A terrible thing happened the day we left India. A terrible thing happened to a man just trying to carry something across a busy road. And I saw it and heard it and felt it. And now I can’t stop thinking about it.
A day earlier our hotel had arranged a taxi to take us from Pelling to Siliguri, getting us close to the airport for our flight to Dubai the next day.
We’ve had so many wonderful drivers in India but this kid – he was a punk. I didn’t like him from the start and I told Root, “I have a bad feeling about this.”
He smoked and spit, drove fast and reckless while taking calls on his phone and honking at cars to let us pass. I had gotten used to the driving in India, but this was extreme. We were in the steep mountains of Sikkim, where the roads are very narrow and – let’s just say “rustic” – with tight winding turns on the edge of HUGE drop-offs.
Despite all this, we made it to Siliguri about 5 hours later, exhausted but in one piece. The kid offered to take us to the airport the next morning. We agreed and I don’t know why except for the fact that it was a short drive and one less thing to arrange.
The next day was more of the same fast and reckless driving. But you have to understand, this is basically how it’s done in India...cars and trucks passing one another with barely a second to spare before colliding with oncoming traffic. Root and I looked out the window, knowing these were our last moments in India. We smiled and shook our heads at the many “close calls” because after 5 weeks in India it still made us nervous but it also made us laugh.
The driver knew when our flight was – we had tons of time. I thought about telling him to slow down. It was so unnecessary to speed like that, and then it happened.
In the chaotic, horn-honking, motley mix of people, animals and cars criss-crossing the road, a man walked steadily across without looking at the oncoming traffic.
Perhaps he just trusted the traffic would move around him. Perhaps he couldn’t turn his head easily without dropping the huge pile of straw or something he was carrying on his head. And then of course the driver was going so fast there was no time to slow down.
I saw the man get closer to us as the driver tried to slam on the breaks. It was like a camera zooming in really fast on an actor in a movie. I said something like “Oh noooooo!” And then BAM!
I bent over with my head in my hands, not wanting to move or look up or believe what just happened. I was in shock but could hear the immediate yelling of men all around the car, shouting at this kid.
Root said, “We should get out of the car.” I looked up and saw they were putting the man (who was knocked unconscious) into the front seat in order to bring him to the hospital. The driver was frantically motioning for us to stay in the car. I’m not sure why. We tried to tell him we needed our bags from the trunk, but he did not understand English and kept going. I thought for sure we’d never see our bags again. Thankfully, he only moved the car off to the side of the road. The police arrived and got in the backseat. Root went over and got our bags. Traffic resumed and I stood stranded on the other side of the road until some men came over and helped me cross the street. We jumped in another cab and made it to the airport.
It’s hard to describe how upsetting this was. I have no idea what happened to that man. I will never know. I hope he’s OK and I hope he got adequate care. I wish this hadn’t been our last experience in India but I know that accidents happen every day, everywhere. I thought about not telling you guys about this, but this is real life. If there are lessons to be drawn from it, I am reminded that life is precious and every life matters. We have to slow down and we need to take care of each other.