Thursday, December 9, 2010


The road blurred into a haze… buildings and buses melted and melded into the road, like paints in a picture swirling in water. All I could hear was a voice in my head that said “go left !!” and I did, but he was still coming at me. He didn’t look like he’d be able to stop himself. I wrenched the steering hard to the left and the car ran off the shoulder into a cloud of grit and dust. And yet he kept coming at me and crashed right next to me by the driver’s side-view mirror. The mirror broke on impact and I braked hard.

Everything around us had come to a sudden stop. The swirling roads, buildings and buses had become straight and dead again. The buses, people in the buses, in the streets and in the shops, they were all frozen and rooted to the ground. I was in shock. Though uninjured, I was terrified. I didn’t know what to expect. Slowly, I turned and looked at the broken pieces of glass shimmering in the winter sun and the crumpled bundle of sheets and woolens as it slowly stood up and dusted itself. It was a young boy. I didn’t know what to feel. Should I be concerned and worried for his well being? Or should I be angry with him for running into my car in his mad rush and breaking a mirror? After what seemed an eternity, but what must’ve only been a couple of moments, I did feel something. It was relief. I was relieved that the boy was fine; relieved that I wasn’t an unwitting instrument of someone else’s misfortune or death. And relieved that that there would be no hospitals, police stations or courtrooms to visit. I opened the door and was about to step out and dispense some well-meaning advice to the kid when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was AB, my colleague, friend and fellow traveller. He had his hand on my shoulder but he wasn’t looking at me. No, he was looking out at the back and as I followed his gaze, I saw through the rear wind-shield a sight that curdled my blood.

Men, scores of men, bristling with sticks and sickles, in turbans, blankets and shawls, were running towards the car with a sense of purpose. In the blink of an eye, I had to decide whether to stay and negotiate or flee (I hate using that word but…). I’d done nothing wrong. I knew the boy was fine. Logically speaking, it was I who deserved compensation for the mirror or at least an apology. But I also knew that the crowd bearing down on us wasn’t in the mood for logic. AB made up my mind for me. He whacked me hard on the back and screamed “Go… go… go…!!!” I put the car in gear, the engine responded and even as the boy stood up and peered inside the car, we sped away. The horde followed us for as long as it could, brandishing their sticks and sickles at us. As the distance between us grew, some even pelted a few wayward stones at us, but we were too far ahead.

We knew what had happened could’ve been far worse. The kid could’ve been hurt. We could’ve been hurt. The car could have been damaged. We were very lucky. And yet I was feeling sick in the stomach. We had just fled the scene of an accident, howsoever minor – I wasn’t proud of myself. “But we didn’t have a choice…” AB retorted. And yes, looked like we didn’t.

I replayed the sequence of events in my head. We were driving on this broken back country road that led to Alwar. A Rajasthan Roadways bus heading in the opposite direction had stopped further up the road. People were getting down from the bus and most of them were crossing the road from in front of the bus where they were visible to oncoming traffic. But this kid and two of his friends just popped out from behind the bus just as we were about to cross it and were tearing down to the other side without stopping to look right or left . I veered off the road to avoid them and yet one of them couldn’t stop himself as he ran right into the side of the car. So, you see I didn’t run into him, he ran into me, and though I would’ve felt far better if I could’ve stayed to help, the aggressive crowd scared us away. Nothing much I could do, I guess.

Now here’s what happened next. Further up the road, at a police barricade, we were stopped and questioned. Someone had called up the check post and given our number and told them of the incident. Miraculously, some relatives of the boy had appeared who wanted ‘compensation’. I was all for sticking to our guns and not giving an inch since we’d done no wrong. AB wasn’t so sure. In the beginning we were threatened with cases and worse, but we’d seen that the kid was fine and so were ready to fight it out. It was a question of who blinked first. Eventually the cops lost interest and the relatives softened their stance. They just needed some money to tend to the child’s wounds. Apparently, it was our moral obligation. We too had tired of arguing and thought it would be pointless wasting anymore time. So, we offered a few hundreds as a ‘goodwill gesture’ and said it was all we were willing to ‘help’ the boy and his family with. The cops and the ‘relatives’ mulled over the ‘off er’ and then with some healthy persuasion from the cops, agreed to settle the issue. They even wrote a letter to the cops that said they were grateful for our help and had no complaints. And with that we wrapped up a rather unpleasant episode in my life.

That was more than a decade ago. Yesterday, while reading the papers, I was reminded of the same incident when I came across the story of a popular pop idol and his friends being roughed up and assaulted in Mumbai after their car hit a two-wheeler and injured the two riders. Now, this isn’t a pedestrian/two-wheeler versus car driver debate for we are all one or the other at various points of time. And either party could make a mistake for whatever reason. An accident is usually just that – an accident. The point I want to make stems from the advice those cops gave me when I asked what one should do when a mob gathers and turns hostile. Now do keep this in mind if you happen to be involved in an unfortunate incident like the above. He said, If the crowd turns hostile, not only would you be unable to help the injured but you risk getting thrashed, even lynched. And your car could be battered, even gutted. So, the best thing to do would be to leave the place immediately and then inform the police as soon as you are out of range. That’s the best you could do”.

Sage but sad advice. On two occasions in Delhi, I’ve had the opportunity to help accident victims. And I know from experience that there can’t be a better closure to something as terrible as a road accident than to take those affected to hospital and see them recover… where gratitude replaces a grudge, even if that grudge is misplaced. It would be sad if an aggressive crowd bent on meting out its own version of vigilante justice, mixed with manifestations of socio-economic repression and ethnic or even religious prejudices, prevents people involved in an accident from helping those who are hurt. Time is precious in such situations and if a party has been guilty of rash, negligent, dangerous or drunken driving, of course the driver should be brought to book, but only after the injured have been attended to.

So you might have to run away from the scene and a mob today if involved in an accident but you better report to the cops and call an ambulance as soon as you’ve got some breathing space. And for those who run our schools, I think you owe it to society to teach our children how to behave at the scene of an accident, as those involved or as onlookers.

And lastly, a lot of aggression at accident sites perhaps also stems from a lack of faith in the judiciary; from a belief reinforced over generations that the drunken truck-drivers and spoilt rich kids in fancy cars will always buy their way out of trouble so they are made to pay here and now. And I fear that no matter how much we try in our schools, as long as justice is delayed and denied in our courts, we’ll have to keep running away from an accident instead of running out to help.

I leave you with the hope that both you and I will have the courage to do ‘the right thing’ if the moment comes… and above all, walk and drive safe.


No comments:

Post a Comment