Truck de India! Is a travelogue book by Rajat Ubhaykar, published on October 22nd 2019 by Simon & Schuster India. In this book, Rajat hitches a ride with truckers, and visits various parts of the country, noting the struggles of the drivers, their hospitality, the dangers of this profession, as well as problems which insurgence causes.
I’ll be honest. I avoid books about traveling. Mostly because it is all sounds same after a while, and I have a deep seeded hatred of traveling. But the title of this book attracted my attention, mostly because there aren’t many books about truck drivers in general, and Indian truck drivers to be more specific.
Usually, I include a section which explains the summary of the book, called plot. But since this is a non-fictional book, I believe it is unnecessary. Besides, I have already summarized the book above already. So let’s move on to…
My reading experiences:
First, let me be clear. I am very cynical, and given to paranoia at the best of times. Living in a blind boarding school hasn’t helped me any to deal with this, so the thought of a journalist who grew up on Mumbai driving with strangers across the country kind of terrified me.
But the fact that these strangers, usually maligned by the normal city dwelling society, treated Rajat so well during their travels came to me as a pleasant surprise.
The book is peppered with the historic trivia mostly to explain why things are the way they are. That, and it is kind of hard to avoid that. I was most happy to read about the places where British fought Japanese army during World War II. Honestly, just how much of our history is not taught in schools? Because that sort of thing is not found anywhere in my old school’s textbook, while everyone is aware of the havoc Japanese army caused in China.
Not to mention, it is disgrace for those people who gave their lives during those battles. They deserved to be remembered, and that is how I feel.
Let’s move back to trucking. It inevitably came to sex, which doesn’t surprise me. I already knew that truck drivers often take the services of prostitutes, due to a documentary which I watched on National Geographic. So that didn’t come to me as a surprise. Although I can already hear the complains of some people, that these people stay away from their homes for weeks or months, and they shouldn’t take advantages of such services. But to them, I say, try it for yourselves.
This brings me to a disturbing point. Apparently, sexual abuse of children is still treated as normal in India, and it doesn’t even happen in some dark corner. It all happens in open.
Rajat notes in his book how in ancient and medieval society across the world, not just in India alone, children weren’t protected. That they should be protected and educated is the recent trend, which predictably hasn’t reached all parts of India. But that doesn’t surprise me. there are a lot of people who treat children as tradable commodity, they’ll happily sell them for any sort of gain. So city dwellers like me might think that all is right in the world, the reality is, it is not.
On a personal note, I do hope that if I were to ever be born in such family or place, my parents would do me a favor, and end my life in childhood. Living with a disability in such an environment sounds like masochism to me.
Rajat also notes the playlist of these drivers. Which can actually range from local songs, to Bollywood songs of 90’s, to even English songs from American bands or singers.
Another point of note is the bribes. There are bribes. Tuns of bribes. Bribes upon bribes. You can never escape bribes.
Which actually underlines nicely how week are the governments to enforce the laws, or indeed whether they are willing to enforce or not. Courts can order them all they want. But if they don’t want to do it, they won’t do it.
Rajat also notes how even during the supposed golden days of India, when it was called “Golden Bird,” the wealth was unequal. Most of the people toiled away in what we would call today minimum wage jobs, while rest of the people like kings, their ministers, and landlords had all the wealth. Today is no different.
Apparently, according to some old school drivers, trucking was used to be quite a respected profession back in the 80’s. so much so that people would bring the drivers into their homes for tea. Now though? Things are entirely different. They don’t enjoy the same level of respect is quite an understatement.
A lot of the drivers think that getting an MBA, or any college degree like that is useless, since a lot of the people are still unemployed even after those degrees. Whereas they still have their profession, no matter whatever issues they have to face because of it.
Well, to be honest, they’re not exactly wrong. Having a degree is no guarantee of employment, and government sector is filled with stupid exams. (Seriously, who asks the questions of physics in a bureaucrat exam?)
Except that not everyone thinks like that. a lot of drivers are bitter that they are unable to join the formal workforce. I even remember few of them even talked to Rajat, just because he was an educated person among them. I even remember how one guy asked his help for a job in Kashmir, though he wasn’t a truck driver.
The book begins with a poem about wrestlers by lal Singh Dil, called Satthar. Which is ironic, since I have read a lot of the biographies of pro-wrestlers, (Yes, I know that real wrestling is nothing like that,) and there is a lot of things common among them. Driving, unreasonable demands, more driving, and insane road stories.
Which is doubly ironic, since a lot of the truckers turned out to be the fans of WWE, which I’m sure would please Vince McMahon.
Also, if you’re on an Indian road, and a truck his honking at you, you better get out of the way because it is overloaded, and the driver wouldn’t be able to stop in time to save your rather squishy hide.
And if you’re a foreigner? Avoid driving on Indian roads. You might escape this country with your sanity intact.
If you like travelogue books, I suggest you pick this one up. It’ll give you a different point of view than a tourist. If you hate traveling books like me, then I suggest you pick up this book, because you won’t be reading a usual travelogue.
I remember watching Through the Wormhole, hosted by Gordon Freeman. In which they talked about trains as the food chain of cities. I feel trucks are the part of that food chain. If trucks are not working, then the city would run out of food soon enough, and riot would break out. if trucks are not working, then no one would get their products delivered to their homes. (Incidentally, please treat the delivery boys nicely. There is nothing wrong with treating workers nicely.)
In short, for a city life, trucks and trains are very important, and this book gives you a glimpse of the lives of the people who drive them.
I certainly recommend it.
With one caveat. If you’re a foreign reader, and for whatever reason you fancy reading this book, then beware. It contains a lot of Hindi phrases written in English, which might confuse you. a lot of Indian books are guilty of this. But the problem is, a lot of the local jokes and idioms don’t translate in English. This is the problem faced by dubbing company as well, just for your knowledge. But I’ll write about that some other day.
If you don’t have a problem with that, then go ahead, pick this book. Otherwise, avoid this, you might end up throwing it in fury, unable to understand a lot of the conversations, even though the author provides translations wherever he could. But some phrases just cannot be translated.
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If you want to learn more things about trucking and its relation with economy, then listen to this podcast of Lex Fridman, where he interviews Steve Viscelli:
Steve Viscelli: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream
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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Truck De India!”
Hey this sounds really interesting! Do you think it’d be good for someone who knows next to nothing about India?
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It will be. although the book focuses on truckers, it goes into the a lot of history to explain why the things are the way they are, particularly when it comes to the attitudes of various different parts of the country.
But, again. I suspect some Hindi written phrases might be a turn-off for you. But as I noted in the reviews, certain things just can’t be translated into English, without losing their meaning.
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I won’t know until I check it out!
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In that case, feel free to check out that book.
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