At the Guwahati Book Fair this month, the success of one book took everyone by surprise. Life Of A Driver—Cabinor Ipare, by Rupam Dutta, registered the highest sales among the 200-plus books launched at the 12-day event, going by what Pramod Kalita, secretary general of the publication board, said in a news interview. Written in simple, conversational Assamese, the 488-pager chronicles Dutta’s life as a night super driver, traversing the length and breadth of Assam, from Tinsukia to Digboi, Guwahati, Jorhat, Itanagar and Duliajan, in a sleeper bus for over 15 years.
Dutta, who comes from a family of educationists and began driving when he set up a small travel agency, first started sharing his experiences of driving across the state in 2019, as posts on the group Asomiya Facebook. Noting the overwhelming response, publisher Anil Baruah of Asomiya Bhasha Aru Software and Bikash Kendra suggested he consolidate the tales into a book. “I have driven a night super from 2002-18, quitting due to health reasons. Only we drivers know the kind of risks present on certain routes. While the travellers sleep, we have to stay vigilant. But on social media, one often sees posts maligning drivers and that hurts me. In my career, I have never been drunk while driving or not alert on the job,” says Dutta, 44, a resident of Tinsukia who now runs a restaurant, Manimuni, there.
The popularity of his Facebook posts, and now the book, is yet to sink in. “Pata hi nahi chala kab kaise likh diye (I didn’t even realise how it took this form). I would write on my mobile and post. I just wanted to highlight aspects of a driver’s life,” he says.
For many readers, Life Of A Driver has brought back memories. “The bus cabin has had a different attraction since childhood…. After coming from the office, I saw a story in a group, Life Of A Driver…and the story started in the cabin of a direct night super! I have become a huge fan of his (writing),” writes Trideep Kumar Borah on the Facebook page. He finally managed to meet Dutta at the Guwahati Book Fair.
The book, priced at ₹300, features heartwarming stories from a life spent on the road—including how Dutta met his wife. He writes about a passenger, Ankita, who was sitting in seat No.7. A chance visit to the driver’s cabin resulted in a surprisingly heartfelt chat. She returned to her seat and another driver took the wheel as Dutta took a short nap. When he woke up, the bus had reached its destination and Ankita was gone. But she had left her contact details. And that’s how their romance started.
There is also a story about a seasoned driver, Tripti Borah. When he heard a passenger, who had got into a heated exchange over the fare, speak on the phone in Hindi, he realised the man was from the defence forces. There was an army camp ahead and Borah knew the bus might be stopped. He asked his companion driver, the elderly Burha Kond, to take the wheel, opened the door and jumped into the river flowing next to the road. The bus was stopped, but with an aged driver at the wheel, allowed to proceed. Borah took shelter in a village and didn’t drive the night super for some time.
It is, perhaps, the simplicity of the stories that touches a chord. “I read his posts on three groups —Asomiya Facebook, Grantha Subash and Asomiya Katha-Batara— during the lockdown and really liked them. His feelings, his style of expressing them are unique. He is not a conventional author, but when people read his book, they feel as if they are back on the night super, listening to him tell stories,” says Baruah, whose publishing house came up with the first software dictionary in Assamese in 2008. Life Of A Driver is their first work of fiction. “We have already sold 8,000 copies. The book is now in its 10th edition,” he says.
Dutta turned to driving by chance. His father was the principal of the largest higher secondary school in the area and his parents started the Bordoloi Nagar High School. He dreamt of going to the US—his elder brother is in Canada, and sister in New Jersey. He enrolled for a course in the electrical department but couldn’t complete it. “Without proper qualifications, I couldn’t go to the US,” he says.
He did several odd jobs—in fisheries, selling pork and vegetables. At times, he had to travel 450km for the produce. Seeing how good he was behind the wheel, people started asking him to ferry produce for them too. He began driving heavy vehicles and soon after, started a small travel agency—and the night super story began.
“While plying some tough routes, we drivers make sure to take all the precautions and can only hope that the driver coming from the opposite direction will take those too. We operate on faith,” he says. But there’s no safety net for the family if a driver dies.
He just wants people to understand what a great job night super drivers do. “When the journey is complete, just make it a point to say a small thank you to the driver. It would be a sweet end to a long journey spent together.”