From the confines of the truck cabin the humane dimensions of hard-earned livelihoods unfold in its varied forms.
This debut travelogue has two characters: one, a techie who hits the road to escape the stationary world of desktop mobility and two, the multiple images of the ‘other’ who literally drives the economy days and nights on end. Karnail, Raju, Jorawar and Liaqat are possible names of the second character, a devil behind the wheels, whose drunken image sends cold shivers down the road for fellow commuters. Truck de India is an epic encounter between the two – the one who forays into an unplanned journey and the other whose life is a euphemism for an endless road travel. What comes out is a delightful read on the life of truck drivers amidst vicissitudes of a marginalized existence.
Maligned and demonized, the truckers lead a life in relative obscurity while ferrying the overloads of economy across the length and breadth of the country. Ubhaykar encounters inconveniences on and off the road with an adventurous ease to reveal the humane side of the truckers as they go about confronting the objective realities of the society at large. If anything, these drivers have frustratingly developed an uncanny skill of meandering through the underbelly of extortion and corruption to deliver our goods on time. The narrative on oneness of corruption across the country is a grim reminder on how societal apathy has accorded discretionary rights on the powerful to coercively extract from the powerless.
More than just a fun-filled adventurous trip, Truck de India is as much an ethnographic study of a sub-culture that inhabits ever expanding road network in the country. From the confines of the truck cabin the humane dimensions of a hard-earned livelihood unfold in its varied forms. At the end, it a compelling survival story of a toiling informal sector which not only harbours silent reserves of endurance but holds an inexplicable optimism towards their lived realities. Within the world of limited possibilities, however, the truck drivers don’t miss out on creating opportunities to survive and thrive with an occasional bout of the forbidden stuff. One begins to empathize with this rare breed whose better part of life is consigned to the vagaries on the highways.
With a keen sense of history, Ubhaykar discovers more than what he had set out for. That Salem holds the monopoly of manufacturing sabudana; Dindigul over locks; and Namakkal for fashioning trucks out of metal and wood would not have come easily. It is his hop-on hop-off experience that lands him in unexpected places, exposing him to unanticipated kindness and generosity from perfect strangers. Much of it leaves him spellbound. Need it be said that unplanned travels like these allow an unrestricted peep into unedited footage of other peoples’ lives without them feeling any bit violated. Much like Columbus, Ubhaykar discovers another India by chance. Without doubt, it has indeed been worth the effort.
Truck de India is a moving account of the lived reality of those who confront provocative indignities all their life, and yet conduct themselves in remarkable forbearance. The author wonders if his writing will make any tangible difference to the truckers’ lives! Whether or not it does only time will tell, but acknowledging the role of an informal sector in keeping the economy in sound health is no less commendable. It is this aspect of the narrative that makes the book an interesting and worthwhile read.
Truck De India
by Rajat Ubhaykar
Simon & Schuster, New Delhi
Extent: 309, Price: Rs. 480.