Box of Chocolates
He had now been driving for seven hours at a stretch. Being a truck driver for fifteen years, and running his own trucks to ferry quarried sand all over the country, he was quite adept at driving long stretches. To kill the monotony he had put on some old 50s songs. Humming along to them, his truck was eating up the road. This was a new route he was on which connected Lucknow to Shahjahanpur in UP. It was now 11:30 pm, and he decided to stop by a roadside dhaba for a quick meal before continuing further. Ideally, a stopover was in order, but he wanted to complete the journey in one stretch so that he could be back home the next day in time for his daughter’s 5th birthday. She had coaxed a promise out of him to that effect and he had no intention of breaking her heart.
He saw a dhaba “Sukoon Tandoori Palace” and pulled over in front of it. After finishing a quick meal of rice and dal, he settled his bill and was about to leave when he heard a voice. “Paaji, are you headed towards Shahjahanpur? I heard you saying that to someone just now.” He noticed that it was the same boy who had served him. “Why? Do you want a lift?” he asked. “No, no sir. I am not interested. But I wanted to warn you that it isn’t safe at this hour. It’s better to stay here and leave after five in the morning. The road is haunted, and people have had accidents,” he said. Not one to be the easily scared type, he simply guffawed out loud and leapt onto his truck. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” he said haughtily and walked away. He saw in his rearview mirror that the boy was shaking his head in fear. “These small town people never improve,” saying so, he began playing his tape and sped on.
It was a dark, moonless night. The road ahead was gleaming with the help of the strong powerful headlights. It was a straight road with trees on both sides and was quite eerie a sight. He was whistling away to “Mera joota hai japaani” when suddenly, a hundred metres away, he saw a young man wearing a dhoti and shawl by the side of the road. As he drove closer, the man waved his hand in an attempt to stop the truck. He sped ahead anyway but felt that he should have stopped for the man. He came to a screeching halt and reversed his truck.
“What happened?” he asked the man.
“Nothing. I have been walking a long time and need to get to the next village. And, I am drenched. Can you please lend me a hand?” he pleaded.
Thinking nothing of it, he helped the man get into the truck and handed him a towel. The man must have at least been around eighteen-twenty years of age, he felt. Hearing the song playing on the tape, he asked, “What song is this?” He was surprised at this question. The song was pretty popular and felt that he should have known it, but nevertheless, he answered, “‘mera joota hai japaani’ from ‘Shri 420’, Raj Kapoor’s film.” The man looked at him with a puzzled look and responded, “Never heard of him,” and looked ahead. He was surprised at this reaction but still drove ahead, albeit a little surprised. “So, why do you want to go to the next village at this hour,” he asked. After a long pause, he answered, “Ram Prasad-ji is planning something at Kakori with Khan Sahab. That’s the village I am headed to. He’s called for all young men around this place to help him. I was with my friends when I slipped on a rock and got separated while crossing a river sometime back. I couldn’t see them after that. I am going ahead to join them. Jai Hind.” Saying this he looked ahead. It was then that the truck driver realised that the back of the young man’s head was fully crushed and full of blood.