70’s in India was a period of limited exposure. Kids then had no clue of Chinese toys, cartoon channels, pizzas or Mac Donald’s unlike today. No television instead a large-sized radio was the only home entertainment and we had our ears glued to a fifteen minute play every night on All India Radio before wrapping to bed. In fact I vividly remember, my first ever introduction to the world outside was Chinese food but cooked in Indian style although my father never took us to a Chinese joint. He detested Chinese for screwing Indians real bad in the 62′ war.
My parents did like movies. Twice a month, we watched random movies but each time Amol Palekar’s movie released, we had to watch it first day last show. Any theater would do. My mother had a huge crush on Amol Palekar, a mystery my father and I never did figure out but he made sure to book tickets in advance. Messing with his wife meant a huge financial blow as nothing less than a visit to a jewelry store could possibly calm her down.
On Sundays and school holidays, I’d go with my father on his scooter to our highway gas station. That’s my family tradition. When the son turns five, he’s got to learn stuff about his family business and I was my parent’s only son.
This is how it works. When I passed out from school, my father asked “What’s next son?” I told him I wanted to study further. When I finished my high school, he checked again “So, what’s next son?” I asked “Can I go to college?”. He smiled with worried eyes. But when I abruptly quit college he was the happiest man on earth. “Son, it’s high time you join our family business. I’ll get you married to the prettiest girl from our community in a year’s time and send you off for your honeymoon. How about – Mount Abu? Manali is too far and cold,Mount Abu is just a four hour drive. You can take a bus and son; you got to realize value of money”
Anyway, life did not transpire as they had planned. A story for another time.
My father’s gas station is on a large chunk of land, he owns on the state highway. When he started way back in the 70’s, he rented out excess land to two enterprises that complemented his business.
Shankar, better known as Madrasi was a dark stout guy with large shoulders and an over-sized but stiff belly, ran a tyre repair shop. He slogged from six in the morning till he hit his whisky bottle sharp at eight in the night. He had the cutest smile and a perfect set of white teeth and none dared approach him for any job after eight p.m. His drab room had a large poster of Jayalalitha (A south Indian actress) in dancing pose and the rumor was he spoke to the poster in the night, though in the eighties as he grew older, he found his true love in Silk Smitha.
Sharma, a skinny, shrewd man got the bigger pie of land to run his vegetarian restaurant. To begin with, he knew a few drivers from his hometown who plied on that highway frequently. At his own risk he offered them fuel on credit but charged a monthly interest of 3%. My father took his share of money from interest accrued.
So here’s the deal. If you dine at Sharma’s restaurant, you can park your truck overnight, rent a makeshift bed for a nominal charge and buy fuel on credit.
Despite the horrors of my family tradition, I looked forward to my Sundays. The countryside breeze, smell of gas, cheap toffees for free was nothing less than a day’s picnic, but the most eventful moment was getting inside a truck. I’d wait for the most colorful, swanky truck to stop by and the drivers never refused to let me in for a peek. The size of truck overwhelmed me as a child. My tiny hands holding the massive steering wheel, watching myself in the large rear-view mirror, looking at people from above, listening to Bollywood music on a treble pushed up stereo made for my few good childhood memories. Each time I entered a truck cabin, it gave a sense of its owner, his mobile world stacked with choicest collections from places I hadn’t had a clue of then. Pictures of his wife, kids placed in an angle his eyes won’t miss while driving. Then those drivers seemed as perfect husbands and fathers to me. “I am a king on a giant chariot, always on the move” remarked one driver, I had met.
We visited a family friend on a Sunday evening right after my day out at the gas station. On the dinner table, our host triggered one of my worst blunders, “Son, so what will you be when you grow up?” I shot right back “I’m going to be a truck driver.”
That was the quietest dinner, we ever had.
* Thumbnail pictures are sourced from the net.