Heroism is a game of moments

In my column on Friday, I mentioned my friend Javed Iqbal Piracha’s bus travel from Rawalpindi to Lahore, which took him 12 hours to reach the provincial capital because of the ‘transport mafia’ of those early days of the 1970s. After listening to his detail, I commented that while complaining about the bus conductor, he showed some impatience and didn’t care to win support of other passengers. It seems that overloading is standard of our public transport, and passengers generally tolerate and accommodate it. Piracha’s effort to get the bus fined for overloading was successful, but he couldn’t get it seconded by the passengers and faced the music. I told him about two odd situations I met while traveling by public transport where I successfully got passengers’ support and became a hero for some moments.

While living in Lahore’s Anarkali, I used to travel from my residence to the Quaid-e-Azam Campus of the Punjab University through double-decker buses. The buses of 27 and 28 numbers remained on these routes until the 1980s. Before they ceased to ply between Rang Mehal and the university’s new campus, wagon service also started on these routes. One day, I was going to Anarkali from the university. The wagon I boarded was relatively new, but unfortunately, the young driver was a ‘rascal’ who was trying to become ‘James Bond’ by colliding his wagon with other wagons. There were also ladies, some children, and older adults in our wagon. I asked the driver not to make it a ‘circus show’ and drive carefully. But he didn’t care. At Wahdat Road, he collided his wagon with another wagon.

After stopping it, the driver and conductor of our wagon pulled all the passengers of the other wagon down and, after emptying it, let the driver and conductor of that wagon drive it away. The empty wagon disappeared somewhere ahead of us. But this wagon with its driver and conductor and some of their friends met us near Janazgah at Lytton Road. There were iron bars and strong sticks in their hands; they pulled the driver and conductor of our wagon outside and started beating them. One of the men from the ‘gang’ with an iron bar came to our wagon, opened its door with full force and ordered us all to come out. Now, it was then that all the passengers were in full rage.

I shouted at him: “Who are you, rascal?” You people have disturbed the whole traffic of the city and are dealing with the passengers as if they are animals. That fellow got frightened by my tone and facial expressions. In the meantime, two more passengers from the wagon grumbled at them and asked me: “Sir! call the police to arrest them.” That ‘rascal’ immediately left the place and disappeared; the other ‘gangsters’ immediately freed our driver and the conductor. The driver and conductor with blood on their heads came to me, apologized for their mistakes, and complained about these ‘gangsters’. I shouted at them and told them that they have themselves created all this scene and are equally responsible for all of it. The wagon started its travel again, and all the passengers were paying their tributes to me and narrating many other complaints against this type of public transport.

When I asked the driver to drop me near Jain Mandir, after stopping the wagon, he immediately came down along with the conductor, shook hand with me warmly, and apologized again for his follies. All the passengers also came down and stood by my side and praised my interference for the benefit of the passengers. They also shook hands with me and stood there in a position of their hands up until I was out of sight. I felt like a great hero of that time. I told my friend about the second such event, which was a journey from Lahore to Jarranwala. The bus driver and conductor overloaded the bus and there was no more room for further passengers. Some people were coming towards the main road, but they were at a distance of two acres.

After seeing more people, the driver asked the conductor to call those people and make some room for them. This was too much. I shouted: “Would you go to their houses for further overloading?” He said: “Who are you?” I said I am your father, a passenger; how did you dare to be rude like that?” This was when all the passengers were also feeling themselves in great trouble and felt themselves captives of these ‘rascals’. They started raising their voices in my favor and showed great unity. The driver was scared. He kept silent and didn’t stop the bus for further overloading. After two or three stops, almost half the bus seats were empty, but the driver was not stopping the bus for more passengers. He was careful now.

After reaching Jarranwala, I asked the conductor to stop the bus at my point and unload my suitcase from the top of the bus. The conductor brought my briefcase down and carried it to my destination, which was a quarter kilometer away from that place. He was ashamed of his and the drivers’ attitude. When he entered a big bungalow by guess, I came to know that he misunderstood and considered me some ‘Roy Sahib’ of Jarranwala. Nevertheless, these minor events tell us a lot about ordinary peoples’ psychology and highlight importance of patience. Politicians benefit from this knowledge of public psychology, but ordinary people – sometimes – fail to show patience. On one occasion, I was invited to dinner by Nawabzada Nasarullah Khan. At the dinner, he complained against many wrongdoings of the government.

My friend asked Nawab Sahib, why don’t you launch a protest against this? The seasoned politician replied that the people only come out when they get into trouble and face problems like price hikes etc. We need to show patience and wait till people face issues themselves. We will come out at that time to lead our people.

With 50 years of teaching experience, Professor Dr. Shafiq Jullandhry, a noted writer and author of award-winning books, is former chairman of Punjab University's Mass Communication Department (now School of Communication Studies); also heads Elaaf Club and Pakistan Media Guild as president. He can be reached at drjullandhry@yahoo.com.