When I joined CET a couple of years ago, I was surprised to hear most of my batch mates from outside the city complain about the rudeness of people in Trivandrum. Having grown up in the city myself, I never thought there was much truth in what they said. I used to think to myself that maybe it was because they were new in town and weren’t accustomed to the ways and manners of people here. I thought it was only a matter of time before they too would learn to love this quiet little city, that I call home.
However, over the past one year, I’ve come to agree with those batch mates of mine to a certain extent. It all started off when I went to Kozhikode to attend Tathva (NIT-C’s intercollegiate tech fest). I boarded a bus from the city’s main bus stand. I was suspicious at first because the conductor of the private bus that I boarded didn’t give me a ticket. He simply pocketed my money and moved on. Seeing that I was bewildered and an outsider to boot, a random passsenger on the bus reassured me saying that you didn’t get tickets on private buses there. Later, as the bus got more and more crowded, I was in for a pleasant shock. The conductor sidled up to me and said, ‘Lesham mumbilottu neengavo?’, which translates to ‘Could you please move forward a bit?’ I tried to dismiss his politness as a one-off incident, but I’ve come to conclude that bus conductors in Calicut tend to be insanely nice. I’ve had similar experiences in Thrissur too. Back home in Trivandrum, bus conductors just tend to holler at you, ‘Mumbilottu neengada!‘ (‘You! Move to the front!’) If you’re lucky enough to catch them in a good mood, you’d hear, ‘Neengikke! Neengikke! Mumbilottu neengu!‘ (‘Move! Move! Move to the front!’)
And no, bus conductors in Trivandrum aren’t just rude when it comes to crowd control on a bus. If you’re naive enough to not have the exact change for your ticket, you could face reactions ranging from, ‘Chilarayilaatheyaanu ivanokke busil kerunathu!‘ to a cold stare conveying utter disbelief, akin to how you might react if a complete stranger nudges you on a bus and asks if you’d be willing to donate your right kidney to them.
Auto drivers in Trivandrum are usually no better. They seem unwilling to go short distances, long distances, into the city, to the suburbs, to the outskirts and pretty much anywhere at all during the night or if it’s raining. If you’re lucky enough to convince an auto driver to go somewhere in the general vicinity of your destination, the fare is magically rounded off to the nearest multiple of ten. At least it saves you the bother of carrying around coins. When I went to Bombay to attend Mood Indigo last year, I was awed by how auto drivers there only charge you the exact fare as shown on the meter. No more, no less! (as Henry the penguin from Oswald would say)
What irks me the most in Trivandrum however is the way in which migrant construction workers from states like Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and Orissa are treated. Considering their numbers, it’s amazing how they’re almost invisible. They quietly go about their jobs, sincerely and diligently. As a result, the term ‘Bengali’ is used to refer to people who work their assess off, in CET parlance. Being unable to read the bus sign boards, which are mostly in Malayalam and because people at the bus simply refuse to help them out, these labourers unwittingly end up on the wrong bus quite often. And once they’re on the wrong bus, they’re at the mercy of the irate conductor, who more often than not, belittles and ridicules them to entertain the other passengers. They are repeatedly subjected to insults of this sort at shops and eateries too.
And this behaviour isn’t directed only at migrant labourers, all outsiders seem to be at the receiving end of our intolerance. And all this, in the capital city of a state that takes pride in being the most literate in India. The way things are going here, it won’t be long before we have our very own equivalent of the MNS or Shiv Sena. Considering that we’re a city dependent on outsiders, ranging from the migrant labourers who are building Technopark to the software engineers working at Technopark, the least we could do is to show everyone a little respect and be slightly less rude. What do you say?