Turdi (Sprinting) Bus

by Prem Nath Dhar & translated from Kashmiri into English by Dr.Shiben Krishen Raina

While in Pathankot, the scorching sun, filtered through the light clouds, was bothering the weary travelers heading to Kashmir. Their eyes were tired from the journey, and the surroundings made them even more disheartened. Only Biswas Moshai believed that as soon as the bus started moving, they would soon witness the coolness of the Kashmir valley filled with snow-capped mountains, and experience the serenity of paradise called Kashmir. Moshai said, “There it will be soon: the mountains, tall and white, dressed in silver, appearing majestic and imposing!”

Few people paid attention to Moshai’s words. A few women passengers were sitting inside the bus. The one, with the newspaper, was fanning herself with it, while the one without a fan was shaking her Sari Pallu to soothe her heart. The men were anxiously waiting for the bus driver on the roadside. When will Thakur Singh, the driver, arrive? The horn will sound, there will be a commotion, the engine will start, and the voices of “Let’s go, let’s go” will be heard all around. It had been quite a while, neither Thakur Singh nor his conductor, Jagjeet Singh, were coming.

Suddenly, on the other side of the road, a whistle blew, and life began to jump around the bus. Passengers started rushing in from the front and back doors. I saw that two Sikh gentlemen were heading towards the bus. One was young, and the other was slightly older. The younger one didn’t have as much discipline in his beard as the older one. Both were wearing khaki pants. However, the younger one’s shirt was tucked inside the pant, while the older one’s shirt was hanging outside.

Several buses had already left from Pathankot before us. The ticket officer had said that none of them would reach Srinagar by evening, but sir, you are fortunate, you will reach. Your bus won’t stop. Your bus driver is Thakur Singh. Thakur Singh doesn’t drive a bus; he rides a storm. Thakur Singh doesn’t stop, he flies. You will reach in just one day, you will definitely reach.

Thakur Singh sat on the driver’s seat and glanced authoritatively towards Jagjit Singh, searching here and there. Looking at his face, I thought for a while as to how many days it would take for him to take us to Kashmir. I observed Thakur Singh carefully. He wasn’t too thin or skinny, but his face made me conclude that if he didn’t have a beard, he would look like a rat. Placing both hands on the steering wheel, he turned around once again and looked towards the passengers.

I was sitting on the front seat. He squinted his small eyes even more. Those eyes seemed dusty and old, like small knots. I wondered if Thakur Singh was assessing the number of passengers or appreciating the vibrant colors and ambiance of the bus. Just then, his voice thundered, “Jagjit Singh!”

As soon as he blowed the bus’s horn, a powerful wave surged. Waves rose in Thakur Singh’s arms, and the bus, with a single stroke, bid farewell to the bustling market of Pathankot and departed like bringing an earthquake leaving behind the drab atmosphere of the city.

Jagjit Singh came and sat on the conductor’s seat in front of me. I gently placed my hand on his shoulder and asked, “What’s the matter, brother? Has the silencer broken?”

Jagjeet Singh gestured towards Thakur Singh with utmost respect and said, “The Ustad’s bus doesn’t have a silencer. This bus is a storm-mail, Sahib, a storm-mail! Jet plane, jet plane, yes!”

By now, I had become accustomed to the tumultuous sound of the bus. I looked out of the window and felt as if the road itself was rushing towards us, grinding like a mountain stream. I closed my eyes and tried to adapt to this new atmosphere.

Mr. Biswas Moshai was sitting right behind my seat, murmuring something along with the engine’s noise. Thakur Singh also turned back a couple of times, trying to see from which part of the bus the continuous sound was coming. Just then, Mr. Biswas leaned out of the window and exclaimed, “It’s crushed, it’s crushed!”

Thakur Singh’s mustache spread out as if he was laughing at Mr. Biswas’ remark. “Who is crushed? A dog? Ha-ha-ha! Even a fowl hasn’t died under Ustad Ji’s driving.” Jagjit Singh might have said this to both of us. Thakur Singh looked at Jagjit Singh, and he filled his lungs with a gust of fresh wind, perhaps to acknowledge the favor of the conductor in expressing his timely and befitting comment.

After about one and a half hours, the bus reached Jammu. Although the heat remained the same, there was a noticeable change in the atmosphere. Our bus was no longer flying like an arrow now but maneuvering through hills and valleys. On the left, towering cliffs hung as if eagerly waiting to embrace the bus as it leaned against them. Thakur Singh skillfully steered the roaring bus, barely grazing the edges of these cliffs. On the right, there were deep ravines that looked so ominous and terrifying that a glimpse outside the bus window would unleash a chorus of deathly whispers within. However, Thakur Singh’s bus seemed to have a mind of its own, with one rear wheel constantly teetering on the ground while the other flirted with the gaping mouth of a deep deathly drop. Sometimes the cliff would be on the right, and sometimes the ravine on the left, and Thakur Singh would alternately brush against the cliff or spit into the deep chasm.

The faces of all the passengers were pale. Only the Bengali gentleman Moshai murmured softly, still haunted by something. Perhaps all the passengers had accepted him as a representative of one of the parts of the engine of this stormy bus. Personally, I concluded that there were two engines speaking—one in front with Thakur Singh, and the other behind my seat!

After Udhampur, the ambiance took a completely new turn, and in the afternoon sun, a color began to spread that seemed to have played with snow. No one even noticed this transformation. Everyone was silent. Upon reaching the refreshing cold surrounding, Thakur Singh stopped the bus and, awakening the passengers, conveyed his command through Jagjeet Singh, “Take a ten-minute break for refreshments, and then the bus will depart from here!”

As I turned, I saw that the Bengali gentleman had awakened. Upon witnessing the boundless beauty of nature before him, he seemed to become enchanted. He seemed to desire to drink the deep azure of the sky. He wanted to absorb every detail, from the root of a tree to its peak, into his eyes. After getting off the bus, sometimes he would start running on the slope of the road and at other times raise his gaze so high that it appeared he had ridden on his own sight and reached far away in a single flight. He called the sound of water a song and named the evening breeze that came from the woods a symphony.

“Sir, what do you do?” I asked.

“Um, our work is to teach people to read!”

Then he started speaking English in such a way that there was no doubt in my heart that he must be a professor in a prestigious college. He was indeed a professor and a poet as well. But such a professor who hadn’t lost himself in the world of books and such a poet who could become a companion to an engine. In his experiences of this journey, he wanted to include all fellow travelers. But perhaps the other passengers couldn’t understand the language of his heart.

I was fascinated by Mr. Thakur Singh’s driving skills, so I took to meet him. I initiated the conversation by saying, “Sir, you are a very good driver.”

“I am the driver of the Turdi (sprinting) bus.”

“The tourist bus?”

“No, not a tourist bus, the ‘Turdi’ bus.”

“Turdi bus, meaning a moving vehicle?”

“Yes, the Turdi bus, which never stops, moves on, moves on—.”

“But you can stop the bus, right?”

“I can’t stop it. The Turdi bus stops on its own!”

“Hold on, hold on,” I stopped Mr. Thakur and said with great affection, “You are great Sardarji! Did you say that you are your own boss?”

“Turdi bus, Bengali Babu, Turdi bus! This bus is also a Turdi bus. I myself am a Turdi bus.”

“Oh, I see, Sardarji?” I wanted to say something, but Mr. Thakur Singh took a sip of the left-over tea in his cup, stood up, and said, “Let’s go, let’s go! The Turdi bus never stops! Let’s go, let’s go! Jagjit, blow the horn!”

“Listen, listen,” I tried to say, but Mr. Thakur Singh sat in his seat. He pulled the self, the doors closed, and the bus started moving. The passengers on the Kashmir trip had a new experience when they saw the bus ascending as if it was going up in the sky. The road, shrouded in fog, seemed to be spiraling up and down for miles. No one among the passengers was paying attention to Mr. Thakur Singh’s stormy speed anymore. They were captivated by the natural beauty around them. Everyone wanted to relish this widespread beauty.

There was only one person, a stranger, who started cutting himself off from the external beauty and started looking at Mr. Thakur Singh through his binoculars. But Mr. Thakur Singh did not look left or right. When a bus approached from the front, the driver would recognize the “Turdi bus” and would salute it by moving his vehicle to the side. Mr. Thakur Singh would respond to the salute by spreading his lips under his mustache and would shift the bus forward with a new gear. While traveling, Mr. Thakur Singh would be saluted by Gujjars on the road, small shopkeepers would fold their hands, and seated customers would raise their fingers and say something. As they walked on, when they showed their hands to stop the passenger bus, for some reason, their hands would automatically lower upon recognizing the bus. The “Turdi bus” never stopped on the way, nor did it stop even to fill water at the pond.

“Kreench–!” Suddenly, the Turdi bus applied brakes and the passengers jumped as if startled. Everyone leaned out of the window, stretching their necks to discover the reason. A thin, pale boy dressed in blue shirt and khaki trousers, with a bag hanging around his neck, ran towards the bus door.

“Our Ustadji only stops the bus for school purposes,” conductor Jagjeet Singh initiated a conversation.

The boy boarded the bus, and it resumed its journey.

“Your Ustadji is very kind,” I said, placing my hand on Jagjeet Singh’s shoulder. “Even if someone is a poor traveler or disabled, does Ustadji still stop the bus for him,as well?”

“No,” Jagjeet Singh replied promptly. “Ustadji says that only those who have a ticket can board the ‘Turdi bus.’ If you don’t have money, there is no place on the ‘Turdi bus.'”

“But what about the school children?” I asked. “Does this rule not apply to them?”

“That secret is known only to Ustadji; I don’t know,” Jagjeet Singh answered. “Maybe it’s a different case!”

“Kreench!” The bus stopped again. Four or five schoolboys wearing blue shirts and khaki trousers entered the bus.

“Do these boys know Sardarji?”

“Everyone knows Ustadji,” was the reply.

“Where is their village? Where do these boys come from?”

“These boys come from a village situated three to four miles away,” this time answer came from Thakur Singh, who seemed to be listening to the conversation between Moshai and Jagjeet Singh. “They live in houses located at the foothills; one house is miles away from the other. These boys come from those houses.”

“Do these villagers also send their boys to schools for education?”

“Babu, those old times are gone. Times have changed; now, all children go to school.”

For the first time, I felt that the bus was moving slower. In the pleasant sunlight of five o’clock, we arrived at the sweet and refreshing coolness of Banihal village. As per Thakur Singh’s orders, we got off the bus to have tea. We didn’t want to miss this opportunity. Moshai and I went alongwith Thakur Singh to have tea. Moshai initiated the conversation, “Sardarji, where do you live?”

“In the Turdi bus.”

“No, I mean, where is your village?”

“It used to be, but no more now. Babu, the village is no longer mine now.”

“Why? What happened to your village?” I couldn’t hold myself back anymore.

“Mr. Babu,” Thakur Singh became serious and lowered his triangular face towards the ground, saying, “Mr. Babu, nothing has happened.”

“How nothing has happened? A lot must have happened.” Moshai exclaimed, taking a few steps forward. Thakur Singh stood up straight, but instead of heading towards the bus, he walked out of the tea shop and slowly made his way down to the edge of the mountain stream. We followed behind him.

” Do you want to know?”

“Yes,I came with you for this purpose only.” Moshai said before I could say anything.

“You see that village. From there my wife ran away with someone.”

“Oh!”  Moshai sat on a stone as if his legs had given out.

“Come on, come on!” Thakur Singh suddenly turned towards the bus, “Come on, the ‘Turdi Bus’ won’t wait! Come on, Bengali Babu, let’s go.”

But Moshai stopped Thakur Singh with a gesture as if to say, “I am about to faint, give me some water.” Thakur Singh ran towards him. Moshai cleared his throat and asked, “Why did your wife run away?”

“Why did she run away? Ha-ha-ha! I was just a simple cleaner on the bus, and the bus driver took away my wife. My wife sent me a message: “Thakur is a good man, but un-educated and illiterate.”

Moshai didn’t know what was happening. Without paying attention to him, I asked Sardarji, “Were there many educated people in your village?”

“No, only my wife’s father had passed fourth class.”

“And the one she went away with must have been well-educated. Didn’t you try to bring her back?”

“No, once she left home, she was gone. And then, Babu, I had neither education nor literacy.” Thakur Singh’s eyes contracted a bit as he spoke, “Come on, time is running out!”

Everyone got on the bus except Moshai, who didn’t even flinch from the stone. His face was already black, now a tinge of blue was spreading in the blackness. I didn’t realize it, but it seemed that he was about to have a relapse of some old illness, which he was struggling to suppress. Suddenly, he jumped up as if he had been freed from a shackle. He grabbed Thakur Singh by the arm and said, “Sardarji, my wife has also run away, and do you know, why? Because I was a highly educated man! “Why did I talk about books so much, wife would often complain.” As he spoke, he sat back on the stone.

Thakur Singh bent his triangular face towards Moshai, staring at him intently. Over there, Jagjit Singh blew the horn and lifted his head towards the sky. They had to cross the Banihal Pass before nightfall. But Thakur Singh didn’t move from his place. He gave the command from there, “Now the ‘Turdi Bus’ won’t go ahead, it will stay here in Banihal for the night.”

I looked towards the ‘Turdi Bus’ and found that it had slumped to one side on the road. The dense dark shadows of the chilly evening were slowly engulfing it.

About the Author:

Prem Nath Dhar was born in 1914 in Srinagar, Kashmir. He passed away in 1976. He actively participated in the struggle for liberation from feudalism and was associated with the National Conference. After his involvement and subsequent escape, he moved from Kashmir to Delhi in 1942 and worked for some time in “Hindustan Times” and later in “Statesman” newspaper. He later joined the All India Radio and served as its director for fifteen years from 1954 onwards. In 1975, he was appointed as the press and publicity advisor to Sheikh Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. He started his writing career around 1945 and wrote beautiful stories in both Urdu and Kashmiri languages. His first story, “Galatfahmi,” received much acclaim. His famous stories include “Doodh,” “Balidaan,” “Aak Thu,” “Turdi Bus,” and others. Several collections of his stories have been published in Urdu.

“Turdi Bus” is a highly praised story by Prem Nath Dhar. This story became interesting due to its well-crafted dialogue style. The author achieved great success in bringing out contrasting characters of Thakur Singh and Bengali Moshai in an artistic manner according to the given situation. The main feature of the story is its excellent atmospheric creation.

Dr.Shiben Krishen Raina is a well-known educationist, teacher, and translator. He is more known as a distinguished translator having a long experience in the field of translating from Kashmiri, Urdu, and English into Hindi. His translated work comprising of translation and transliteration of the famous Kashmiri Ramayana “Ramavtar Charit” is a valuable contribution to the field of Hindi literature. Dr.Raina is a recepient of Tamra-Patra from the Bihar Rajya Bhasha Vibhag, Govt.of Bihar in 1975. Dr.Raina was Fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla during 1999-2001, where he worked on the problems of Translation. Dr.Raina is the recipient of first-ever Translation Award of Rajasthan Sahitya Academy, Udaipur, and also Anuvad-Shri honour from Bhartiya Anuvad Parishad, Delhi.

Comments are closed.