When I was young, I used to look forward to my summer vacations and the trip to my hometown – this trip was such a big deal not just because it would take me to my grandma (aaie) and allow me to binge and smother my face with freshly plucked home-grown mangoes but also because it would take me through the highways and the little known roads of Orissa, bringing its teeming vein to delightful, eclectic life.
A wanderer’s elixir. A vagabond’s shelter. The road.
And it is a towering member of this very road that finds centre stage in this book – the majestic Truck.
Rajat Ubhaykar undertakes a journey across the length and breadth of India, choosing a very unusual mode of transport – hitchhiking with truck drivers. For those not privy to the ‘general opinion’ on truck drivers in India, it may suffice to say that a truck driver’s life is oft-quoted by Indian parents as a parallel when giving a dressing down to their kids .
So, what was found in the heart of a seemingly crude-mannered, loud-speaking, beedi-smoking, drug-snorting, rash-driving, uncouth generation of truck drivers? Dollops of goodness!
As the author goes from Mumbai to Jaipur, Chandigarh upwards to Jammu, he is taken in mostly by kind drivers and treated to a generous peek into the truck-business. Through their unceasing conversations, I got to know how permits are given, how tolls function, how overloading gets normalized, how learnings are passed on from a ustad (teacher) to his khalassi (student/ intern). As he moves to the north eastern heart at Nagaland and Manipur and then, dives straight down south to Salem and Vijayawada, his journal spreads its eager wings, sometimes unsteady in trepidation, and collects the sprawling melange of truths nestled at the sharp road bends and colourful truck art, naked tragedies and shrewd trades, gregarious dhabawallas and wronged childhoods, street smartness and apparent debauchery.
I wonder if their long tryst with migration has something to do with why Punjabis took to driving trucks with such enthusiasm, because what is trucking, but a form of constant displacement.
I soon find out from a Bihari paanwallah that it’s in a curious creole tongue called Nagamese—the love child of Assamese, Bengali and Hindi. Why, that’s the first time I’ve even heard of it.
I, for one, know, that after this trip, I will always remember this sunrise when I think of Nagaland, and not insurgents or headhunting tribals.
Travelling with this unique bunch gave me what my travel trips give – new eyes. And through new eyes, I saw the same picture as one of the truck-drivers endorsed – Phone khoti, sakshaat bheti [The phone’s a false friend, it is better to meet in person.]
So, go on, emerge from the emitting screen of your mobile phone, set afoot anew, face the sun and its children in the eye; you never know which splendid piece of sunshine on the black tar of your bias can light the canvas of your memories.