Random musings…
The ones that got written down.

this will be the day that I die…

This one is a true story from a little over a week back…

Got lynched, almost.

Passing through Gulbarga on our way to Goa we came upon this rowdy standing in the middle of the highway, SH 155, I figured it was pointless to honk or ask him to get out of the way as he was already arguing with another party. I carefully steered the left wheel off the tarmac and focused on avoiding his outstretched leg. Ira actually remarked “is he not worried that a car could run over his foot”. As the car drove past the guy a chill ran down my spine. The right wheel crunched over glass and metal. A millisecond before it did so I saw the phone lying on the road. Clearly a very carefully orchestrated scene and an extremely strategically placed phone. I knew what was about to happen and saw it unfold in the rear view mirror… The person our rowdy was arguing with ran over to the left side bent quickly picked up the phone and handed it to the rowdy. Rowdy gunned his bike and started chasing after me. I knew I could not go over 30kmph because of the 1.38billion sharp speed breakers that litter the highways inside Karnataka. In any case my goose was cooked since this was obviously a group activity. He overtook in a few seconds and parked right in-front of the car. Comes off and as I start backing up the car to try and out run him on cue a goat herd brought her herd onto the road. The guy started banging on my side of the car showing me the shattered phone screen. Clearly not the work of a 1000+ kilo car. I was still backing and the rowdy clearly drunk stumbled back. Seeing my break because the goats had also finished grazing on the highway at precisely this time I made a dash for it. Big mistake. About 1km down a huge crowd of villagers was running madly on the highway towards our car. A motorcyclist in front of me fell down, left the bike lying on the road in front of our car and ran away as the bloodthirsty villagers came with huge rocks, spades, rods, farm implements of all shapes and what not in their hands to attack our car, maybe kill us. I stopped and very calmly told myself and the kids and Sonali “we’ll be fine”. I stopped the car, engaged the hand brake and raised my hands so they could see my palms. They came and someone banged on my side indicating to me to roll down the window. I did as told. They asked me for the keys, I gave them the keys. Now we’re playing good cop-bad cop trying to decide how to slaughter us and alternately trying to make it look as if they know nothing about why they just ambushed me. I just kept my hands raised. Then one of the leaders came to the window and asked me what I did. I told him I saw the guy in the middle of the street, I took the car off the road as much as possible, his phone was already on the road and there was no way for me to have seen it. I ran over the phone and then when I was stopped by an obviously drunk guy I decided to not engage and drove on…

On the other side women were talking to Sonali and telling her nothing will happen and trying to calm down the by now confused and terrified kids… this is when the rowdy caught up. He came and started slapping the bonnet of the car showing his shattered phone to everyone. This was around 11:30AM so maybe not time to actually start killing people yet maybe some other reason anyway so there was a definite indecision all around. Soon a daadhi waale elderly person came and asked again and I explained what happened. He said isko kuch paise dedo he will not agree otherwise, he is very drunk. I wanted to say it was not my mistake but I said to myself this was not the time to argue. This was the time to recapitulate and evade certain lynching. I held up 300 bucks, all i had in my wallet, and his wife now materialized waving the phone at me and shouting something in a language I did not understand… I did not engage. The guy was busy deflating my tires or at-least threatening to. I looked at the older guys hoping for an intervention. The daadhi waala and his group came again and said paanch sau dedo mere haath se deta hoon aap nikal jao, I gave him the 500 bucks which Sonali had fished out of her bag. The rowdy did not get out of the way. Again the commotion started with the rowdy asking me to get out of the car. I was calm i did not get out of the car or make any expressions that would convey my disdain. Finally the villagers removed the boulders they had stacked in-front of the car and the older folks told me conspiratorially to wind up the glass and drive through the gap they will create. I refused to take this false cop out at this point because I knew what would happen 2km down the road. Sonali was meanwhile reasoning in Marathi with the women of the group explaining how we did not break the guys phone. I looked directly at the rowdy and with hands folded told him to let me go zhau dhyaa finally, only when he himself got out of the way fingers wagging and still slapping the bonnet with an open palm I motioned for the other villagers to make a hole. I drove out carefully.

Kept a low speed for the next few knowing there would be repercussions far worse if any other villager now chose to take offense… About 10km later upon taking a turn back onto the national highway i was stopped by the over enthusiastic Karnataka police, to check papers! Clearly Karnataka Police has an over enthusiastic zeal for paper checking. In fact I just happened to ask the constable who had flagged down our car “what happened did I do something wrong or just for paper checking?” and the senior officer who seemed to be in charge turned his whole hearted attention towards me “why? Do you have a problem showing papers?”. I said I asked him if I had committed a mistake or was it just plain paper checking, not backing down to which he replied no no just routine paper checking. After showing him the PUC/RC/DL/Insurance and ensuring that he was happy I narrated the incident from a few kms back… knowing it meant nothing at all because in this country nothing happens without the knowledge of the men in brown… They all became very excited and wanted to go right then to bring down the heavy arm of law on these thugs… Knowing that would mean a lot of showboating and a wasted day I said let it be I do not wish to drag my kids through this any more and said tata, take care keep pestering law abiding citizens, checking their car papers while the real culprits are enjoying “law-and-order” just a few kilometers away. We drove on to Bijapur. The second half of the journey and the return trip has me worried. Let’s see maybe avoid state highways at all cost.

This happened on the 30th of April. Today we are fortunately back home after an exceptionally beautiful stay at Goa and a vacation to beat any vacations so far. Yet this is the incident I know runs through the heads and minds of all four of us. Did we make a mistake by not doing what 95% of our classmates from our batch from school did? We were the toppers of our batch back in 2001 and here we are jousting with highway thugs and corrupt policemen while all our classmates are out of the country enjoying lives of reasonably less stress outside India…

The answer I give myself every time something like this happens is this “crime is not restricted to India, worse muggings and corruption takes place in other parts of the world as well, what is important is to learn, to adapt and to if not avoid at least reduce the chances of such and similar incidents”. Will I never take a road trip again? Hell no, I most certainly will. Will I not buy the farm land I have been hoping to buy at some point and set up my own farm? Of course I will once it happens organically and with proper buy in with the locals. Will I stop trusting the inherent goodness of my own countrymen? Absolutely not, because for every rowdy who wants to gouge out my eyes I have met 150 fellow countrymen who understand that the rowdy is drunk and they will try to protect me from harm by devising a way out of terrible situations. Will I stop taking State Highways on my road trips, well yes I will try and avoid those as much as possible. Yesterday on the way back, for instance, I took the longer route to avoid Karnataka as much as possible and stuck to national highways. Will I now take vacations that involve travel only by flights? Maybe for the next few yes, apart from the social divide and associated restlessness, there are issues like those relating to hygienic toilets that are to be considered. Earlier toilets were available at all petrol pumps not so any more in fact now petrol pumps as a rule direct you to the restaurant nearby which is always in a pathetic state of repair. Besides I’m getting old and driving over undivided highways requires you to be extremely alert at all times… So yes with every incident you learn. Survival is about adapting, it is never about running away (well that too is a perfectly sound strategy just that it’s not for lazy people besides what do you learn if all you do is run?).

After checking in at a hotel in Bijapur (aka Vijayapura now) I did some reading up on what had just happened and if there was a precedence. I remembered a few techies who had been lynched in the very same area where we had our experience. Those poor fellows were unlucky. We have been very very lucky to have escaped without a scratch even on the car. Apparently there have been killings in this manner in this region. I would say it has to do with the rich poor divide and a general sense of being shielded by the law enforcement agencies because this is what is being encouraged on the national level as well, mob justice! Kill them all and blame it upon some or the other provocation.

Anyway all things considered “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and I for one am never running away… I will figure out the solution, always.

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