Anita DesaiIndiaWriting1997
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From: Five Hours to Simla


The mother was shushing them all fiercely when they heard the sound they had given up hope of hearing: the sound of a moving vehicle. It came roaring up the road from behind them not at all where they had expected overtaking them in a cloud of choking dust. Policemen in khaki, armed with steel-tipped canes, leant out of it, their moustaches bristling, their teeth gleaming, eyes flashing and ferocious as tigers. And the huddled crowd stranded on the roadside fell aside like sheep: It might have been they who were at fault.


But the police truck overtook them all, sending them hurriedly into the ditch for safety, and drew up at the culvert. Here the police jumped out, landing with great thuds on the asphalt, and striking their canes hard upon it for good measure. The truck’s headlights lit up the bank with its pallid wash.


Caught in that illumination, the truckdriver sprawling there rose calmly to his feet, dusted the seat of his pyjamas, wound up the bandana round his head, all in one fluid movement, and without a word leapt lightly back into the driver’s seat of his truck, turned the key, started the engine and manoeuvred it into an onward position and, while his audience held its disbelieving breath, set off towards the north. After a moment they saw that he had switched on his lights; the tail lights could be seen dwindling in the dark. He had also turned on his radio and a song could be heard like the wail of a jackal in the night: “Father, I am leaving your roof, To my bridegroom’s home I go...” The police swung around, flourishing their canes. “Get on! Chalo!” they bellowed. “Chalo, chalo, get on, all of you” and they did.