I was on my way back from Lahaul and Spiti to Manali and crossing the Rohtang pass. My day hadn’t been too good. I had woken up late with a headache and an upset stomach.
To make matters worse, the car in which I was travelling had a loose diesel cover. So the fumes kept assaulting my sensitive nose.
But the icing on the cake was the driver, Kartar Singh, who insisted on listening to the Gurbani, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to concentrate. It was important to concentrate in the treacherous terrain of Rohtang.
Men at work
I was irritable as hell and got into a scrap with him because he was driving irresponsibly. Despite that, there was no change in his expression or his driving speed.
It was 2:30 in the afternoon and it was dark. The stillness all around felt quite eerie. The driver said, “Saab baraf padne wali hai.”
Within minutes, it started snowing. Usually, snowfall would be a reason to be happy but somehow it looked quite ominous in the place where I was.
Within an hour, the place turned completely white. I could hear thunder. Kartar switched off the Gurbani.. he was tense.
Suddenly he moved off the highway onto a smaller road. There was a clear sign there which read — ‘Road is blocked, men at work.’
But he completely ignored it. I just lost it then. I demanded that he immediately turn around but Kartar didn’t. With a deadpan expression, he kept driving down the narrow road. And it continued to snow.
I warned him that I would lodge a formal complaint against him with the owners of the taxi service. It had been a miserable experience right from the time I sat in the car.
Suddenly, I felt the car losing its grip as it started turning around. So in effect, the car had a mind of its own and Kartar applied the brakes but there was no effect. We were perilously close to the edge! My heart was in my mouth.
The temperature had dropped below freezing point and formed a thin layer of ice on the road. It was so thin that you could not see it but it was almost frictionless and one of the most dangerous situations to be in.
Kartar got out of the moving car and tried to stop the car which was moving very slowly but relentlessly because of a lack of friction. He grabbed hold of a rock and put it in front of the tyre. Finally it came to a halt!
I was breathing so loudly that my lungs hurt. I was scared. The place seemed devoid of life. Snow had never looked so scary. In the meanwhile, Kartar deflated all the tyres of his car.
As he started the engine, he turned around and told me in Punjabi that we were in a tough situation. But he assured me that I would be safe. Somehow in that tense situation, his reassurance worked like magic and we started moving slowly.
I requested him to switch on the Gurbani. We gradually made it to Manali after five hours, when it should have taken us half of that. But if we hadn’t taken the alternate road, we would have had to spend the night in the car in that hostile terrain.
Kartar had saved my life. I apologised to him the next morning for my rude behaviour and thanked him for getting me to Manali safely.
Yet again, I had misread a human being who was, in reality, my saviour. It reminds me of a Moorish proverb — “He who does not travel does not know the value of men.”
(The writer is a music composer) www.shantanumoitra.in