It happens only in India
In India, if anything happens to an ordinary citizen, it is because of his carelessness. Rarely is the fault pinned on the cavalier attitude of those who cause the harm, be they government bodies, civic workers, private agencies or individuals. There’s no doubt we are surviving through sheer luck, observes Melanie P Kumar.
Luck plays a great part in many things that happen in one’s life. But nowhere does it play as big a part as when it comes to surviving in India! Undoubtedly, there are people living in this country, who would have their own good luck stories, as do I, as also self-preservation techniques to back up the luck factor!
One that I employ is to look ahead, as I take each step on Bangalore roads. This technique, cultivated from the experience of many years, ensures that I do not accidentally slip on a banana peel or get some pan stains on the edges of my sari.
But despite the caution, I have had to occasionally contend with chewing gum attaching itself to my footwear, which I assure you, can be the most painful experience.
For, the chappal loses its own sense of volition and I am forced to go the way the gum wants me to! This is until I give up on my sense of disgust and yank off the offending piece from my footwear. Of course, the next struggle is to get it off from one’s fingers and this intricate task is accomplished by finding some old paper from one’s handbag and wrapping the gum in it. On to the next step then, which is locating a dustbin to throw the stuff into and then walking on, bracing myself for the next obstacle in my path!
One cannot have lived in any part of India without having the walking hurdle catch up with you, at some point in your life!
My first experience in Bangalore was that near fatal walk on M G Road, when, despite looking carefully ahead for any pitfalls or death traps, it happened! I had barely gone past Natesan’s when I heard a thud — the heel of my foot had just been grazed by something that ostensibly descended from the skies! I looked up to find some workers, peering down sheepishly, after having thrown a big load of their tools, without checking if there were any passersby, who might be possessing delicate heads!
Anyway, I thanked my lucky stars that my head had just missed being tested for its ability to withstand what could easily have been 20-30 kilos of heavy metal!
After having escaped an aerial missile, I decided that I should occasionally look upwards, even as I watched the road ahead of me! On one such occasion, while walking on Dickenson Road, I was looking skywards when it happened again! Before I knew it, I was in a ditch.
The pavement had been dug into and there was no sign board or barricade warning of a literal pitfall! I got up, dusted myself and glanced around to see if anybody has noticed me in that undignified state! Luckily, it was a busy part of the day and I had escaped the public eye and solicitude! I considered myself fortunate to have got away with a few bruises and no broken bones!
In the third instance, I guess, I just tempted fate with my earlier good fortune, or, was that the law of probability taking over? The auto that I was travelling in was rammed by a call centre cab near Thom’s Café. The driver was in a tearing hurry and overtook from the wrong side.
The three-wheeler was hit, swerved, turned on its side and landed on my foot. Result — a fracture and four weeks in a cast! What was most upsetting was that the driver of the car did not care to stop. Why would he? It was my bad luck that I happened to cross his path and in all the confusion, nobody remembered to note down the number. Still, I did survive through sheer luck and am around to tell this tale!
In India, if anything happens to an ordinary citizen, it is her carelessness, or in the case of more serious outcomes, her hanebaraha or time sari illa or whatever. Rarely is the fault pinned on the cavalier attitude of those who cause the harm, be they government bodies, civic workers, private agencies or individuals like the insensitive car driver.
Bangalore, which till 20 years ago was such a traffic-conscious city, has now become a crazy place to drive in. Even the most careful driver is on edge, as you could be hit for no fault of yours.
If you survive your car or scooter ride and reach your destination, just chadao sola anna ka prasad, or light some incense, or a candle! Very often there are stories of hit and run cases where the victim could have survived, if the perpetrator had felt the need to stop and make amends! No doubt, as the city becomes more prosperous, it is also losing its sense of humanity.
With a one-billion-plus population, life is cheap in India, as so many instances reveal. There are children who have slipped into open drains and been washed away; there are others who have fallen prey to exposed electric wiring, still others who have fallen out of over-crowded vehicles or had badly-made walls fall on them! The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, none of these victims had luck on their side! But what is even more appalling than this is the sheer apathy of those who are responsible for such accidents.
When it comes to naming some of the victims, one can remember the tragic case of Sanjana Singh. Recently, the Deccan Herald had carried a piece about how Muniratna Naidu, the Corporator of Yeshwantpur, is still outside the purview of any investigation. Naidu was the contractor responsible for the poorly constructed veterinary college wall that collapsed, taking the life of 17-year-old Sanjana. Despite Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde indicting the Corporator, the government has taken no action against him. Even after two years of running from pillar to post, Sanjana’s parents have not been able to get justice for their daughter.
The Indian Railways is one mode of transport that truly tests the “surviving through sheer luck” premise, given its track record of accidents.
The most recent one involved the Hampi Express, which rammed into a stationary goods train. The impact of the collision resulted in four bogies derailing and one catching fire. While many were injured, the most unfortunate were the 25 (government figures) who were killed, 16 being charred beyond recognition.
The first compartment was a general one and media estimates say there may have been 300 people in it, which means that the poor were not lucky enough to be enumerated correctly, even in death. The accident was clearly negligence on the part of the driver, though there is controversy over the absence of an automated signal system.
While the Railways is being criticised for not installing the long overdue Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) to prevent the occurrence of such human errors, experts and former railway officials are faulting the Indian Railways’ focus on modernising a flawed and technically inferior railway system. But still it was the bad luck of those who chose to travel on that ominous day!
About 30 passengers, sitting in Route No 17 M of the Metropolitan Bus Transport Corporation (MBTC) in Chennai, might never have guessed that they were going to have the ride of their lives! Their bus smashed through the concrete railing of the Anna flyover and took the shortest route to reach Anna Salai, the road below!
Thankfully, all on board survived. Eye witnesses report that the driver was speeding while he negotiated a sharp curve on the bridge and there is talk about him having been on the cell phone.
Speeding while on a cell phone is a lethal combination, even while driving your own vehicle on a flat road. So how much more should have been the responsibility of someone when so many people are dependent on him to reach them safely to their destinations? This driver will probably be suspended for a couple of months, years, lose a few of his increments and then find himself back at the wheel of a MBTC bus, testing the luck of many other passengers!
Probably the problem with our system is that there is no culpability, or the pinning of blame on offenders. If there was culpability, a van with steel rods jutting out from the back, or a horse-drawn carriage with sharp poles sticking out from behind the cart, would not be given permission to use the roads in peak hour traffic. Woe betides the vehicle or two-wheeler driver who might accidentally ram into these sharp protrusions. Whenever I see such “weapons” sticking out from vehicles, I try to give them a wide berth!
It is difficult to be made culpable in India; the poor may wind up being indicted for perceived offences, but certainly not those with connections. Speeding drivers, more so celebrities, and those who have money power can make their moolah speak, to escape penalties, and even imprisonment.
Governments and civic authorities think that their responsibilities end by ordering an enquiry into the cause of major accidents involving the loss of many lives. The sitting members of these committees sometimes sit forever to arrive at conclusions and by the time they do so, it is too late for the victims of these accidents or their survivors!
Value for life
While walking on a street in London, one immediately becomes aware of scaffolding work, from a mile away, because of posters indicating the work saying, “Mind your head!” Those who have travelled on the London Tube will be familiar with the term, “Please mind the gap,” because while getting off or boarding a Tube, there is always a recorded voice exhorting you to do so. Human life has a lot of value here. Also, there could be another reason for these precautions.
Neither the people undertaking the scaffolding work nor the London Tube authorities wish to run the risk of being sued by a victim, if she is able to prove that she was not warned of the dangers.
In supermarkets in the UK and USA, food that crosses the ‘sell by date’, is just dumped. While this seems like a gross wastage of good food, it is certainly better than going to a supermarket in Bangalore and finding that the ‘best before’ date has been tampered with!
It was a great pleasure for me to note that the food retailing chain, Safal, has a system of monitoring old items. When the rate does not show up on the cash register, the cashier makes a phone call and confirms to you that he can’t sell you this product, as it has crossed the ‘best before’ date!
Ever so often, one reads of the exploding of gas cylinders. Not surprising, considering my own experience with my gas agency! In the first place, the men who come to fit the cylinders come at times when one is alone and rather vulnerable.
The other factor is that they are more interested in getting their tip than checking whether there is any chance of a gas leak in the new cylinder.
The concept of carrying some soap solution to check for leakage is simply non-existent! Recently, when I had a leakage problem with my cylinder, none of the helplines mentioned at the back of the bill worked, whether in the day or at night! A phone call to a call centre contact, obtained from the Net, resulted in my being given a token number, but still there was no sense of urgency on the part of the offending distributor.
After 10 days of trying, I finally escalated the problem to a supervisor, after which the same gas agency sent a reluctant employee, who changed the gasket and walked away saying, “There was nothing wrong!” A gas cylinder is nothing but a bomb in the house, in case of leakage. It is surprising that gas agencies should be so careless with their emergency services. I guess our whole family survived because of our collective good fortune!
But why blame the government and the civic authorities alone? What about the personal responsibilities of people? Even in childhood, one learns that the throwing of a banana peel can result in someone slipping and breaking his back. Similarly, a person who throws chewing gum on the road is guilty of a lack of consideration towards the next person who passes that way as also animals who might chew and suffocate on it.
Every year, before Diwali, the newspapers are full of stories about how crackers cause pollution and damage the environment. But, how many are prepared to listen? There are also warnings about the risks of using crackers, but again, to no avail. It is depressing to pick up newspapers after the festival of lights and read about children who have lost their eyesight and been involved in horrific accidents.
The atom bombs and other noisy crackers are damaging to the ear drums and particularly harsh on the elderly, the infirm and animals, but who cares! The time limit to fire such crackers is also not followed by many, with the police least interested in enforcing the rules. Now that a study has proved that high decibels of sound can cause heart attacks, perhaps the civic authorities will wake up before the next Diwali and ban these noisy crackers.
Personal, civic and governmental responsibility have to combine to make it possible for us to go about our lives without having to depend on Dame Luck to save us every time we are walking on the roads or travelling in a bus or train!