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   I have little use for petrol pumps, Sunday or other days... (June 25, 1990)

I have little use for petrol pumps, Sunday or other days. But when I was hitch-hiking to Kashmir and Nepal, they played and important rote. I spend many hours at pumps along the highway, waiting for obliging trucks to come along and provide a lift.

In Europe, it is private cars that give lifts. In India, the Middle-East, it is trucks. There are more trucks on the roads than cars, the drivers are friendly, they take you long distances acroos the country. Most of them have favourite petrol stations along the route, and all you have to do iswait at one of them. It may be a long wait, sometimes several hours, sometimes a full night, but eventually a truck will come and oblige.

Most of the petrol stations have a dhaba attached to it, the two go together, petrol for the vehicle, food for the driver and cleaner. At the dhaba, there are charpoys for the driver to catch a few hours sleep and one or two maliswallas to massage the limbs and refresh the body. And most of the petrol pumps are in groups, three or hour within a short distance and some even facing one another on opposite sides of the highway. Then for miles there would be no pump until you come across another group. This may seems like bad business, but there it is.

The drivers are mainly Sikhs, large, rough men, but among the most hospitable people in the country. The trucks are invariably over-loaded, tilting at one side, the vehicles generally past their prime. The cleaner, who is a mechanic of sorts, is a very useful member of the team. When you are given a lift, you climb up, from the top of the driver's cab, to the top of the load in the back of the cab. This is often at a great height; you lie down, one arm firmly hooked through a rope, as the branches of trees brush past you.

I recall many petrol pumps. One at Arbi, between Malegaon and Dhule. Or I should say, several of them. It is (or was) like a truck drivers town, with scores of trucks driving in and out of the night, the aroma of food prepared at several dhabas, smoke from many tandoors. You can be sure of a lift here.

At Sikandar Naka, on the border of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, some ten miles before Jhansi, there was a petrol station where trucks from the two states, which did not have inter state licenses, would exchange their loads. Besides the petrol pump, there were godowns of agents and a colony of loaders and unloaders, I remember getting a lift there early in the morning, which took me straight to Kanpur.

There are other petrol pumps I remember. One at the edge of the Shivpuri forest. A truck which came there to fill petrol, took me through a moonlit night past the forest with its wild game and dancing peacocks to Gwalior at the break of dawn. And another night at a petrol pump at Badarpur, in the shadows of the Kutab Minar. A convoy of Tata Mercedes-Benz chasis had brought me there. The next day, I proceeded with four of them along the outer ring road of Delhi to the Grand Trunk Road and all the way to Jalandhar. Only, in those days, it was spelt as Jullunder. And Punjab was a land of peace and prosperity.

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