27th November 2014 – Malda, India
The road is sometimes a purgatory, where there exists a fine line Between experiencing heaven on earth, or malevolent hell. Today I was fooled. Into thinking that the day was blissful, and joyous. Minutes moved into blatant eons, and a tragedy had me in its wretched spell.
I left Siliguri early in the morning today, and the plan was to ride as long as I could, to bridge the gap remaining to Kolkata, which was still 700 plus km away.
This stretch of North Bengal is very pleasant to ride in, with its tea plantations and chill breeze. I was even feeling a little cold, despite the fact that I had left the harsh altitudes of Bhutan far behind. But it could be a little too pleasant, as I would soon find out.
Near the little town of Raiganj, where the lane-widening work for the National Highway 34 is going on, there are stretches where the traffic both ways go on the same side. In one of those stretches, I was tailing an Innova for a while, and humming some song to myself. And before I knew it, the innova had crashed, full-frontal, onto an oncoming truck!
I have been riding for 3 months now, but as luck would have it, I have never had to witness an accident so far. But when I did, which was today, the impact was brutal. The innova was some marriage party with 7 or 8 kids inside, apart from a couple of elders. And the front bonnet of the innova had almost disintegrated, going deep into the truck.
I stopped the bike on the side, and immediately tried to assist whoever I could, or do whatever I could. There are times in life, where you want to do something, but your knees start shaking. Today was one of those. I stood in front of the battered vehicle for what seemed like an eternity, not knowing what to do, and my knees shaking like leaves in the wind. The truck driver had immediately ran away after the accident, fearful of what the crowd would do to him. So that left only the occupants of the Innova to look after. But whom to help first? Where to begin? There was just me and a few villagers around, and we all had the perplexed look of an unprepared task force.
I decided to start at the back, opening the hatch door. There were 7 kids inside, all of different ages, dressed in colourful attire for the marriage. And all of them bleeding. Pulling them out one by one, was a challenge, as many of their legs were tangled against each other, and the seat railings. At least 3 of them had clearly dislocated their joints, as their legs were in grotesque positions. A villager joined me to rip off one of the seats at the back, as we managed to pull out the first kid out. Her eyes were open, and blinking.
After laying her on the side of the road, we proceeded to remove the others slowly, until we had all the 7 kids at the back, laid on the side of the road. Someone had already called an ambulance, and the kids just had to wait. 2 of them, had their eyes closed and would not react to anything. I prayed they were alright, but there were still people on the front to be taken care of.
The driver’s seat was a mess, with steel tangled everywhere and blood everywhere. The driver, and his assistant were alive and delirious, but with badly mangled faces. During an accident, you would expect the conscious victims to start crying and shouting. Surprisingly, neither of them were crying. They were delirious, rambling something in Bengali, while we tried to open the door.
The door simply wouldn’t open. We tried everything, even using a crossbar to trip and rip off the door-latches. Since I still had my riding gloves on, I held on the crossbar and leaned backwards, with 3 other villagers latching onto me and pulling me backwards. No go. The latch simply wouldn’t bulge.
The fire department came right around that moment. And so did the cops and the ambulance. They moved the people away, and started to do the necessary rescue work. I slowly moved back to my bike. My knees were still shivering. I could barely walk, and I smelled like blood. My tshirt was soaked in the front with someone else’s blood. There was a gagging reflex, which I had to contain with a cigarette on the side of the road.
No. I ended up smoking 4 cigarettes in a row, while watching the ambulance clear the injured, and washing my tshirt with a bottle of water.