Monday, September 1, 2008


Just came back from a slightly stressful bus ride from Bombay. Why stressful?

When I climbed in, there was a person sitting on the adjacent seat to mine and a companion sitting across the aisle. As I indicated that was my allocated seat, he shifted one seat behind. As more and more people came in, I saw this guy Green Shirt (and his companion) move further and further back.

I assumed not unnaturally, that perhaps he had got in the wrong bus by mistake.

After sometime, while we were waiting for the bus to depart, and half the passengers were waiting outside, I saw Green shirt come and stand in the aisle next to me and fidget with the bag on shelf above the unoccupied seats (on the other side) while furtively looking around. Then he went back again.

After five minutes he came back and took the briefcase which was there and went to the back of the bus. I assumed he must have kept the briefcase there when he was sitting on my seat and thought no more about it. Soon I see him come back with the suitcase, again glancing around and put the briefcase back from the place he had taken it from.

By this time, I was definitely tracking him.

Soon, I saw Green shirt get down from the bus and loiter around, glance at the bus a couple of times. I had warning bells in my head, but couldn’t exactly quite make a fuss in the stationary bus – after all I wasn’t sure whether he was planning to climb back (like some of the other passengers).

Bus conductor came and bus started, and Green Shirt and companion had disappeared.By this time, alarms were blaring. So I told the chap sitting next to me and then told the conductor about the strange action of Green Shirt. Conductor gazed blankly at me, before asking the guy across the aisle whether the bag was his.

Turned out it was.

And here is the crux of the tale, any vigilant conductor with half an ounce of sense, would have made sure that all were lying around were properly accounted for isn’t it? At least he would have checked the bags on both sides.

Not so. On the other hand, I was made to implicitly feel like a hysterical fool by the way he listened to me, and acted upon what I said.Out of the passengers, one of them did check his bag, but the briefcase owner(whose bag had certainly been purloined for a while) dismissed it altogether.

Yes, we didn’t get blown apart, since I am here, writing this post. I didn't even get off the bus as a frantic S/friend were ordering me too.
Green shirt in retrospect, was probabaly a thief (and not a terrorist as I had immediately thought) who might have been trying to get some loose cash or valuables.

But I honestly don’t think that it was beyond the realms of possibility today. I am not a suspicious person but what Green shirt was doing was enough to raise my antennae. And the truth is we are not in Sweden or Switzerland where these things don’t happen. We are in India, where 22 bombs have been found in one city.

What shocked me more was the fact that there is absolutely no plan of action on information such as this. The bus conductor didn’t alert anyone, he didn’t even bother to check anything. He just cursorily checked on that bag ownership ( and that’s pretty much because I insisted) and left the bus.
Considering that Green Shirt and Co had been loitering around for a while, they could have very easily sneaked another bag in somewhere isn’t it?

And that is the quite appalling truth when one thinks about it. Trains, buses, malls – they just pay a lip service to security. It is so terribly easy to get in and get out. To leave something behind, to strap something, to plant something.

Yes I do realize that it’s not possible, feasible or viable to actually have security systems in place in a country as vast and populous like India. But I do believe that the least they can do is have a system whereby they can ACT on suspicious information received in a manner which is adequate – sensitizing them as it were. In this case, how long would it have taken the driver to ask each passenger to identify their bags for instance?

Or is that too much to ask for?

P.S. I was wondering if there was anyway to do a 'Neighbourhood watch programme' equivalent in cases like this. Any ideas?


AmitL said...

Hi,Cyn..that was quite vigilant of you..Thank heavens it was not some explosive or something.Arghh to the attitude of the conductor.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I was already thinking that it wasa bomb, and the people found it coz of u...!

but the latter part of it was disappointing, I am sure the conductor could have taken better measures.

I dnt know abt the neighborhood watch thingie and how it works.

a million different people said...

You know what the problem with India is? With all the brains that we have, we never think long term. Necessary News isn't followed up, Safety Measure are out of place immediately after danger bells stop ringing and we work on the "If he's worse than me, it's enough for me" principle. There's no absolute, there's just effin' relative. All the time.

Why, nothing much would've happened if they'd listened to you immediately and with concern no? Instead, they'll make sensible people think why they acted sensibly.

Gah. Effittawl.

??! said...

I'm not sure how neighbourhood watch would apply to a case like this - because it's not really a static location, with a constant cast of characters, as NW schemes need.

But it is perhaps worth it (if only for the sake of trying) to write to the relevant bus authorities, and try and convince them to have some sort of basic training in place for drivers/conductors. Ask them what they (or you, as a passenger) would do in a suspicious case. What measures they have to reduce panic fleeing. Names of agencies they should call. What you are, and aren't allowed to do.

And when the idiots don't reply, or reply with a flippant answer, go to the press and get them to make a big fuss out of it. And get fotu in paper.

Epiphany said...

You had written a post about the Jaipur blasts..about how indifferent we are to these things till it happens to us....This is the denial phase of that I can't happen to me, I have too much work to do today....

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Must have been scary!

Ya, I've noticed that no one cares. Even at the airports, there is nothing much. They just run that detector through your body, but I'm not sure they are concerned with a beep. They ask you: Belt- aah. If you say, yes, they let you go. Sigh

shub said...

jeez! sounds very scary! and reminds me of the movie anwar..I'd probably have suggested you get off the bus as well..

Cynic in Wonderland said...

amit argh indeed. i figured out he was the one who got off. i should have probabaly told the bus driver.

veens - fortunately it wasnt a bomb. but it was quite surreal.

a million different people. you know thats the question all of us grapple with i guess. when does vigilance end and hysteria start?

??!!?? I have already written to them. no reply. lets wait and watch for a while. but yes, mirror is doing a whole series of places its easy to infiltrate with weapons. this might just be one more.

epiphany - but thats at an abstract level. when people actually see strange looking people with strange looking bags - isnt that suicidal rather than denial? vague people.

nandini - i dont know whether its complacency or laziness. but thats the reason we have so many people being killed. because there is no action on it.

shub. guess i was lucky. this time.

Pinku said...

very scary episode....

Guess the only thing we can do is keep being vigilant and ask those around us to do the same.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

pinku - guess its like driving. you need to be careful, even if others are not.

Roop Rai said...

i sorry i confused.

where was the bag owner when his bag was being tampered with? if the seats were unoccupied why wasnt he sitting close to his bag?

in either case, the non-reaction is frightening.