I don’t really understand why I think of death and dying these days. Dying is the only sure thing in this world and yet the very thought puts one off. But somehow the process of ageing and dying of natural causes seems acceptable. But when young lives are lost sometimes for no reason or fault on their part one does feel depressed. I recently heard of two young men, newly married and sole bread winners of their family, who lost their lives in road accidents. Both were driving motorcycles given to them as part of the dowry demanded by their parents. Both belonged to the lower middle class. One worked as a daily wager under a contractor and the other sold dosa, idli in a push cart. After the release of Dhoom and Dhoom-2 rash driving has become a fashion among young men. But in the cases mentioned the former was driving at full speed in a highway and failed to notice a sharp bump and was simply thrown off. He was at least responsible for what happened. The second man was crushed to death by a speeding lorry trying to turn at an intersection with a golchakkar (roundabout).
We in India always look for the easy way out. I don’t know about other states but definitely in Jharkhand and probably in Bihar passing a driving test is not mandatory and license is often issued without the candidate ever setting his eyes on the issuing officer. Till some 10 years back the motor training institutes charged an additional fee for the license and once the 2 week’s training was over it was assumed that he/she automatically qualified for the license. Thankfully the practice has been stopped and a kind of mock test is conducted and I haven’t heard of anyone’s application being rejected or of a person who failed the test. I sometimes wonder whether accidents would be reduced if issue of license were not so easy.
Then there are train accidents. I do not doubt the efficiency of our engine drivers. They are responsible for the safety of passengers and are properly trained. But as in the case of a father ferrying his son to school in a jeep who did not exercise caution while crossing an unmanned railway crossing, we Indians are always in a hurry. Signals annoy us. We do get a kick out of overtaking from the wrong side and ignoring traffic rules. Smooth flow of traffic is an alien concept and I saw it for the first time in USA. No honking, no overtaking and all commuters kept to their lanes. Pedestrians are treated with care and motorized vehicles stop at intersections whether there is someone crossing the road on foot or not. I went to a Labor Day sale and my daughter found a parking space with great difficulty. Such was the crowd. But people were relaxed. No jumping queues or any such thing. It took us 45 minutes to pay the bill at the check out counter but we did not hear any one grumble or mumble.
Is over population the cause for our insensitivity towards rules? Why are we always so hyper? Even at the doctor’s clinic we wish to push ourselves and are allowed to go first. Are not the others patients too? Young lives are lost due to this tearing hurry, rules are broken, palms are greased but lessons are seldom learnt.
Then there is the other kind of accident. One in which the stove bursts and a young bride is burnt to death. Or a young girl with a promising career is found hanging from the ceiling and the law finds her husband innocent. And another girl equally beautiful and with an even better career marries him. Parents in their haste to get rid of their burden – read daughters – don’t even bother to verify the details of the first wife’s death. Social boycott of the boy and his family is unheard of. It is whispered that the girl was somehow at fault and we all tend to believe the boy’s version. Some 20 years back a girl known to me died of a mysterious cause. She worked in a reputed company and her colleagues insisted on a post mortem. The girl’s father backed out saying that he had 2 more daughters to get married and he could not afford to antagonize his son in law who had connections in high places. Another girl from the same town married him and walked out of the marriage saying that he was schizophrenic and it was impossible to live with him. The man later committed suicide and the family admitted that he was indeed mildly schizophrenic. Proper treatment could have saved him as well as the girl married to him. I don’t blame the boy as much as I’d blame his family and the parents of the girls who married him. It is generally agreed that an alcoholic, gambler or anyone with personality disorders would be okay if they got themselves a wife. The truth is that with a wife to bear the brunt of his behavioral problems others in the family can breathe easy.
Sorry to sound pessimistic. I cannot help it. Young lives are not only important to their families but to the nation as a whole. We lose them to accidents, illness and insensitive social practices like dowry. When they manage to survive we let them become terrorists and anti socials who in turn take away more lives. And we accept all this as fate or destiny.
I end with the story of my colleague Dr. SP. She was unmarried and lived alone in the top floor of a house in the heart of the city. Her family lived in Ranchi. During Holi we get a break of a week and very often around the same time Good Friday, Easter and Ram Navami are celebrated. So if a few days of casual leave can be managed one can take around 10 to 12 days off. SP had told her land lady that she would be leaving for Ranchi early next morning and would return after about 10 days. So when one did not see her during the days that followed no one really missed her. A week later I came to know through a neighbor that the local papers carried the news of her death under mysterious circumstances and it was only on account of foul smell emanating from her room that people became suspicious. No one had any clue about the motive for murder. The saddest part was that while all of us in college mourned her death, her parents could only think of the amount she would get as provident fund and were glad that just a few months back she had given her father’s name as nominee. When asked to file a case her father politely refused saying that it was not possible for him to attend court in Jamshedpur since he lived in Ranchi, We never heard from him after that. SP was a smart girl with a brilliant career and a bright future. We often think of her although it is more than 15 years since she died. We try to figure out the motive behind her death and miss her in our own way. We heard that she had booked a flat in Ranchi and had drawn some heavy amount to pay the builder and the killer had perhaps been tipped off by the bank staff. But these are just speculations and nothing was proved.
Had the judiciary been faster in deciding on cases such as these people like SP’s parents would perhaps have the motivation to file a case and the unsuspecting public would know the cause and be more cautious.
If only girls are allowed to offer their opinion during marriage negotiations and the dowry menace done away with…………
If only parents thought twice before sending their wards to school in overloaded vans and three wheelers………..
If only traffic rules were drilled into our youngsters and breakers of these rules punished and penalized…………….
If only the state and central governments could ensure education for all children of the school going age…………
If our movies stopped depicting law breakers as heroes……….
If only the value of every life lost in this manner were realized by every one of us………..
Finally if every mother could be like Neelam Katara and fight for justice……….
I wonder if I am asking for too much to happen in too little time.