There are some bits of news that leave me speechless, and this is one. Mid-Day (Monday May 23) reports that very early in the morning on May 22, a tempo (a sort of delivery van) ran over three ragpickers who were sleeping on a divider in the centre of a road in Juhu. Two died and one is in hospital.
Apparently this is a frequent occurence on this road. The report also says that "exactly 30 minutes" later, only "a few metres away, another beggar [asleep on the divider] was run over by a speeding Maruti Esteem." This fellow is in a "critical condition" in hospital.
Nearly every paragraph in this report is depressing. First, there's the reality of people sleeping on road dividers. Then, we learn that after the first accident, the police who arrived to investigate "nudged awake" several others who were "sleeping on the same divider, just a few feet away", and asked them to move. Then, we learn that when Mid-Day's reporter returned to the accident spot, "the road divider was occupied once again." It's just two feet wide, and it "had at least 10 people sleeping side by side."
You know a tempo just ran over three sleeping mates on this divider, killing two and injuring the third. You know that a car ran over another sleeping mate on the same divider, injuring him badly. What does it take for you to go lie down a short while later on -- yes -- that same divider and fall asleep? What does it say?
Yet for me the line in this report that speaks the loudest was a quote from an eyewitness to the accidents. "These accidents are regular [here]," one Gaikwad told the reporter. "Flower beds should be constructed on these dividers so that such accidents are averted."
Good thought. Then, for no relevant reason, I remember the flower bed to one side of a busy intersection very near where I live. Right now, as I write this, there's an old woman asleep in it, her few belongings in scruffy piles around her. The flower bed has been her home for the last 3 or 4 months. Just like it has been for a few months at a time over the last several years.
She sleeps in the flower bed. Tempos rumble past. This year, something like 80,000 Indians will die in road accidents.