A few months back, I was driving a Hyundai Eon (fortunately) on a small town road with my father sitting beside me. At a traffic signal, I slowed my car to a crawl and steered it towards a gap between two motorcycles. Just before the car came to a halt, a stationary motorcyclist to my immediate right thought that he could turn left and gain a lead of few feet over traffic (at signals, we Indians have an amazing tendency to pack ourselves like roosters of a roadside chicken shop). Our motorcyclist friend without a helmet suddenly let go of his clutch and made a sharp turn to the left. The bike lurched side-wards, narrowly missing the right fender of my car. After I let the horn bleat like a motherless goat, he realized that he should have looked back before turning abruptly. I also cursed him heavily, the long-forgotten nouns now rusting in the brain coming out with full force and dying just behind the lips, after encircling the tongue like Listerine mouthwash (my father sitting next to me truly believes that I am incapable of uttering such invective!).
The biker looked at me through the rolled up window. I felt he was muttering something to me. What could it be? I couldn’t hear. He kept pointing towards the ground. I rolled down the windows and realized that the tip of his left shoe was under my front wheel. I felt terrible and put the car on reverse to release his foot. I came out of the car and apologized immediately, while also making it clear that it was entirely his fault. He turned away from me as if nothing had happened and looked straight ahead. He didn’t seem to wince too, thankfully, indicating that the injury was hardly serious.
If that were the end of the story, I wouldn’t probably be writing this.
Another biker in front him turned back and inquired loudly about what happened, in dubious sympathy. He then started shouting at me (verbal abuse would probably describe it better) as if running over people’s foot was my favourite past time.
“Don’t you argue. How would you feel if a car were to run over you leg? Can’t you see the signal? Running the car over people?”
Soon, there was a commotion with few others joining in. The lady traffic constable came visiting and heard the version everyone around me had. As if tired by the mundane job of whistling at bikes and cars, and stretching arms, she was looking for a change. It was a situation where she could truly present her power of judgement! All this while, the “victim” sat silently on his bike, indifferent to the procession rallying behind him. Only the two of us knew who was at fault.
Anyway it wasn’t her job or decision, but the constable almost misbehaved, talking to me very rudely as if I was a reckless criminal, who, in spite of knowing that there was a traffic signal, didn’t slow the car and mowed down a hapless biker! It didn’t matter who was right. The bigger the vehicle, the graver the fault. Explanations don’t work. Logic and reason are counter-productive. While the CJI, Justice Thakur, laments that India is short of 70,000 judges (to dispose all the pending court cases), on the road, in each one, you will find a high court judge. Justice is swift and effective. It’s gives everyone a chance to participate in the action and feel powerful, albeit temporarily.
After all, the Aam Aadmi, the ripe mango man, for once, gets to decide someone’s fate.
I consider myself lucky that no one slapped, pushed or shoved me. Else I couldn’t have slept for a few days.
When I was in Pune couple of years back, there was a news article about how people got so busy in beating up the car driver that they let the accident victim, an 8th standard girl, die on the road. Justice had to be done, even it it meant a bit of collateral damage. Often an accident is just what it is. An accident. I am quite sure this attitude of our public stops many well-meaning drivers to stop and help their victims. Unless you are ready to be thrashed, you will escape (sadly) if you can. I have read countless reports about truck drivers surrendering later at a police station but not stopping at the accident site to help their victims. The reason is not difficult to guess. Everyone fears for his/her life.
When people kill each other over overtaking or a dent on the car, it isn’t difficult to see why you can’t be killed over a genuine accident (or worse, one caused by the victim herself). I can understand the heightened emotion in those who are directly involved. What is worrisome is the actions of people who have no clue about what happened and still mete out instant-noodle justice.
On our roads, a cyclist can’t come in front of a truck, a pedestrian can’t miscalculate and run into a car while crossing a road, a biker can’t fall into the rear wheels of a bus while trying a dangerous pass, a car can’t misjudge an overtake and run into a truck.
If there was an award for simplicity of rules, this deserves it. As for you dear reader, you need to keep your kadam, err…wheel phoonk phoonk ke on the road, unless you want to see yourself as mango pulp, made by the mango people.
Long live the justice!