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Bumpy Rides

INDIA | Friday, 6 June 2014 | Views [339] | Comments [1]

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair...
 Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air...
 Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light.
 My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim,
 I had to stop for the night...

    It took me a few seconds to find the answer of the perfectly valid question “What am I doing in the cabin of a truck?” as I was sprung back to sense by the jerky ride. It was dark, and, in spite of completely aware of the golden rule of not falling asleep while travelling beside a driver, I did. For a few minutes, only. The last milestone said our destination was about 30 K.m. Shy, while now it said 26. I looked back. My two comrades were sleeping on the back bench of the massive truck's cabin. The comfort of a warm (read hot) cabin-of-a-truck-full-of-brick worth a stretched arm seemed to humiliate a 75o buck seat in a multi-axle ac Volvo bus. It was quiet except for the constant droning of the bid old engine. The trucker spoke a different tongue, and I finally got some time to introspect.

    It started with a weird phone call from a strange friend. I might as well call him a friendly stranger, but let us focus on what got us into this. We were having our usual dinner in the usual hall, when he rang, and told me a bizarre story, which I muted in my mind, and which gisted to the fact that he's going to arrive at a distant, shady, spooky station at the middle of the night (possibly because he caught the wrong train) and he needed company to travel back to college. You know what’s bizarre-er? I agreed! And I convinced another friend of ours to join in this quest of rescuing a friend.

    The truck stepped aside on the highway, and the driver went to take a break, breaking my thread of thoughts as well. The headlights were blazing as a couple of cars paced away into the dark. The number plate on our chariot says it’s from Kerala, so I assume it still has a lot of miles to cover. And judging by the direction it was coming from, and the nearest industrial belt on the way, he has been driving for at least 7 hours! How can he not fall asleep? And what happens if he does? Doesn't he feel bored? Insecure? Lonely? As he climbed back into the cabin on his seat, I couldn't help but notice the satisfaction of emptying himself in his face! Back in bench, the two of them continued napping, their snores now over run by the growling engine.

    We were standing just outside the main entrance to our college, hoping to be picked up by a willing highway traveller, and were being denied any luck. Some flickered lights, signalling us “Not gonna happen”, some others didn't even bother to bat an eye. A few of them, whom I like to call The Trollers, slowed their car, hinting to stop, and as we got excited, they whiskered by, accelerating suddenly. What were they expecting, a mermaid in short skirts? Cars came, and cars went by. Time, tide and cars on NH17 wait for none. Except the lone Maruti Swift.

    The way back in the truck felt a never ending one. The headlights pierced the dark misty night and the highway looked like a long forgotten road. The fatigued engine carried the heavy vehicle, a sleepless steerer, a dreamy soul and a couple of oblivious minds in deep slumber up against the slope. It was a long night. A revealing one.

    As the white car took a sharp stop, we ran and bent down in front of the window with the tinted glass. The glass rolled down, and immediately a freezing gust of air was let out. “What do you guys want?” asked the old man in a French cut. Confronting this sudden yet perfectly valid question, we realized we had not prepared a story with a solid ground! A story that would be interesting, but not Indiana Jones interesting, which would demand compassion, but not my-friend-is-dying with glycerine-in-eyes compassion, and most of all a story that explains why we are not travelling NORMALLY! The true story, being strange enough, logical yet stranger than any fiction we could think of in three seconds, seemed to be our cover story. “Our friend is a lame jackass, he picked the wrong train and it doesn’t stop at Surathkal, and he doesn’t know a damn bit about this place (believe me, NOT an exaggeration), and he is too scared to travel alone at night (again, no exaggeration at all)”. Interesting, compassion-demanding and logical. Boom! All three wrapped in one! And guess what? It worked!

    The full sleeve Urdi-clad Jawan held a hand out with the right arm wrapped around a Self Loading Rifle. The truck stopped, and the trucker handed out some papers to the Pagri-clad Jawan. The former had his eyes fixated on me. Did he recognize me? After all he had seen me in a white Swift less than an hour ago. Was he wondering about my motives or my modus operandi?  I smiled at him. He frowned. The truck jerked off the inertia and took off. The doubts of the Jawan in khaki Urdi faded in the rear-view mirror.

    The old man in a silk kurta and lungi was driving like a pro. He wore rich perfume, an expensive wrist watch and for no apparent reason, turned the AC on to a dangerously low temperature. I was shivering in the front seat while my comrade sneaked into the back seat corner. We were bracing ourselves for an inevitable flood of questions, but the old man with his lungi above his knee kept looking at us intermittently with a mysterious grin on his face. There was a very awkward silence. I kept smiling back sheepishly and the ghost on the backseat disappeared in the dark. At last he spoke. “It feels good to have someone around. It has been a long drive, and I am tired. So where are you from?” I blurted out “Kolkata” whereas the darkness spoke “NITK”, at the same time. He looked at both of us and grinned. “So you came all the way from Kolkata to study here? Huh! Fascinating! My son is now in...” For the next quarter of an eternity, he went on and on about his son-who did this from Arizona-and that from Minnesota-and is settled in Godknowswhere, and about his daughter who married a guy-who did this from Kentucky-and that from California-and is settled in Godknowswhere. Man, he wouldn’t stop!

    He was indeed feeling bored, the trucker. And he decided to put some music on. The pacific night burst out in a fit of disco grooves. It startled the sleep out of the other two, who rubbed their eyes and asked me why we haven’t reached college yet in a rather peevish tone, as if it was my fault! Maybe it was, maybe I didn’t want this journey to end. I replied with a caustic glance at them, and handed them the water bottle. They drank, and before the next milestone could appear, again dozed off into sweet oblivion.

    Then something weird happened. The old-looking man’s new-looking phone rang and interrupted his story. No, that wasn’t weird, the conversation was. In his own style of impeccable South Indian accent of English, he asked whoever was on the other side of the call to keep tracking his car. He provided the caller with the current position of the car, and his ETA, and hung off. And then he kept on driving as if he had just told his wife the he’ll be late. A couple pairs of inquisitive eyes stared at him. He realized it in a few moments and came clean. “I am a C.B.I official, you see, on special duty for the upcoming elections. They don’t trust us, you see, we are the temporary recruits, us, the retirees from other jobs. They track our cars, you see, they say it’s for our safety, but you see, they are monitoring us!” We saw. We saw indeed!

    As I sunk in my thoughts, I was no longer paying any attention to the music player. The groovy disco beats mutated into some psychedelic trance. And the truck transformed into a convertible sedan. It was a dark highway, the sea breeze brushing my hair. An un-identifiable intoxicating smell surrounded us. Up ahead in a distance, I saw a shimmering light. It was home. We were home.

P.S.    With the assistance of an old-looking CBI official, we reached the Udupi station, a few miles from the highway, at the nick of the time to pick up our guest. Our well wisher dropped us till the junction, from where a drunk speedstar flew us till the highway. And after a few minutes of no recollection, we found ourselves climbing on to a truck cabin.

Tags: highway travel, hitch hiking




Well written. The author has shown how could a travelogue be made short and sweet, yet thrilling and adventourous. I wish Ujan grand success in his life!

  Arijit Mallik Jun 6, 2014 5:11 PM

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