On the Road to Ludhiana
On Day 3 of the Jamshedpur-Ludhiana truck trip in February 2011, somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, I exercised as Sun began its daily routine of clearing darkness with its golden rays. How? By clutching the thin but strong roots sprouting from the branches.
A few minutes before this healthy regimen, I comfortably finished the behind-the-bushes ceremony.
I wrote this in 10,000KM on Indian Highways, my maiden book published in 2011:
“My biological clock was working fine, and it was time for bowel movement. So I surmised that it ought to be past four because for fifty-five years, that’s how my bowels have been functioning. Wake up at the prefixed hour, empty one’s bowels, brush and gulp down a hot cuppa, sugarless tea, or coffee in that sequence. The program has not changed all of my life. Why should it be today?
The only hitch was that I had no idea how to extricate myself from the narrow 8x5 feet Tata horse-cum-trailer cabin. I could not get out without disturbing the young Khan tucked in a bundle over the bonnet. Gathering courage, I hissed: “Pervez!” I did not want to wake (Anil) Pandeyji up.
A startled (Pervez) Khan woke up and, sensing my urgency, made space for me to exit and thoughtfully handed a two-liter Pepsi bottle filled with water. What else but for morning ablutions! It was not a shock because this was not my maiden outing in a truck.”
When ordinary citizens like you and I travel a long distance, we can access toilets at fuel pumps and highway eateries. Truck drivers are not blessed to enjoy that benefit. Fuel pumps won’t entertain them unless they fill their diesel tank for at least Rs.1,000 those days. Drivers may not need diesel at that juncture. So, no access to toilets at fuel pumps.
What about highway dhabas frequented by truck drivers? The food they can have. But no washroom facilities because these dhabas have none. As simple as that.
You park the truck. Step out into the bushes to finish your morning ablutions.
Throughout my 30,000KM truck journey as driver assistant/kalasi in multiple trips crisscrossing the country, this was my route to pick up a big water-filled PET bottle and disappear behind the bushes. Mostly alone. Sometimes, in the company of the driver, keeping a certain distance.
Initially, it was challenging. Know why? Over the years, we got used to porcelain thrones, western style. Squatting on the ground was out of the question. Not to be forgotten, we abandoned eating lunch/dinner sitting on the floor. Dining table, eating from the hand-held plate, and seated on the sofa/chair.
Occasionally, I remember medical research praising the Indian squatting style of defecation. We have become more western than ourselves.
I sometimes fought a pitched battle with fuel pump staff for denying me and truck drivers access to their locked toilets. They bluntly refused entry. Reason: you guys — meaning us! — dirty the whole place! To a certain extent, it is true.
It was always in public. Day or night. For several years, the big PET bottles of the global soft drink majors turned me off. The offer of chilled water or soft drink in PET bottles was unacceptable. You know the reason.
The government’s Swatch Bharat Abhiyan ushered in minor mindset changes in the fuel pump staff. Now they grudgingly permit drivers to use their toilets. Oil marketing companies have also built better truck driver-friendly rest rooms at select locations with huge safe parking, sleeping quarters, bathing area, and cooking section with free gas stoves.
Nothing is permanent. Good to know.
Well, it is time for a reality check on this critical service. Let me plan a road trip in a truck. Don’t worry. I shall return to report. Bye, until then!