Indian Ride

On the Go

A short take by Bodhena from one of his many travels through India.

I got to the Khajuraho bus stand with plenty of time to spare for the 9 a.m. bus to Jhansi. Only, the bus did not show up. So after some time I managed to get a ride with an old army jeep, with a canvas roof and still in camouflage paint, that had been decommissioned long ago. The jeep was crammed to capacity, with up to 17 adults (I counted!), a few babies and assorted pieces of luggage. I was lucky and got a seat in the rear, so I could look out the open back window.

Overloaded jeep
Photo by Ravi Grove

And off we went, with the horn a-honking and music blasting, like riding inside a boombox on wheels, barrelling along the road to Chattarpur, a town about halfway to Jhansi. On the road, the usual chaos you’ll find on an Indian country (and any other) road. Motorbikes, rickshaws, donkeys, passenger cars, bicycles carrying families of four, bullock carts, scooters, and those huge trucks that seem to be remnants from a bygone time. And plenty of potholes.

At first glance, the scene seems quite anarchic, but upon closer inspection you find that everybody is following one simple law: If you encounter something bigger than you, yield. But only just as much as you need to, and you do so only at the last second. There’s nothing like the thrill of seeing one of those monster trucks coming straight at you, and I’ve felt that “whooosh” often enough that you get when it is passing with only centimeters to spare. Close encounters of the Indian kind!

Anyway, I was thoroughly enjoying the ride, watching the traffic, the rays of the morning sun slanting through the ancient trees lining the road, the Indian countryside and small villages as a backdrop. Then at some point I turned around and looked up to the front of the jeep … hm, isn’t there something missing? A closer look … shit, where’s the driver? Who’s driving this thing? Then I looked even closer and saw two small, thin arms clutching the steering wheel, belonging to a young boy who was barely able to look over the dashboard and who was obviously operating this vehicle, tearing along like the devil, and it was clear that he exactly knew what he was doing. My heart literally sank a few centimeters towards my stomach … ohmigod, who have I entrusted my life to? (It turned out it was a 13 year old kid, a nephew of the owner of the car, who was getting a driving lesson.)

I guess I must have said something to my fellow passengers, because a moment later the boy turned around (without going one bit off the gas), looked straight at me, and gave me one of those wooonderful smiles that Indian kids are so well known for. Well, there was nothing else for me do do but to relax, and enjoy. Yes, I did survive the ride, in one piece and without a scratch, to be able to tell about it. And the memory of that smile is still with me, as vivid as if it had happened just yesterday.

Deva BodhenaDeva Bodhena took sannyas in the late seventies and has lived and worked in all three communes, Pune I, Rajneeshpuram, and Pune II. He now lives in Clausthal, Germany, practising “nowhere to go and nothing to do”. His book “Bodhena’s Adventures in Samsara”, a chronicle of his commune times, is soon to be published. bodhena (at) hotmail (dot) com

Read excerpts from Bodhena’s Adventures in Samsara

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