Russian Roulette Indian Style
3 weeks of volunteer work have finished and I’m on my way to Rishikseh, the yoga and meditation capital of India made famous by the Beetles in the late 60’s.
In order to get there from Dharamsala, one needs to take a taxi to Chakki Bank railway station in Pathankot, Punjab state.
I’m picked up by my Punjabi taxi driver (PTD for short) whose only word in english is O.K. O.K. The journey starts inauspiciously, as we wind our way down through sleepy Dharamsala and take the Pathankot road. Once out of town things turn suicidal.
Firstly the music: PTD puts on a continuous play tape of Indian trance music. Imagine heavy base going “Dhum Dhum tara, Dhum Dhum tara” Now add in a nasal male voice with a strong hindi accent chanting “borak shama, ani yani” and then add some cymbals and flutes and a hysterical squeal in a women doing something like “hajubi lachtili baba ya”. All this comes blaring out of a speaker system with ruptured membranes. Adrenaline levels rise and PTD turns positively fiendish.
We tear through the countryside, screeching around corners and trying to establish our position on the indian road pecking order. The order is governed by size, with the top occupied by the bus followed, in descending order, by the large truck, medium truck, large taxi (I’m in one of those), small truck, small car, tuktuk rickshaw, motorbike, bicycle, pedestrian and dog. The one exception being the cow which reigns supreme, stupidly roaming the roads oblivious to the darwinian survival of the fittest struggle taking place.
I sit riveted to my seat, my levels of terror bordering on the hyterical. As daylight dwindles and twilight descends, I realize that night will bring further hair-raising experiences. Headlights are optional, as are having two lamps in working condition. We know what is coming towards us when it arrives- a small motor bike or a large single lamped truck both look alike. This is russian roulette.
I feel that I’ve got myself under control when suddenly my PTD attemps the impossible. He tries to overtake a bus, overtaking a truck, overtaking a motor bike, all this around a corner. This is exciting stuff but suddenly I see coming towards us my driver’s twin attempting the same feat in our direction. I grip the chair, close my eyes and start a quick discussion with my maker with whom I’m soon to meet.
Maybe my driver’s karma is to come back as an Indian Airlines pilot with all the perks included. I’m in Punjab and praying that I won’t come back as a Dhobi wallah or may be one of those stupid cows.