It was dark. The rains had just stopped. Keerthi was driving up the hill. The strong glare of her car’s headlights lit up the still wet road. She drove carefully, negotiating each curve cautiously and looking all around for other vehicles.
She had been stranded at the bottom of the hill for the last two days, and needed, desperately, to get to the top. All her work and family was up there. When she’d reach home, she could take a warm bath, tuck in and take some rest.
Her car phone rang. Her mom was calling.
“Hello, Amma! I’m almost home. Just another half hour.”
“Okay. Drive carefully. We’re all waiting.”
“Okay! Can you put Ashwitha on the line?”
“Of course. Here.”
“Hey, kiddo, what’s up?”
“Come home fast! Ariana Grande dropped a new music video, and it’s amazing! You’ll love it!”
“Is it the video for ‘Thank u, next’?”
Their conversation delved into the depths of the contemporary pop scene, in the West. She passed a phone stop, on the two-laned road. Those stops were designed such that a driver can pull over, take a call and resume their journey once done. As she and her sister dove into a discordant rendition of ‘Call Me Maybe’, by Carly Rae Jepsen, an army truck sounded its horn around the corner.
Over her own crooning, Keerthi failed to hear the horn, and went ahead. As she was about to take the turn, the truck became visible. She slammed the brakes. Her car skidded and hit the front of the truck, head on.
Arpit was driving. Mehak was sulking in the seat beside him. They had had an argument over breakfast. It began from Arpit’s habit of pouring in the milk before the cornflakes, and had spiralled downhill from there. By the time they left for work, neither was talking to the other.
The roads were unusually deserted, in spite of their watches reading 8 A.M. Arpit sped down the straight road that connected their suburb to the city; they were running a bit late today. Mehak was staring out of the window, tapping lightly on the window in an arrhythmic pattern.
Arpit, a musician by passion, hated sounds with no rhythm. A minute into the tapping, his eyebrows had inched closer, his hands clenched around the steering wheel and his foot pressed on the accelerator pedal a bit more. Unperturbed by the speed they were travelling at, Mehak increased the frequency.
Arpit’s teeth began to gnash. He couldn’t take it anymore, and said, “Stop it, woman! Stop it! I’m driving, for God’s sake.” Mehak ignored him, and continued tapping. He looked at her, and yelled, “Stop it, damn it!” A sly smile appeared at the corner of her mouth and she continued.
Arpit took his left hand off the wheel, and grabbed her right palm. He pulled her away from the window, and shouted into her face, “What is wrong with you?” She looked away, and stared straight out of the windshield. Her look of slyness was replaced with one of terror. “Look ahead, Arpit! Look ahead! Hit the brakes!”
Arpit turned to look, and hit the brakes, but it was too late. Their car hit the rear of a slow moving truck at a very high speed. The back of the truck collapsed, and its contents, large wooden logs, spilled on to the car.
Shivam was having the best day of his life. He’d been promoted the previous day, had a successful meeting with one of the most powerful attorneys in town, and spent the whole night binging on Star Wars. The morning was clear, and his new car was shining bright. The custom paint job was perfect, the controls were as smooth as silk and the stereo was soft on the ears.
He dropped of his children at school, before he headed off to work. Humming a song by Kishore Kumar, he pulled onto the expressway. The traffic was heavy today; after all, it was Monday. He was relaxed. He followed the pace of the traffic, slowing down and speeding up. He passed by countless school buses and office car pools. The number of trucks were decreasing as the traffic restrictions kicked in.
He followed a stream of vehicles towards the Business District, just like every other day. The traffic came to standstill at the exit to the city, but he was worried. This was his daily routine. One album finished, another album began. He was almost at work. He got a call from his wife; she’d just reached work. He replied by saying that he’d reach in a while, as well.
He went on ahead, and the lights at the next intersection turned green. He went on ahead, a bit too slowly. Just a few feet from the crossing, the lights turned amber. He thought, “I can cross. I’ve done it a hundred times.” He increased his speed, and the lights turned red as he crossed the threshold of the zebra crossing.
He didn’t stop. Nor did the stream of vehicles on the adjacent road, who were cleared to go. As he almost cleared the crossing, a metropolitan bus rammed into the left side of his car.
India will be the third largest automobile market in the world by 2020, behind the United States and China. 400 lives are lost every day to road accidents in India, which makes an approximate total of 1,50,000 every year. A significant amount of small vehicles in India have a zero-star safety rating. The implication? A minor accident at 60 kmph may result in life-threatening injuries. Till the time harsher safety regulations are not out, or safety standards are raised, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike must take utmost caution. At all times, everyone should keep something in mind.