We didn’t know his real name, and it didn’t occur to us to ask.
Taklu Conductor was the highly uncomplimentary name that one of the girls gave him. And it stuck. Before long, we were all calling him that. It was a name inspired by his bald pate, taklu being the streetside Bambaiya Hindi word for bald. As smooth as a baby’s bottom his head was, we told ourselves giggling.
He was the conductor on the school bus that took us from home to school and back. Other conductors were indistinguishable, their buses known by a landmark on their routes. Ours proudly went by the name of Taklu Conductor’s bus.
And rightly so, for Taklu Conductor was miles of streets ahead of the others who did the same job.
As a conductor, his duties weren’t all that hard. Maintain law and order in the bus, and assist the driver when he was reversing the bus to ensure that no one was hurt as the bus reversed. But it was the dedication and delight with which he performed these simple tasks that won him hearts.
He took charge of us, ensuring that no one put their hands out through the bars of the window. Fights over who got how much window space, and who had the window seat and who had to make do with the aisle seat didn’t last long either when Taklu Conductor was the mediator. On his watch, girls learned to share window space. Those who sought to push the window panes forward or backward learned soon enough that it didn’t please Taklu Conductor.
Woe betide anybody that dared to tease or belittle any of us girls. Taklu Conductor would be Fury unleashed, an angry father, no less.
With him on board, boring rides on the city streets were transformed as Taklu Conductor regaled us with interesting anecdotes about things that had happened in his village. We marvelled at the different kinds of adventures he had had, the wondrous events that had befallen him. At other times, he led us in singing the latest Bollywood melodies and the oldies with equal felicity, transforming the bus into a great Picnic-on-wheels.
Once an unexpected digging on the roads led the driver to take an unscheduled detour and route to drop us off at our stops. Taklu Conductor fretted non-stop, suggesting alternative routes that would get us home at the earliest. This was pre-cellphone era.
A girl once vomited inside the bus, an action that provoked the wrath of the driver and frightened the girl even more. Taklu Conductor cheerfully offered to clean up the mess, provided the driver shut up and stopped upsetting the girl.
For our sake, he stored in the bus cabin a fully stocked first aid kit, which came in handy, whenever somebody was hurt or whenever somebody attempted acrobatics in the bus.
Many a school girl afraid of her teacher and keen to play hooky changed her mind about bunking school at the thought of missing Taklu Conductor. The girl who did so anyway received a stern lecture on the significance of the education she was receiving, something he never had growing up.
But he was learning. He had a copy of the English primer, probably something his little daughter, who also studied in our school, had outgrown. Taklu Conductor would try to teach himself to read and write with it, with us, his volunteer-teachers, egging him on.
It wasn’t for nothing that we were the envy of our other school mates.
Today when I see my children off at the school bus stop, I am not entirely at ease regarding their safety and I quell my anxious fears through prayer. Back then, none of the parents of the girls on Taklu Conductor’s bus had the slightest doubts or fears about their children’s safety. Taklu Conductor inspired that kind of confidence.
He was a Mother Hen on whose watch nothing untoward could ever befall his wards. A simple man, who had the undisputed affection of all the girls who took his bus.
When I came to know about Tata Motors’ contest, inviting bloggers to talk about a person who has touched their lives, a simple, ordinary person who is #madeofgreat and who touched others with his simplicity and goodness, I was reminded once again of Taklu Conductor.
Today’s school children, and parents too, need more Taklu Conductors on their buses, and in their lives.
If you were touched by my account of Taklu Conductor, and wish to leave a comment, the organisers of this contest would like you to answer a simple question:
What do you think of Tata Motors' association with Lionel Messi?
The best comment can win you an Amazon voucher worth Rs 750.
So go on, answer the question, and don't forget to say something nice about Taklu Conductor while you're at it. Wherever he is, the Good Conductor has certainly earned every bit of praise he can get.