The past few months involved a lot of consecutive travelling to and fro the length of my state Punjab for personal reasons. I mainly travelled on (NH) 44. On my first visit, I paid no attention to whatsoever bus, truck, city, or animal I passed by while I travelled. All I wanted to make sure was to reach my destination on time. On my second and third travel, I mainly went on complaining about the road work still under progress that created massive traffic chaos near Jalandhar Cantt and Raiya further ahead.
It was sometime on my fifth visit, when all the fussing was done and the road started to feel familiar, that I sat back and looked outside and this historic highway completely romanticized itself in my mind.
G.T Road I remember everyone addressing it as and not just an expressway how we see it now. I wasn’t sure if this expressway still was the exact GT road so I asked Guru Google and yes it turned out that the old Grand Trunk road to this day coincided with NH44 and NH3 in Punjab. This was the majestic GT road whose foundation was laid by Chandragupta Maurya and dated back to 3rd century BC. The ancient trade route about which even Kipling said, “It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood.” And here I was travelling on the same route.
As we crossed one city after the other I noticed how patterns and structures changed alongside the highway. Ludhiana and Jalandhar were the two main cities that fell in the way of NH44. It was interesting to note how the overhead water tanks changed from city to city. They were more ‘box-like’ in the Malwa region, while they mostly consisted of footballs and airplanes in the Doaba area and consisted of lots of eagles in the Majha. It amazed me how this highway exhibited and explored the diversity, cultural values, expectations and hopes of cities or regions that came under its radar, as one traversed through it.
Another impression of NH44 that stayed with me was when we entered Kartarpur, a small retro reflective yellow sign board caught my sight. It said: Welcome to the historic city of Kartarpur. I’m sure it must have been here all these years but this was the first time I saw it. And despite knowing that Kartarpur was associated with Sikh and Punjab’s history, reading the sign board for the first time hit me different. Then there was the Jung -e – Azaadi War Memorial that stood their magnificently honouring the courage and strength of Punjabi soldiers who laid their lives for India’s independence. It was as if pages of history flipped one after other as I passed one milestone after the other on this highway, defining my state and national identity.
Eventually my four and half hour long journey on this mostly smooth highway, interspersed with picturesque green fields as well as encroaching concrete buildings, turned out to be nothing less than a road narrative which created a romantic dialogue in my head all the way; where my mind and heart discussed who we are, what are our values and where does our history go from here on.
Published in Hindustan Times on 3.1.2023