Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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The Feel Good Accident

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on April 12, 2012

The sudden screech of braking tyres accompanied with the loud crashing noise jolted me out of my reverie. As I snapped out, I managed to catch a glimpse of a black object flying in the air at about six feet above the ground and land in the midst of the road like a lump of putty. It took a split second for me to realize that the object was a human being clothed in a rider suit. The yellow bike from which the rider was propelled into air was lying ten feet behind him with its front wheel still turning at high speed. The Mercedes coupe which crashed into the bike held the hind wheel underneath its front tyres. With its shattered windshield the car looked like a hungry carnivore pinning its victim to the ground at the terminal stages of its hunt. All around me people at all corners of the junction where the accident took place came to standstill with curious, anxious eyes directed towards the site of the accident. Some ladies, especially the middle-aged and older, already had their hands to their mouths, proving that the enormity and suddenness of what transpired already sank into their minds with the attendant reflexive action already in place. There was mild acrid smell of burning rubber in the air. None moved from their places.

The door of the Mercedes coupe opened slowly and the driver, an old man of about sixty with a French beard staggered and slumped on the road. He looked completely dazed and tired. The bike rider lay stretched on the ground without moving. A couple of brave souls reached out to the car driver and were asking him some questions which did not appear to register with him. One of the men who were trying to speak to the driver disengaged and began calling an emergency number on his mobile phone. The way he was gesticulating and pointing to the various landmarks at the junction while on the call indicated that he reached the right number for help. The rider lay still unmoving. A couple of more people walked towards rider. They bent over him and attempted to make a conversation. The lack of response forced one of them to clap his hands in front of the rider’s visored head. That did not elicit any response either. There was no attempt to move the rider or make him sit. The dutiful traffic lights at the five-way junction kept doing their programmed job of changing from red to green via yellow but no traffic moved. The empty junction, with its thick white crisscross lines, suddenly appeared to possess massive proportions – much bigger than what it normally appeared to be with regular bustling traffic.

The wailing sirens of a medical ambulance and patrol vans were heard on the horizon and in minutes using whatever passage ways were available they reached the site of the accident. Half a dozen paramedics rushed with a foldable stretcher towards the bike rider. The stretcher was laid by his side carefully and the one of the paramedics started to speak to the rider who was still immobile. The crowds began to grow on the pavements. The police swung into action and cordoned off the site of accident with phosphorescent signs. In doing so they took adequate care to be economical with the space they were encroaching. One of the cops was on his walkie-talkie pointing to the traffic signals which got switched off and traffic control operations switched to a manual mode. While the paramedical staff was at work, the traffic police resumed the flow of traffic. From buses, cabs and cars people were craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the accident while they passed by. After sometime one of the paramedics stood up and pointed his two fingers towards his own eyes and raised his thumb. As if waiting for this cue the others shifted the rider to the stretcher carefully and unzipped the riding suit and slowly eased the helmet off the rider. One of the paramedics who looked like the lead of the pack sauntered towards the police and conveyed something and walked back to his team taking along with him the zonked car driver. The stretcher and the car driver were eased into the ambulance and with wailing sounds and flashing lights it began to move away from the accident site. In the meanwhile a largish tow-vehicle appeared on the scene and carefully loaded the bike in its carriage, hooked the Mercedes to its tow and moved away from the scene. The cordons were removed and gradually the traffic started to assume its normal intensity of flow. Even the thicket of cops dispersed leaving just a couple of them to monitor the traffic situation and ensure its return to normalcy. As if to survey and assess the overall progress, a helicopter from emergency services hovered over the scene for a brief while and then left. From start to finish the whole incident took under an hour to clear out. It was as if a stone was dropped into a calm pond which after seeing its share of splashes and ripples settles back to its usual serenity

Even to this day I am not sure whose mistake it was in the first place. Is the biker alive or dead? Maybe he is alive, with a few scars, a half broken tooth, mild limp but continues to ride a bike – with a sense of caution. Maybe he is sharing his wisdom by cautioning his friends, kids in the neighbourhood and members of biker communities and clubs to drive more carefully. What happened to the car owner? Did he get penalized? Was it his mistake? Was his next car a Mercedes? Did the biker and the car driver ever meet again? May be they are good friends now and exchange greetings on occasions to remind each other what they went through. Who knows? May be they are sworn enemies blaming each other for inducing excruciating moments of uncertainty, panic and pain in one another’s life

My distinct memory of this incident was the feeling of a surreal. The red helicopter hovering on the top, paramedics in their trademark dresses surrounding over a stretcher, the body of the man lying on the road unmoving mostly because of shock, the anonymous person who instinctively knew what to do and called the hospital for emergency help with a gratuitous kindness, the cops in their blue and white dresses, shining shoes,  buttoned down holsters, minimal epaulettes, the ambulance and emergency response vans on standby with their flashing lights, the tow vehicle that gently crawled in and out of the scene from nowhere were all an odd mix of things. I also have a remembrance of feeling very hungry, walking to an Italian joint and asking for a baguette with egg mayonnaise and sun dried tomatoes to be packed for my lunch to be eaten at my desk at work

However, what I remember most was also the memory of a strong surge of a feeling of hope engendered by the first-hand demonstration of a social system responding with a throbbing urgency to the need of one of its distressed constituents. That man can design and invoke human systems to work for the common good in times of crisis while keeping the collateral impact of disruption to others at a minimal left me with a sense of feel good and remembering this accident also reminds me of that sense of feel good. Contradictory……………………. is it?

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