Notes on a road accident

Grace Boyle

2036217685 ea4e9d88d9 m Notes on a road accidentEveryone rides around on the back of motorbikes in India, with no helmet on, so you grow to think it’s okay.  I was doing it myself just this morning, to get to a work meeting.  And then this evening we passed an accident, and a little girl was lying crumpled in the road, and I realised these standards are not okay; they’re not okay at all.

We pulled over and got out to see if we could help.  Two motorbikes were lying next to each other in the road, surrounded by shattered tail-light glass, and one man was hitting another, obviously for driving into his bike.  But the hitting man’s bike had been carrying a family of four, and the little boy was bleeding from his mouth and the mother was limping, and trying to pull her daughter up.  The girl was conscious and crying, so not too severely hurt, but her legs bent strangely underneath her as everyone tried to get her to stand.  No-one knew what number to call for help, and when we dialed the “ambulance” number that comes pre-entered into every mobile phone, an automated voice told us the number did not exist.  The coloured lights from Ganesha Chaturthi were still blinking along the quiet dark street.

Luckily we were in a car, so we drove them to the hospital.  The dad stayed behind to hit the other driver some more and pick up the bikes.  I fancied their chances better in our car, actually, as even if we got hold of an ambulance here they look like scooby vans: tiny box vehicles with a pinprick light on top.  You rarely see other cars get out of their way, and I doubt the ambulance crew could fit much to treat you with in its cramped interior.

There’s a good hospital nearby where the accident was, but the woman said treatment there was too expensive.  We tried a local place, including its “24 hour pharmacy”, but it was closed at 11pm.  In the end we dropped them at a hospital a few blocks away, and the little girl was kicking her legs, so hopefully shock had been the extent of her injuries, save the cartoon-like lump on her head.  The husband had shown up by then, but soon came out again to stand around with his mates by the entrance.  The doctor said we should go home.

Familiarity can be a terrible thing, because it morphs so easily into acceptance.  There’s a common attitude in India, and among many travelers that come here, that the driving standards – which are appalling – and amount of road safety – which is almost non-existent – are fine.  A lot of people who come from the west love the free-and-easy attitude; they welcome it as a rejection of the unnecessarily fussy molly-coddling and repressive nanny state of home.

I won’t deny speeding down the road with the wind in your hair is exhilarating.  But it takes just a split second, one instant of false move of your part or somebody else’s, and the system that seemed so robust can crumple before your eyes and reveal the thin veneer on which so much operates here.

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