Multimodal: The villain or hero?
“My marriage is on the rocks, saami! Help me!” cried the caller from the other end of the phone. I halted in my morning walk to hear the caller free of highway noise.
“Who are you? What are you saying? “ I demanded because I could not recognize the phone number on my screen. Who was he? How did he get my number?
“Saami, I am Karuppan.* From Tenkasi. You know me, saami!” said he, and then all I heard was the sound of his uncontrollable weeping.
Karuppan? Tenkasi? I recognize neither the person’s name nor his nativity.
Why me? At half past six in the morning?
Soon his outpourings revealed the missing link. “Saami, I am a truck driver. Two years ago, you helped me when I got caught in a dispute with an RTO in Odisha. That’s how I know you, saami!”
Okay. So? Why is he bringing his family issues to me? Am I a family counselor or what? Does he think that if I could convince the RTO to leave Karuppan, I could equally persuade his wife, Senbagam, to return to him? Do my words have that power? I doubt. But he believes. Perception matters, perhaps.
Can I shut him off by saying I don’t interfere in family disputes? I decided not to. Explore if you can salvage his marriage, something in me told me.
“Karuppan, tell me what the problem is.”
He narrated. As a long-haul driver, he is always away from home for long periods. Senbagam,* his 40-year-old wife with a 16-year daughter through Karuppan, has gone to live with her distant cousin in Erode, leaving the daughter and home at Tenkasi a few weeks ago. His promise to give up his trucking job and permanently settle down in Tenkasi did not convince Senbagam. Her longing for normal family life is understandable.
Not just Senbagam, but every single woman — irrespective of whether her husband is a truck driver or someone — desires a husband going to work in the morning and returns home by sunset. Unfortunately, long-haul trucking does not bestow that benefit on women married to truck drivers. Fathers hesitate to give away their daughters in marriage to truck drivers because their lifestyle is abnormal. Primarily they are away from home for a long period. Besides, the opportunity for them to go astray is plenty. Women, by and large, are more conservative and conscious of social mores than men.
I know of long-haul drivers who had gone on a sabbatical and set up a shop to show off that they were NOT truck drivers to get married. Post-marriage, the truth comes out, and they are back at the wheel. There is reconciliation, and life moves on. The stigma attached to the truck driver profession is an open secret.
“She ran away, saami! The village is laughing at me. The daughter is inconsolable. Saami, you talk and convince her to return home.” His pain began to rub on me. Severe, no doubt.
I don’t know Senbagam. Assuming Karuppan’s allegations are true, why should she listen to me? Anyhow, I took her phone number and promised to speak to her. Did I? No. I wished the husband-wife quarrel would resolve on its own accord, by societal and family pressure from both sides.
A fortnight later, Karuppan called. “Thanks, saami! Senbagam returned the day after I spoke to you. I am sure you spoke and convinced her,” he spoke in a choking voice. I know, Senbagam knows, and God knows the truth: I did nothing. Expect firmly believing that time is the best healer and better sense would prevail. It did, I presume. All is well that ends well.
Well, Karuppan’s is not a solitary story. Several such gut-wrenching tales I have heard from trucking friends. None sought my intervention except Karuppan. It was a unique experience.
Will the advent of multimodal, promoted under the National Logistics Policy (NLP), end such away-from-home syndrome-caused family disputes? I think so. Spouse drivers will be back home, if not daily, at least at frequent intervals than in the past. With rail freight gaining ascendency with the dedicated freight corridor in full swing and waterways inching towards getting familiarity before shippers consider using it because of its low transportation cost, long-haul road transport would become history.
Nonetheless, the first and last-mile delivery and short and medium hauls would ensure the regular home visits of spouse drivers. It would, in turn, bring family harmony. Let’s hope Senbagams don’t complain about the nuisance of spouses at home all the time in the future!
So multimodal translates into family harmony in the trucking fraternity. Right? Money or matrimonial harmony and family unity? A contentious debate. The Jury is out.
Saami, in Tamil, means “Sir.”
Names have been changed to hide real identities.