Saturday, 12 February 2011

What's in a number ?

This blog has some pretense to be a serious one where matters of considerable intellectual weight are analysed and debated. Issues of significant import and with profound ramifications feature here. Adjectives such as inane, irrelevant, flippant, pea brained, etc etc ought not to be applicable. It is in this rich tradition that today's post examines one of the thorniest of problems to face humankind - why are bus routes numbered as they are in India !

For those uninitiated in the ways of public transport, especially in the south of India, here is a primer. Buses of all shapes and sizes abound. They carry numbers such as 342BE and J421K. Why are they so numbered is what I am trying to explore.

Take the road opposite my house, The route that most frequents this road is numbered 335E. There is an occasional 335 P or a 335 L or a 335 K . But, as far as I know, routes 1 to 334 do not exist anywhere in Bangalore. So why 335 ?Is it one of nature's unique constants like the pi ?? The next number after 335 appears to be 500. There is a 500C (no 500A or 500 B) . This is one puzzle I will leave for the Mensa enthusiasts to figure.

The city of Madras offers enormous potential for research in this subject. That bus route numbers can be transformed into a political statement was a fabulous discovery the citizens of this metropolis can claim credit for. You see, this city always had bus routes such as 21A, 21B, 21 C and so on. Mathematical geniuses in Chennai restricted themselves to two digits while their brethren in Bangalore preferred three. But then a certain gargantuan lady called Jayalalithaaaaa Jayaram (no relation of RamMmm) came to power. She looked around and saw that her favourite alphabet J did not feature in the lexicon of buses. She dropped a hint. The masses took it up immediately. There was a flurry of bus routes being numbered as 18J or 21J and the like. Some enthusiasts went one better 18JJ and 21JJ. Some more enterprising lot picked up J21J. It went on upto JJ21JJ - physical laws of space limitations then took over until the most enterprising of the lot came up with JJ21JJ with a cross right across it. There the matter stood until the massive lady lost power. Her rival who replaced her immediately decreed that the alphabet J's time in the sun was over. Bus No JJ21JJ cross vanished. Thankfully, his favourite alphabet K did not make an appearance. Perhaps because of the insinuation that K comes after J !

Why don't they simply number the bus routes 1,2,3 and so on. Oh no ! How can things be made so simple ? I am sure a whole department of bus numbering complete with 5321 labouring staff exists in the labyrinth of Indian bureaucracy. Staffed full of Ramamrithams, whom you might have met here. Slaving away with impenetrable logic which mere mortals cannot understand.

This writer discloses that he has some vested interest in the matter. He is regrettably a rather frequent commuter of a bus numbered BIAS6 !


rads said...

I remember taking 500A (BTM to Marthahalli), 201(BTM to MG Rd), 201G/J(BTM to Domlur), 164(BTM to Shivajinagar), 25(BTM to Jayangar and Majestic)...all of them sounded simple to me or maybe becoz I got used to them...bus numbers are not simple here in Chicago either (here i take 147, 155, 151, 80, 36)...but i can understand ur frustration, more than the bus numbers the crowd is very irritating in B'lore...but BIAS6??? dat really sounds strange...never heard n never thot a bus with tht number even existed...

Sandhya Sriram said...

Ramesh, you are your own competitor. how do you manage to keep raising the bar every time, i always wonder.this one is absolutely incredible.

having been a frequent commuter of 1 and 29C most of the time, there is also another story to this. Certain numbers are known for being more rasher than other. For instance, my mom always used to say, never cross the road when 1 series is coming. i wonder whether these numbers come with a chip where the speed of driving works inversely with the number on the board.

the other one which i wonder is the Driver cum Conductor CEP which happens in Bangalore. I cant imagine how can someone concentrate on the road, when he also is responsible to keep track that every one travels with a ticket or maybe, they dont believe that it is important to concentrate only on the road while driving.

and then, the Kannada numbering wave which is happening here. when bangalore knows half its population is migrant, i cannot appreciate what are we trying to prove here.

But according to me the most sensible number is BIAS6 - atleast i can make out the destination from the number itself - isnt it. Maybe its sensible because it gets the honour of being frequented by a genius - what say folks!!

gils said...

i am happy as long as they dnt start numbering them in local langugages. wen i was in mumbai/blore i used to preserve the bus ticket everyday so that i can makeout the number of the bus with the 1.2.3..written on the sidebar of the ticket. needless to say by the time i deciphered the text..i missed quite a few buses :( imagin the same thing being written in tamil..naan varala saami intha aataiku

Sandhya Sriram said...

Hey Rads,

BIAS is Bangalore International Airport Services :-)

Ramesh said...

@Rads - Aha the quintessential BTM Layout girl. Are there really buses in Chicago ???

@Sandhya - Well, if such dumb mumblings can elicit such high praise, I am indeed a fortunate man.

@Gils - I thought Gils never traveled by bus - only chauffeured around in limos ???

gils said...

uhum...i might look like a car tyre by shape..but tht doesnt guarentee me a place inside a car..leave alone under it :(

gils said...

@sandhya madam:

inthe bengalooru kaaranga epovumay biaseda thaanga irupaanga..paarunga bus perla kooda BIAS :( ennnnnaaa kodumaaa saar ithu

zeno said...

When i was reading the post, I thought the BIAS6 was a fictonal one! Interesting!
I know they created a J.J Nagar but never knew bus numbers too suffered the same fate.
Did they really have a number called JJ21JJ? If it is crossed, it means it is a cut service meaning it will only travel halfway rather than the usual route.
We also had a movie based on the bus route 12B :)

zeno said... In the drop down box u could actually see all the available route numbers, if any one wants to decipher how they are numbered :)

Vishal said...

LOL ... :) I am sure there is more about buses that you can tell us in your trademark style... :) absolutely hilarious to read such beautiful pieces from you.

The picture describes a whole lot of story. I was fortunate enough not to fall in trap of these numbers. As long as I could remember the numbers, it was good. But then I,J,K variants are totally meaningless and confusing. I am glad I happened to ride on those buses not more than a few handful of occasions.

Striver said...

Wow...reading this post takes me fondly down the memory lane, a quarter century back! To a small town called Trichy where the Bus nos. Would be just like what u wish it could be. Single digit and in a sort of sequence too. 1 would go straight to Srirangam, the other side of Cauvery.9 would take me to school everyday and so on.3 didits for outside city only. 101 to college at Thuvakudy.
But in Bangalore, never got the courage to travel by the buses and have been mostly on my own.
Weekly trips to AP has got me into BIAS5 now! BIAS has a decent numbering I guess.
Whatever, never bothered about why they are numbered like that!ha.ha..again only a brain like yours can do it!
The 'J' and 'K'bit was great!

Deepa said...

Just like Zeno, even I thought BIAS6 was a fictional one and I was going to ask u whats the 6 for? :D we really need some sleep I guess! 335E was my bus too, and all the 335s had the same destinations but had some subtle variations in the route, which I learnt the hard way once. The maharashtrian bus commuters can write their biographies with bus numbers, but after a few days in namma bengaluru, I realized the only number I'd like to commute by was CE9965, my dear little scooty.

Striver said...

Wow...this takes me down the memory lane, a quarter century back! To a small town called Trichy, where the buses were numbered like the way you wish they could be.
Bus no. 1 would go to Srirangam, No. 9 would take me to school and so on.
Three digits for the ones going outside city limits.101 to my college at Thuvakudy.Good old days!
In B'lore didnt get to use the buses much. Mostly on my own.
Now, hopping onto BIAS5 for the weekly AP trips.
Never wondered why the buses were numbered the way they are. Only a brain like yours can do it.:-)
Enjoyed the post!

Priya Ganesh said...

this snap and an understanding of the route means you are in Madras (Namma Chennai)!!!!

BTW, I had originally heard that the number means the distance between the first available main(stage) bus stop from the point of origin for the bus...not sure if this holds good anymore.

Ramesh said...

@zeno - Of course, they had to make a movie on a bus !! What heights of imagination has Kollywood ascended to !!!

@Vishal - These days the bus system has improved quite a lot. Not as bad as it used to be.

@Deepa - I am walking around with a smile picturing the petite Deepa flying around in her scooty !!! :)

@Priya - No No - I am only a visitor to the honourable city. One of the by products of being less than gainfully employed is that you can notice such inane things ! Great to see you here - message to your id are bouncing back.

RamMmm said...

Saar, you should venture out of the Whitefield area. :) You blasphemed BMTC by asking where the bus routes 1-334 are. The 500s are all Volvos, isn't it? The numbers generally indicate the directionality of the areas the buses are headed to. Of course, the special ones have a name of their own, BIG 10 for example (the way it is written, it looks BIG in English as well as BIG in Kannada depending on the slant at which you see. Who said there is no creativity?) or the BIAS for the airport services. I can see logic in the bus routes going in my direction. 210-216 series with a common route till a certain point and spurs thereof. Leave alone the 2 digit buses. The Ramamrithams underestimated the blowout of Bangalore. :) It is fun on your J-pun. :-) :-) LOL

Anonymous said...

Oh, if I remember right, the Js and JJs were actually preceded by K and V. When J madam came to power she changed them to J and multiples thereof. All this about 2 decades back :)
And here is an interesting site that'll give you the entire range of bus numbers in Bangalore....!

J said...

This brings back fond memories of traveling in shiny new Ashok Leyland PTC buses. One glorifies everything from one's childhood! It has been ages since I traveled in a bus in Chennai but I hear there are some fairly fancy buses in Chennai, probably reserved for the JJ and KK routes.

Anonymous said...

Definitey a science indeed.The logic they derive to number the buses.Not sure if had you noticed this,M29M,M29C and the M in front doesnt make sense to me as the route is all the same.
But all buses from perambur were numbered 29 series,and there was only one odd there which is 7A going to Parrys.But am sure 29J did not exist.

Kiwibloke said...

I happened to read on the Lufthansa magazine a few months back that they actually employ a guy whose responsibility is to assign flight numbers! He does it for both the LH and their code share partners. Incidentally had to travel from SFO to BLR via FRA on LH455 pairing with LH754. I guess they should number it as the NERD BIRD1 and NERD BIRD2 given that 80 percent of the plane are techies from silicon valley travelling to silicon plateau (that is namma bengaluru's new moniker!). The rest of the folks are parents and in laws of techies returning back from baby sitting duties! LH does a great job wit numbers. No Mensa required, each region has a series- sub continent is 7 series, north America is 4, Africa is 6 and so on. So this guy must actually be doing a darn good job.

Ramesh said...

@Rammm - Saar , with my fading eyesight, I can barely see the number ; admiring the creativity is for your generation :):):). Alright mannine maga - accept there are routes numbered 210 - 216 inbetween 0 and 335 . Some logic that !!!!!!!

@myfloatingthoughts - Hey I am not so ancient, Two decades ago, I was in my nappies and could hardly admire the J phenomenon :):) That fib certainly was great to write :)

@J - Can't imagine buses where you live. Ashok Leyland is passe. Its all Volvo now . Its actually a good case study of how even buses can be branded.

@ambulisamma - Ha, the Perambur girl. Perambur's loss is Bahrain's gain !

@kiwi - Trust the Germans to come with something completely rational and totally unimaginative ! Correction to the statistics - you are neither a coder nor, as far as I know, a baby sitter :)

Striver said...

Well, I'm really late on this. But this post has taken me down the memory lane, a quarter century back! To a small nice town called Trichy, where the buses were numbered just the way you think it should be. I remember, No. 1 to Srirangam to No. 9 to the Main buststand.And 3 digit nos. to outside city ,limits,101 would take me to college.
The "JJ" bit is great.
Enjoyed the post!

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