Taya Ji - a short story
(Taya Ji is a form of address
for father's older brother)
Bara'an Waali Pulli, (or twelver bridge') was a minor bus stop on
Sumandari-Rajana road, just over nine miles from the Sumandari city center,
a mid-sized town in central Punjab. If a bus had room, the driver would stop
and the conductor would let only those passengers in who were going to
Sumandari or beyond, preferably Lyallpur, which is now called Faisalabad.
The Pulli, or a small bridge, was nearer to our village than either
Khidarwala, a major stop some five miles away, or, the railway station about
the same distance though almost in the opposite direction. Khidarwala stood
divided along banks of a tributary, which after passing through the roadside
town, slowly arched towards our village, Chuck No.482.
Though chances of landing a seat in the bus were much brighter had one
traveled first to Khidarwala, either on a Tonga or a bullock-cart, most in
the village preferred the pulli, which wasn't less than 2 miles either. A
seemingly endless walk to get to it was only barely improved upon by a bumpy
ride on a bullock-cart over a trail, which, depending
upon the season and spot could either be dusty or muddy. Overuse by
bullock-carts had left deep tracks within the trail, in some some places as
deep as a foot. Where it was dusty, the soil was fine as powder; where it
was wet, the trail was muddy, or covered with standing water from the last
While pedestrians walked around the puddles and ponds, oxen pulling the
bullock cart with jangling bells tuned to their lethargic steps, simply
charged the still water, awakening swarms of the sleeping mosquitoes and
painting the rims of the wheel with a fresh coat of mud. Occasionally,
charging the mud caused oxen to slip and struggle at which the cart driver,
instead of letting the beasts pull themselves out, lashed at them,
alternately striking the haunches of the shaft and the ox.
Away from all the action surrounding the hoofs, there was the rustic
presence of fields, farms and orchards producing everything central Punjab
is known for. While moving on the trail, occasionally a fruit-laden orchard
would draw near, then be abruptly replaced by the edge of a cotton field, or
a mud-wall lining a barn. At other places, one or both sides of the trail
were lined with trees, providing brief respite from the scorching sun during
summer. In the harvesting season, the air was laden with faint smell of
crops. Clusters of neat sheaves of the heavy-eared wheat punctuated the
stubble in the foreground and in the distance.
The arrival at the bus stop at least ensured a kind of point of no return.
For, even though not every bus you waved at stopped, it was clear that
getting to Sumandari was much easier than walking or riding back to the
village. I have walked or rode to the Pulli more often than I can remember.
Whether it was summer or winter, spring or fall, planting season or
harvesting days, occasions of happiness or sadness, the Pulli was always a
fixture, into or out of the village.
Planted among the flora in the fine soil of Pulli is the memory of my first
encounter with Taya Ji. We waved to an approaching bus, which to our
surprise slowed down to a halt. Behind the steering wheel sat Taya Ji,
waving and smiling at us. Soon we were in the Bus sitting in the best seat
of the house - right across from Taya Ji, looking in towards
I must have boarded a bus countless times from the Pulli but this one stands
out of the blurred recollection of the rest. I can almost see and hear the
engine begin to roar as the stationary objects outside slowly start to drift
backwards, soon becoming a rapidly changing landscape dotted by haystacks
and huts among other elements of the countryside.
Most significantly, for a child of my age at that time, Taya Ji was a breath
of fresh air. He always had a distinct smile on his lips with full support
of rest of his face. If you would see him, you wouldn't believe he made
living driving a bus - a strenuous job even today. Every time I saw him, he
had never left his smile behind.
His demeanor was in stark contrast to my youngest Mamoon, who was surrounded
by the beautiful farmland leading to Pulli, yet sported a frown which rarely
left him, even though he was far richer than Taya Ji, in fact a Numberdar of
the village once. When he entered the haveli, as his sprawling
village house was called, women who were just chatting would suddenly drop
their conversations, kids would hide, and poor servants, already tired of
hard work, move ever so more quickly to not appear lazy. I used to count the
days to when we would return to our little house far away, in a small town
called Kamoke, near Gujranwala. Taya Ji's family lived across the street
from us though he was stationed in Lyallpur.
He, along with two of his brothers, fought the World War II on the side of
British, eventually becoming prisoner of the Japanese armies in the Far
East. After independence and upon migrating from East Punjab to Kamoke in
District Gujranwala, he took up a job as a bus driver in Lyallpur, leaving
his family behind.
As much as I remember, I rarely saw him in Kamoke. My aunt (his wife) and
the children lived in the house across the narrow street from ours where
families of other four brothers lived, sharing a small house, cleverly
compartmented to appear big. His boys did not like school much but somehow ,
staying with father's trade, they had mastered the art of
memorizing particulars of each bus which passed through the town on the
famous Grand Trunk Road. From a considerable distance they could tell you
the bus-company, make of the engine and type of cabin - lorry or box, even
numbers on the tag.
He faced a lot of adversity in his lifetime, losing a son to drugs, others
to illiteracy and unemployment; failing to convince the British government
that he once was a POW (deserving compensation awarded to others like him);
living hand to mouth in later years of life as his sons could barely support
him - or just simply didn't.
But in all this, he never once lost his composure, using his very attractive
smile as a shield against losses and lapses. Lately, fortune seems to have
started turning good for him. The British government finally relented to his
repeated pleadings through my father and his siblings had gotten enough
money together for him to finally have a house for himself. He even put a
down payment on a house he liked.
But he died on October 20, 2003 due to a heart attack.
I don't know when, and if ever, I would board a bus again from the Pulli.
Much around it must have changed in the last forty years. Muddy and mucky
track to the Chuck might have been paved by now; and the farms and orchards
surrounding it must have grown smaller in size as a new generation of
siblings divided them up. But if I ever stopped by there and traced out the
little Pulli, I am sure to hear a bus slowing down to a complete halt and
see Taya Ji behind the steering wheel, calling us to come on board. This
time, though, I wouldn't want the bus to move, hoping to change what was to
come his way and what wasn't - before the wheels start to turn, an all too
familiar fact of life of a a bus driver.