The rumbling engine of the bus simmers down to a hiss as BEST bus driver Mahadev Zanzane steps out and slams the door. He rotates his head and arms to flex the aching muscles. It’s been four hours since he took a break.
“I get a one-hour break in each eight-hour shift,” he says, sipping hot tea from a tiny glass.
Zanzane, 44, drives on Route 122, from Ballard Pier to J Mehta Marg in south Mumbai. The return trip takes two hours and 20 minutes, and he must complete three such trips a day, leaving him with literally not a minute to spare.
The son of a Mumbai mill worker, Zanzane grew up in the family’s hometown of Lonand in Satara. Tiring of school after Class 9, the 15-year-old dropped out and got his first job, as a truck cleaner. He started driving at 18, earning about Rs 4,500 per month.
“Twenty-five years ago, it was good money,” he says.
At age 26, deciding that he wanted a stable government job, he decided to head to Mumbai and apply for the post of BEST bus driver. That was a big year for Zanzane, with a new job that paid Rs 8,000 and a new wife, Sangita, through an arranged marriage.
Zanzane has been at the wheel ever since, the only variations being the change in routes every four months. Eighteen years on, he earns Rs 25,000.
Zanzane starts his day at 7 am, with a leisurely bath followed by a 15-minute prayer session, then a breakfast of poha or idli-chutney. After a few quick errands or some grocery shopping, he heads back home for an early lunch of roti, sabzi, dal and rice at 11 am, followed by a one-hour nap.
At 12.30 pm, the father of two wakes up, dresses and leaves his one-bedroom home in Nerul so that he can report to the Ballard Pier bus depot by 2 pm.
At 2.20 sharp, he revs his engine and sets off on his first round of the day, manoeuvring the big red bus out of the depot and off into the city, through twists, turns and stagnant traffic, dodging people, animals and other vehicles and trying to block out the frenzy of tooting horns, raucous shouting, arguments on board and on the roads and the sundry other sounds that make up the city.
“The most important thing in my profession is to remain calm and focus on the road. That’s what has kept me going for so many years and will keep me going in the future too, I believe,” he says.
If there is one thing that agitates him, it is reckless two-wheeler riders that cut lanes, overtake from the left, appear out of nowhere and try to squeeze into tiny gaps between larger vehicles.
“The evening traffic is also harrowing,” he says. “And monsoons are the toughest, because the road becomes slippery and controlling the bus becomes more difficult, especially with the added pressure of getting to each stop on time.”
At 7 pm, Zanzane takes his one-hour dinner break at the Ballard Pier depot. Then it’s back to work. At 10 pm, he finally hands over the keys and begins the 90-minute train journey home.
After a refreshing bath, he watches the news on TV and spends some time with his family before turning in at 12.30 am.
He spends his day off, Sundays, with his family. But his real treat is his annual 15-day vacation, which he spends in his village. “I love to swim. For all the days that we are there, I never bathe in a normal bathroom,” he says, grinning. “I just swim all day.”
(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)