Madam Rides the Bus recounts how little Valli fulfils her dream of going on a bus ride. It also provides a detailed account of the bus journey. In the story, Krishnaswamy touches on serious topics like death from the innocent perspective of a child.
Broadly, Madam Rides the Bus can be divided into:
- Valli’s Favourite Pastime
- Valli’s Desire and Planning
- Valli Catches the Bus
- Valli Meets her Co-Passengers
- Valli’s Thoughts during the Bus Journey
- Valli Visits the Town
- Valli’s Return Journey
Valli’s Favourite Pastime
- Valliammai – Valli for short, was a curious, eight-year-old girl.
- Her favourite pastime was standing in the doorway of her house and watching the street outside.
- Valli had no playmates of her age on the street.
- But she enjoyed watching the street as much as other children enjoyed playing games.
- She saw so many new and unusual things happening on the street every day.
Valli’s Desire and Planning
- The thing that fascinated Valli the most was the bus.
- Every day, the bus would pass by her street twice – once while going to town and once while coming back. The sight of the bus was a source of ‘unending joy’ for Valli.
- Valli was filled with the desire to ride the bus. This desire became stronger as the days passed.
- Valli started formulating a plan. She discreetly listened to conversations and asked a few careful questions.
- She learned that the town was six miles from the village, the bus fare was thirty paise one way, and that the trip to town lasted forty-five minutes.
- She also gathered information about the bus timings.
Valli Catches the Bus
- As the bus rolled into the village one spring afternoon, a small voice shouted for it to stop. It was Valli!
- She held out a few coins and told the conductor that she had to go to town. The conductor jokingly referred to her as ‘madam’ and asked everyone to make way for her.
- The bus was new, painted white with green stripes. It had gleaming silver bars and soft, luxurious seats.
- Valli wanted to see the view outside, but a blind blocked her view. So, she stood up to take in the green grasslands, the palm trees, the mountains and the blue sky.
Valli Meets her Co-Passengers
- Just then, an elderly man addressed her as ‘child’ and told her to sit down on her seat. She informed him that there were no children in the bus.
- Later, an elderly woman sat down next to her. Valli didn’t like her earrings nor her breath which smelled of betel juice.
- When the woman told her that it wasn’t proper for a child to travel alone, Valli retorted that she could take care of herself.
Valli’s Thoughts during the Bus Journey
- Valli thought about the difficulty with which she collected money for the bus ride. She had to go without peppermints, toys, balloons and deny herself a ride on the merry-go-round.
- She also had to wait for her mother to fall asleep so she could slip out of her house unnoticed.
- Suddenly, a cow rushed on to the path. Valli laughed at the way the cow ran in front of the bus heedless of the driver’s honking.
- Finally, the cow ran off. By now, the bus had reached the town.
Valli Visits the Town
- Valli watched the busy shopping street in the town with brightly, coloured shops in amazement.
- She then turned to the conductor and asked him to take her back.
- The conductor was surprised at Valli’s desire to go back without seeing any sights. He even offered to buy her a cold drink.
- But, Valli refused. So, the bus turned around to go back.
Valli’s Return Journey
- Valli felt as excited by the return journey as she had for the first one.
- However, as they lumbered forward, Valli saw a dead cow on the street. It was the same cow that she had seen earlier.
- Valli felt sad. She no longer felt like enjoying the view outside.
- When the bus stopped, she got down and went straight to her house.
- At the house, her mother and aunt were busy talking. Valli was told off by her aunt when she tried to join in on the conversation.
- Valli, unoffended, smiled at them – thinking fondly of her bus ride.
The two major themes of this story are:
- The Desire to Explore the World
- Death and the Impermanence of Life
The Desire to Explore the World
- Krishnaswamy develops this theme through Valli’s character.
- Valli’s favourite pastime of watching the street outside reflects her desire to explore the world within the village.
- Similarly, her urge to go on a bus ride to town symbolises her desire to explore the world outside the village.
- At one point during the bus ride, Valli stands up on her seat to peer outside the window because a blind is blocking her view.
- This action further highlights Valli’s longing to explore the world beyond the confines of her village.
Death and the Impermanence of Life
- Valli gets her first glimpse of death during the bus ride.
- During the journey to town, Valli sees a young cow who becomes a source of great joy and entertainment for her.
- She sees this same cow lying dead on the road during the return journey. This fills her with enormous sadness.
- In this way, the thing that had caused Valli so much joy becomes the cause of her sadness a few hours later.
- Krishnaswamy uses this experience to explore the interconnected themes of death and the impermanence of life. He also highlights how quickly things can change.
The poem provides brief insights into these characters:
- The conductor
Curious: Valli would watch the bus passengers coming into or leaving her village with intense longing. Like them, she wished to experience a bus ride, and explore the world outside the village.
Careful Planner: Valli spends months carefully planning her first bus ride. She discreetly gathers information about the bus fare, journey duration, and the bus timings. Then, she had to scrape together some money to be able to buy two tickets.
Brave and Independent: Valli plans and undertakes the entire bus journey by herself, without any adult supervision. These actions emphasise her brave and independent nature.
Dislikes being treated as a child: Multiple characters call Valli a ‘child’ in the story and comment on how unsafe it is for a child like her to ride the bus alone. Valli always responds by saying that she isn’t a child, indicating that she dislikes being treated as one.
Sensitive: Valli’s sensitive nature is revealed when she sees a young cow lying dead on the road. She is overcome with tremendous sadness, and cannot bring herself to enjoy the bus journey home.
Jovial: The conductor is amused by Valli riding the bus all by herself, and jokingly refers to her as ‘madam’ throughout the story. He also makes many jokes over the course of the bus ride.
Kind: When the bus reaches town, the conductor encourages Valli to explore the sights and even offers to buy her a drink. These actions suggest that he is a kind man.