Journey, Irony and Justice

My friend has exams in a few days so I cycled to his house with a bag full of fresh mangoes. It was afternoon and jasmine was out, and also being Hanuman Ji's birthday, all the temples were banging bells with the holy people chanting loudly. I took the backroute so as not to meet any traffic after watching a young guy on a bright yellow motorbike showing off his braking power by accelerating and decelerating very ominously near trucks vans and cars. After 10 minutes of cycling through what are essential lush cul-de-sacs (called Nagar or Colonies here) I came to the last crossing which is a main road. As I reached the other side I heard a roar and saw down the busy highway the yellow motorcyclist again recklessly putting his skill and others to test. Zindigi Ki Koi Kitam Nahin Hei - a Hindi phrase meaning life has no price came to mind. Up ahead was my friend Sumit Ji and as he waved I heard an immense thud and the tell-tale breaking of glass and turned to see a motorcycle on its side with its owner underneath the car that it had hit. More ironically, the motorcycle was not yellow and the driver was not a reckless youth, and I judged that the car had come out too fast and the motorcyclist couldn't swerve in time. I parked my bike and started jogging towards the accident, with Sumit on his way. I was 100 metres away and already there were crowds of people. Amazingly the man pulled himself out from under the car looking livid, having sustained no injuries except losing his shoes to the other side of the road. Sumit reached me and said quietly that if the car doesn't leave as soon as possible, there will be blood. This is how it works here; the one who causes the accident is invariably beaten up by the victim and his family and friends, if he calls them, and if not by the crowd (gang) of bystanders. The police are notified only if there is death or injury to anyone involved in the initial accident. Mob mentality is an interesting thing and as I scanned the tense faces of the crowd I noticed Sumit, a kind guy mentally urging the family in the car to leave quickly, the victim of the accident and owner of a smoking motorbike pounding his fists on the passenger side of the car, a family standing and watching from the other side of the road looking grim as if they knew what was going to happen and young weathered construction workers shouting and standing infront of the car so that it could not leave. There were now perhaps 150 people around the car, and lots of cars and bikes stopped as they could not circumnavigate the scene. Some people were sitting on their cars and watching, others approaching menacingly. The situation was at a turning point and it looked as if the driver of the car was going to be dragged out and beaten in some distorted form of street justice. All of a sudden people started walking away and the tension in the air dissipated, and the owner of the car drove away inch by inch in his dented car, his wife looking white with shock in the passenger seat and his two grand-kids looking perplexed in the back. Sumit signalled to leave and said that they had let the man go because he was a grandfather. I looked back one last time to see the construction workers helping move the man's bike out from the road and the victim of the accident sitting on the floor and smoking a cigarette with his head in his hands. The young guy on the yellow bike mounted again and in a foolish roar of his engine he was gone, narrowly missing a car moving into another lane.

I arrived back at home a few hours later and went to check on the young chick. Durga said monotonously that it had died and he had thrown it and the nest away. The next morning as I was drinking a chai, the mother bird came back to the exact spot with a morsel of food in her mouth tweeting discordantly, longing and confused, attempting to find its offspring. The kaleidoscope turns and the picture changes, justice is not just.

M Hallett

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