Every time trucker Sarvesh Tiwari leaves his Nagpur home to ferry goods to Mumbai, his wife motivates him to do his best. She reminds Tiwari that his work is no less than a service to humanity, at the same time advising caution when he passes through Mumbai’s Covid-afflicted areas.
Tiwari, who is employed with the Mumbai-based Rajguru Transport company, takes around a quintal of rice, wheat and pulses from Nagpur to the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) mandi in Navi Mumbai twice a week. On his return, he brings lubricants from Hindustan Petroleum’s depot at Reay Road in Mumbai.
Tiwari covers the 820 km route to Mumbai in 30 hours, stopping twice to rest. All highway dhabas are shut because of the lockdown and he must rely on home food alone. “I eat over two days what my wife packs for me,” says Tiwari. The owner of the transport firm, Ashok Rajguru, makes arrangements for Tiwari’s food on his return journey. Sometimes, Tiwari collects a food parcel from his uncle staying in Thane. “Saheb (Rajguru) has given me extra money to tide over the lockdown period, but it is of little use as the dhabas on the way are closed,” says Tiwari. Other drivers talk of free food available at the Bhiwandi bypass road every night, but Tiwari says he is yet to spot the service.
The trips are full of uncertainties, and delays are common. Like on May 5, when Tiwari had to wait for over four hours while loading lubricants at the HP depot on Reay Road and completing the paper work, without which he wouldn’t be allowed to move. Starving by the time he finally left for Nagpur, he bought a packet of peanuts—his first ‘meal’ of the day. But the next moment, he passed half the packet to another driver waiting to load his truck. “He too must be hungry. I am used to this,” says Tiwari.
Asked why he risks his life driving during the pandemic, he says: “I transport the rice and wheat so that there is no shortage of food in Mumbai. The spirit of working for people’s welfare keeps me going.” Mindful, though, that COVID-19 can be fatal, Tiwari wears a mask and sanitises his hands and his container truck from time to time. He also avoids mixing with people, but makes an exception when he finds migrant families on the highway. “My heart sinks when I see these poor men and women walking with their children. I offer them a lift if their homes fall on my route,” he says.
Back home, Tiwari’s two daughters, one nine and the other seven, eagerly await his return. “My elder daughter is aware of the corona pandemic and pleads with me not to go to Mumbai. But I explain to her that just as I am helping people today, someone might come to my aid in the future.”
No wonder, Tiwari’s boss is proud of him. “In the current situation, truck drivers are like gods. And Lali (Tiwari’s nickname) is one such,” says Rajguru.