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Even though India is much written about in world media, few people fully comprehend its diversity and complexity. This nation of more than a billion people has many hidden stories that are screaming out in silent voices, almost unheard by anyone.

This blog is an attempt to give a voice to the ordinary Indian – the woman on a Mumbai local train, the rickshawala on the streets of Delhi, the fruitseller of Bangalore and the Irani chai wala of Hyderabad.  After all, only when the stories of the common Indian is valued, will the nation’s essence be absorbed better.

The following is the story of thousands of people in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, who risk their lives to commute to work.

A tattered nine-seater jeep was travelling at the speed of a race car on the highway that connects Fatehpur to Agra.  Black plastic sheets covered its top and the sides were open, presumably for some air. 23 people were stuffed into it like cotton stuffed into a pillow!

I was one of them, crushed between my friend (who was almost falling off the jeep) on my right and a middle aged women on my left.

We had ended our journey of the magnificent Fatehpur and Sikri that evening and were told that there weren’t any buses back to Agra. We had to take the jeep.  The driver of the jeep had politely invited us and had pointed to a tiny space which could, at best, accommodate a four-year-old.

Five minutes into the journey, the kid next to me threw up.  I was secretly glad because the kid seemed to be the only one in that crowd who would acknowledge the claustrophobic and suffocating set up.  To me, that was reassuring. The mother cupped her hands in front of the child’s mouth. That is how we were to spend the rest of our journey.  My initial pleasure at the reassurance soon disappeared as the stink of the vomit exponentially increased the suffocation.

Those sitting on the seats inside the jeep were partially lucky as they had gotten to sit through the journey. And those hanging on to the windows and sides of the jeep were partially lucky as they had gotten to breathe through the journey.

There were four people to the driver’s left and one to his right. The very sight of a person driving with people pushing him around was scary. The speedometer had stopped at 40, but it didn’t take Einstein’s brains to guess that the speed was well above 100kmph. Thankfully, the road was in a reasonably good state, not a common sight in our country.

To add to my fears, it stared drizzling. To my utmost dismay, I realized that our jeep was without wipers!

Within a flash, I thought of all the people I love, all the things that I wanted to do in life, thanked God for everything I had achieved and apologised to him for all my shortcomings.

Before I finished this long conversation with God, we reached Agra.  I hoped out of the jeep like one would jump out of a sinking boat.

The following morning I was thankful for the beautiful sunrise, the amazing night’s sleep and the hot cup of tea I had in my hand. Tea infuses the spirit in you to mull over life.

I thought about the thousands of men and women who make that commute every day, how frustrated would they return home, how much energy would they have to laugh with their kids at the end of the day, would they look forward to going to work every day?

Would they be enthusiastic at work?

While I thought of the people who were forced to make that ‘death’ commute every day,  the picture of a middle aged man who was sitting in front of me in that jeep came to mind.  He was reading a Hindi novel in the midst of that chaos. A serene sight. That is the inexplicable peace of mind we all crave for.

Published in: Easy Narrative
Published in: March 2012

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