Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Best Moment of the Day

If I had to pick my favorite time of day here in Bangalore, it would be weekdays at 7:25 a.m. By that time, most of the dozens and dozens of children living in our apartment complex have collected by the front gate to participate in the colorful Loading of the School Buses ceremony. The children, including Eliza and Sophia, are variously decked out in the uniforms of at least seven different schools. White dress shirts, vee-neck sweaters in various primary colors, blue or red blazers, pants or skirts in navies, greys or earth tones. For some schools, both boys and girls wear striped neckties. One school's uniform is very similar to the one I wore during my one-year stint as a schoolboy in a British-run school in the 1970s. The uniforms are not the same every day (some schools have a "tee-shirt Wednesday", or a "track-suit Friday".)

The younger children have a parent, usually a mother, waiting with them, while children Sophia's age and older make their own way down from their apartments. I like to come along to participate in this community event, even if our girls are embarrassed to have a minder. The small yellow school buses pull up one by one, each with the name of a particular school painted in bold black letters along its side. Each bus has, in addition to a driver, a sort of conductor or kid-wrangler, who jumps out as the bus pulls up and stands by the door. A corresponding group of children breaks loose from the pack waiting just inside the gate and heads out onto their bus. If a smaller child dawdles climbing the steep steps, the wrangler bodily lifts him and more or less tosses him up into the bus. Then the wrangler runs to the back of the bus and helps the driver negotiate a difficult three-point u-turn in our mud lane which is not as wide as the bus is long. The wrangler hustles back to the front of the bus and jumps in as it rolls away. The whole cycle takes about 45 seconds. At the peak of the rush, the next bus arrives just as the previous one departs. Occasionally a kid comes sprinting out of a stairway and across the courtyard towards us in a panic, with a parent calling from a balcony several floors up, presumably saying something like "Hurry up, Vijay, I can see your bus coming already, and I'm not driving you to school."

I like the cool morning air and the sense of participating with our neighbors in a daily routine. The first morning, Celeste and I met the mother of a young boy who goes to the same school as Eliza and Sophia.

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