Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Making of a Truck Drivers

Due to the commissioning of the cement plant, the otherwise deserted and underused road had become very busy with both Indian and Bhutanese trucks plying to and fro. I have observed that the Indian trucks invariably have two persons in the truck. It is in the Bhutanese truck that most of the time there is just one driver. Why is it so? And to answer that, this takes me back to the time where there used to be a helper for the driver commonly referred to as – Khalas/khalasi.


Most of my friends during school days who could not make it and who were just too lazy to put in effort in studies dropped out of school to become Khalasi, which ultimately led to becoming a driver. The life of a khalasi as I have seen and heard from my friends would take us back to the time of serfdom and feudalistic era. In the absence of driver training institutes, becoming driver through khalas was the only way.

The khalas were supposed to refer the drivers as guru or ‘ata’ if the driver was the from east. It was up to the driver to treat the khalas as he pleases and most of the time the tradition of ill treating the khalas was followed, treating the khalas just like a personal slave in return for the knowledge for how to drive. The duration of becoming driver from khalas depended on the whim and fancies of the guru and it was never less than six months.

During the period all the tricks and trade of the drivers were taught starting from the changing of the massive tire alone while the driver relaxes as if he is allergic to the dirt and afraid to get his hands dirty. One can immediately differentiate the driver and the khalas by the appearance as the khalases were supposed to be dirty looking and unkempt for a simple reason that he should not be offering any competition in the field of “Diver life is golden life, one turning one girlfriend” – sometimes found written in the cabin.

There used to be immense pride in the drivers who had picked up driving through becoming a khalas. They consider themselves a true driver and look down on the drivers who passed out from the driving institute. The drivers who went through the khalas system were like Ex NDA. However, with the changing times the numbers of drivers coming out of the driving institutes overpowered the numbers of true drivers and the system of having helper/khalas is seen dwindling as the true drivers themselves resort to employing the drivers passed out from the institutes, for they had upgraded their status to that of a Malik – the owner of a truck.

My friend who is Malik now and who had picked up driving through being a khalas narrates a hellish story when he was a khalas. Couple of times he was left in the forests for not being agile enough to climb on the moving truck. The drivers those days had not time to see whether the khalas was in the vehicle or not, khalas were supposed to take out the stone from under the wheel and as the truck is speeding he was supposed to get in, otherwise just too bad.

Even after undergoing so much of hardships and ill treatment from the driver, it was surprising to note that my friend has no hard feelings towards his guru and bows down at the driver for making him what he is today, whenever their path crosses.

Such traditions in the making of the drivers are apparently becoming extinct seeing the lone driver maneuvering the huge truck on the highway. Whether the tradition of khalas was good or bad only time would tell but as my friend says it is disheartening to see the drivers driving alone and changing tires, which was once below the dignity of the drivers. Driver life is no more golden life – without the personal slave – the khalas.