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An Assam driver's book of adventures steals hearts

Rupam Dutta of Upper Assam suddenly feels like a star. His phone rings constantly and he receives messages on every platform he is on. This Night Super (buses that ply at night in Upper Assam) driver says he had no idea that his experiences would intrigue so many readers. His experiences were recently published in a 480-page book: Life Of A Driver - Cabinor Ipare (From The Other Side Of The Cabin). Rupam says, “I am so busy with phone calls, enquiries and congratulatory messages that I am not getting time for my everyday work. To be honest, I never thought of converting my experiences into a book. I used to share them regularly on Facebook and feel happy that I have not lost touch with my writing.”

Hailing from Tinsukia in Assam, Rupam pursued an undergraduate course in Commerce from Commerce College in Guwahati after completing school in 1992. He discontinued that to join Assam Engineering Institute to get a diploma in Electrical Works. “I wanted to get a degree to migrate to Canada. My sister and brother live abroad and they suggested that a degree would help in getting a work visa.”

An Assam driver's book of adventures steals hearts

When things did not work out the way he planned, he decided to face facts and started a vegetable business. “From there I started selling farm-fresh pork and looked at other ways of earning. One was to drive night buses. After driving for a couple of years, I started jotting down my experiences on Facebook, in Assamese. I intended to tell the stories of drivers who have a tough life and are often misunderstood. Since I had not started off as a driver, I could see things from a different perspective. A night driver’s life is hard and they face many risks to ferry passengers. Road conditions are never good and the highways are not lit. The line (routes) from Upper Assam to Arunachal and Nagaland, with hairpin bends, is not easy even for seasoned drivers.”

A few years after he started driving, Rupam bought his first bus, with the help of his friend and the school headmaster’s family. Within a few years, Rupam bought a fleet of buses and also continued to drive when needed.

Anil Baruah, who had designed Saarathi (DTP keyboard) and Ramdhenu (Assamese online dictionary), read Rupam’s posts and coaxed him to publish his experiences in the form of a book. Rupam was, however, sceptical and unsure of what to include and what to leave out.

“The highways of Northeast are always beautiful; one gets to see the most fascinating wildlife. I have spotted tigers who probably came out to the road for a walk after a meal. They are not scared of us but even from inside a bus, my hair stands on end each time I spot them — not out fear, but out of admiration. I see sprinting deer, bulky bison, intimidating rhinos and all that the Northeast is famous for. On the Karbi Anglong range, if the elephant herd decides to show up on the road, one has to stop for a few hours until they decide to give way,” he adds.

The only elephant that made him freeze in fear was a gigantic alpha tusker that usually roams alone. “It was so tall, its eyes were level with the driver’s window. If annoyed, the elephant would not give way without hurting someone. I have carried bundles of bananas and sugarcane to pay the animals the toll for using their path. If one forgot about the toll, one had to wait for a sugarcane truck to come to their rescue.”

What about the Assamese ‘ghosts’ on the highway? Rupam laughs, “You mean the lady in a white sari who asks for a lift or the bura jona (the respectful name for the old legendary ghost)? I have driven on so many highways, I never encountered any. These are stories to make the highway driver cautious at night.” His book has other stories of loss and friendship, and happy stories as well.

Life of a driver - Cabinor Ipare (Saarathi.in) is available for ₹300 across major e-tailers.

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 12:07:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/tales-from-the-knight-bus-rupam-dutta/article33674240.ece

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