It is said that one must hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. This is what the combination or the dual purpose vehicle – which is how I refer to it – is all about. You must be wondering which vehicle I am alluding to. Please do read on and you will fathom. This is a vehicle which only the stoic can drive. It is meant to be steered by only those who are detached and accept life with a shrug of nonchalance.
Before we moved to our new residence, the place we used to stay offered a great vista of life. There was an iconic dargah, a famous hospital and several offices and commercial establishments. Thus, the sounds would also be myriad, ranging from the the Friday prayers to honking horns – this despite the fact that a hospital was in the vicinity. So much for reducing decibel levels! There was also a siren which would go off at 9:00 a.m. every morning. I never figured out though what it was for, especially because there was no industrial or manufacturing unit nearby. But, the sound that was most unsettling was that of the ambulance siren which at once made you realize that a critically ill patient was being rushed to hospital. A silent prayer would follow, hoping that all would end well.
Not far from our residence (and the hospital) was a place on the road which was used as the parking space of these dual purpose vehicles. Everyday while returning from work, I would look at them and my heart would be filled with mixed emotions. There would be drivers and attendants of these vehicles having lunch or a snack and some even enjoying a nap on the floor of the vehicle. You must be wondering that I have still not revealed which special vehicle this is. Ending the suspense here, let me divulge that the dual purpose vehicle was the ambulance-cum-hearse van. These were usually donated by an affluent person or a charitable institution.
The ambulance symbolizes hope of returning hale and hearty whereas the hearse van is for the final journey. I would always wonder as to why both purposes were to be served using a single vehicle? I would then reason that it was to do with – convenience, economizing or bluntly put it was perhaps about being pragmatic even while dealing with death. This is what the demeanor of the staff that manned the vehicles suggested. How else would you explain the manner in which the staff ate, slept and even played cards in the same van that was used for ferrying the seriously indisposed and the dead?
The stoicism perhaps came with experience. The first feeling that surfaced in my mind was that of disgust – seeing how the van was used almost like their home when it was not being used for the designated purpose. But when I reflected longer, I felt the men (I did not see any women) were perhaps the real yogis who had attained the much sought after state of self realization; thus even death did not affect them. They were only focused on their job.
I tried to read up about the men who manned these vehicles because I believe that to attain that level of detachment and to be so indifferent, they must have had quite a few sleepless nights and shed copious tears. After reading the stories of the drivers and the staff of these vehicles on the internet, I was moved. Many of those who manned these vehicles were those who had seen their loved ones die without dignity. Thus, they had decided that this was their own way of paying tribute to the departed souls. All that they asked for, was proper parking space for their combination vehicles.
To end on a lighter note, with time I realized that if the drivers and attendants were jobless for a longer time, it was actually a positive sign; it meant that the population of the neighbourhood was actually in the pink of health. This was really good news!