Oh shit! Shit shit! Nooooo
Ira wanted ice cream, Ria wanted to go out on a long drive. Sonali was tired from the walk we had just come back from and had thought of settling in with the foot massager for the next 15 minutes. I well I was as usual at their disposal, typical Friday night. We got out to get ice cream at around 10PM. As we were nearing the Wipro circle near home Ira stated that she did not want to go to Funnel Hill Creamery or any of the 24 hour drive in places. So I turned to the right hoping to take them to a place near their school, Eskimos. I have had this bad cramp in the right calf for a couple of weeks now, started in Goa I think on a beach walk probably. So I was driving carefully paying attention to feedback specifically from the foot. Feedback being a big part of driving.
There is this place about 4km from home where the road narrows down from four lanes to two lanes. There are flexible orange bollards that demarcate the inbound/outbound lanes. Bollards that have the reflective strips covered in mud or are broken and lying on the road because some large vehicle ran over them at some point. I had encountered this specific stretch a few times over the past four months that we have been at Hyderabad, however, the car in-front of me probably had not. The kids and Sonali were busy with their feisty rendition of “From Now On” putting the poor Hugh Jackman to shame. I was calmly driving towards the ice cream parlor and then I overshot the turn I was supposed to take because always under construction roads and diversions. Anyway so I was now aiming for another ice cream place a few kilometers down this road closer to the in-laws place. We debated if we should go and ring the bell at grandmas place when I started shouting Oh shit, shit shit…
Later, about a couple of hours later, the kids asked “how did you know what was about to happen, you started shouting moments before the crash actually happened. Sonali chimed in with “oh he has very good sixth sense he can sense things way before anyone else realizes it is about to happen. It’s very spooky”… I just thought to myself “I was doing a lot of math in my head”.
As we reached the place where the four lanes squeeze into two lanes abruptly the car in-front of me realized very late that it needed to keep extreme left. The bollard must’ve suddenly appeared in-front of the car almost like in a bad video game. The driver hit the brakes and started turning his car acutely towards the left as the bollard almost scraped the front of his car. I was keeping the 2 car distance between the car in-front and mine. I usually try to maintain the 2 car distance while driving besides I had been anticipating this move. At the very least I had extrapolated that the driver in front would notice oncoming traffic suddenly, brake hard and swerve to the left so best keep a safe distance. However accidents are just that, no amount of math that you put into your driving will ever compensate for the drive by wire of someone else. The white Hector came flying over my right shoulder like a well aimed penalty kick and slammed full force into the white Seltos that was executing the complex maneuver to avoid oncoming traffic and bollards! I had been on the extreme left slowed down and crawling behind the also crawling Seltos that was trying to swerve to the left in-front of me, however, the guy driving the Hector did not see what was in-front of me and certainly had no clue that there was merging traffic. He would’ve had a bad accident anyway with oncoming traffic had he flown down the road the way he was going because this is the precise point where traffic switches from 4 lane to single lane undivided. It all happened barely 5 feet from my head lights in fact the debris from the crashing cars flew over my cars bonnet as well.
I hit the hazard lights, checked that there were bikers stopping behind me then jumped out of my car and rushed to the Hector. A poodle in the lap of the lady sitting in the front seat looked quite agitated and annoyed with the deployed airbags, there was no sign of any injuries. I opened the door anyway to shout at them over the constantly honking car, some sort of stuck horn or alarm sort of thing, to turn off the ignition and get out. The front was completely destroyed there was no engine left it was all crushed and strewn all over the tarmac. The crumple zones had done what they were supposed to do, absorbed all the force of the impact. It must be said here that if one has to speak about safety of the car then Hector is an extremely safe car. The driver and his co-passenger were both completely unharmed not a scratch not even any sign of sprain, compaction injury or anything of that sort. The airbags had deployed absolutely beautifully and prevented any injury. The lady had been sitting with her legs folded on the front passenger side with the poodle in her lap. That probably helped avoid injury to the feet as well because the cabin had also started crumpling from the impact and feet could’ve been caught in the crush of metal had they been down. There was smoke coming into the cabin which is why I shouted at the driver to immediately turn off the ignition and get out, there was risk of the contraption catching on fire. They both along with the poor doggo got out and because of the immediate adrenaline rush were able to calmly walk to the side. By then I had rushed over to the other car. The silencer was dislodged I could see in the light from the head lights of my car, the rear door was gone completely smashed so was the glass and there was some fluid spraying all over. There was a puddle under the car which I suspected was fuel till the spray from the wiper wash hit me and I realized it was not that bad. I then went to the passenger side to check on the occupants. The lady was clearly shocked but not at all injured. On the other side by now the driver from the Hector had recovered enough to come and start shouting at the Seltos driver. He was screaming about why would he park his car in the middle of the road and how it was all the mistake of the Seltos driver. I shook my head in disgust, typical behaviour on our roads, blame it on the other guy find the scapegoat even before the shattered glass hits the road.
I went over to the other side and planted myself between the two of them. I first asked the driver of the Seltos “are you okay”. A visibly shaken and clearly lost guy replied “I think I am ok”. I told him to turn off the car just in case there is a short circuit that is not obvious. It is never a good idea to drive the car after even the smallest of accidents as I had discovered unfortunately. Once while I was driving the children back from school an auto rickshaw had jumped the oncoming lane, landed in my lane and crashed into my car. I had a dislodged headlight so I drove from there to the Ford service center. There thinking that it was a mere headlight replacement job I had left the AC running and the children sitting in the car while I went to get a service advisor. When I returned outside there was smoke coming from the engine area, the service engineers had pulled out my daughters from the car and popped open the hood to locate the source and extinguish the fire. A wire in the O2 sensor had come lose and a short circuit had caused the fire. So yeah that is why I told this guy to immediately turn off the car and get out as well. You never know.
By now a huge traffic jam was building up. I told Pawan to go to his wife in the Hector and ensure she and the pet is settled and calm. He went there. I asked the lady in the Seltos if they had water. She fished out a bottle and I made both of them drink. Adrenalin will kick in immediately and make people go mad because what kicks in next for most men is testosterone and then all hell breaks loose. Already I was noticing the start of that process with Pawan the Hector owner/driver accusing and blaming the Seltos driver. The next step would be Shital the Seltos driver denying any wrong doing and then an argument snow balling into no holds barred fight ending up at the local police station. I did not have all night to help these guys get on with their lives besides I still had kids in the car who were rattled from what they had just seen happen. So anyway when Pawan returned I made him drink water, asked him if he was calm, which he was not and then made both Pawan and Shital hold hands with me. I told them very calmly “guys we are all alive, unharmed, I was in the middle of the two cars and had there been even a small difference in the location of my car or the speed of my car, my children would be not alive. I am thankful that we are all walking away from this accident unharmed, undamaged. You also need to acknowledge this fact and not go off on a tangent fighting over silly stuff like whose responsibility it was that the accident took place. Right now the adrenaline pumping through your veins is keeping you from feeling any pain from whiplash, tomorrow morning it will be very different with aches and pains in places you didn’t even know existed. So take a moment to be grateful for this escape from a close encounter with death and disability. Cars are both new so all you will be paying is the voluntary excess that you agreed to. Which in most cases is at most 1500-5000 rupees in India. The Hector would probably go in total loss and get replaced by the insurance company to the tune of the IDV and the Seltos will get a replaced rear door and a replaced silencer assembly apart from any other fixes. So don’t fight for stupid reasons, do not get worked up, just exchange your phone numbers and insurance copies and let the insurance agencies handle the rest“. Both of them immediately switched to good citizen mode trying to out do each other now in terms of being good, educated, calm individuals. The both almost together asked me “what is your name?”. I was like “how does it matter?” but then I said “Imtiaz, Imtiaz Khan”… thinking to myself if now they would turn all their anger towards the Muslim guy in the middle of all this (after all it has to be his fault as per all news anchors and politicians). My work here was done. Pawan walked back to check on his wife. Shital started telling me how he was returning from the hospital where his brother was admitted and that the lady was his sister in law.
This was when I noticed the number plate, MH43, Navi Mumbai. I asked him “you’re from Vashi?” his eyes lit up “yes Sector 15 Vashi, how do you know? where are you from? I came here to take care of my brother who is in hospital”. I told him I stayed near Vashi till just 4 months back and that my car had registration plates similar to his till we switched to Telangana registration a few days back, which is why I recognized the registration series belonged to that general area. Anyway I checked under the Seltos for further damage. The lady noticed the puddle behind the car and groaned “there is petrol leaking from the tank” (frankly with the current prices that is quite a valid emotion). I told her no it’s just wiper wash fluid not petrol. After doing a proper check of the car I told Shital it looks reasonable to me go ahead and move the car off the road because traffic by now had piled up for a good 2 km on both sides. There was no way to move the Hector but the Seltos could be driven. Then I went back to my car.
People on the roads, in India, become very excited when they see an accident. Usually it’s to see if someone got injured and then it is to get over the hold up and move on along. In the process the over enthusiastic bikers will climb the footpath and zoom down that way, the “smart” four wheeler driver will try to over take the car in front of them because the guy in front is stupid for having slowed down, and in the process further block the flow of traffic. That is what was going on around the accident spot right now. No one came to help out except me however everyone was trying hard to figure out what had happened. I prevented another accident when a lady who was driving her sedan on the wrong side of the road trying to overtake the car in-front of her almost flew over a broken bollard that was in her wheels path but not visible to her probably. Another few inches and her car would’ve gone wheeeee! much like most cars in a Rohit Shetty movie… and maybe even toppled over, at the very least it would’ve made her lose control of the steering. I rolled down my window and frantically motioned to her to stop and then pointed down towards the road anxiously hoping she got the message. Thankfully she held up her hand and with a grateful expression on her face engaged the left indicator and turned her car all the way to the left to avoid collision with the bollard. The rest of the traffic was now being managed by a bike rider who had gotten off and was handling the single usable lane clearing it off one at a time for each side.
I continued on my way only to be rudely made aware of human nature. About 50 meters of crawling behind the Seltos (it was trying to fine a shoulder to park on but there was mostly a raised footpath so far) I noticed someone running on the footpath. It was Pawan (the Hector driver). I was like “damn, there we go again”. He caught up with the Seltos and started banging on the passenger side. Again the Seltos stopped, the huge truck behind me also stopped complaining, creaking, groaning and also honking impatiently by now. I asked Sonali “should I go and diffuse this again”. She nodded her head in the affirmative saying “on their own they’re going to start fighting”, the kids were like “don’t you dare! there is no need to work for world peace you are not in a beauty pageant heck you have not even shaved in 5 days”. I stayed put hoping they would settle down… when it didn’t look like it I engaged the hazard lights again and jumped out of my car. I walked over to Pawan and said “don’t worry he is not running away he will wait for you off the road when he finds a place to do so safely”. Pawan calmed down and let the cars move on. A little further the Seltos turned left when it found a turn. I turned as well, somehow I had adopted this incident. The kids asked “what are we doing why are we turning, why are we stopping”. Sonali explained “it’s better to diffuse this completely rather than keep wondering what happened. Besides you would want someone to stop and help in case you were in such a situation wouldn’t you?”… that seemed to make sense to the mutts they calmed down. So I took the car off the road completely went ahead of the Seltos and parked behind a stationary truck with my hazard lights and head lights all on.
The police vans and Pawan came a little later. I explained to the policemen what had happened because I was the best neutral witness they would have got at this point. After a fair amount of counseling I was able to explain to both Pawan and Shital that they did not want to file any sort of case with the police. Apart from a diary entry that the cops had already made there was no merit in turning this into a full blown FIR against each other. The insurance claims can be settled as own damage if it comes to that. Apart from that there is zero merit in trying to fight this as a court case. We are in India not the USofA where settlements will be swift or corruption free. So they both wrote a letter together stating what happened and that they intended to claim individually from their own providers and that they did not intend to blame each other for the accident or claim any redressal from each other in any court of law in future. They signed the letter and I advised them to take a picture of the letter before giving to the Police and informing them that a compromise had been reached. At this point both were much more calmer because let’s face it in our country the biggest fear is the fear of tangling with the police and once those guys appear on the scene all the adrenaline, testosterone and alcohol flies out the window. The police man smiled at me when we gave them the letter and seemed to say “seriously man if I had a rupee for every time I did not see this sort of outcome”… somewhere in the middle of all this Shital and Pawan thanked me for the “fatherly advise”… I was kind of disturbed by the word “fatherly” considering Shital himself like me was probably over 40… but then when I told Sonali about it she said “yeah you haven’t shaved in 10 days and you have a white stubble, what do you think you look like?” I was about to reply with “Richard Gere” given my silver hair but then I said to myself “Harrison Ford, Harrison Ford guru…. gone are the days of Richard Gere now it’s Indiana Jones that too the last episode”.
While the guys were still wrapping up I drove off considering I did not anymore have any utility here. It had been a good 2 hours by now, nearly 2350 on the clock. Ira had asked a funny question sometime during this wait “would there be ice-cream at Tandoori Nights?”, a bar which we were parked across from… single minded focus this kid has. The ice cream parlor that would be open would be the Funnel Hill Creamery at the 24 hour place. Anyway I headed to check Eskimos and it was closing down. Instead of getting out and sneaking in I figured we had had enough adventure for the night. Ria was complaining “I was hoping to get a license when I turn 18 and then drive all night every day”… we laughed when I told her “ok how would you drive all night in the day first explain this”… Shital called and I took it on the speaker “Imtiaz thank you very much for what you did, arre you didn’t even let me say thank you you just drove away. I realized when you had left that you were gone.”… I replied “it’s ok Shital you take care, sleep well tonight because once the adrenaline wears off you will feel the impact tomorrow morning. Hope your brother recovers fine and comes home soon”. We hung up and I sincerely hope all goes well for both the parties involved in the crash from here on out.
My parents had suffered a similar crash in Hyderabad almost 20 years back. I was not there with them at that time. My mother, who was sitting in the rear seat, was injured in the accident and my younger brother who was in the passenger seat had uncharacteristically wanted to beat up the driver of the truck that had slammed into their car on a flyover, at night. They were out for ice cream. I hope this way by having been there for the people involved in a car crash I had done my bit for keeping the entropy of the world constant. I helped someone, someone else somewhere else took care of my people. We found a Kwality Walls kiosk near home, I had my usual kulfi, the kids got sandwiches and Sonali got her Cornetto. We got home around 12:30. Kids and Sonali managed to sleep off by 2AM. I was finally able to sleep only after 3AM. All in all another one of those experiences that make you wonder “what’s going on”. But then again another one of those experiences that tell you “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”… wiser at least, I hope. The big learning from this incident, as Rohit my dear friend always says, “it is compulsory for the rear seat passengers to also wear their seat belts at all times”…