A follow-up post to Tea in 1732kms.
The one thing that you cannot escape on a long drive, is people. No matter what secluded place you drive to, you will encounter them. Sometimes a few, sometimes many. But you will always see them.
They come in various shapes, sizes, colour, accents and moods.
They sit at toll booths and pass out the exact same ticket for the exact same fare for the duration of their shift. They are walking by to a village close by, and you duck your head out of the window to confirm the right turn – usually after you have taken that turn. They might offer directions with a nod of their head, sometimes they will want to give you more details than you care for – sometimes they ask you to drop them on the way for offering you directions. They might make tea for you, serve food, or help you get to your designated room for the night. They smile at you: sometimes a fake trained smile like the one we see in airlines or hotels; sometimes the smile is genuine, for no other reason than just to have met you. Sometimes they stare at you – because city folk in a village usually stand out like, well, city folk in a village; sometimes they ignore you. Usually, folks I have met on my way are helpful; a few times, they didn’t bother. As we go into the interiors we see them wear very colourful clothes, which often hurts our overly sensitised sense of bland attire. They become gaudy sometimes, and we are quick to be sarcastically humorous. We see labourers on the highway, levelling it out for us in the heat and dust, while we are quick to roll-up our windows and switch on the AC.
We forget almost all of these people when the drive is done. We usually never take these portraits to remind us of these people when we upload photographs or blog about them. One wayfarer’s face in over seventeen hundred kilometres, however, has stayed with me like a photographic impression.
We had just left Dhar, off Indore, on our way to Surat. The road up to Dahod is in a very bad condition, with very small smooth patches in between. Where I could, I was speeding, to make up for lost time. As one smooth patch was coming to an end, I slowed down. Green fields on my right, with tall hills somewhere far watched me with patience. In the foreground, close to my car, I saw him. He wore a light blue soiled kurta that still saturated itself well against the blue sky. His back was turned to me. As I came to an almost halt to go through a deep pothole, he turned – he wore a tightly wrapped white turban and a white dhoti, wrapped in a way I have never seen before. As I surveyed him from his bare feet to his face, I think, that’s when the mental shutter released. It was a face, lush with character and marked by deep, confident wrinkles for the years. The thick regal moustache ended somewhere, but was hidden by where the sideburns waved towards his ears; the facial hair a sharp contrast to his sun-worn dark skin. I’d like to think and even say, that our eyes met, but I was too mesmerised by what stood there, to remember. Yet, I remember those big, dark, sunken eyes, which were the source of the hypnosis of that brief moment. As if to complete this vision that I was beholden to, he moved his right hand slightly for me to see the most beautiful axe in his big hands.
The car moved on having climbed out of the pothole and found a semblance of a road. Both of us were speechless for a few minutes.
Most of your memories can be captured with a camera. Some memories, however, you are meant to capture and preserve in your heart.