The driver was a muslim, short statured and slim, a beard barely broke surface on his pointed chin. He said, "I have no home. I live on this truck." It's a story not uncommon among the truckers who criss cross India. The three of us had kulfis I bought from a bhaiyya (migrants from Uttar Pradesh) who'd stayed on to listen to our conversation. He sold me three kulfis for five rupees each after he convinced me to eat one to give the other two, the driver-khalasi duo, company. "Chalo, aap mere taraf se ek le lo. Paisa mat do," he said after he saw me hesitate. "Nahi, nahi," I said. "Main bhaiyya hua tho kya hua, dil bada hai," he said, offering me one kulfi for free. "Did I say that you've a small heart," I asked him jokingly. By then a tall sardar had joined in, and we all laughed. "Na, na. You didn't say it. But some people say that bhaiyyas have small hearts," the kulfiwallah said, adjusting his dhoti. "Of course not," I said. "Don't pay attention to them. Many bhaiyyas have contributed generously." We had our kulfis and I went my way, passing several trucks on the way.
The city sees a steady stream of trucks passing through on their way elsewhere. Sometimes I look out for interesting sayings or poetry that some truckers write on the sides of their trucks. One truck that I saw today had a Haryana number-plate and was waiting in a queue at the Octroi Check Post. At the back of the truck I saw what I thought might be an interesting sher (a form of poetry whose exponents are called Shair in Urdu). I squeezed into the narrow space between the back of the truck and the next one in the queue behind and bent down to read the lines in Hindi written in white paint:
Chalti hai gaadi, uddthi hai dhool
Jalte hai chamche, khilte hai phool
When my vehicle runs, it kicks up dust. Sidekicks get jealous, flowers bloom. But I wasn't quite sure what the second line meant in the context. I knew chamche to mean sidekick. But why was he jealous as jalte seemed to suggest? And what could he possibly be jealous of in the truckers world? Who could possibly be the sidekick in this scenario?
I asked a truck driver waiting beside his truck in the queue. He said, "Imagine you're the owner of a truck and you've employed a driver and a khalasi (helper). The driver, without your knowledge, steals petrol from your truck and sells it to another trucker at a discount. That trucker in turn pockets the difference by showing his employer the market rate for the petrol he bought from your driver for much cheaper. Then he tells you that your driver steals petrol from your truck and makes money. Your driver then labels him your sidekick, accusing him of being jealous for making some money on the side." But he said nothing about the flowers.