It was a couple of weeks before final semester’s final exams. Three classmates and good friends were looking for one more person to partner with on a two motor bikes’ ride to Dharamshala and Mcleodganj. They asked me and I had to say yes, there wasn’t even thinking twice. It was a time when most of the architecture students had already taken off, renting most of the bikes from the only bike renting place in the town. We got the most dilapidated bikes. We were really adamant on going
“We are out of the campus now, we have to go no matter what”
remarked a friend, rather adamantly.
So we were off to Dharamshala on our rickety, really vulnerable bikes. The two riders had helmets, one friend was a Sikh, so he had his turban, only I was without protection (and I never leave wearing a helmet). We reached Dharamshala but went straight to Mcleodganj which is 6kms uphill from there. It’s a beautiful beautiful place. Since we only had one day and had to come back too, we visited the monastery (I don’t remember its name) and ate momos and started back.
It was dark now, I had ridden for an hour and was back as a pillion rider. My friend Jitender was particularly not conscious that he was driving very rash. I did reproof him jokingly but he was in his own peace with the speed. We stopped for the exchange of pillion riders, since our bums wanted a change of seat shapes. Ravinder (the Sikh friend) went to sit back with Jitender, and I with Sandeep.
Jitender and Ravi were ahead of us by 300-400 m. 5 mins later, a car was taking a U turn at perhaps 4 – 5 kmph. Since Jitender and Ravi were going around 60-70 kmph, Jitender naturally assumed that since the car was turning around slowly, it would wait for them to pass. It didn’t. It was too late when Jitender realised this and they smacked right into the right side of car and flew over the car’s bonnet to reach the ground in a frightening fashion. Sandy and I threw our bike aside and ran for them. Jitender had a few minor bruises to his name, Ravi had his turban save him but it had almost completely untangled from its formation. Both of ’em were safe. Sandeep was angry and went over the car’s driver to give him some verbal blows when a guy from the crowd, which had gathered to help us / watch us, took him by the arm and advised him not to engage with him.
He brought all of us aside into his mechanics shop on the roadside and brought to our attention that the guy in the car was drunk, and that he was from a politically strong family, and that his house was just at the opposite side of the road where accident happened, pointing towards the house that we could see in front of us, a big bungalow in a seemingly non existent, small village.
Our bike was significantly broken, in no condition to be ridden. The guy who had advised up against a brawl seemed decent enough to be asked for help. So we did. Amidst what had happened, we had failed to notice that he was a mechanic. When we realised, we took an insignificant and silent sigh of relief. Sandeep as jugaadi as always asked him if he could fix it for us and in minimum price since we didn’t have much money. He assented, but we were still skeptical. Having no other option available, we gave him our bike, checked into a Dharamshala (not to be confused with the place by the same name, from which we were returning). Dharamshala, is a big motel but of the villages, a big building with a large verandah and rooms which have no beds but jute mats.
The Dharamshala that we found had ₹ 100 / room / night charges. It was run by a very old couple, probably both in their 80s. They made us food, we ate to our fullest capacity, thanked them for it and resigned to our room. As soon as everybody had settled, everybody looked at each other baffled about a possibility. Then when we knew without even speaking out loud what everyone was thinking, everybody turned their eyes to meet mine. Having no possible answers to this quizzical question, we laid down on our mats and tried to sleep.
Ravi and I had switched places just 5 minutes before the accident. The perturbing question of the possibility of what might have happened, had we not, played with our minds all night, but we didn’t really talk about it. It was sort of a revelatory moment for all of us. This question didn’t have an answer, there were too many variables to look for, to make a prediction of an event that didn’t happen: from body weight, wind speeds, casual bikers talking to each other to decide upon a place to drink chai (tea), to the biggest of all: uncertainty, chance.
Next morning we had our bike fixed as much as was possible in one night. We thanked the mechanic, gave him his bucks and headed back to college silently. When we reached the bike renting place, he immediately recognized that we had had an accident. He laughed about it, and let us go without any additional charges.
I don’t know about the others, but that unanswered question has changed something in me. It has made me more accepting and resilient of anything and anybody.