My brush with Friday the 13th
The tragic accident and death of Gopinath Munde reminded me of a car accident I was involved in.
News reports about the Munde incident say that a driver jumped the signal and rammed his car into the vehicle Mr. Munde was traveling in. His death has resulted in a discussion about road safety, the need to educate drivers about safe practices while driving, obeying rules and such. It reminded me of a car accident I was involved in, which happened as a result of my negligence.
The accident I was involved in, happened on Friday, July the 13th, 1996. Before I share the details a bit of a background.
I was working in an ad agency in Lower Parel, Mumbai. I was part of a team working on a leading telecom service provider’s ad account. It was the beginning of the telecom wars in Mumbai, where if one brand released a scheme or feature, the rival brand used to release a competing feature the next day. It was boom time for both their advertising agencies with print ads and hoardings galore in Mumbai. Our schedule was gruelling to say the least. Late nights at work and client’s office was common.
We were a team of 3 executives on the account, managing the crazy work flow of client meetings, briefs, presentations, iterations, art works, monitoring releases (yes, media was still part of the ad agency back then), meeting tight deadlines and so on. On most days, I used to leave home at 8.30 and head straight to the client’s office. After discussions on next steps, the team back at the agency would be briefed on the phone. We would present creative work by the end of the day and usually have iterations. The finished product would be sent of to the publication well past midnight. That particular week of the accident was tougher than usual. On all days of the week I left home early and returned well past midnight. The stress of client meetings and tight deadlines had also taken its toll.
On Friday the 13th, it was pouring bucketfuls when we left the office relatively earlier than usual. But we had to deliver an ad material to Times of India and so we set off from Lower Parel to Fountain. I wasn’t driving, my driver was. As it was pouring like hell, a couple of colleagues came on the ride even though it was a detour for them. From Fountain, I dropped off a colleague at Mahim and headed home to Versova. I reached home by 9pm I think. I was single back then; a dear friend and colleague of mine was a neighbour and he came home to enquire about dinner plans. I was planning to attend a wedding at The Leela so I headed off after letting my driver go home. We decided to meet up for breakfast the next day.
At wedding, I had a couple of drinks, the second of which was a bottoms up. After the function, I stupidly offer to drop people home as it was still pouring cats & dogs - most autos & taxis were off the road. So from The Leela at Andheri I set off to Mahalxmi to drop people. I then head back to Yari Road via Linking Road. I remember stopping at a petrol station on Linking Road to fill fuel. By the time I was near home, I was dozing off at the wheel. Literally two minutes away from home, I recollect rolling the car window down to let some fresh air. That’s all I remember.
I remember waking up to vague sounds of someone calling out for me and a glare of lights. Turns out that I had dozed off at the wheel, swerved from the left to the right and banged into a tree. A passing by taxi driver (God bless him) pulled me out of my car and took me home in his taxi. Miraculously I did not have single bruise on my body. I could walk to the taxi and up into my apartment. I took a shower, changed and went to sleep.
The next day, I went to see the car along with my friend & neighbour. I couldn’t believe my eyes - the car (a Maruti 800) was smashed from the bonnet right up to the back seat. I don’t know how I survived without a bruise on me. But since I was in pain, I went for a check up. It was diagnosed as a pulled ligament and I was advised complete bed rest for a week. During the week’s I tried some antics of being moving about, getting up etc. and may have aggravated the problem. It turned out a week later, that I had broken my hip. So it was either wrong diagnosis in the beginning or my negligence.
Then started a saga os surgeries. The first one (a nail to hold up the broken hip) did not go well. I ended up having 3 surgeries on my hip and one on my knee. My last surgery was in January 2000 and it was in Bombay Hospital. The doc (God bless him), Dr. Pachore was brilliant and he set right the hip through total hip replacement with an implant.
I am fine now, hip wise. The implant is still there, 14 years after the last surgery and may need to be replaced some time in the future.
So why am I telling all this? It is to highlight my monumental stupidity in many aspects - road savvy, safe driving, insisting on proper medical care and so on. Mainly about road safety.
I got my license in Mumbai. I learnt driving through a regular driving school in Santa Cruz. Nothing special about the driving class - it was a routine one. But I don’t recollect driving with an L Board in all kinds of traffic conditions. I was not a good driver as I did not know the basics of how a car functions, how to change a flat tyre and definitely was not taught about things to watch out for, tips on safe driving etc. It was all about learning to drive in a crowded street and getting a license. Even with getting a license I recollect seeing an attitude of ‘we will get you the license, at a cost’. It was not about passing a rigourous test to get a license.
So guys like me are disasters on the road when it comes to driving. We know nothing about cars, how to handle a driving or car-related emergency and we get a license purely based on being able to drive in a city for a few kilometres. We are not tested on testing conditions, not given tips on managing extreme conditions and so on. After my accident, I was told, ‘you could have just parked the car by the side and slept for an hour’. It seemed so simple and sensible but did not strike me when needed most.
Thankfully, I was driving alone. I did not put another life under risk. Sure my family was affected a lot after the incident. I lost a lot of time in my career (I was away from work for six months at one stretch) and been negatively impacted in so many ways. I used to be in pain, walk with crutches, limp a bit, depend on others so much. It obviously impacted my work too as I could not take stress beyond a point. I was on my guard for many years. The price I had to pay for a few minutes of stupidity. But behind that stupidity is a system waiting to be corrected.