My recent trip to India was filled with driver chronicles. I am not going to bore the general public with the story of another driver who drove us in Kulu Manali. But I do have to mention him. We had asked for a car with driver to take us upto Rohtang Pass ( a peak where it was possible to view snow in the Indian Summer) Rohtang Pass is beautiful, but getting there is no relaxing soak in the spa. There are roads upto midway up the mountain. After that, it is blind faith in your car driver.
Driver KM (for Kulu Manali or Killer Man) was lean, bronzed and had a mean cut running across his jowl, that served to accentuate a sinister look. If you get a driver like ours, the chances of getting killed by his looks was greater than being killed by the lack of roads. Driver KM seemed to have taken strong training from Mafia overlords, Hollywood and Arnold Schwazanegger in the looks-could-kill department. While he claimed to have control over the vehicle, he seemed to be totally lacking in control on his own emotions. In hindsight, it might have been worse if his areas of control had been switched, but we heard from others that they got drivers who knew how to control both the car and their temper. Sad – still, life is a bargain.
Rohtang Pass took a good 3.5 hours from where we stayed in Manali. We left at 7 a.m. The driver opined we were late. “Jam lag jaati hai” he told us. He explained to us with a stern face that traffic jams were common, and frivolously leaving at 7 a.m. does not suit the strict guidelines set by a peak as severe as Rohtang Pass.
Whatever may be his shortcomings in the temper department, I must grant Killer Man that in the envisioning department he did not fail. We started back from Rohtang Pass on the narrow roads, and right enough there was a spot where progress stopped. When yaks carrying people overtake you on the roads, you realise there is a problem.
I “kya-ho-gaya-bhaiya”-ed him (what happened brother?) to find out what happened. I mused on how in India, one embraces everybody as family, and perfect strangers become your elder brother or maternal uncle in a jiffy. Driver KM’s jaws were firm – he crytpically replied, “Jam lagi hai”. He seemed fond of the phrase.
I was confused, and being the sort of inquisitive bird that I am; I wanted to know what caused the jam. I hoped there wasn’t an accident of any kind. Driver KM was swift this time. There was hardly a second’s gap before he took to chastising me about speaking and thinking good thoughts. He said it would make me a better person. I had committed a heinous crime in suggesting there might have been an accident. Now, if there was an accident, it would be entirely my fault. I found the insinuations a bit unfair, but the only other option I had of getting back to my hotel was para-gliding down some steep cliffs and I wasn’t in the mood. So, I kept quiet and simmered in the background.
Conversation lulled for a while after this. I couldn’t bear it any longer and decided to investigate. It turns out that two large lorries with drivers having roughly the same ego as the size of their vehicles were attempting to cross each other on a road that would gladly accomodate two bicycles and a duck, but no more. So, the blokes sat staring at each other for an hour. Neither would back down, and neither would move. Vehicles snaked up for miles on either side, while these two egotists carried on their fun who-doesn’t-blink-first game.