only guess why.

As we approached Central, she said “excuse me” and indicated she was about to alight. I closed the biography of Gandhi I was reading, picked up my backpack and swung my legs into the aisle. At the time this seemed a thoughtful thing to do. I was balancing the need to keep the aisle clear as lots of others were also leaving the bus at Central, while making space for my seated companion. She was unimpressed with my efforts.

She yelled “ stand up you idiot” in a gentle effort to persuade me that her passage would be made easier if I left my seat. I obliged, was shocked and somewhat amused and wished her a wonderful day. Perhaps Gandhi had rubbed off.

On the way home, Gandhi served me well again. This time the bus was so crowded there was barely standing room. I had my backpack and another shoulder bag which, added to my own bulk, was quite an imposition on the aisle space.

As I made my way down the aisle, a smallish Indian man in his late 50s (I’m 41) jumped from his seat and insisted I take it. He pleaded with me as he was so pleased I was reading about Gandhi. Only after a determined (but polite of course) refusal on my part, did the bald Indian man retreat back to his seat. Apart from minor wound and public embarrassment of being offered a seat by a man so much older, it was a moving scene. The other passengers were amused.

How wonderful I thought that this Indian man identified so much with the greatness of Gandhi. He was ecstatic that an Australian commuter might be reading about his country’s great hero. What a wonderful role model for a country to have. I wondered how I would respond in a crowded Indian bus if I saw a man reading of one of our heroes – Kerry Packer perhaps?

And what of my earlier encounter?

I have been reading Gandhi’s biography in fits and starts for about three months. Almost through it now. I think I’ll keep it on hand!

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