Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Call it the end of a road trip or a brush with death

So after V had pretty much found out everything there was to find out about Jeetu, we trundled back to the hotel and checked-out (after stealing all the toiletries, of course).

Debate raged in the car as to whether we should detour to see Fatehpur Sikri or just head home to Delhi. V won this round (used his ‘but I’ve never seen, am only son-in-law, come aaaaallll the way from UK’ sweet boy face) and we set of for Fatehpur Sikri. Well, I use the term ‘set off’ quite loosely as we were not so much a galloping caravan but more snails pace amidst all that traffic. So nai gaddi was doing her thing, purring smoothly and steadily in the very capable Nik’s hands, meandering through the crowded streets. We came to stop right behind a line of cars at some traffic light on the exit out of Agra. And then we got hit. From behind, by a Santro that had clearly had more accidents than days off the factory line. This was no gentle bump, more a loud thwacking and crunch, causing serious neck jerks and whiplash in two of the back seat passenger. So there we are full stop in the middle of a road, hit from behind for no good reason, with the bumper cracked and dented. We de-car massaging our necks to ease away the shock.

And out of the car that hit us appeared a young bloke (YB) with the world’s largest sunglasses. Immediately went to examine his car and found his radiator fussing. Told the friend he was talking to that he would call back as he had had a ‘chota sa accident’. So there it is, he came and hit us because he was talking on his cell phone while he drove, obviously concentrating more on that conversation than on his driving. And of course instead of asking us how were, did we need medical attention, YB immediately whipped out another mobile phone and dialed numbers to have simultaneously conversations with ‘his people’. In response to my mum asking what the plan was he kept saying ‘My guardian is coming’. What this meant we were soon to find out.

After parking our car on the side of the road to allow traffic to go past on the narrow street, we tried calling 100 from 3 different cell phones which we thought was THE number to call the police from anywhere in India. Apparently not. We were repeatedly told to ‘chuck the number’ (my favourite accented saying). We had no number for the Agra police, so we turned to calling our insurer to find out how much replacing the bumper would cost. We figured ‘the guardian’ would arrive and be a bit more helpful in sorting out the mess.

Well, ‘my guardian’ arrived. Only it was not just one person – it was two car loads, 8 additional people. YB’s father led the brigade. A very large man, defining prosperity with his girth, paan dripping from his mouth, a loud purple shirt stretched tight across his belly and an attitude that matched. Accompanying him was his brother ‘Bhai’ and an assorted 6 henchmen, one of whom was clearly a mechanic who immediately began tinkering with the Santro’s radiator to get it to stop hissing.

Let me just stop here to say something I never realised before this trip. Uttar Pradesh is a scary place. A very scary place. There. I said it. Only I’m not scared anymore because I’m 3000something miles away ensconced in an office of calm. From the moment we arrived in the Uttar Pradesh we had seen guns being openly carried around. By the pillion rider on a two wheeler. Propped up next to the driver in the cab of a Maruti van. On the backs of two guys just strolling along the side of the road. It was a little intimidating but I thought nothing of it till this very moment, on the side of this road, surrounded by people who had come in a horde to make things right for their young fella.

To get our bumper fixed we needed an FIR for the insurance claim. It was apparent right from the start that the Agra party was not going to shell out the money. YB’s uncle, The Bhai, had even come up to us and blustering told us how he was going to testify that he was at the side of the road, had seen everything, we had injured his nephew, damaged their car etc. And that all the people with him would testify to the same. He did this in a sort of ‘I’m trying to be friendly, but watch me turn mean’ basically indicating that there was no way they would pay for the damage. YB’s father kept clutching his chest and telling us how worried he was when his son called, thank the lord no one is hurt, I have a BIG beejness in Agra, don’t mess with me’. And there we were trying to be cautious, not get overexcited or aggressive in the face of a wrong being done to us.

Unable to get hold of the police we finally called the hotel we had just left and thankfully the Head of their security and HR agreed to come and help us sort this out. So accompanied by hotel dude, his driver and a guard we convoyed to the police station.

The Po-lice station is a dusty courtyard with a small fairly basic building in the centre and a small temple in the front. There are numerous old vehicles crammed into a corner, forgotten debris of accidents past, caked in dust and mud from years of neglect. These rust buckets have grown roots into the ground, firmly embracing the soil, stuck in a timeless age and adorned with scary looking people on ‘most wanted’ posters loosely taped to their sides.

The head honcho was sitting in the courtyard behind a metal desk, surrounded by general lookers-on and a few junior cops and listening to him talk. We all entered together but in one sudden spurt of energy YB’s endlessly round father strode ahead and shook hands with the top cop asking if he had received a call from so-and-so, who was a very good friend of the family. We of course had no contact to offer as our own except the hotel guy. Top cop asked each side to explain what had happened and then asked if we wanted to press charges. By this point, frankly, all we wanted to do was get the hell out of there. Pressing charges would only mean both cars being impounded and left to rot in said graveyard till a very lengthy court case was won, or someone was suitably bribed. It would also mean numerous other trips to Agra which none of us had the time, energy or inclination to pursue. It would also mean lots of the YB’s witnesses bearing false witness against us (my poor mum got so het up about this – she just cannot get that the world is not a uniformly true and beautiful place) and us trying to fend that off.

So in a deal designed to get us out of there and for both parties to get insurance (which his car could most certainly do with) a compromise was reached and an ‘insurance friendly’ FIR was lodged. The only person who could write such shuddh Hindi immediately took charge of the situation – my very own, very talented V (take a bow). He has the patience of an angel and used his always polite voice to write the FIR (dictated by the cop behind the counter) with some bogus story about a cow coming in our way forcing us to brake (sacred and all that) and causing the guy behind to bump into us. Both parties with a valid claim, signed, stamped and sealed, ready to go and forget this ordeal.

I won’t bore you with more detail, just leave you with the knowledge that the entire event took about 3 1/2 hours during which my dad sat in the back of nai gaddi and read his newspaper back to back (and no, he’s no coward, just trying to stay calm, not lose his temper and for a change let the young guys figure it out). My mum and I dabbled in inane conversations at the police station, read all the most wanted posters, and watched some other poor chaps come in and try and register a case of intimidation. We left sapped of energy and enthusiasm, the image of the Taj slightly diminished by its surroundings. We had a late lunch break before we left Agra to recharge our batteries for the long drive back into the mad Delhi traffic. Poor V never did get to see Fatehpur Sikri.

And just for a splash of added excitement, on the highway a police jeep swerved in toward our car for no good reason except a fake licence and poor driving skills. We owe our alive status to some very good driving on the Niks part. He kept us safe, scratch free and swaying to the music all the way home.

Poor nai gaddi is nai no more.

Nai gaddi: New car
Shuddh: pure
Bhai: brother
chota sa accident: small accident


  1. Damn, quite the eventful journey! I thought aisa sab picture mein hee hota hai! At least you guys were relatively unharmed and were able to work out a compromise. Did the insurance come through?

  2. Anonymous12:03 AM


  3. By God, that's an interesting story. Sorry for the poor gaddi, but at least its a story you can narrate for the rest of your lives at all parties

  4. thats so infuriating yet in many ways so familiar a story. Must have been a frustraing 3.5 hours, but this iwas probably the best one could have hoped to come out with.
    I suppose you should try to not let ti tarnish the Agra trip (and Sikri wuood have been nice)

  5. Glad no one got their adrenaline pumping or matters would've been worse.

    Reminds me of a short 2 day visit I had to make to Patna (when Lalu was in power) as my Mom was posted there. Went out to buy a ciggie around 7PM, and pretty much turned back after getting a few glimpses of the pan chewing gun wielding morons.

  6. Anonymous2:35 AM

    actually...reminded me also of my trip to patna...went for cousin's wedding and literally stayed in the hotel(where the wedding was) for 3 days and never went anywhere...Father of the bride would not let us leave!!! 40in2006

  7. Just reading it made me mad enough for a stress headache. You have my sympathies.

    But what else would I have done in that situation anyway?

    Gah! I need Disprin!


  8. Gosh...that sounds scary! Glad to know you are all in one piece! :)

  9. Though the entire incident seems funny in retrospect, I find accidents very scary. I had one recently and though everything is fine now, at that point i was scared out of my wits!

  10. Nee: I sometimes think my life is THE picture, what with all this drama! I think the car and insurance are all sorted.

    Parth: Yeah, as an accompaniment to party food!

    Shakester: Actually writing a fake FIR was pretty disturbing but if that is what it takes to come out of it alive and quick I guess I have a lot to be thankful for!

    Mr. J: It's simply horrid feeling afraid and powerless in what you think is a working democracy.

    40in2006: Yeah, pretty scary at the time. I heard the Patna story and its probably a good thing he didn't let you leave the hotel.

    J.A.P: Thank you. I'm still having the occasional mad nightmares with bad endings like medical attention, firearms, capture for corruption of writing fake FIR's etc. I wish I had a better truer ending. Your sympathy is much welcomed.

    Sonal: thanks, although my mind seems to have wandered off....

    Fireflies: I think my way of dealing with what was a very tense and horrid situation is to make light of it in retrospect. In the moment though it all seems out of control and utterly scary.