Kids squeal with glee and chase each other, their backpacks lie uncared for on the wet morning grass, the family pet barks, wags his tail...determined to join in...*darn that leash*, while someone's dad watches over motley lot at the bus stop. I pass them everyday on my way to work and smile. The school bus politics, the water bottle fights and the pig tailed romances...it was not very long ago, was it?
The little ones sat closest to the bus driver, or driver uncle as he was called. Driver uncle would watch out for them and and prevent any primary school thug from messing with Chotu. His life (think of an enraged Chotu's mom) and reputation (now think of a happy Chotu's mom) depended on it. The primary school kids were next in line. They fought...violently and were rather noisy; their uniforms squalid and torn at the end of the day. Finally, at the bottom of the food chain were the high school kids. There were not many of them around as the senior kids rode their bicycles to school. But the ones that took the school bus were usually quiet and kept to themselves. A prety high school Didi on the bus usually had a sobering on the rest. You see most of the boys (even the ones in shorts) would probably have giggly crushes on her. A pretty Didi also meant that some colony Bhaia would rather take the bus than ride his bicycle....this took care of the female ruffians! If your bus picked up kids from other schools you learned to form strategic alliances. Friends who got in first saved the next seat for the friends from other schools. These alliances would obviously break down when it came to matters of the heart. But then matters of the heart were much less complicated and easy to resolve - a chocolate here and a math homework there.
You waited outside your house in the morning for the bus to pick you up. If the bus was a little late or you were early, you could amble over to the next house or a even a couple of blocks to where your friends were waiting. The contents of various tiffin boxes would be inspected and the playground polictics from the day before debated upon. You could also pay a visit to the stray bitch and her litter of six that some one had discovered a few days before. Now if you had an exam you waited patiently outside your house and flipped through notes...you never knew when Mom would peep out of the window!
Then there was driver uncle...usually a happy go lucky chap who had started out as an autorickshaw driver but graduated onto driving a school bus. His was a one man show, very different from the corporate school bus system that catered to children who came from other towns or sometimes from some unheard of mining outpost. His bus was more like a largish minivan packed with unruly children. The other buses were huge with a company logo on the side, a caretaker and well behaved children with bus id's. Bah! boring, now that I think of it. Driver Uncle was usually good with kids, he could mediate on fights, make sure you got home with all organs intact and listen to random school yard stories at length. Besides, the political correct way of dealing with children had yet to be invented. He had the most atrocious taste in music which was delightful for kids like your truly who were not allowed to hum the latest Mithun number at home. And unlike Dad if someone cut him off on the road he did not politely toot his horn...he bellowed and cursed! Now that was a man.