Harsh Snehanshu finds new friends as he hitches a ride on a truck to Bhubaneshwar.

I was in Odisha recently. On the way back from Konark to Bhubaneshwar, I decided to do something that I would have feared earlier. I thought of getting a lift on a truck. Trucks have held my fascination from childhood. The big and beautiful structure, its imposing presence, the cacophonous horn, the graffiti and catchy slogans have always impressed me. 

On my way back, I went to the Konark highway and waved to every truck that passed by. Sadly none of them stopped; some conductors even jeered at me. I was in a white hat, a knickerbocker and a sports tee. I decided to look more Oriya and so took off my hat and started walking on the road. 

When I once again signalled to a truck, it immediately screeched to a halt. There were three persons inside speaking in Oriya. I didn't know the language. However, since I knew a little bit of Bangla and Hindi I managed to converse. I understood they were going till Pipli, a small town on the way to Bhubaneshwar. They said no problem to taking me along.

Language barrier

There was silence for a long time till I asked them their names. The sweaty smell inside pointed to an agarbatti stand that hadn't been used for months. The bare dark skin of Ballu, the conductor, shone whenever the sun's rays kissed it. The grease-stained shirt of Raju, the driver, bore the imprints of every road he had slept on — in the cold shadow of his truck during daytime. The notoriety of Bilu, the helper, who kept calling “Aa chalti kya?” to every woman the truck overtook, the big steering wheel that showed eight long years of consistent assault, an old picture of actor Divya Bharti — Raju's only companion in long dark night journeys, the tiny beedi resting on Ballu's ear waiting to be ignited were all part of my new world.

The truck stopped at a small tea shop. We made ourselves comfortable. I wanted to pay for the chai and biscuits. When I went to pay, the shopkeeper tells me that Raju had already paid for everyone. I turn to Raju who says, “You are my atithi, sir, I can't take money from you. It's my duty to take care of you.” I was speechless and humbled by that gesture; but instantly thought of the fights I used to have with the greedy autowallahs back in Delhi.

My conversations in broken Bengali and Hindi continued. Each of them had two sons, who studied in a government school in Pipli. Raju wanted his son to become a collector so that he would get a laal-batti-waali ambassador car and would never have to drive the truck to earn his living. I asked Raju, “Don't you enjoy driving the truck?” to which he replied emotionally, “I do, the road excites me. But I would have liked a life which allowed me to sleep on comfortable beds.”

Suddenly as we were heading, Bilu asked Raju to stop the truck. He jumped down and came back with a million dollar smile, holding a country liquor bottle in his hand. Raju and Ballu didn't drink as their wives don't like them to. Bilu asked whether I wanted to have a sip. Raju and Ballu hurled abuses at Bilu for asking me but Bilu didn't pay heed.

It was time for me to leave them. I gave Rs.50 to Bilu. He refused to take it. I was humbled again.

I got off at Pipli; the three left only after making sure that I took the correct bus to Bhubaneshwar. From the bus I kept looking till the bright red 12-ft high imposing beauty faded into the horizon.