(Image courtesy: zentrucker.wordpress.com)
I always make it a point to visit the annual Transport Show at the Palais des Congres.
It’s a truckers’ paradise. Daimler, Volvo, Iveco, Hino, Isuzu, Mack, Freightliner, you name the brand and it is there. The Palais is a massive combine of permanent, exhibition halls, in the heart of downtown Montreal, just a few hundred yards from the riverside by the old quarter.
Tractors, trailers, fancy buses and spares and accessories such as tires, lights, horns, paints, batteries, oils, stereos, cigars, chewing tobacco, truck spittoons. Anything that goes on heavy trucks is on display at the Transport Show. Lots of chrome, lots of metallic blue and turquoise, lots of fire breathing monsters painted on the sides.
Then you come upon ‘accessories’ of a different category and you tarry a while longer there. Girly magazines. Phone book CDs with interesting numbers you can call when you’re trucking through any North American hick town. X-rated DVDs with blonde hitchhikers and very large truckers, always two hitchhikers to one trucker. Viagra. Compilations of truckers’ slang and swear words. All these are intrinsic parts of long-distance transportation.
Then there are ‘How-to’ books and videos. The hottest selling title there last year was,’ Ten ways to scream ‘m—er F—er’ at the guy in the next lane. This year the title that was flying off the shelves was,’ Tailgating and sideswiping for dummies’. Tailgating is the practice of driving too close to the vehicle in front, just to scare him shitless, the gap so close that safe stopping to avoid collision cannot be guaranteed. Sideswiping is when you’re driving cheek by jowl with another vehicle, perhaps when you’re trying to overtake him. You suddenly swerve to frighten the bejesus out of him just for fun and you end up grazing against him, sending him into a ditch. Truckers love doing these things. Breaks the monotony, like. No, let’s say it the way girls in India do – ‘breaks the monotony only’.
Some of the huge trucks on exhibit look sleek, exotic, shaped like a torpedo or a diplodocus, with all sorts of fins, baffles, lights, rubber and chrome. And some look downright sinister, all black, with opaque, tinted windows, chrome on just the exhausts, a battery of lights in front, multiple heavy treaded wheels, powerful radio antennae. Sinister black, like that truck in that Van Damme flick, ‘Universal Soldier’.
You won’t, however, find any ‘monster trucks’ on display in this show. Monster Trucks are generally smaller pick-up trucks that have been heavily modified, with humongous wheels and suspensions that make them look grotesque, somewhat like that cousin, Duky, of Daffy Duck. You know, that duck with his head the same size as Daffy’s but the rest of him huge? You don’t know the guy? I feel sorry for you. Remember, the only way to develop a well-rounded personality is to read more and more comics as you get older, till, at 50+ you’re reading only comics. Monster Trucks have their own separate show during the fall.
And the Transport Show attracts lots of large, chubby, bearded men who communicate with surly grunts and have chronic flatulence. A guy with a squeeky voice and a smile will look as out of place here as Baba Amte at a Bildeberg Conference. For a week, the Palais des Congres sounds like the inside of a pig pen, with all those grunts ‘Gringa Grunga! Huggly Wuggly!! Grigga Wigga! Humpi hoo!!’
Alas, many visitors are there not for the trucks and buses, though. You seen one truck you seen ‘em all, they’ll say. It’s what’s on display that you don’t normally associate with truckers or trucks that they come to stare at. Girls in shorts, their airbags fully deployed, draped over a hood here or reclining on the driver’s seat with one booted foot up on the steering wheel there. Models, employed by the exhibitors to attract the crowds. The model slouching inside one of those sinister mammoths with tinted glasses and bristling with aerials, had a paramilitary uniform top with a holster and toy gun, peaked cap, really really short shorts and stilettos. Of course the models don’t interest me in the least, I hasten to add. I’m just too straight-laced for that.
By the by, truckers don’t just grunt. Grunt, they do when they interact with civilians like you and me. Otherwise they have their own slang that they use when they communicate with each other on the road or with their bases. It’s a whole new lingo. Like, for instance, diesel is called ‘motion lotion’. A female highway patrol cop is ‘titty bum bum’ . The slow lane is the ‘granny lane’. A ‘seat cover’ is a female hitchhiker and a ‘lot lizard’ is a hooker who frequents truck stops. There, don’t you suddenly feel enriched? Besides the above, truckers have their own visual signaling, their unspoken communications on the road. For instance, if you are overtaking another truck, he will flash his headlights on & off to tell you that you have cleared his vehicle and may safely change lanes in front of him.
Trucking in Canada is a terrific way to travel all over North America, while you earn at the same time. And comfortable. Air-conditioned cab, feather soft suspension, fully automatic transmission, a cabin just behind, with a bunk, satellite TV and a toilet, satellite connectivity with first-aid stations and law enforcement agencies, a company-provided smartphone with unlimited roaming and data plan. If you’re on the northern side of the law, you will have help close by, even when you’re practically in the middle of nowhere.
On the road, the trucker might stop over at a truck stop, to rest his weary butt. A truck stop is a gas station with pumps that are programmed to pump in diesel simultaneously into the two tanks that are on either side of the tractor. First he sticks a nozzle into one tank, then he circles the tractor to the other side and sticks another nozzle into the other tank. Both pumps are coordinated and you get one bill.
After he’s filled up with the company issue debit card, the trucker will stretch his legs or grab a bite at the fast food joint there. Belching and picking his teeth, he’ll then huff and puff around the aisles of the convenience store that invariably goes with the gas station.
A truck stop convenience store is specifically designed for truckers. It’ll have all kinds of GPSs, bluetooths, cellphone accessories, lots of leather (jackets, belts, cowboy boots, hats), sunglasses, condoms, gum, chewing tobacco, cigars, shaving accessories, toiletry. And girlie magazines and ‘accessories’. Everything is top-of-the-line stuff. Truckers get really well paid and are normally always loaded.
And, by the by, truck-stop convenience stores are filled with ‘mothers’. The trucker will swagger around the aisles, stopping at stuff that catch his eye. He’ll pick up a bluetooth, wave it at the man at the counter and grunt,” Hey, how much you sellin’ this mother foa? Wha..? Aitee? Those Flyin’J fuckers ovah theah at Chatanooga are givin’ them away, man, at twennie a pop. Where you bin?”
Large truck-stops even have lounges, where, for a nominal fee, truckers can relax on sofas, watch a movie or the news on the cable. Next to the lounge will be showers and changing rooms for truckers who’ve been on the road a while and need a bath. If you wish to stay the night, catch a shut-eye, engage in some jigir-migir, there’s of course the cabin at the back of your own truck cab. Simply hook up the tractor-trailer to an electrical outlet if there is one, for a fee. Otherwise, the on-board power generation system can take care of you for one whole night.
You’ve noticed me using the word ‘tractor’. Note that a tractor is not the farm tractor that we normally associate with the word. Over here, a tractor is the front part of the tractor-trailer combo and the trailer is the long, load carrying part that is hitched to the tractor. Together, they form a gigantic 80ft long centipede with 24 large tires. If you’re the trucker, you sit in the cab of the tractor, to get to which, you climb up 12 feet, with the help of three hand-grips and footholds. If you’re giving a ‘seat cover’ a lift, you place your hands under her butt, dally there a bit (just a bit, otherwise she’ll be wondering what’s taking you so long) and then heave her up into the cab.
But remember, giving lifts is prohibited and could cost you your job, your permit, your Class-I rating and you’d end up receiving a load of demerit points. Demerit points increase your monthly insurance premiums and your Class-I permit renewal fees and beyond a certain number of demerit points, they won’t allow you to drive. But if you can’t keep your zipper on, I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.
In contrast, trucking in India is very different. Firstly, in India, most trucks are straight-bodied, not tractor-trailers and Indian trucks are called lorrys. In Canada, Lorry is a woman’s name, though she might spell it ‘Lori’. An Indian lorry carries 10-15 tons max. Wimpy, I say. A normal Canadian tractor-trailer carries 50 tons. And the level of driving comfort just cannot be compared. The best part is that, if you start off being a trucker here, you might get to be a star one day. Don’t know what it is about truckers but many have gone on to successful movie and music careers. Rock Hudson, Sean Connery, Liam Neeson, Elvis Presley, Charles Bronson, and Chevy Chase being just a few.
However, over here too, especially on the Montreal-Toronto circuit, you get a lot of Sardarji truckers. You’re driving along the 401, minding your business, when you inadvertently stray a bit into the right lane a bit too close to the massive tractor-trailer you just overtook. And you see the huge tractor cab creeping up next to you and keeping pace long enough for you to hear,” Abey Pangchod, bund da kabooter! Hut, nahin to gand pe laath parega!” You look up and there’s Praji giving you a withering glance and speeding up, leaving you shell shocked.
I once traveled in a lorry, in the summer of ’79. An overnight trip, from Harihar to Bangalore. I ‘d been to the Mysore Kirloskar plant in Harihar on business when I ran out of funds. Entertaining the receptionist the previous evening had severely depleted my finances. What was I ta do? She had a ponytail and she liked to swat my tiddly with it.
There were no credit cards those days and cheques were accepted only if the establishment knew you well. Travelling back by any organized mode of transport requiring the payment of a fare, was therefore out of question. And there I was, stuck in this hick town, with the last fifty I had on me. Not in any way overlooking my immediate priorities, I got myself a pint of Old Monk, tucked it into my overnighter and with the tenner that was left, I took an auto to the outbound Bangalore highway check post, otherwise known as the Octroi Naka, arriving there smelling like a brewery. I staggered out, fished out the tenner and looked at Gandhiji on it. Did I catch him wrinkle his nose or was the tenner wrinkled? I giggled drunkenly. Gandhiji departed, relieved, and Babasaheb Ambedkar came in (ie: I got back a fiver). It was late, around ten at night. The pint bottle of Old Monk had so little rum left, you could count the number of C2H5(OH) molecules in there on the fingers of your hand.
I tottered up to a Leyland truck standing next to a dhaba and saw the driver, a sardarji, sitting on a khatia and wolfing down dal and roti with a whole onion and those really hot green peppers. Every time he bit into a pepper, he hiccupped and wiped a running nose with a rag that he had draped round his shoulders. On a small stool, right next, was a bottle of arrack and a glass. Arrack is country liquor, a cloudy liquid, with stuff floating in it. It consists of alcohol at around 55-60%, volume by volume. H2O molecules enjoy minority status in there, I tell you. One swig and you’re zonked.
Sardarji sized me up and settled for a fiver after I gave him a hard-up story. “Go sit in the cab,” he growled. I weaved my way to the truck and climbed on, in a stupor. You don’t hitch a lift in a truck in India unless you’re sozzled senseless. I curled up in the far corner of the cab, nestled my bag behind like a pillow and passed out.
And I immediately started having this beautiful dream. I was a trucker backing up my Tata1210 next to a dhaba and there was Mumtaz running alongside, cradling two ripe coconuts close to her chest, one in each hand, and singing,”Lelo re lelo babu, peelo naryel pani…..”. She jiggled around to the point where I was about sign her on to a large long-term contract for coconuts, when she suddenly faded out and faded in again with, ‘jaise radha ne mala japi, shyam se…’ and I felt my skin color changing to purplish blue and I began feeling the presence of this glowing frisbee just behind my head. By this time, I was groping around for my bansuri.
Soon Radha started getting tired of japoing her mala. She faded out and Vishnuvardhan and Aarathi faded in with, “Neera bittu neledemele doni sagadu, neera bittu neledemele bandi sohadu” with Vishnuvardhan chasing Aarathi up a papaya tree that looked as if it’d grown two additional papayas all of a sudden. Aarathi shinnied down before the original papayas started to feel inadequate. This was a sweet Kannada song from the film ‘Hombisilu’ which had taken Bangalore by storm, back in ’78/79.
Ah, I was having the mother of all dreams. Between coconuts, papayas and bansuris, I was trundling along quite nicely when disaster struck. K.L.Saigal cut in with,” Paglaaaa..aaa ..aaa..monta re tui bandh…”, the Bengali version of ‘babul mora’. Jesus Christ, the guy made me wish I could reach back into the past like the Terminator and strangle him. But this time I was fortunate. Saigalji was harshly interrupted when a sudden heave brought me awake and the first think I noted was that the sun was up and there was water all around. Sardarji had driven the truck right into a shallow river, more like a large stream actually, and he was busy washing it.
“Where are we?” I took off my shoes, rolled up my pants and jumped out into the stream. The water was muddy but felt good. My feet sank into the soft bed. Over on one side, was a dhaba, an adobe building in the shade of a copse of hapoos mango trees.
“Tumkur,” he went on washing the windshield,” If you’re done with your beauty sleep, maybe you can come and give me a hand,” he threw a plastic bucket and a mug toward me. I scurried around filling the bucket and throwing the dirty river water at the truck for the next couple of hours, until the sun was right over our heads. By the time we were done, it was lunch time and Surdie drove the truck back up the bank, into the shade of the trees. He beckoned me to come sit with him on the khatia and eat.
The dhabawala had meanwhile caught a chicken and BBQed it. We had a full meal of delicious chicken tikka masala, naans, rajma daal and a few stray flies. It was the most satisfying meal I’d had in a long long time. Sardarji paid for everything. He refused to take the fiver I had left on me. We sat there a few minutes in silence. The calm, the sweet breeze, the murr-murr of tyres on the highway in the distance, I was lost in this beautiful wilderness. Sardarji too seemed that way. Or maybe he sensed that I wanted to just hang around a while. He went on reclining on the charpoi, pagri removed for comfort, puckered eyes staring up at the blue expanse overhead.
At Bangalore, Sardarji dropped me off at Yashwantpur and as I started to turn, he thrust a tenner in my hands. “Here,” he said gruffly,” You’ll need this for auto fare,” and he was gone, leaving me staring back at the truck as it careened into the traffic, belching black smoke, and disappeared from sight.
Now, I know you liked this piece a lot and it’s left you glowing all over. Like it was polonium210. I don’t have any polonium210. Vladimir Putin has all of it. The piece made you laf. It made you chukkil. It made you cry, sniff. It might have made you pass wind but I don’t want ta know. Don’t tell me, let me guess. In return for all this enlightenment, you want to send me money. Send it in small unmarked bills. Lots of small unmarked bills. Y’know, the ones with Daddy Ambedkar and Gramps Gandhi on ‘em. And if they’re still printing the 500s with Giani Zail Singh, you may send those in too. This one is, after all, in honor of sardarjis. You’ll get it all back with your tax refund, I swear. For helping the needee.