Wise men say, it’s best to know the defects of the life you’re living, slowly & gradually, so that you can take in the experiences and learn from them, to avoid future mistakes. But I say, there are some experiences that don’t teach you much. They only leave you with grave thoughts and despair. I say this because I went through one such experience last Saturday.
Last Saturday, we were on our way to Coorg, Karnataka. My husband surprised me with this trip on Friday when he asked me to pack. It was our second wedding anniversary on Monday, eighteenth February. He wanted to take me into the place I love the most- mountains. He’d reserved a room- a home stay that are famous in Coorg, to give one a taste of the State’s culture, family lifestyle and food. It would have been a wonderful experience- HAD we been able to reach there.
We left the house at 5 AM, to avoid traffic on the way. While the roads may be bad, the route was really scenic. By 10:00 AM, we were only 80 kilometres away from Coorg. The roads in the State of Karnataka are in pitiable state, but that never bothered my husband. He’s a capable driver and knows how to avoid idiots who drive without any regard for traffic rules. He missed out on counting criminal stupidity this time.
We were on Highway 88, driving at the dictated speed, when the car driver ahead of us braked suddenly. My husband let out a muffled curse, trying to avert the car and pulled the brakes, but we were too late. Our car banged into the car ahead of us, jarring our senses and shocking our system.
My husband quickly regained his wits, while I was still getting over the moment and checked us both for injuries. Miraculously, we were unharmed. Getting out of the car, he met the other car’s driver, a man into his adulthood. He was a hired driver, carrying an old sick lady and another woman, who started shouting and ranting, blaming us. She was a local, on her way to Coorg with her mother. In the meanwhile, I got out and tried to find out how the sick woman was. I held her for a few moments while she got over her crying bout and consoled her. After all, she was old and sick, in shock and would need consoling more than I do, I told myself.
Soon a crowd gathered and being locals, everyone stuck together. The woman from the other car, while shouting on my husband incited the crowd and blamed my husband entirely instead of her own driver.
We come from the North of India, where Hindi and English are two major languages spoken by all. We’d been told by many of our known acquaintances that in the South of India, not many speak Hindi and despite knowing, prefer not to speak English. All this while, I’d thought this information to be load of rubbish. Why would anyone be unfriendly or rude? Why would they not help? After all, India is all about hospitality! I now realised they were right. We were in trouble. We did not know their local language called Kannada. We spoke to them in English and Hindi, asking them to help us out. Instead we found ourselves being cornered, with people coming upon us, demanding money and threatening physical harm.
Their car’s back bumper was broken and the backside of the car only dented, while our car was much worse. At least they knew their car was in a working condition. The front bonnet of our car was completely damaged, right side lights broken, and we had no idea what kind of internal damages the car had suffered. We weren’t sure if our car would start since when we opened the car bonnet, we saw lots of spilled liquid. We asked the locals to help but they were too busy in talking to the other woman in their local language. The other car’s driver knew Hindi, but he absolutely refused to help us find out about the damage to our car, and he said that in Hindi!!!
My husband called up Ford road service. I must say, had it been for another car, we may have suffered severe physical damage, but the Ford “Figo” has proved its worth to me by this incident. The impact of the accident had been absorbed by the car’s solid front. After all the parts were checked by my husband as per the directions given by the service guy, he told us we were really lucky and would be able to drive the car back to Bangalore and hand it in at the Ford service and repair station.
While the old sick lady sat in the car, calm and composed now, her daughter called her husband on the phone and started crying. Rush of adrenalin was fierce in my veins. While they started gathering up on my husband, I asked them to leave him alone. (I fear I had been having hysterics.) I told the other woman to gather her wits, she was not the only injured party here, we were much worse and all due to the fault of her driver. She was giving a fine example of how people in Karnataka are- unhelpful to strangers and absolutely insensitive. I repeatedly asked the others to leave us alone in English and Hindi; after all it was the business of two parties, what had they to do with it?
But would they listen? NOPE. Instead, they started coming close, talking and making threatening gestures. I will not deny it. I had started becoming scared. India is not a safe place any more. The memory of New Delhi victim was fresh in my mind, when back in December the entire world had learned of the shameful episode of gang-rape, abuse and finally the death of a woman who had protested against men, trying to protect herself. My husband asked me to go sit in the car while he settled the issue with them. With reluctance, I got in.
A guy from the crowd emerged while my husband spoke to the other woman’s husband over the phone. He spoke English & Hindi. There as no police station for many kilometres. (My husband later explained that he would not have preferred police any way since every one knows how corrupt police is. He pacifies me by saying that we got away lightly by only paying 30,000. Had police been involved, we’d have had to pay the police their share too!! ) He also very bluntly declared that the crowd would remain upon his head. My husband looked at him incredulously as he said, since the other car held two helpless women, all votes were on their side, regardless of whose fault it may have been. He asked my husband to pay for damages for the other car.
The woman had called her local friends who had come in other cars. Apparently they had been deciding upon the sum they could demand from us, for after a while, she asserted the same demand, repeated by her husband on the phone. My husband proposed to give them our insurance details and take the car into the nearest service station, about 180 kilometres away. He said he’d pay if they left us alone, once the damages were calculated. But his offer was rejected, with the other party demanding instant cash of 50,000 Indian rupees!!
Our mind boggled. Obviously, we weren’t carrying such cash, even if we wanted to pay them and get ourselves away from the threatening public. The man who spoke English said, he knew of an ATM 10 kilometres away. Finally, my husband gave in to their demand, negotiated and paid them 30,000 Indian rupees. We had the foresight to ask them to sign a receipt that said, we had paid them in full for the damages and that they wouldn’t ask for anything more and would let us be on our way unharmed. After all, who knew what they’d be up to the next?
We came back to Bangalore and handed in our car at the service station. Thankfully insurance would cover the cost and we may be without transport for two weeks, but I’ve learned my lesson. Do not expect any help from locals in Karnataka. I had heard that it was one of the most corrupt States of India, but this experience has just proved it. I am still very upset and perhaps not able to think selflessly. All I know is that, we could have died out there, and no one would’ve helped us and saying THAT would be no exaggeration.
The more I look at things happening around me, the more I despair for my motherland. India is no more a secular country. India has been divided by its own people into small States and even smaller frame of mind. Now we have become the unhelpful lot. There’s nothing in the world that can make me sadder than this knowledge that my country has literally gone to the dogs.
Some scenic images from before the accident and after the incident itself (two pics on the left).The man in Purple shirt is my husband, trying to keep everyone away, while I sat in the car and clicked pics with shaking hands.