Satire | Confessions of a tempo driver

‘We are the unsung heroes of every election, the music that choreographs the dance of democracy’

Updated - May 22, 2024 12:09 pm IST

Published - May 16, 2024 04:26 pm IST

‘We should thank our PM for drawing attention to our ancient tempo culture’.

‘We should thank our PM for drawing attention to our ancient tempo culture’. | Photo Credit: Illustration by Sreejith R. Kumar

History books (the revised ones from NCERT) tell us that tempos were the earliest forms of transport used for ferrying illicit goods. Many of the Stone Age era cave paintings discovered in India depict a man (clearly an Opposition leader) unloading a sack of black money from a buffalo-drawn tempo, while the tempo driver is seen feeding an avocado to the buffalo. Such kala dhan-themed cave paintings haven’t been found in any other part of the world, which leads me to conclude that alongside fire, zero, and the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Arogya Awas Ujjwala Vishwakarma Mangalsutra Yojana, the buffalo-drawn tempo must rank as one of the biggest gifts of Indic civilisation to human civilisation.

Over the centuries, however, as political corruption grew, greedy Opposition leaders took away the buffaloes. Fortunately, the enclosure of the buffaloes coincided with the arrival of semi-nomadic herds from Central Asia, who brought with them their urakis – the Aryan first cousin of the modern-day horse. In no time, horse-drawn tempos became the norm all over the sub-continent. They were faster than the buffaloes, more loyal than the average MLA, and used by politicians and cronies in every election until the twentieth century, when they were displaced by the motorised tempos we see today.

We Indians are not exactly known for remembering, or taking pride in, our glorious past, and we should therefore thank our PM for drawing attention to our ancient tempo culture. His brief yet tantalising reference to it has left everyone hungry for more details, especially the human angle. We are a nation where it’s unsafe to step out wearing imitation gold and fake diamonds. So who are these election warriors who boldly undertake cross-country journeys in a tempo stuffed with thousands of crores of real cash? With great difficulty I managed to snatch a quick interview with a tempo driver working for a well-known crony capitalist. Excerpts:

Q: How long have you been a tempo driver specialising in the transportation of kala dhan?

Answer: I’ve worked in every Lok Sabha, assembly, municipal, panchayat, and student union elections since 2004. I’ve also participated in several RWA elections in Noida.

Q: Your tribe mostly operates in the shadows. Are you happy with the PM drawing public attention to your job?

A: There is plenty of literature on Indian elections, but hardly anything on us. Tempo-drivers like me are the unsung heroes of every election – we are the music that choreographs the dance of democracy. So I welcome the PM’s remarks. By stating that even Adani and Ambani use tempos, he has given us the acknowledgement that was historically denied to us.

Q: What inspired you to take up this profession?

A: I wanted to serve my mother.

Q: I’m sorry?

A: I consider the Mother of Democracy as my own mother.

Q: I see. Do you have any role models?

A: Obviously, it’s Jason Statham. I hope once India becomes ‘Viksit’, we tempo drivers will get the same respect our cousins in the West do. At the end of the day, I am a transporter, not a driver, and the Transporter series have done a great job of educating the public about our highly demanding profession.

Q: But Jason Statham drives an Audi A8 and transports human beings. You drive a tempo and transport illegal cash. Where is the comparison?

A: Not just cash, I transport anything illegal that fits into a tempo. You may have heard of a mass rapist who escaped to Germany recently. Who do you think transported him from his home to the airport while the whole country was looking for him?

Q: Wow, that’s so much like the plot of Transporter-3!

A: And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ferried abducted MLAs from one secret location to another – right under the noses of the state police! So, please don’t think of us as mere ‘drivers’ – we are highly skilled professionals.

Q: So you also know karate?

A: Karate, judo, and also ninja-kung fu. No ED-CBI-IT fellow dares to take panga with us.

Q: Following the PM’s comments, Opposition leaders have called for investigations into the tempos that delivered black money. Your thoughts?

A: There is nothing to investigate. Discriminating against humans on the basis of colour is rightly condemned as racism. But people are openly speaking of black money as inferior to white money and no one objects? Why is black money oppressed everywhere? What’s this if not monetary apartheid? I have one simple message for everyone: let’s not politicise black money.

This column is a satirical take on life and society.

The author of this satire is Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu.

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