The Death Bus - A True Life Story

The Bus

Today, I am supposed to be working at Muktsar as per my work plan. This is a true life story that happened way back in 1985. Normally, I take direct a bus to Muktsar at 7 am. A few days back there were two “Monas” or people who keep short hair killed in a bus I, The Medical Representative Escaped Death when I had boarded that Death Bus from a place called Jaito back to Bhantinda, where I stayed with my father who was in the Army.

But I had to get down because my friend did not turn up on time till the bus started moving. We both went back home later in a train. The next day’s news read, “Two monas were Beheaded in Jaito to Bhatinda Bus in broad day light. It was the same bus I The Medical Representative, had boarded and got down at Jaito bus stand.

It was God’s grace that I survived a sure death that time and boarded a Death Bus a second time. This time again God saved me and I am here to write that true life story of escaping death a second time, which you are reading here now. I walked the two kilometres distance from my home to the bust station, thinking of turning back because I was not feeling well due to running a bit of fever. I wanted to lie down, my body ached and I was feeling tired. But my work cannot suffer.

If I don’t work, then my sales figure will dip and I will get a warning in the next Medical Representative's meeting of the company scheduled a month later. Many a days way back in 1985 when I was working as a Medical Representative in the state of Punjab, there was curfew in one or the other district of the State of Punjab where I had to travel for work as a Medical Representative and I have missed many a working day due to which my sales figure would fall in any case. I did not want to add one more day of no work to that.

A Medical Rep has to travel a lot. In fact, the job of a Medical Rep is to show the doctor a pamphlet containing all the information including side effects of the medicines the company is making and why the doctor should prescribe this company medicine and not any other company selling the same medicine under a different brand name. A doctor writes a medicine from his memory. The Medical Reps job is to go and tell him the names of this company medicine regularly, so that the doctor just can’t forget the name of this company medicine over the other company’s brands.

The company also gives some limited amount of medicines as samples to be given to selected doctors, who have the potential to drive sales because that doctor is getting more patients than the other doctors for prescribing the medicine and thus this doctor can prove to be useful to boost the medicine sales of this medicine company.

If you go regularly and remind the doctor all the medicines being manufactured by your own company, then the chance is that the doctor will write more of your company medicine than your rival medical representative's company medicines. I used to go to my potential doctors once every two weeks, the other doctors once a month and may be once in two months to those doctors with not much potential to boost my company medicine sales.

The news headline of Jaito Bhatinda Bus passenger beheading, used to haunt me every time I had to take a bus to some place those days and my legs would start feeling heavy. My heart would say, “Let us go back home”. But my brain would remind me about the sales figures to be flashed at the Company meeting and the thought of facing the MD during the quarterly meeting at Hotel Janpath in New Delhi, India, where they flash everyone's sales figures on screen for everyone to see. Now it was this prestige issue which would make me put all my fears in the back seat and drive on. I reached in time for boarding the Bus to Muktsar.

But somehow, I was reluctant to board the Muktsar to Chandigarh bus. I was in half mind to go back because of my feeling tired and the News Headlines of my escape from death a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, there were no trains in the morning to Muktsar and I had no choice but take the Death Bus. I waited for about an hour in the bus stop, undecided.

Every time I board a bus after my Jaito Bhatinda Bus incident, I used to get restless even when thinking about taking a bus the next day. After contemplating for an hour, I decided to leave my fears behind and boarded the next bus to Muktsar which was a limited stop, going to Chandigarh via Muktsar and Ludhiana. Somehow I fell asleep in the bus, probably due to my fever.

The bus had entered Muktsar bus stand. I was merrily sleeping clutching my leather bag tightly, which contained all the sample medicines and the Medical Reps only tool called the Pamphlet in which all medicines are pictorially represented for showing the doctor, so that the doctor can easily understand and remember the names of the medicine made by the company the Medical Representative is working for.

This leather bag was also my only identity as a Medical Rep apart from the neck tie which we were forced to wear by the company norms even in very hot weather. This limited stop bus had a short stop over at Muktsar bus stand when I was fast asleep in the bus. And now the bus had started from Muktsar bus station and was on its way to Chandigarh via Ludhiana. And here I was sleeping on the bus, instead of getting down at Muktsar and starting my work. Sometime later, the conductor woke me up and asked "Kithhey" which means “Where are you going”, with his hand extended towards me asking for money.

I showed him my ticket to Muktsar which I had bought from him only, about an hour back when I had boarded his bus at Bhatinda. He said he knows that, but the bus is now going to Ludhiana. Obviously, he was right, I need to take new ticket because my previous ticket was paid up only till Muktsar which is now far behind. I told him, I should have got down at Muktsar, but I seemed to have slept through.

I felt so embarrassed, that I wanted to jump out of the bus that moment. Without any further talk, he rang the bell and the driver stopped the bus right there. The bus conductor very politely told me to get off the bus. I did not have a choice and was more than happy to get down from that bus. I had absolutely no idea where am I because, I was yet to wake up from my sleep completely.

I was lucky to get a cycle rickshaw till the next bus stop. In those days in Punjab, cycle rickshaws were very popular. You could find a cycle rickshaw anywhere and it was very cheap mode of travel too. A cycle rickshaw is a tricycle or a bicycle modified to have a seat for two people to sit behind on a small sofa like seat, in addition to the driver seat exactly like a bicycle in the front part.

The cycle rickshaw man is usually a poor local person, who knows each and every household in that locality and thus used to be the best mode of transport to take, if you want to reach any difficult address, without asking anyone.

Unlike today, there were no mobile phones or google map those days. I had to find address of doctors asking a dozen people enroute when not using a cycle rickshaw. You can imagine me, a 20 year old, sitting in the back seat of an open cycle rickshaw wearing a pair of pants, a full sleeve shirt and a neck tie, sweating profusely in that hot sun.

As the rickshaw driver paddled his tricycle to the nearest bust stop about two kilometres away, he told me, “Saahab, Muktsar is just 10 km away and there is a bus every 15 minutes from Ludhiana to Muktsar”. Saahab means Sir. Even though I was just doing my job like he is doing his job, I was feeling super happy to be addressed as Saahab. Small things in real life for a 20 year old guy, just a few months into his first ever job. That one Saahab word removed all my sleepiness and tiredness in no time. 

My cycle rickshaw reached the bus stop. I paid the cycle rickshaw man whatever money he asked and I waited for a bus back to Muktsar at that bus stop all alone for a long time. A lot many police vehicles were going from Muktsar to Ludhiana and some ambulances too went past at high speeds, as I waited for a bus from Ludhiana to Muktsar. No bus came for a long time from the Ludhiana contrary to what the cycle rickshaw man said. It was more than half an hour before a bus came along but did not stop at the bus stop I was waiting.

It was a limited stop bus. The next one was an overcrowded local bus with no window glasses or grills and people were hanging all over the bus and even on top of the bus. Beggers can't be choosers  I boarded the bus back to Muktsar. The bus conductor seeing my pants, full sleeve shirt and neck tie told the locals to make some space and one old man even offered me his seat which did not take considering his age that he needed that seat, more than anyone else on that bus.

I reached Muktsar standing in the bus and pushed around by the locals whenever the bus driver used the brake, the accelerator and also whenever someone boarded the bus or wanted to get off the bus. Once or twice my leather bag went off my hand which the locals were kind enough to pickup and hand over back to me during this rough 20 minutes bus ride.

I started my work from 11:00 am or so at Muktsar. I had just about visited a few doctors in a big hospital there in about half an hour and I was told that curfew has been imposed at Muktsar. I saw people trying to run back home. I went out and wanted to catch a bus or a train back home.

There were police men and police vehicles everywhere. I had to walk about three kilometres to reach the bus stand as there was not even a cycle rickshaw on the roads after they imposed curfew and the roads were empty. I walked all alone on the roads till I reached the bus stop, mostly asking the way to the bus stand from Police men along the roads.

The Police men too seemed to give me respect, probably due to the pants, full sleeve shirt and a neck tie I was wearing, which probably gave me a professional look. Since there were no buses being allowed to ply on the roads, I went walking another kilometre to the railway station.

I had to wait a few hours till the evening, when the curfew was finally lifted for a few hours. Even trains seems to have been affected by the curfew. I took the next overcrowded train back home to Bhatinda. The next day news head lines read, "All 15 men who were travelling in the Muktsar Chandigarh limited stop bus, gunned down near a railway crossing fifteen kilometres from Muktsar. Women and children were spared".

I thought, this can't be happening. I have missed death by just five minutes once again thanks to that death bus conductor who was also one of those who were beheaded in that incident. Was it his kindness or arrogance which made him get off the bus that saved my life?

The railway crossing mentioned in the news was just 5 km from where the conductor stopped and threw me out of his bus unceremoniously. Once again it was God’s grace that he came in the form of a bus conductor to spare me from that death bus where everyone including the conductor and driver of the bus were massacred just five minutes after I got down from that death bus. This death bus was a fully crowded bus, with lot of passengers standing due to limited seats available in any Indian bus.

The conductor had started ticketing a little late after leaving Muktsar, because being a limited stop bus, no one was going to get in or get out of the bus, which would now stop only after reaching its destination which was a city called Ludhiana an hour or more later.

I still wonder, had the conductor started ticketing from the further end of the bus, will the count of those men who were beheaded been 16 people massacred in the news headlines instead of 15 passenger in that Muktsar to Chandigarh limited stop death bus. I would also have been beheaded and would not have been writing this story here today but for that kind arrogant bus conductor.

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