I could well be passing my worst night. I had missed my fastest express to home, and was barely left with enough money to buy tickets again. Evening was around, I decided to reach the highway and do what i had never done. I started asking passing by truck drivers for a lift. As time passed and no one stopped, uneasiness was creeping in. I hadn’t done anything like it before. But I kept telling myself that if nobody stops I will rest at a temple or the next dhaba i may find. After a considerable time suddenly a big truck passed and seemingly started slowing down. It must have stopped 100 meters ahead. I ran. It looked strange at first sight for such a big thing stopping, for me!! It was a sixteen-wheeler trolley. Empty. I got in. There was only one small, frail person, the driver sitting. He was lanky, and looked too young to be driving anything like this. Also he looked grim, bit sad and may be in shock. Apart from answering my question that he was going to Bhilwara in Rajasthan, he said nothing more. We were quiet all along. As the Gujarat border neared, he started looking out for liquor shops, stopped a few times, but got down once and brought two whiskey quarters for himself. He didn’t look at me, neither asked. He came back, sat, started the engine, opened one bottle and started drinking, just like that, neat. And not a sip after sip. He drank it! Forget offering! He finished it, he threw the bottle out, put both his hands on the steering wheel and kept looking straight.
From my eyes, it all looked like a scene. So slow and finely detailed. He did not move. May be he could not move. 1-2-3-4-5-6 seconds, still looking straight. Switches the engine off- gets up, goes at the back seat, behind me- lies down and grunts, “bhai do you know how to drive?” After the initial Mt. Everest to the sea level heartbeat, I said Yes. I think he probably uttered don’t put brakes too hard, keep going straight and only around that time he passed out.
I breathed deep. Took some time, got down. Pee-d, went around the truck almost feeling overwhelmed by the situation but intrinsically I was smiling. I cannot tell you, but I had quietly asked this to happen to me because for a long time I wanted to become a truck driver, so that i could travel to each part of the country and come out with a travel book, as a truck driver. But well, all those dreamy things keep going on inside and the reality offers itself differently. Right now this was humongous. I don’t think I had driven anything apart from a santro before. I got back and held the steering. Everything was fine till the moment I turned the engine on. World became a serious work. It suddenly felt like I was sitting on second floor. I looked at the rear mirror; and it seemed my truck kind of never ended. Sitting, on a moving tower, looking at small cars from that height, started to seem like selfish colorful moving ants, screaming for space, demanding to overtake at any given opportunity. Every time I put brakes, halting sounds of iron from the trolley behind emerged making me feel a part of the snowball effect. I had to be very present. The guy slept as if he is the one who has asked for the lift. I cannot be distracted. I have to drive straight, I kept telling myself, no heroism needed. Slowly I started maintaining a speed of 30 km/hr. Slowly building my confidence managing that speed. But a little Iater i came behind this truck ahead of me which was almost crawling, slower than me. I had to overtake him at one point, which I wanted to avoid all along. It was two am in the morning and instead of sleeping in an air conditioned compartment, here i am driving a full blown truck on a light vehicle license, how can such a thing be true. But well, against all fear and odds I went for the first great overtake of my life and I remember that part of the highway suddenly shrinking to the narrowest only to test me, it seemed. A three lane highway suddenly became two. It was me and the other truck moving side by side. There was no space for any other vehicle. In no time, a line of cars behind me had started honking, demanding for space. I didn’t want to move faster so now two slow trucks moving parallel and mine was so long that every time I thought I had passed the smaller truck to get back to the lane on my left, a honk used to come from the other truck. I was still not certain how big was my container. It took several minutes supported by my breath retention techniques that i got past him and was back on my lane. That was a personal achievement. I felt better. And slowly after these initial vulnerabilities that night i managed to drive over hundred kilometers for the next 3 hours as Salman half slept throughout the journey kept reminding me to not use brakes too much.
We were reaching Udaipur when Salman sat. He seemed better and showed some gratitude in his actions. He said bhai lets eat. While eating at a dhaba he told me that Noorjahan had broken his trust and that was the first time he drank. We laughed, i tried making him laugh.
With much love and well wishes, he didn’t let me pay for the food neither asked any money. He dropped me at Udaipur bus stand. Took my number and told me to be ready, for in August, we both brothers will drive this truck to Leh. Inshallah, I said and we were on our way.
I had no photograph of this journey, but when the time came in August, Salman called, and a month later we met on the dusty more plains on our way to Leh, but this time when the truck broke down, something magical, and something that pushed me more to the wall happened. I have one photograph of Salman and me from that time, i may soon share the story too, I think you all would love it.