by Thilak S. Fernando

Recently I had a unique opportunity of experiencing the private bus travel in Sri Lanka inside a normal (not the air conditioned type) private coach while I was in Sri Lanka.

This is a true to life fascinating life experience inside a private bus on Colombo-Horana route which took place during peak traffic. I observed the demonstration of fairness on the ' first-come first served' given the thumbs down and, as a result, the bus was getting over-crowded while the conductor took his own cool time untill he got more than a full load of passengers, with his constant irritating screeching, “ ah enna, enna, enna, passata yanna, thawa passata yanna etc.(come,come come and go back, go back please).Under these circumstances, at every bus stop passengers were getting naturally sandwiched in the uncomfortable heat inside the bus.

Suddenly my eye caught an attractive female’s 'standing' out figure while she was trying to get her balance inside the bus as the driver, in my assessment, was under the impression that he was on a grand-prix track! The female passenger apparently showed signs of discomfort as she tried to come out of a 'squeezie' situation during jerks due sudden braking and pulling of the bus. She was sweating, getting flushed in her face and was about to collapse, I thought. In that sardin-packed crowd I tried to find a place to stand in order that I could offer her my seat. I was about to get up and offer my seat to her and what did I observe ? A well dressed male passenger, who seemed to be a respectable gentleman, in an immaculate, creaseless white National dress, was literally propping her from behind with his whole body. Seconds passed, and the woman, like a bolt from the blue, turned back suddenly towards the this male, looked sharp into the man's eyes, took a deep breath, opened her mouth wide and yelled:

"Me Thamuse Monawade Oyi Karanne.”..? (Hey what the hell are you up to….?)

There was dead silence inside the crowded bus and everyone’s eyes were focussed on this passenger. However, the man seemed quite calm and collected, as if nothing had happened with his knowledge, thus quipped, " Ah Mama dan Piliyandala Iskole Ugannanawane!" (Oh yes! I am now teaching at Piliyandala Central School, no…r !). I did not know where to hide my laughter, but I must say that the man's quick presence of mind and reaction to the tricky situation worked like a miracle to save his skin at that split second. Embarrassed female passenger looked the other side and I immediately offered her the seat which she occupied with a shy smile and a big thank you.

That was in Sri Lanka, but in London riding into work or home during morning or evening rush hour traffic on the London Underground tube train reminds that the British are supposed to display their traditional sangfroid. This is the great National characteristic that the British were always being made the envy of other races, who were burdened with more excitable temperaments. And indeed, as passengers piled grumpily into carriages and those within are squeezed tighter and tighter together, it's true that scarcely a word of complaint or protest is heard. But slowly the suspicion begin to dawn that this has less to do with dignity than with an utter horror everyone seemed to have of drawing any attention to themselves in public.

Knees in the groin, elbows in the face and breast area in the case of ladies and fists in the ribs are as nothing compared to the shame of becoming the centre of attraction. Those unfortunate few who squealed in agony, as yet another beefy commuter lands on their feet, are subjected to glances of withering scorn from those around them as if they are doing something both selfish and unseemly. Under the circumstances this is not so much laudable as thoroughly unnatural. The British must be the only nation on earth who will happily endure almost any torment rather than the risk of embarrassment in public.

I have heard many stories about the code of behaviour and public discipline in Saudi Arabia. The punishment for robbery, misbehaving and adultery or even consuming liquor can lead in that society from heavy fines to severe punishment such as losing either a limb or finger in the case of stealing. If found guilty of adultery then it would be clear-cut decapitating in public. Barbaric it might sound in the twenty first century, but it appears to be a fact.

Having witnessed the most embarrassing above mentioned incident inside public transport in Sri Lanka, it seems to me that the only remedy for anyone misbehaving in public transport should be to draw a parallel with stringent and extremely painful punishments imposed by Saudi Arabians in their society, particularly the offenders having to pay for stealing – the chop !

How barbaric and painful it might sound, this appears to be the ultimate solution or the only answer to painless travel for ladies in public transport in Sri Lanka which is packed to capacity, especially during morning and evening peak when commuters travel to and fro from their homes to working places– Unless of course a distinction can be made by introducing separate buses for male and female, like what they have now for school children !