Truck by chance

Published: Oct 22, 2019, 07:00 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

In his soon-to-release debut title, a city-based writer presents an insightful account of the highway economy after hitch-hiking on trucks across the country

The USB stick that almost got the author killed, next to a love letter penned by trucker Raju. Pics/Ozzie Hoppe
The USB stick that almost got the author killed, next to a love letter penned by trucker Raju. Pics/Ozzie Hoppe

It takes more than a memory to remember the first time you fell in love with the sight of an open road. Mumbai-based writer Rajat Ubhaykar takes an easy guess, gallivanting to the late 1990's. He remembers being crammed into a Tempo Trax with his extended family on a journey from Mumbai to Karnataka with songs from Kaho Na Pyaar Hai as the background score.

That's when he saw the trucks — possibly knowing that he might write a book about them someday. The idea came to fruition during another impulsive trip from Kanpur to Shimla. "It's where I felt like these guys do need to be written about. Even in the media, when we write about transport, the lives of the truckers aren't discussed — it's centred around the lobbies and associations," the 28-year-old shares.

A Mathadi worker carries luggage to a warehouse in Bhiwandi

Ubhaykar, a former business journalist based in Malad, embarked on an unplanned trip in April 2015 as part of an assignment for a magazine. He decided to leave Mumbai and head North, all the way to Srinagar by hitch-hiking on trucks — but that was only the first leg and he managed to accomplish the feat. In January 2018, he set out again, this time from Mumbai to Kanyakumari. And he details this thrilling experience — noting the difference in a pre- and post-GST regime — in Truck De India (Simon & Schuster India), his debut book that will be available digitally today and release in stores by October 30.

Although the writer travelled with a single backpack, he had a clear agenda for the travelogue, taking copious notes along the way. "My next destination was decided by the destination of the next trucker I encountered. I also wanted to throw light on the economy, or what they call 'logistics', and touch upon the challenges," he says. But Ubhaykar gained another lesson; he became confident with pitching, too. "The main thing was to find drivers who are stationary — those seated in dhabas or by petrol pumps. Here, you can make your pitch. I simply told them, 'I'm just a guy who wants to write a book about you. Would you be interested in letting me travel along?'" he adds.

Rajat Ubhaykar

He made umpteen discoveries along the way, even in and around the city — from the ecosystem of mathadis in Bhiwandi to the Dadagiri tax. Mathadis ('matha' meaning head) refers to head-loaders. "They have a state-enforced monopoly on the loading of goods. The thing is, they have developed immense clout in Mumbai, Pune and Bhiwandi and have become criminalised. The law was in place so as to protect the head-loaders from being exploited because they belong to the unorganised sector but slowly, it has given way for politicised goons who extort money from businessman," he informs. Similarly, the Dadagiri Tax is charged by goons affiliated to political parties. Ubhaykar's work also gives insight into local lingo — the people who accompany truck drivers are called Khalassi in Punjab, cleaners or singers in the South, and Andarwalas in the North East.

Jora at the wheel of his truck on the way to Chandigarh

But what advice would he give anyone who wishes to 'take off' the same way he did? "Let go of any notion of eating on time. Shed any inhibitions of having a smooth journey. Accept the unpredictable. It [the endeavour] is what I call 'The tyranny of the itinerary.'"

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