“Resplendent in her new red avatar, Sri Banashankari bus speaks volumes for a caring state owned transport company,” writes Arun Bhatia.
The Forest Goddess is looking young again. This spruced up 68 year old, named after the goddess Sri Banashankari, is a 1947 Bedford bus, and has been put on display at the Shantinagar bus stop in Bengaluru.
She was inaugurated in Bijapur in 1947, the same year India got independence. Her number plate, MYF 4101, shows that she was of Mysore. In 1956, the state was renamed Karnataka, but the original lettering MY is retained.
Automobiles were not manufactured in India in those days. Cars, trucks, buses came from America and England, and some from France, Italy and Germany. There were Didion Bouton, Rolls Royce, Chrysler, Sunbeam Talbot, Mercedes Benz, Ford, Buick and such. A British brand which went under the name Arm Strong Siddley caused us youngsters in Bombay some amusement as we put its initials together and would call it ASS. The Maharaja of Mysore’s sprawling garage with Bentley, Lancia, Daimler, Standard Avon, Citroen, Packard et al was legend. I had visited it as teenager and smiled that the collection had also an ASS.
Stock cars like 1935 model 7 hp Baby Austin Ruby (I owned one) and 1934 convertible 7-seater Fiat needed a helper to go out front to start the engine by cranking vigorously. The engine would noisily come to life and the helper jumped out of the way lest the vehicle lurched forward and knock him over. The steering wheel of the large Fiat required the driver to be muscular and have fair sized biceps. Horns were electric, made rude noises giving out a shrill mechanical ah-hooo-gah that could burst your eardrums. Some horns neighed like horses. But the red bus had the more popular inexpensive rubber bulb horn with a bugle.
Made by Bedford Coach Body Ltd. Canada, her tractor was Bedford, fitted with a modified Perkins 6 engine and her rubber bulb horn could make hee haws like a donkey’s. By punching or pressing the rubber in different ways, thus using the horn as a musical instrument,the bus driver would belt out all manner of catatonic tunes. There would be paa-paa-poh to indicate it was stopping at a Bijapur bus stop, pee-yowww- to get a stubborn cow off the road, and a gentle puck puck puck sound to greet his family when the bus was passing the driver’s home.
From 1947 when she was pressed into service in the relentless heat and dust of North Karnataka, she ferried passengers on dirt tracks. She braved that punishing terrain for 10 years and was then retired. Off the roads for another decade, she was made to function as a post office.
She went through a makeover of the body in 1968 and was made to transport staff members in the carnival atmosphere during the much revered goddess Banashankari’s fair festivities that year. That was the time when the vintage bus was named after the goddess.
Put to pasture for about four decades, she was in one state workshop and then in another. She is once again bright and gleaming, and is on display now. Resplendent in her new red avatar, she speaks volumes for a caring state owned transport company.
Namaskara Red Bus.
Arun Bhatia is a resident of Bengaluru and an avid reader, writer, and photographer. He has also modeled in TV commercials.