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"I see the GQ as a metaphor for modern India, speeding along today at a hundred miles an hour," says historian Ramachandra Guha, author of India After Gandhi. "Imagine we stop at a traffic light and roll down the window. There's a path next to the highway, and a little old guy riding past on a bicycle. As we wait impatiently for the light to change, he calls to us to watch out, slow down, don't be so reckless and single-minded in our pursuit of growth and affluence and material goods. Well, that chap on the bicycle is Gandhi. He's our conscience, and even with all that's changed in India, he cannot be ignored."

Seen through the windshield of Rakesh Kumar's truck, the Golden Quadrilateral is a shadow play on asphalt lit by bouncing beams of light, a tedious slab of man-made rock animated by high-beam creatures that jump out from shadows along the road and vanish the instant you see them: the side of a cow, a mound of hay, the corpse of a dog, a ghost on a bicycle. It's 3:30 in the morning, and Rakesh and his 19-year-old nephew Sanjay are chewing high-octane masala tobacco—which keeps them awake by burning their gums—scratching bedbug bites, and listening to screechy Bollywood love songs that Rakesh plays over tinny speakers loud enough to wake the dead. "TRUCK DRIVING MUSIC!" he yells over the sound of the engine, which is roaring like a 747 though the truck is barely doing 30.

Even at that speed, he's passing other trucks laboring along in the slow lane, and Sanjay's job is to signal Rakesh with loud slaps on the door frame when they've cleared the passed truck. They're 250 miles north of Mumbai in the state of Gujarat, hauling nine tons of candle wax, fabric dyes, and electrical supplies to the factories of Delhi. They've already blown two tires tonight—Rakesh stopped at a roadside tire stand and rousted the mechanic out of bed to patch them—and now he's racing to reach a checkpoint by 4 a.m., when he's scheduled to meet a friend of his boss's. This man will "guide" them through the checkpoint at the Rajasthan state line, he says, since the truck is overloaded.

In spite of the 50-mile-an-hour speed limit on the GQ, Rakesh usually drives 40 miles an hour or slower to save fuel; the owner gives him a reasonable allowance for expenses, and Rakesh is free to pocket any money he doesn't spend. If all goes well, he can roughly double the salary he's paid for a trip like this, which isn't much. The Indian economy may be on fire, but for a man like Rakesh, with a wife and four kids to support, every rupee counts. When I visited his home on a dusty side street in Ahmadabad, all four kids—two boys and two girls ranging in age from three to 18—proudly demonstrated their contribution to the family finances, retooling brushes on the living room floor for a local textile manufacturer. "In this family, if you don't work, you don't eat," said Rakesh.

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