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HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN-1

Chapter 1: Flashback

Today I celebrate my 50th birthday with all my best friends. My Eyes are filled with snow. There is snow all around me. A fierce snowstorm is going on. We are enjoying ourselves inside our truck, all six of us. We had a variety of pickles to choose from. A heater in our truck is also keeping us warm. We also boiled rice using the same.

We are 2000m above the sea level somewhere along the Himalayas, treating ourselves with hot rice and spicy pickle which we top off with buttermilk. Fellow travellers who discover our truck and taste our food amidst the crisis of the Himalayas, pause their life for a sec and join us in appreciating the view of snow-capped peaks from a comfortable cosy van while munching our food.

The Himalayas, the western ghats, the northeast, Thar desert, The Sundarbans, the backwaters; all these places have been marked for specific days in our life. Last 20 years have been a lot of fun. A mixture of hurdles, adventures, fights, fun, etc. Life was always supposed to be a mixture of good and bad but the opportunity of spending life with people who understand you in and out is wonderful. We had the chance and we made it count. So many beautiful memories, for my retirement. And all of it ends with this trip. Is there a way, I can bring back time? Time in favour always runs away faster than time in distress. As the sun rises over the horizon this morning, we will be on our last trip towards our home in Andhra Pradesh. Maybe, life will give us another chance, as it did 20years ago……….

It was the year 2013, In our second year of engineering, Amidst a crisis (math professor) we discovered each other and formed an inseparable gang. From life to gossip, we discussed everything. We were from different backgrounds and the way we were bought up was different. But still, we were able to look beyond those things. I still remember our daily budget of Rs10 with which we used to eat one samosa and one jalebi every day and discuss all the trivial matters in life. Unlike the movie, we used to be three idiots in a literal sense.

We never quarrelled over who would be the first idiot as there is no point creating a hierarchy for idiots. Madhu was the laziest person; he was the guy with a laptop in the very first year of college. (We used to call him semi spoiled brat). He loved playing football and people used to call him kaka. He was not so good with studies but was good in handling and keeping public relations (better than both of us). Next was Ramu, most innocent guy in our college, though we never believed he was that innocent. He was a good singer and loved singing songs. We were both mug-up partners. If the subject was too tough, we both would compete to mug the things up and vomit in the next day’s exam. The best thing I liked about him was storytelling. Since he had been staying in various hostels throughout his childhood, he had a wide variety of stories of different genres which would be readily available for sharing. He was also good at cooking and loved watching ghost stories. 

We used to watch them together on Madhu’s laptop. For it, we had to treat him and make him happy which was another task altogether. I was a mixture of both their persona and that was my first hostel stay. We never noticed but time passed, we found over selves in our final year eagerly preparing for our final job. All the expectations and societal pressures had taken a toll on our friendship which we felt in different ways. I was the first person in our gang to get a job and had time to relax and take it easy but the other two had a lot of pressure as they weren’t lucky enough.

Slowly days passed and we had to part ways, we used to stay in touch on social media. Each facing our own life. Eventually, both of them worked hard and got settled in their jobs. Life was going on smoothly, each of us had our own share of responsibilities. Madhu had a sister, Ramu had a sister and brother to take care of. All there of us were living in different corners of the country. We were connected by a WhatsApp group.

We were slowly drifting apart amidst the chaos of our daily lives when I received a video message from Ramu.

Chapter 2: Birth of an Idea.

It was a video message, about a person who quit his job in America and started a dairy farm and he was earning 50lakhs/year. We knew It was not possible in our circumstances. But we just had a debate on what would happen if we started something like this? Or what is the best we can do with the skills we have? Like always we talked a lot as if we are going to start a company, but as soon as we gave ourselves 24hr time the idea evaporated off from our heads. Life was back to normal.

Then coronavirus hit us, wave after wave each of us had to go through many twists and turns like all others. We still remained in contact eagerly waiting to see who would be married first. Slowly each one of us was clearing our loans and responsibilities one by one. All three of us were busy planning our own version of life ahead when Ramu messaged again. It was a similar message; we didn’t argue this time but decided to look for possibilities. This was something new, as I used to be the one who was always excited about new ideas and the other two would be bringing me down by saying the refutations. 

Immediately we started saving up to generate adequate capital to start our business, and during this time we had many ideas for business, but we found one particular thing a lot more interesting. It was the idea of a food travel truck. We would take an old truck, change it and sell pickle-rice combo foods at different places. Since pickles preserve for a very long time, it would be easy to store and transport bulk quantities. And from the experience in our hostel life, people from all parts of our country liked these spicy pickles. Since we had a chef with us, we could go on and on for days without fear of losing home-cooked food. And we had a tour guide Madhu, he is the only person who can drive among us. I would be responsible for generating enough revenue to keep this project going. 

We diverted our savings to buy a truck, it was a winger. We bought one and gave it for modification. Parallelly we also registered our business. Now it was time to decide a route. Since our truck was being made in Vizag, we all decided to meet up there. All of us took a one-month leave and we decided to make a round trip along the coast Vizag-Kanyakumari- goa – Vizag. We gave the responsibility of making pickles to our family.

On the decided day, Ramu and I landed in Vizag, Madhu was already settled there. Madhu came to pick us up in our truck. It was so beautiful. All 3 of us were comfortable in the front row. Right behind us was the washroom. We at once checked for exhaust as we were dealing with pickles. Besides, that was an office table for my work. And after it, was our setup for selling food. There was a mini generator to power things up in case of an emergency. On top of the van was an area dedicated to sleeping. I still remember our first night gazing at the stars. We had a puncture on the second day in the middle of nowhere. We pushed the vehicle to a safe place and found a moonlit beach waiting for us. 

For 7 days we just enjoyed the trip without generating any sales. Our first sale happened at Vellangiri hills, Coimbatore. It was the Shivaratri time and people from different places in the country were accumulating at the Adi yogi statue to celebrate. We had our meals with them. They also gave us free passes to enter the area. It was one of a kind experience being with so many people at once. The group also became our regular customers and a few more followed seeing them. Looking at their preferences we also changed our menu. Adding dal and curries to the menu. we used to take turns guarding the vehicle, picking goods, washing plates, cleaning the area. But we had a problem with water and washing clothes. As the roof of our vehicle was used for sleeping. 

In Vellangiri Hills we stayed for 2 to 3 days, we recovered all the amount we lost in those seven days. I also started a website documenting our adventures, we didn’t have many followers, but the journey was wonderful. We had a lot of time in our hands except the calls from office colleagues. From Tamil Nādu we headed towards Kerala. Kerala was a beautiful place to ride. Here Madhu taught both of us how to drive. Ramu taught us how to cook. In every tourist attraction, we had a good number of people turning up to eat with us. We used to enquire them about the local stories, incidents, etc.

More than the business, we got more interested in the stories happening around the place. Few were scary and few funny. I still remember we completely stopped driving at night because a lorry driver told us why we need to have a sandal, lemon tied to the truck. But with three of taking turns, fatigue was minimal. Once again time overtook us, it was 20 days into our trip, and we were only halfway through. so we decided to take a shortcut home through Kadapa. From where I would be heading back to Hyderabad and Ramu to Chennai and Madhu to Vizag. On our journey back we concentrated more on recovering costs since we had time in hand. All three of us got fully accustomed to truck life. We would certainly miss bathing in the wild with ocean water. We also decided to find a solution to our water problem. 

On the final day, we just audited our progress. We made a 2% profit from sales, our website had 100 people visiting each day, and over 100 subscribers on YouTube. But the people we met, the stories we heard, the experience we shared were irreplaceable. From tomorrow we would be back at our jobs. I already made up my mind to do this, but I wasn’t sure what the other two were thinking.

Chapter 3: Ground reality

Our lives had returned back to normal; it wasn’t that bad after our vacation. We spend quality time with our friends and family. After a few days, I asked both of them what they thought of living like this, should we continue doing this or go back to normal. It was a difficult decision for both of them because unlike me they were in a stable government job. All 3 of us were unmarried and leaving a job at this time would mean a world war in our home. 

So, we decided to help each other. We planned a short vacation in Kanchipuram. We secretly gathered our families in a specific place. Then introduced them to each other. we dropped the bomb during the dinner party. They just ignored us. We didn’t budge; finally, all of them gave us their opinions,

Although we didn’t like hearing them, what they said was true. No one would sacrifice their daughter’s life to us. We had no insurance covers for our family or our vehicle. We didn’t have a backup plan. What if we were bored in a few years? Who would take care of our children and their education if we are always out? 

 These questions shattered our hearts. Facing reality is always hard

To be continued……

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