A heavy duty truck, body painted with exotic artwork, depicting signs and symbols imbibed over ages of painting - repainting and renovations. Hefty and loaded with massive cargo screeched to an abrupt halt right by the middle of NH 45. Gorging deep below the engine was the fuel pipe, on the verge of exploding into shards within minutes. Quite unperturbed by a minuscule speck of fear was the helper Baburao amidst this seemingly devastating scenario. He cheekily jumped down the second gate besides the driver, proudly brandished his loin shirt collar with a twinkling glint in his eyes. He admired the sparkling finely depicted words “ASSISTENT PILAT” on the metallic body. A freckled boy with a lean, skeletal framework, draped with a greased shirt and a featured upright collar, a netted vest peeking out underneath the button less gaps, a muddy towel wrapped tight around his waist working similar to a belt holding the half tattered pant at its rightful position. His cheerful expressions filled his freckled feature with life wading off poverty down his neckline. A lone dimple adored his right cheek with lips splattering spit off the Gutkha he chewed to idle away his long rides down dark nights and bright days. With an expert move of an adept stealth soldier, he slid his flexible bony frame down the front wheels below the frontal section to check out the engine and its related malady. With the voice resembling a croak, accent diminished due to the spit that filled his mouth, he called out for Lalan Sardar, the driver of the monstrous beast on road for assistance. Sardarji in his 30s and usual Punjabi look, full with a flowing beard neatly made and hair tucked deep into his blue turban. His barely visible hairless areas of face carried an expression of strong distaste pertaining to the untoward situation they were facing due to the mechanical defect. Sardarji with a simple flick of his hand started scavenging his prized toolbox polluted with cut-outs of beautiful nymphs off Filmfare magazines, some adorning his interior decoration of his cockpit and rest piled up hitherto. Finally his sturdy hands caught hold of the hammer and plier that Baburao had demanded for just before. The touch of a rough metallic rusty finish was enough for Sardarji to realise what he was searching for.
Down at the truck’s basement Baburao started loosening the screws with alternate circular motions and closely monitoring the wired setup that formed the mechanical & electrical circuitry. Baburao was so familiar with his upside down world under the truck; he could tell the parts with his eyes closed as if they were the back of his hands. Cleaning the clog and sticky carbon off the pipes and moving parts, brushing them off with his own muddy towel, emerged proud Baburao, forehead glistening with sweat trickling down his brows making way into his upright collar that had been folded at the edges due to his heavy sweaty hair.
“There you go Sardarji, Baburao saves your day again, now its time to move on, Bhabiji must be waiting home” exclaimed enthusiastic Babu. He seemed more ecstatic of meeting Bhabiji because the simple thought of those Ghee roasted Parathas with piping hot sabji and chatpati imli pickle sent throngs of excitement down his starving stomach and left his mouth profusely watering.
Both of them jumped on-board, settling down his majestic throne, Baburao wiped stains off his hands throwing an expression that of an emphatic soldier returning home, killing hundred enemies and winning back glory for his motherland commanded Sardarji, “Paaji, Let’s roll, we have lands to invaded and stomachs to fill, Chak de Phatte”
Within seconds the traffic cleared off, some abusing, some thanking spirit up above heavens for the trauma to be finally over. Soon they were rushing under full throttle, speeding past lavish green fields, paddy workers in dresses of red and blue toiling, engrossed in their way of life, the silent kid in his early teen exploring the sugarcane plantings, a group of cheering pretty girls chasing down butterflies, sometimes a dragonfly or two, shy Meenu lost amidst dreams of her prince charming romancing with a guitar on left singing eternal love songs presenting her a glowing rose and withered old man polishing his rickety cycle in a puddle of water roadside. Muddy roads arched finally to the village foursquare, dangling ahead was the old friendly signboard. Scribbled illegibly on it was the name of a Punjabi smelling village “Pind”
Ecstasy pumped down the veins of awaiting Sardar, the cherishing smile of his own people – villagers, the thought of two little angels – Rina and Tina running to his huge truck tires, arms high up, ready to be lifted up in the air and showered with toys, a shimmering view of his pretty wife, flowing goldilocks down her fairy, shiny face with an embracing million dollar smile, rosy pink lips calling his name, her flowery fragrance would churn blizzards down his long frozen heart, those moments of love would flash before his tear shed eyes and he would hug her close with an urge to melt time into an immemorial infinite. His face shone and warm feelings gushed through his blood and he could feel butterflies right there in his stomach. Overflowing emotions flooded forging a half hidden smile slowly wafted off to Baburao. “Bhabiji and her smile is drawing near, Sardarji tasty food is raking on my doors, I can wait no more” blurted out Baburao with excitement filled eyes.
Shaken off to his senses was Sardar Lalan the truck jolted with a powerful brake right before his house. For a few seconds neither Baburao nor Lalan were able to figure out what created the commotion around his own house. To find out the truth, Lalan jumped jumped down his seat, grabbed his slippers and ran all the way down the muddy fields to his house. He was already missing the anxious wait of his welcoming wife and expectant children. Panting out of his breath, running after him was Baburao holding his shirt, pockets jingling with rupee coins, shouting at the top of his voice,”Sardarji, you forgot your shirt!!, Calm down, have it!!, Will you hug Bhabiji now without a shirt? Care for the villagers at least Sardarji” Lalan was in no mood to pay a heed. He was engrossed with all his pre-calculations and how each was crossing out gradually one after the other. He rushed down his courtyard to see his wife. Standing before him were his village elders, his uncle Shyam and aunt Pammi with moist eyes, they had lot of tears to spill out. No one spoke a word. They all seemed heartbroken and aghast. Lalan shouted for his wife, calling every possible name he had ever lovingly called her to be greeted by silence, there was no reply. He could no more hear his two little girls chanting nursery rhymes running around the house with their mother spilling half eaten candies. He was crestfallen. He frantically started rummaging the whole house with a hope to find the lost laughter but they weren’t in sight. He didn’t have a clue of what danger had befallen in his absence. He ran up towards the backyard. The wooden charcoal cooker was ablaze, the pan spreading an aroma of burnt Parathas soaked in Ghee. His heart was pounding against his hard chest. Beside the cooker was a fuming pot of hot curry, slightly spilled at the edges and few utensils strewn across the place. Lying down there was his love, lifeless, snow white like a statue of immortal beauty, glistening with the brightest sunlight, silent, breathless as if awaiting a return. She was the girl, his love that Lalan had fought for against every odd, village, customs, traditions, emotions, just to embrace her. She was still there, waiting for him, lying still and motionless. She had nothing to speak, her sparkling brown eyes wide open as if staring into Lalan’s, with a fathomless depth of feelings to share. They eyes spoke, raced and waltzed together now. Her eyes soothingly whispered “Lalu, why are you late? I have been waiting for so long”
The world froze as Lalan fell to the mud plastered floor beside his wife. Everything seemed to stop, the whisper echoed deep in his ears and his eyes pleaded a return. Her smile echoed and so did her whisper. The bright glow of her face faded silently into darkness as Lalan’s heavy lashes fell. Now it was darkness everywhere.
“Sardarji, Oye Paaji, get up!! Check-out your mobile, 20 miss calls from Bhabiji, your Jaanu. Let’s rush!! ” Sardariji had no words, his eyes glittered as thick tears rolled down. His happiness that knew no bounds, which he could never explain felt like bursting way sooner. A nightmare he would die for rather than to return to. He hastily put down the toolbox and sped down NH 45 towards the village crossroads.
Sambit Shankar Pattnaik