Sunday, April 10, 2016

18 August 2015 – Surat to Ajmer – Day 6

Last night, as I was leaving for the hotel room, I requested Hetal, Rajiv and Atulbhai to flag me off from the hotel the next morning. There wasn’t even a nano second of hesitation from any of them despite the early schedule I had in mind for the long drive from Surat to Ajmer. By the time I had loaded the luggage and fixed the GoPro camera they were at the hotel. After ensuring that all were in place for the drive Hetal flagged me off with gusto at 5.30 am from The Grand Bhagwati after fond farewells from the three who had become closer than family could be.

Rains over the past fortnight had spoilt road surfaces in most places and horribly pot holed many stretches on the Ajmer leg. Inclement weather also played truant on the 861 km Surat – Ajmer route. One of the principles I follow while driving is to watch the road carefully, particularly making full use of peripheral vision. It is critical while driving in India and some other parts of Asia. Because, anything can come from anywhere. And, the bigger the vehicle you drive, the greater will be the blame placed on you. I am very conscious of this and hence, I am on full alert even on the highways. I have escaped potentially fatal accidents following this principle. Another cardinal principle is to respect the road condition – if the road surfacing or condition is bad I take it with a lot of patience; on the other hand, if the road permits speeding I do not miss the opportunity to floorboard the accelerator, while at all times ensuring that the vehicle is completely under control. I call this driving responsibly fast. It was my driving Guru, Mani, who taught me that one should always have the vehicle under sure control. Being a hero is not for the roads; one can become a zero in no time, even causing death and damage to others.

The Godhra bypass was a newly laid out road, I gathered from the settlement in some parts and poor surfacing in some others. Hence, I took it with some caution, while at the same time being aware that there was no traffic at all on the lonely stretch. When I am on such stretches I allow myself the luxury of music, often singing along loudly because there is no one to berate me that I am out of pitch, out of tune and completely hopeless with lyrics. These are times when I am a king to myself; sometimes even wondering why so much of adulation has gone the way of Kishore, Rafi and Yesudas without me getting my due share! I was in a mood of self-appreciation, but nevertheless noticed from quite a distance a village access road linking the four lane bypass road on the right hand side. I was more than 500 metres from the cut on the road when I saw a young boy on a moped cut across the bypass road from the village road and get on to my side of the road. I was on the left most lane and did not assess any threat to my steady speed. As I was about 100 metres from the moped rider he looked back, virtually stared me in the eye, and cut diagonally across my path! I had very little time to react. I had never thought it necessary to course correct at any point for I had assumed that he had seen how close I was to him and would stay his original course. I ferociously slammed the brake but knew I would hit the moped. I did and saw the rider slip off the vehicle and slide in front of the car on the bituminised road. The car eventually stopped just short of the rider and the moped had gone to one side. Heart thumping and pulse racing I got out of the car, thanking God that the rider was not run over, which had been a distinct possibility. The boy got up, quickly composed himself and started blaming
me for the accident! He claimed that I was on the wrong side of the road. The combination of factors that he found the gall to make false statements and that there was no one around I picked myself up full height and slapped him soundly on his right cheek. That seemed to rally his senses and he started to profusely apologise! I assessed damage to the car. The right side front bumper had come lose and the fog lamp had been lost somewhere in the slide. This was my first accident in five years of expedition and it had to happen on a sparsely used highway which afforded excellent visibility. I was shaken for a while, but regained composure soon enough to be completely in charge behind the wheel.

Despite the weather, poor roads and the accident I managed to reach the Officers’ Rest House in Ajmer within 11 hours of driving from Surat. The condition of the rest house was so bad that I even thought of continuing onwards to Chandigarh! What spiked that thought process was night driving, which I try and avoid to the extent possible. I steeled myself with the thought that after all it was just a matter of one night. The zillions of ants in the rest house kept up their merry march in and out of the room and it disturbed me no end.

Deepak, the Commercial Inspector, had been attached to me by the Senior Divisional Commercial Manager to ensure that my requirements are met. He agreed to fetch me dinner, which I requested for early so that I could turn in early too. By 7 pm he landed up in the room with home cooked food saying that the hotels nearby would not be able to give me decent food! He even brought fruits for me to have on the way the next day. I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and felt I had imposed on him unnecessarily. But then, such is the railway fraternity. 

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