No chocolate buses, please

R. Sundaram | Updated on June 17, 2013

Better to walk than travel in one

Chennai’s city buses are an inelegant sight.

“I cannot help regretting the appearance of the chocolate bus in the streets of London” began the famous essay titled “Chocolate Bus” by Robert Lynd whose works were prescribed texts in English teaching courses decades ago.

Looking at the city buses in Chennai nowadays I cannot but voice similar sentiments. Only a year ago, I could wake up to the sight of red and green buses move out of the depot nearby in a string of many-coloured splendour. Today, they present a wearisome monotony of dull chocolate with ugly graffiti in biscuit brown, presenting the appearance of a parade of mechanical lobsters.

Recently, my dislike for the colour has been further aggravated by the advertisement clip for a brand of chocolate on the Telly.

An ageing diva with bright lipstick, suffering pangs of hunger, throwing temper tantrums and calming down after biting into a chocolate bar is not exactly the kind of visual one would like to see on the TV after every over is bowled in Champions’ trophy cricket.

True, chocolate is nice to taste, but I must submit, it is dull to the eye. One would never eat it, opined the essayist, if one did not know from experience that “it tastes better than it looks”.

No one but nature determines the colour of cocoa, unless some plant geneticist is developing coloured cocoa. But in the case of buses, we can have it even now in any colour; red, orange or green. Only black is taboo.

Black, although famously recommended by Henry Ford for his cars in 1909, reminds us of those intimidating police vehicles called Black Maria used for transporting prisoners.

I am aware that I am least qualified to testify on the state of Chennai city buses since I am now too old to travel in them, even if some of them have low floor boards to facilitate seniors. Announcements now and then about facilitating buses for easy access to elders and physically challenged, I have found, seldom match expectations.

The possibility of being inside these “overcrowded and malodorous maws” seems insurmountably daunting compared with merely gaining entry.


My heart goes out to all those who have to travel in them during those crowded hours, when young men put their life in peril by hanging precariously from the footboards and women run the risk of receiving obnoxious attention from indecent men inside the bus.

Setting the need for personal locomotion in a larger context, I see no point in moving around by bus or any means. For exercising limbs, it is best to go by foot or bicycle.

Among all living creatures, it is only the homo sapiens who move long distances without any obvious purpose, huddled together in steel boxes and aluminium tubes. It appears that it is a law of nature that humans keep moving, and in adapting to mechanical contrivances, they have substituted passivity for activity.

From the point of view of saving the planet, it merits consideration for setting a target , say in the Millennium Development Goals, for Reduction in human transportation and substituting it with long marches. In this age when electrons are able to do all the work of transporting everything required for human interaction by moving images and carrying voices even as events unfold, I ask myself a question: Is it really necessary to move in buses, that too in chocolate-coloured ones?

(The author is former Member, Ordnance Factories Board)

Published on June 17, 2013

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