"Memories of the Grand Trunk Road" by Patrick Treacy

The Grand Trunk Road is one of South Asia's oldest and longest major roads. For several centuries, it has linked the eastern and western regions of the Indian subcontinent, running from Bengal, across north India, into Peshawar in Pakistan.
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The Grand Trunk Road
The Grand Trunk Road
 
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June 20, 2009 - PRLog -- Some once said that you don’t take the Grand Trunk Road to your destination, but rather it takes you. It was the middle of June, and it was taking me by courtesy of a reworked 1950’s Morris Oxford taxi through a maelstrom of cows, camels and elephants all the way to Calcutta. The late afternoon temperatures were climbing and had crossed one hundred and ten degrees for the fifth day in a row. From the front seat, I watched the vortex of bicycles, rickshaws, bullock carts and pedestrians that formed the lifeblood of the Indian highways, pass around us in every direction. A statute of Krishna, dangled hypnotically from the vehicle’s front mirror, moving in slow oscillations to the rhythm of the potholed road below us. I realise now that a more appropriate adornment would have been an image of Kali, the goddess of destruction, because after two miles of clanking, the car gave out one last metallic groan and ground to a halt in the middle of the road. A stony silence filled the cab as our fearless tank driver got out and opened the bonnet to survey the damage. As everywhere in India, there were people in abundance to help us with our problem, and before long another wayward charioteer found the tattered strip of electrical cable hanging under the engine, which indicated that our dynamo was missing. Our frantic eyed driver, Sandjit started pacing around the vehicle, continually cursing his luck and looking excitedly for the missing component. "It can’t have fallen off very far away because I see one of the bolts", he said, before tumbling into the crowds and bending down to pick something up out of the dust which looked like it might have fallen off a British cannon on route to Peshawar. Suddenly, I was preoccupied by the desperate drivers of the cycle-rickshas who stopped looking for custom, and hardly noticed the man in the white dhoti approaching the car. I suppose he could have been a Swami, or holy man but he looked too disraggled to be of Brahmin caste. He moved with a slight limp, and measured me with a challenging look in his eye.

"Master Sahib, is this what you are looking for? " he enquired, thrusting the generator in my direction.

"My name is Chandrapal, and please Sahib I am travelling to Calcutta’’

"Sahib, could you please aid me in my journey?" he continued.

I looked at the holy man, tall in the crowd, his body covered in the only possessions he owned in the world, his craggy lined face worn like the sculpted staff he carried. He came towards me, grinning. I noticed how his eyes had a different quality, piercing and yet at peace, visually indifferent to the chaos that surrounded us. There was a certain aura about him and I sensed he would be interesting company en route to Calcutta. He lowered his head and looked over at Sandjit who was now busily repairing the taxi.

"This taxi is already fully booked out!" he said, without even bothering to lift his head from underneath the half-open bonnet.

"Please leave! You can see that we have no more place in this vehicle" he continued, scowling at the very thought of mixing trade with compassion. I indicated to the driver, that I would pay for the shaman’s passage, but his eyes widened further and his finger gesticulated excitedly indicating there was to be no more talk about carrying the holy man in the taxi. I then turned back to the poor man and said.

"Sorry, Chandrapal, but he’s the boss!""I’m sorry you can’t travel with us, but might I take a picture of you?" I respectfully inquired. He agreed, standing away from the car in poised silence, passing no remark on the taxi driver’s intolerance, which we both knew was probably caste driven and the unspoken way of life in India.

"Here are some rupees for the picture!" I continued.

"I never take money, I only accept food in order to live and I beg for your assistance in helping me to go about to my pilgrimages!"

"But why do you not take money?" I queried.

"I do not want to carry money, …it would buy me only trouble, you see"

"If I had your money, then the robbers would follow me and I would not sleep at night"

"But if you had my money you could pay for a taxi to go to Calcutta!" I replied.

"I never buy what kindness can be given from the heart!" he responded.

"Here, take this money from me and get an autoricksha to take you a little further on your way to Calcutta!We stood looking at each other as I passed some money into his aluminium bowl. The holy man began murmuring some haunting chant from a Hindu mantra as I got back into the taxi to continue the rest of my journey. The sun was climbing in the sky as he drifted away, walking behind a passing bullock cart, timing his step to the rhythm of the creaking wheels. From the back window of the taxi I could see him pausing and looking into the begging bowl to count his takings. Then he lifted something high in the air and gave it a fling. My money!

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The author is a travel writer with Ireland's 'Social and Personal' Magazine and an invited video contributor to many travel websites including TripFilms, Backpacker magazine and National Geographic's 'Everyday Explorers'. See website www.patricktreacy.com
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