Friday, July 11, 2008

Yet Another Close Shave...

Yesterday night I was involved in yet another accident, though this one I was neither responsible for, nor was affected by directly. Not that it was a mortal situation for the actual people involved, but it still left me a bit shaken...
I was off to see one of my friends, who would be leaving for his MBA studies at the 'Case Western Reserve University' in Cleveland, Ohio and was giving a send-off treat to a few of us at the local Pizza Hut. It was quite some distance from my workplace and halfway through the journey, it happened.
I was driving along the left side, as is usual for me these days, at a steady and serene pace, with half my thoughts on the forthcoming get-together. Late as it was(about 9 PM in the night), I guess everyone must be in a hurry to return to their homes. But, as I crossed the signal before the Sun N Sand 5* hotel, this bloke decided in his enormous wisdom to over take me from the left. In his haste to cut my lane and speed ahead, he didn't even bother giving a horn or any signal from his dipper lights to indicate his need for a pass. What happened later in the span of a couple of minutes, was so fast I barely had wits to stop and park my bike on the side. Trying to cross me on a road, wet and slippery due to rain, he apparently misjudged the traction and grip his bike could handle and at the speed he was trying to pick up, slipped and skidded right in front of my eyes. My voice of protest and the choicest of my swear words died in my throat however, when another scooter coming from behind (this one on the right side of the road) hit the prone guy's bike and fell too.
For a moment or two I stood stock-still, my heart pattering in my chest, and as I caught my bearings all I could think was how lucky I was not to be in the same position as the poor lady and her companion who had hit this guy's bike and fell. The crowd around us had stopped gawking thankfully, and a couple of them started to help around. The 30 something guy had obviously hurt himself quite badly as their was a stream of blood gushing down below his right elbow, but realizing the situation he had caused, tried to help the lady who was still lying down on the concrete road. Though some of the people present found this guy's situation more dire compared to the other two, who had just a scraped knee in case of the lady's companion and dizziness for the lady, I was not at all feeling any kind of compassion or sympathy for his pains at the moment. It could very well have been me in place of that middle-aged lady and who knows how badly it would have ended up for me. I have been involved with enough accidents to last me a lifetime by now. So, when one of the guys from the crowd asked me if I could take him to the hospital, I couldn't find it in me to do so. I would have started shouting at him instead when face to face with the idiot, I'm sure. So I just waved him off and went to see if the others who were involved needed any help. As it happened, I just noticed that there was a kid aged about 8-10 too with the lady, and was crying very loudly. Since there was nothing else to do, I went to him and tried my best to soothe him, until his mum was feeling okay. Finally the crowd scattered and people got on their way thinking the excitement was over. The culprit of the accident was taken to the nearby hospital by one of the on-lookers while I had hailed an auto and helped the lady and her son get on her way home too. The entire drama had lasted for about 30-45 minutes, so I wasn't much late for the get-together.
Anyways, this incident brought to my mind similar such instance that happened with me way back in November. I even remember the exact date, 22nd Nov, my sister's birthday. I was on my way to my office for a late night shift at around 11 PM. It was a Saturday, and the route I used to take passes through a cluster of pubs, party-joints and restaurants and is extremely crowded with the party-goers on weekends. These revelers normally have scant regard for the law and traffic rules or the safety of pedestrians, speeding down the narrow roads on their four-wheelers at dangerous speeds, listening to booming loud music.
One such thoughtless creature had swerved his jeep jarringly close on my right and overtaking me, without any thought of honking a horn or using his dippers for asking a pass. Shaken and stirred, I watched the jeep vanish from my sight at the next turn. A few seconds later, I heard a loud sound of screeching tires due to emergency brakes being applied, followed by a wail from a person in a lot of pain. As I reached the next square, I came across the mangled remains of a motorcycle as well as splinters of auto-rickshaw parts strewn around on the road. A young guy about 25 lay moaning on the ground, clutching at his twisted leg in apparent agony; passersby gathered around to have a better look at what exactly had happened out there and the jeep in question had obviously sped away to escape the aftermath. One of the fellow bikers and I decided to pursue that bastard, and we sped away in the direction he had fled. Luck was on our side as there was some road construction work going on ahead and the jeep driver had had to slow down considerably. I overtook him and parked my bike in front of his jeep blocking his way as the other biker approached the front door of the jeep and pulled out the driver. Within a few minutes, this guy was forced to turn around and come back to the scene of the accident he had caused. As the jeep was parked on the opposite side and the driver stepped out, I had the first opportunity to take a good look at his features and realized this guy fit the bill perfectly for the now commonplace stereotypes in this part of the city. A management student from some city in the north, with rich and well-to-do dad who has shelled out enough money to make sure his otherwise undeserving ward gets admission to one of the reputed MBA colleges in Pune. The types who will never learn to appreciate things that don't come so easily to many other deserving and hard working candidates, and which are really handed out to them on a silver platter. These arrogant and unscrupulous egoists, who have been brought up in a life of affluence and prosperity, who never give a damn about the costs of their actions which the average middle class pedestrians have to suffer at their hands.
And to top it all off, the guy was of course, drunk! It had been just two months before, when the High Court had sentenced Alistair Pereira from Bandra, Mumbai to three years rigorous imprisonment for drunk driving that resulted in the death of 7 people. But by the looks of it, the impact had yet to be felt amongst these wealthy classes. The crowd who had gathered by now was quite agitated and the rickshaw driver whose rick had been hit in the earlier melee was baying for the young driver's blood. "Hit him, hit him!" was the constant chant by him and his fellow brethren. A few had even caught hold of his long hair and tried to slap him once. The poor biker who had got hit, had sat down by now. It didn't look as serious as I had thought before - his ankle was definitely twisted, but not broken. The back of his shirt was splattered with blood at various places, but he was lucid enough and cognizant of what was happening around him.
As the public started to raise their voices, surprisingly it was this victim who decided to make himself heard and requested the people not to resort to fists and deal with this in a civilized manner. It was heartening to see a sane voice standing out from the mob - that this voice should belong to the party affected the most was even more appreciable. But the others were not ready to listen and wanted some action now that the culprit had been caught and brought back by the gruff of his neck. The mob always takes perverse pleasure at such times in making the offenders suffer. It was doubly so in this case as they could see this was a guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and had never even cared to stop and see if the person he had struck down needed any help or if he was leaving him behind to die in the worst case scenario.
The driver in question was now making every possible offer to help out with the medical costs and reparations, but it was obvious to all that this was not his first reaction. That had been to flee at any cost and the public wanted to see him punished. I had tried three or four times to calm down everyone and make them listen to the wishes of the hurt bloke; even I had wanted to see this guy getting punished, but not by the jungle law! When I suggested calling the police and handing him over to them, almost everyone shot down the idea immediately. None of them wanted to involve the cops, and the reason was apparent even to me - just with the help of a few thousand bucks, this guy would be able to go scot free and the common public would get to see yet another instance of mockery of justice take place in front of their very eyes! Its a very pessimistic and skeptical view and does not paint a very flattering picture of our law-enforcement agencies. But its the hard hitting truth of today's society, where the cops inspire almost nil confidence in the minds of the commoners. No wonder, when such incidences occur, people prefer to take action and dispense with their frustations before the onset of the police on the scene.
The crowd of people was still surrounding the jeep driver and hurling angry accusations at him and his companion, when the sister of the biker who got hurt arrived and slapped him hard. And again and again, she had a go at him four-five times, while the rest of the crowd watched shocked. That was the trigger and finally the rickshaw driver, who had been restrained till now by a few others, got free and hurled a few kicks and punches of his own, satisfying his vengeful need.
A few of us who were still sane, brought attention to the bleeding victim and pointed his need for an immediate trip to the hospital. Seeing this the crowd started calming down little by little and soon both the driver and the biker had been shipped off to the nearby hospital. Seeing the excitement was over, everyone started dispersing and I too started off towards my office where my night shift awaited me.

Both these incidents however brought into light the utter disdain which the people in Pune show towards basic courtesy and rules and regards while driving a vehicle. There are countless number of accidents, big and small, all over the city daily due to the carelessness and disinterest the junta shows while being on the roads. Be it the pedestrians who will cross the road as if the vehicles should stop or slow down to let them pass whenever they want, or the cyclists who always make it a point to ride on the right side of the road thereby slowing down the traffic further, or the two-wheelers who will cut lanes and break traffic signals, drive into one-ways and turn left or right without showing any indicators or be it the four-wheelers adding to the merry mix with their own impunity towards the traffic wardens and speeding away on narrow roads as if they are the kings of the roads, glancing by hapless 2-wheelers or pedestrians; its an unholy situation one finds himself in.
This all when they are driving in broad daylight! Imagine the perils when they drive drunkenly at night time! How dangerous it is then when you are out on the Pune roads in such a midst of crazy blighters! Before coming to Pune, I'd only heard of the infamous and incorrigible traffic sense of the Puneites. Its been three years now that I've shifted here, but believe me I'm still not used to it even now!
Hopefully, I'll never be...

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