There are no regrets over spending time in the Toy City, Greater Noida, amidst fellow professionals — long haul truck drivers — on the roadside for four days and nights. They did not light lamps, burst crackers, or share sumptuous meals with their kith and kin on Diwali day. Instead, they cooked their basic food — roti and dal — inside the driver’s cabin and ate together occasionally.
The fault was they arrived on Diwali to deliver materials to the factories in the Toy City. By the way, there are hardly any toymakers in this dedicated city in Uttar Pradesh. Indians began to embrace cheap Chinese toys for a long time. The situation has reached the stage where the elephant-faced Hindu god Ganesh made of clay, came from China for many years. The trend continues.
The entire nation, barring essential services, shut down to celebrate the festival of lights for 2–3 days. Add a Sunday, and the holiday stretches by another 24 hours. This is where these drivers found themselves. You cannot leave material-laden trucks unattended. Moreover, their home was far away: several hundred kilometers.
How to pass the time? Not 24 but 96 hours. Until the factory gates open and the logistics men are ready to accept the material. On Monday, the gates opened, enabling the unloading of materials.
“Watching movies and songs on our mobile kept us engaged. And, cricket also,” volunteers the umpire who saw me parking my car and walking up to him with a packet of biscuits. The service lane is the playground, broad enough with a divider. A 3 x 1.5 feet concrete slab serves as cricket stumps. Bat is a wooden plank, resembling the tool to hit the rubber ball. What about the cherry? It is a hard tennis ball, and none of the bowlers try the conventional ball throwing act. Instead, they throw straight at the batsman or try underarm. Batters go berserk, hitting like Virendra Sehwag.
On closer examination, it is evident that the young drivers are bowling or batting while elders watch from the sidelines. Exerting physical energy is not their cup of tea, perhaps. “I prefer card games,” tells a senior sitting a few yards behind the concrete stumps. Drivers sit under the truck chassis on a spread blanket to play cards at many parking yards. Or sleep waiting for the load call over the public address system by the shipper or their location supervisors. Till then, some activity to keep them busy.
Still, it is gratifying to see drivers engage in some physical activity. Otherwise, they sit behind steering for driving, sleep inside cabins, or hoist themselves on the unwashed cots at the highway dhabas. If at all, the one major physical exercise they perform is to go around their vehicle to check tire pressure once or twice daily. Drivers overseas, on the other hand, are equipped with various exercise tools.
Lengthy detention is the biggest challenge for drivers and fleet owners. The 3PL honchos still have not changed their habit of using trucks as “warehouse on wheels.” It is a universal phenomenon. The idling vehicles and drivers are never compensated for the loss of time and the potential loss of income. The question is, who is to bell the cat?
Food preparation, okay. Games, okay. Sleep, okay. What about attending to morning ablutions? “The open grounds serve that purpose,” jokingly responds one of the key players. Such open defecation is nothing unusual for long-haul truck drivers. Factories receiving loads do not permit access to toilets inside for drivers.
There is a lot of glib talk by various stakeholders — including the Indian corporate — on the lack of wayside amenities on the highways. They lambast the government for not paying adequate attention to this “critical need” of drivers. But, particularly corporate has not taken the trouble to create restrooms for drivers who ensure their business is sustainable through inbound and outbound logistical assistance.