It’s the end of another day in the creative department of my ad agency. After I’ve cleared my table of pending jobs, an evening out beckons. Maybe I’ll catch a movie, knock back a beer, or just have a nice dinner in some chic restaurant, with (hopefully) a chic girl in tow.
The hero of this story is a copywriter, too. But, he won’t be doing any such thing.
He’s light-years away from a multiplex. He’s tens of miles from any restaurant, let alone a chic one. The only women he’s seen for weeks have whizzed by in cars and buses, barely giving him a sidelong glance. He’s most probably going to be eating the same fare that he had yesterday, and the day before. With, at best, a stiff tot of army rum to counter the sub-zero wind blowing into his igloo hut.
How, then, does he come up with such brilliant lines? Such spot-on insights? Such tongue-in-cheek humour?
From Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, in remote camps spanning the Indian Himalayas, the Border Roads Organisation works night and day. Keeping these strategically vital roads open is one of the toughest jobs in the world – something that even Siachen-hardened Indian Army hands agree. For one, many BRO men are from the plains, with little native adaptation to the mountains. Deployments are for months on end, at altitudes reaching close to 20,000 feet. Landslides, flash-floods, avalanches and vehicle wrecks have to be dealt with on the double, in conditions ranging from blistering, high-UV sunlight to -30 degree winter nights. Oxygen levels are so low that even mild manual labour is a torture. Death can come quickly, via an air bubble hitting the heart or brain, or a wall of mud or snow.
Yet, the BRO’s road signs are classics that put their plains counterparts to abject shame. They’re part of a million travelogues and Leh-bound bikers’ tales, but still have the ability to make one chuckle, each and every time. Are they inspired by the isolation, boredom and sheer fatigue that are part of the job? Or, is it the mountain air, and the scenery that never changes? Is the fear that one will go clean out of one’s mind inspiration enough?