Blue bus, red bus, red that is almost orange bus and the brown bus. The two seater bus, the three seater bus and the bus you can never find a seat in. The AC bus, the bus with the tiny fans, the bus with windows that refuse to open to relieve you of the reeking stench of perspiring bodies and four day old socks and the bus with a broken window in the middle of a dust-storm. BMTC buses bring that same feeling that comes with the shrill ring of the alarm in the dead of the morning that reminds you of how you can't bury yourself under the covers for that delicious extra second because you have a bus to catch, that has highly unpredictable timings. You can count on the bus arriving late, really late or arriving late and having the driver take a chai break in between. You can count on it to arrive early making you run half a mile behind the bus to get onto it, arrive really early making you get there early the next day only for it to arrive especially late that day or arrive just in time to catch Bangalore at its peak traffic hour. Bottom line is, you can't count on a BMTC bus to take you anywhere on time. But on the other hand, if you have all the time in the world like this writer does, have no destination but the bus itself and can always count on a seat, Bangalore by BMTC is the only way to do Bangalore.

Kaggadasapura is the first stop and the empty bus is like a baker's tray full of goodies that rapidly disappears everytime the door opens and closes; I have my pick of seats and it's always the second row by the window. Sit by the aisle and crowd will crush you. Sit in the first row and you'll find yourself being thrown out of your seat everytime the bus screeches to a halt and the driver grins at you- like he was waiting for his daily dose of entertainment of people being tossed around like popcorn. Sit a row behind and you know you're on the periphery of the 'ladies' section and dangerously close to the pressing crowd of men who from far are harmlessly watching you like you're on TV, but get any closer and you're only a finger's reach away from trouble. Now once that perfect seat is yours, the bus is the most comfortable and cheapest ride around town.

Now the first stop, 10 years ago the bus would travel almost empty for a few kilometers before it reached the rest of humanity. Kaggadasapura then was not considered a part of Bangalore city, a distant land that even the omnipresent autos left deserted; the very name, a mouthful to pronounce would not gain more than a second's attention when asked for directions much less get an auto to take you there. In 1998, when I first moved from Ulsoor-now Halasuru- the hub of the city to this no-man's land there were all of two grocery stores, two houses, no electricity and no roads leading from Kaggadasapura main road to the place where my lone apartment of residence stood towering tall. That was another Bangalore altogether. Summer vacations spent racing our cycles through Eucalyptus trees, tiny streams and blades of grass as tall as us. When electricity came, it came with regular power cuts and the entire apartment stepped out in the evening like a little community creating a recreational centre of their own. The aunties playing badminton, the uncles in deep political discussions as we kids cycled in circles to keep the mosquitoes away. The memory seems almost fantastic when I look around at the place now. The Eucalyptus trees are long gone, the only ones left coated in dust. The two shops multiplied a hundred-fold over the years and that lone apartment dwarfed now by the steady stream of big builders who seemed to have taken over every inch of open space.

As the bus starts getting crowded, we move past the dust and traffic entering another world altogether. One where trees are still green and still grace both sides of the road, and the temperature seems to drop by ten degrees in the well maintained quiet enclave of the DRDO residential quarters. It's a stark contrast, the even tarred spacious roads that is the rich neighbor of the little localities around it that remained on dust roads for years together. The little pockets that receive government attention with or without elections as a prerogative, while the rest struggles taking twice the amount of time to catch up. It's either the government or the big corporates and as the defense roads end, the gates open to the surge of population responsible for that sudden jolt of infrastructural development in Kaggadasapura and you see Bagmane Tech Park looming large ahead. The first crack in the corporate/government tarred roads to development appears as soon as the tyre sinks into a BBMP pothole.

Even as I listen to Tracey Chapman wishing for a fast car to drive into the city to finally feel like she could be someone, the city around me seems to grow beyond me, expanding just as it's contracting. Like the swift strokes of an artist, it grows rapidly; changing so fast that it's difficult to take a moment and sit back to feel like you belong because it has raced so far ahead that you and the city become two separate entities with widening disparities. As a child I'd come to CMH road every weekend, and those trips felt like an hourly lease to live the city-life before I return to the relative drudgery of the unglamorous part of Bangalore that was home. The posh locality with a row of branded clothing stores and expensive restaurants was a treat to look at even while driving past and I dreamed the dream of a little girl counting her pennies promising herself that when she grows up she would be able to buy all the candy in the world. That which was then a dream of prosperity and success now bears evidence of a city of decadence. Indiranagar now bears the weight of the ugly blotch smack in its heart that the construction of the metro rail left behind, balancing shops in ruins and the makeshift fake goods stores on one hand and a chain of international retail stores and exorbitantly priced eateries on the other.

The bus empties out as the conductor screams 'KFC' and Colonel Sanders beams happily at us with his bucket of crispy skinned, overpriced juicy legs of goodness having settled comfortably in our welcome markets and 'liberal' mindsets. The conductor is the supreme authority of this claustrophobic mobile realm and exercises a great deal of control even over the driver, who is himself a silent passenger. There are the perpetually scowling conductors who glare at you for not being loud enough as you mention the stop or not giving him the right change and then having the audacity to remind him to pay you the change.

On the inside the bus is a different world, a classless anarchy of sorts that is constantly shifting paradigms of position, identity and balance of law. One day you could be standing, the next scramble to find a seat. One day you might tread on toes selfishly trying to find space and the next you offer your seat to a pregnant woman or the elderly. It's humanity at its best sometimes and also at its worst, but the good and bad that you do inside is forgotten the moment you step out. An odd metaphor for life itself in a way.

Halasuru, with its old temples, the dirty smelly Ulsoor Market, its tiny gullies and rundown buildings are reminiscent of another Bangalore. Another miserable example of this need to accelerate growth with consumerism and infrastructural development. Today, there seems to be a habba-festival- there are young men in coloured costumes dancing to the beat of drums and a crowd has gathered around them. Reminds me of the rath yatras at night during dussehra, when I lived in Ulsoor as a child. The lot of us would gather outside, me on my father's shoulders as the chariot with the idol on it passed by and what a sight it was. It wasn't just the brightly coloured chariot and the dancing throng that grew in number as it grew closer, but to watch everyone standing outside their houses or on terraces and balconies. I didn't need to understand what all the celebration was about, but that I was part of something bigger than me and it was a special feeling to just be a part of that something.

The bus was making its final lurch forward; the last stop. The Shivaji nagar bus depot is perpetually filled with squealing buses driving in and out. The looming darkness and sense of finality as we approach the place reminds me of everything I hate about buses. I get off in a forceful rush, letting the crowd push me forward and then walk out of the place as fast as I can, towards a Bangalore I am most familiar with. Commercial Street with its small gullies, suffocating tiny shops lined in never ending rows, selling clothes from the big branded store right next door for dirt cheap prices save a tiny tear in cloth is the weekend Mecca for shoppers who can haggle their way to a wardrobe without burning a hole in their pockets. Like the rest of Bangalore the symmetry of the rich and the not-so-rich surfaces even in central Bangalore, with the splash of luxury of Brigade Road a mere five minutes away from the pressing crowds of Commercial Street. This is where Bangalore becomes Bangalore in all its consumerist glory. One could spend a whole day walking down these streets, whether in search of a specific something or devouring your eyes on just about everything. The small eateries, the street food vendors, the junk jewellery sellers all stretch out along roadsides knowing that in this big city everyone is a customer and their wares are only waiting to be sold.

The next destination was another landmark that deserves a visit. There's always something to do in Bangalore and if loud music and dark bars are simply not your cup of coffee, then Ranga Shankara always has a play on the menu. Back in the big blue bus, the short ride to another part of Bangalore, an especially crowded bus full of different yet similar faces now exhausted and evidently heaving a sigh of relief at the end of a day desperate to be greeted by the comforts of home. Standing now, holding on to the rod above that I could barely reach praying each time the bus stopped that someone would abandon their seat I concentrated on the promise Ranga Shankara holds for good theatre. And I wasn't disappointed. The shrill bell signaling the beginning of a play, as the lights go off and life sets stage for a good one hour is always the dessert to my day out in Bangalore. Tonight, it's a set of short plays about Naseeruddin Hoojah and the humor and the humorless, the wit and witless combined in an appealing performance that the several little 'uns in the hall seemed to enjoy. Again, in my fixed spot, fourth row from the first right in the middle I watched the play, while listening to the little boy next to me talking to a lady about his own theatre performances like an aged actor. The child looked all of eight years old, dipped neck deep in art, culture and literature in a way that most of my little theatre group back in college would barely comprehend. Once you step out of the hall that has played many greats, the last rays of light are long gone and the last chapter unfolds in a windingly long novel of travel. Walking with some haste to catch the last bus back home, and find a seat for the last stretch to enjoy the city in streetlights.

Bangalore has a life of its own at night. It isn't the bright lights, deafening music of all-night parties or the congested traffic true of all metropolitan cities in India. In fact, when compared to Mumbai or Delhi even, Bangalore has no nightlife. But Bangalore has a life of its own at night. It's the dull roar of the BMTC as it makes its last trip, the harsh creak of the shutters of the shops coming down and vehicles whizzing by as the monstrous blue bus retires for the night. Even with that lingering fear at the pit of the stomach as a lone girl travelling in a rapidly emptying bus, I could sink down in my seat and drown the fear with music blasting in my ears as I look out of the window at the ghost of a city. The city I call home, the Bengaluru that I shall always remember as Bangalore.