A close friend of mine tells me that the truckers of North India have a strong kinship with the “yamdoots“, ever ready to swoop on you and whisk you away to meet your maker.
Maybe my friend has had some issues with these souls on his highway drives. Maybe he is being a bit cynical. But for me, the trucker is very humane, a considerate fellow-user of the highway, a philosopher, a responsible citizen of India, a die-hard romantic, and only at times contemptuous of those who cast an evil eye on either his vehicle or his vocation. And above all, a great philosopher poet.
I have always nursed a secret admiration for these gentlemen who roam the length and the breadth of the country ferrying goods from one end of the country to another.
I have always admired these magically-bedecked trucks. The silk tassles, the red cloth from Vaishno Devi slung on the rear-view mirror fluttering in the breeze as the truck speeds past, the dangling shoe and the string of lemons slung at the back of the vehicle, and of course the marvellous graffiti (what else can I call it) painted all over the vehicle. Especially at the back of the truck.
I used to be a “collector” of this graffiti, slogans, poetry- call it whatever you may- for several years. One big regret is the loss of the diary where I would diligently note these down. However, I do remember some, and these find their way into this post. Please do add to the ones mentioned in this piece below.
To start with the truckers are unfailingly polite. And always have a friendly suggestion or advice for their co-travellers on the highway.
“OK, Tata, Bye”
“जगह मिलने पर साइड देंगे”
Or the intriguing request: “Blow OK horn.”
I used to wonder what this phrase, unique only to trucks, means. Initially I thought they wanted the horn toot to be just OK, not too soft, nor too harsh. It was only later I figured out that the actual phrase was “Horn Please”. The large OK painted at the center was only a design element.
Or the plain advice: “Use dipper at night”
And this endearing “फिर मिलेंगे” (see you later)
But, if you dare to cast an eveil eye on this truck, then better beware! Besides the usual antidotes to the evil eye, like a dangling shoe or the string of lemons, you could also spot this pithy remark on the truck:
“बुरी नज़र वाले, तेरा मुंह काला”
Or its variant:
“रिश्ते में लगता तू साला,
बुरी नज़र वाले तेरा मुंह काला.”
“सत्तर के फूल, तिरसठ की माला
बुरी नज़र वाले, तेरा मुंह काला”
“सत्तर” is 70 and “तिरसठ” is 63. And that is this truck’s four-digit vehicle license number. Very common coinage. Like if the vehicle number was 1254, this ditty would start as “बारह के फूल, चौव्वन की माला…….”
The ditty could get nasty with some truckers:
“बुरी नज़र वाले, तेरे बच्चे जियें,
बड़े होकर, देसी शराब पियें”
What starts off with blessing to the children of the one with the evil eye ends with a sting in the tail: May your children be condemned to a lifetime of addiction to country liquor.
Truck drivers have a healthy sense of patriotism and social responsiblity as well. Sample this:
“मेरा भारत महान”
Or its cynical variant:
“सौ में नब्बे बेईमान,
फिर भी मेरा देश महान”
And the ubiquitous family planning slogans:
“छोटा परिवार, सुखी परिवार”
“एक या दो, बस”
And an interesting poetic take on this:
“शेर दो हों मगर सलीके के,
घर को ऐसी ग़ज़ल बनाना है”
Dont miss the play on the word,”शेर”!
From a bashful: “चल हट, कोई देख लेगा”
To a romantic exhortation to the vehicle behind: “देखो मगर प्यार से”
And see how he mixes the romance of his life with his profession:
“दुल्हन वही जो पिया मन भाये,
गाड़ी वही जो नोट कमाए”
My loose translation:
“A true bride earns the love of her beloved,
And a true vehicle is that which fetches earnings.”
And sample this gem:
“काला कुरता, काला चश्मा, काला रंग कढाई का,
एक तो तेरी याद सताए, दूजा सोच कमाई का.”
My pedestrian translation once again:
“I am torn between
My yearnings for my black-bedecked beloved
And my need for earnings.”
Some of the poetry is plain philiosophical:
“चलती है गाड़ी, उड़ती है धूल,
निकलता है पसीना, बिखरते हैं फूल”
Or its wicked variant:
“चलती है गाड़ी, उड़ती है धूल,
जलतें हैं दुश्मन, बिखरतें हैं फूल.”
And finally, to end this piece, I quote the trucker’s pithy comment on his lot, and by extension on the socio-economic divide:
“अमीरों की ज़िन्दगी, बिस्कुट और केक पर,
ड्राईवर की ज़िन्दगी, क्लच और ब्रेक पर.”