Mr. Krishnan died this morning.
Krishnan, 50, driver of bus number 78, one among the more-than-hundred buses that ply to and from our school. Krishnan, one among the more-than-hundred that manned those buses. To put things in a better perspective, one among the seven hundred odd staff that serve the eight thousand odd children in our massive school.
It was as I was heading towards the staff room after class that I came to know of his demise. Hassan, our office boy, was talking to a couple of teachers in the corridor. The somber look on all the three faces made me curious, and I joined the group. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. From what I understood, Krishnan had died of multiple organ failure as a result of high diabetes. I’d seen him somewhere in the corridors last week, and he had then looked perfectly healthy. The news of his death seemed unreal.
We stood listening to Hassan doling out the details – he must have told the story quite a number of times by then. Another teacher joined the group – she and I had travelled in Krishnan’s bus a couple of years ago, before both of us moved to a different place. Her face showed shock, and her voice rang high. She told us with great vehemence about how she had waved to him only last Thursday, shook her head, and went away – maybe because it was time for her to go to the bus (it wouldn’t do to miss the bus-ride home – we are literally in the middle of the desert and catching a cab is impossible), or maybe because she wanted to share the news with whoever was in the staff room.
Some of us discussed about how his death seemed to mean nothing at all to anybody in the school. There hadn’t been any formal announcement about it till then, not to mention the usual, but slowly dying practice of two minutes of silence in respect for his soul. Apparently there was an announcement over the loud speakers, but since they could be heard only in corridors and not classrooms, nobody did.
The school generally treated such issues as minor glitches and moved on – small bumps on the fast lane of education. You might ease the foot from the accelerator just a bit, but you wouldn’t stop and bow to a small bump in the road now, would you?
The unreal feeling lasted all the way to bus. My driver confirmed the news and gave us more details. Then he spoke about his own diabetic condition, and for good effect, showed us the strips of tablets that he carried with him. The teacher who sat next to me in the bus told him about the dangers of being diabetic, another suggested home remedies, and the conversation went off in a different tangent.
I suddenly felt exhausted. Exhaustion has been my loyal companion for some time now – it never leaves me. Forty three years of living does tire one out… Add four periods of Passive Voice to three batches of thirty-five plus girls, and top it off with one of Present Simple to another – I don’t have to tell you what condition I was in. I plugged the earphones to my ears, closed my eyes and leaned against the backrest.
For once, I didn’t really listen to the music. I thought of Krishnan – tall and dark in his white shirt and red tie, with bulging eyes and a serious expression.
Krishnan, who had carried a little bit of his home inside his huge, impersonal vehicle – a curio that hung from the rear-view mirror, a newspaper cutting with a picture of him and his son standing by an elephant stuck to the glass, a small tray with some oddities that symbolized prosperity, right above the engine… I had wondered more than once about how his house would look.
Krishnan, the disciplinarian teacher. Once when he was tired of telling the antsy kids of his bus not to move about while the bus was running, he pressed his foot on the brake. A couple of the bus’ monkeys almost fell down, and the others had a rude shock. He had then told them in no uncertain terms that it was just a taste of what would happen if they did not sit. The ensuing discipline had lasted all of two days. Talk about catering to multiple intelligences!
And everything came to an end on a weekend morning, when his faculties shut down.
I wonder if somebody will take off the paper-cutting and those little brass curios from the bus and return it to the family. What will the family do with it?
Tomorrow, we celebrate Teachers’ Day. And after that, we go back to the grind. Life will go on for the rest of us, without even a pause…
One minor glitch – what’s the big deal?
* The names have been changed for obvious reasons – the rest is a tribute to the late driver of bus # 78.