Highway Of Life

The wide open road beckons once again and before long I find myself on the highway, soaking in the sights and sounds unique to our beautiful country. A long and leisurely drive, cutting across towns and villages of rural Punjab is an unforgettable experience.  Sharing the dark winding road with fellow travellers enriches my memory with indelible images.

I see a group of physically challenged people, all manoeuvring their wheel chairs, in single file, down the National Highway. Their banner is in Gurmukhi so I cannot understand what the purpose of this outing is but I am filled with awe at their courage and perseverance. Battling for space amongst the trucks and the fast moving vehicles is no mean task. The cars behind them are visibly impatient and urge them to hurry with relentless honking.  How long have they been on the road and how far they plan to go, I have no idea.  I wish now that I had stopped to have a chat with them.

Further on, one marathon runner breaks off from the little group he is running with to say a quick prayer at a wayside shrine. Winning can wait, he seems to say, this is more important. Thundering onto the road from a bylane come men and boys clad in blue, wielding spears and sitting without saddle, these nihangs are completely at ease with the high drama they’ve just caused amongst the unsuspecting drivers. Before I can reach for my camera they’ve gone off the road again in a huge cloud of dust. In no other part of the world can such visual delights come together in the 21st century. Each image worthy of being the centre spread of a lavish coffee table book.

The sheer number of mechanised vehicles vying for place is mind boggling. The engine of a scooter has been fitted successfully onto a rickshaw and is now standing between two huge trucks waiting for the traffic to move. I fear for the teenaged driver, even though it’s an emotion quite alien to him, I think.  A bullock cart shoots out from the fields onto the main road, phantom like. As it takes its rightful place amongst the trucks and a BMW its grandmotherly charioteer exhales a puff of smoke from the bidi she has been smoking. Calmly, she adjusts her pallu on her head and looks down disdainfully from her perch. The BMW is like a cheetah on a leash. This jam is going to be a long one.

Taking advantage of this impromptu stop, the truck drivers get off for a good scrath and stretch. A young lad, disembarks from the roof of a bus and proceeds towards a tree, keeping a wary eye on the slowly moving traffic as his friends joke and holler. Like magic, water, coconut and popcorn sellers materialise, creating a thriving business community in an instant.

As I drive along soaking in this unique experience, Kishore Kumar adds a melancholic touch with, ‘Zindagi ka safar…koi samjha nahi..koi jaana nahi’ I feel these bravehearts on the road understand and know life at a level very few in the world ever can or will….myself included.

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