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Driving the bus of peace

He steers the hopes of two nations on the long and torturous road to peace. Little wonder that Rajinder Singh, the man at the wheel of the Delhi-Lahore bus, has become a larger-than-life figure. He speaks of his experiences and observations about passengers, people and Pakistan to Pragya Joshi.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2004 14:24 IST

He steers the hopes of two nations on the long and torturous road to peace. Little wonder that Rajinder Singh, the man at the wheel of the Delhi-Lahore bus, has become a larger-than-life figure.



As the human face of the bus diplomacy, Singh is used to being courted by the media, feted by friends, and approached by strangers with unusual requests. "Mere paas bahut log aakar kehte hain ki mera bhi Pakistani visa lagwa de. Woh sochte hain ki yeh sab mere hi haath mein hai (people ask me for a Pakistani visa, as if it were all in my hands)," says the bemused Sikh.

The kind of expectations Singh arouses is perhaps understandable. Since 1999, when the bus service began, it has been a barometer of the love-hate relationship between the two neighbours. The Vajpayee Government shut down the service after the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001. Its resumption last year marked the thaw in Indo-Pak ties.

And the peace bus could be in no better hands. Singh has been with the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) for the past 28 years. Before embarking on his high-profile assignment, he drove the interstate route between Delhi and Nainital for 17 years. But Singh admits that the sense of fulfilment on the current job is unmatched by anything he has experienced before. Driving a million people towards sanity and peaceful co-existence is no mean task and he takes immense pride in it.

His trips across the Wagah border have left Singh a lot wiser about the shared cultural heritage. "Tamil Nadu is more different than Pakistan in some respects," he insists.

 
The Pakistan bus that crosses into India.

Already the peace initiatives taken by leaders of India and Pakistan are beginning to cascade down to the people, says Singh. Drivers on both side of the border share a spirit of camaraderie and are willing to help each other out when required.



"

Abhi ki baat hai ki ek Pakistani bus ki diesel line mein defect tha, humne India ki do busein bhej kar, ek mein material aur ek mein Pakistani passengers ko wapas lane ka arrangement kiya that. Bus theek karke agle diin woh phir route pe chal rahi thi

(Just recently, there was a defect in the diesel line of a Pakistani bus that crosses into India. We made arrangements to send two buses from this side to help the stranded passengers and sort out the technical glitch. The bus was plying as usual the very next day)".



According to Singh, matters of faith no longer divide. "The mood among the passengers is upbeat. Visits to religious shrines are important to both Indians and Pakistanis. When drivers from Pakistan cross over, the first thing they want to do is visit Nizaum-ud-din Auliya's dargah in Delhi. Likewise, we too have started visiting the gurdwaras on their side of the border," he says. Religious sentiments are taken into account even while travelling. "There are people who offer the namaz (prayers) in the bus when we stop at the Mangolia restaurant in Kartarpur," Singh adds.

After his memorable Lahore sojourn, is the dapper Sikh now setting his sights on the proposed Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service? Not till there are smaller victories of a more personal nature to be had. "At family gatherings my children introduce me as the man who often visits Pakistan. What greater joy can there be?" he exults.

The slight difference in Pakistani currency doesn't deter Singh from bringing home the best 'badam' and 'kishmish', neither do the frequent jolts and potholes on the road to lasting peace dampen his confidence. Like the bus, its driver too epitomises hope, and holds out the promise of a better tomorrow.