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Driving like crazy

HE HAS never gone to any school except a driving school. He learnt to play tennis and billiards as a kid. And today, he drives brand new vehicles.

That man is Govind Rao Dharmavr, the 49-year-old with salt and pepper hair, who can spot a pothole on the road good 30- metres away and who will safely negotiate the vehicle through any `U' turn.

It was not because Dharmavr was born in a well-to-do family that he learnt to play these two games as a youngster. It was rather because Dharmavr started working at the age of four. His father, Govind Rao, was a harmonium maker in Madurai. Because of poverty, he sent his son with a cousin to work at the Union Club at Madurai as a ball picker on the club's tennis courts.

After the day's tennis session got over, Dharmavr used to hang around the club's billiards room and run small errands for the members. Watching players in action, the young boy learned to play both billiards and tennis and says nostalgically that he used to play a game or two with the club staff once in a while. He worked at the club till 1978 and in the early seventies his salary was a paltry Rs 75 a month.

In 1969 he went to a driving school and secured a driving licence. Armed with his new skill, Dharmavr did manage to get a few odd jobs. He used to go to town and buy provisions for members of Union Club, driving their cars.

In the early eighties, Dharmavr got an offer to drive new Mahindra jeeps from Bombay to Madurai, Cochin and Thiruvananthapuram. In those days, nearly all new vehicles used to be driven to various States in the country by groups of convoy drivers and soon Dharmavr was part of the Indian road show.

He also got offers to drive new Fiat cars from Bombay to southern destinations as well as new Allywn Nissan trucks from Hyderabad to various parts of the country. Today, on an average, Dharmavr comes to Kochi at least once a month, driving a Mahindra jeep. For the last six years, Dharmavr has been the leader of a convoy of 10 to 12 vehicles. "It is the responsibility of the leader to see that all the vehicles arrive at their destination safely and on time", says Dharmavr. At various check points along the route, the drivers have to show the vehicle's invoice, Form 27, trade certificate, insurance and temporary registration papers to the officials concerned and get them stamped.

He drives the vehicles only during daytime. Company specifications say that new vehicles in a convoy should be driven only between 6 am and 6 pm. The drivers should also not drive more than 300 km per day. He says that the drivers sleep at petrol pumps and eat from the roadside `dhabas'.

Dharmavr noted that after a hard day's drive, they sit down together, smoke a few cigarettes and chat.

When asked how often he goes to a temple, Dharmavr replied that while driving they "stop at all the major temples" along the route. "Prayer is the main thing that keeps me going", he confessed.

He goes to see his family once in 45 days. While going in a convoy, if one vehicle has a problem, then the leader would stop and help that driver fix his vehicle.

One interesting point that Dharmavr did make was that in a convoy, the leader always drives at the back of the pack and not in front.

According to the ace driver, the best stretch of road that he has driven on is between Bombay and Hubli. The drivers make about Rs 600 to 700 a week but he added that he doesn't get any retainer fee. "Only when there is a trip to make, I earn money. At other times, it is a pretty difficult existence for most of us", he said.

Dharmavr watches Sivaji Ganesan movies occasionally, but unlike many Tamils he does not buy lottery tickets. "I don't have any luck", he says emphatically.

Dharmavr's advice to aspiring drivers is to drive carefully and to avoid over-speeding.

It seems no coincidence that Dharmavr's two brothers are also drivers. They drive for their daily bread and not for fun even if it is a `josh' machine.


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