Life and Death on the Jaipur Road

Jaipur Travel Blog

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Life and Death on the Jaipur Road.


            The following event took place on November 27, 2004 at approximately 7:10 to 7:30am.  Keshava Bharati Swami had kindly arranged a car for me from Vrndavan, and I left Govardhan in Uttar Pradesh at around 6:00am, headed to Jaipur, Rajasthan, to purchase deities.   I remember it was still dark as we drove down the parikram path and then curved off the Radha Kund Road.  About an hour later we turned onto the main Bharatpur �" Jaipur trunk road, a few miles past the Bharatpur Army base and the big catholic school.  Suddenly, the driver began to slow to a stop.  Ahead there was a crowd of people surrounding a crumpled Toyota Qualis car.  They were shouting and waving their arms.  The windshield was missing and the tires were flat and the body panels and roof crushed, indicating it had rolled over and flew through the air and landed on the tires, bursting them.


            For a few minutes the crowd would not let us through, then the crowd began to disperse and some people waved us through.  It did not immediately occur to me that they had just finished killing the driver, even though some had sticks, and some had blood on their hands and others were putting on their shoes, but later I realized that is what they had done.  It is more common in India then one might suppose; mob justice. 


We drove slowly around the damaged vehicle, which was sitting crosswise on the tarmac on its flattened tires, and I asked the driver in Hindi to stop.  As we rolled to a halt, some people rushed up and asked us to call a hospital on our cell phone.  Cell phones are common in India, but often the services are run by under funded companies which don’t have many relay towers, so they often don’t work in rural areas.  Someone waving a Bharatpur municipality ID card came up and asked to make a call on my drivers cell.  He showed us his identity card, and turned the card over to indicate phone numbers printed on the reverse.


            While he and the driver were arguing away in rapid Hindi which I could barely follow, I decided to walk around the accident scene.  Someone had told us in Hindi that there were nine people who had been mowed down.  I couldn’t see them because of the number of people milling about.  I naturally assumed people would already be caring for the injured.  Anyway, it was a good chance to stretch my legs.


            But when I walked over, I found not a single person was helping them.  I walked over and looked at their agonized faces and their horrible wounds, and then I ran back to car and got the driver to open the boot.  Rummaging through my big bag, I found the first aid kit and removed the bandages and sterile wipes and ran back to the injured, who were lying where they fell. 


            The injured were bunched in two groups.  There were three women and two babies sitting on the ground on the opposite side of the battered Qualis, and even though there was blood on all their heads, the two mothers were breast-feeding the babies, so I felt there was no urgency there and ignored them for the time being.


            Most of the injuries seemed to be to the head and hands, as if the people had seen the car flying towards then and had lifted up their hands in a protective way.        


Someone shouted, “Here is doctor!” and the crowds parted like the Red Sea parted for Moses.  I was wearing a spotless white dhoti and kurta, and must have looked like some sort of an alien who has appeared from outer space in the midst of the carnage.  I was clean-shaven, having shaved off my full kartik beard the day before, on Rasa Purnima.


The first woman I tended had the thumb of her right hand nearly severed and she was bleeding, but not as badly as I expected. I couldn’t figure out why the severed artery in her thumb was not pumping out more blood.  I bandaged her hand and then went on to treat her forehead; the skin was completely gone and the white forehead bone was entirely exposed, as if she had been dragged across the tarmac on her head.  She was moaning and shaking badly as she entered deep into shock.  I caressed her cheeks and told her in Hindi that everything would be all right, Radharani would protect her, but her eyes were blank pools.  I checked her pulse and looked for broken bones and bleeders, but there were not any.  She needed a blanket and morphine, but I had none of either.  If I had have been thinking clearly, I would have taken my old sleeping bag from the car and covered her with it and then left it behind, but I didn’t think of that until later.  There was too much to do.  I was too inadequate.


            There were three others I treated.  Head injuries; head injuries everywhere, swimming in blood and broken flesh, exposed bone.  The injured were strangely quiet.  The time went by in a haze as I checked limbs for breaks and bleeding and bandaged the worst cuts.  Each woman I comforted with soothing words and a touch.  One woman was crying and bleeding and after bandaging her, I held her hand for a while.  One woman had her hand ripped between her middle fingers.  The women were older, in their 40’s, and obviously from a fairly prosperous farming village.  They were barefoot.  All the women had recently applied fresh henna markings to their hands, and this made it difficult for me to tell where the henna ended and the blood began.  I don’t remember the next two very much, but the last woman was lying on her back, and the right side of her head had been impacted, and probably crushed.  I said to her, “Be calm, Mother.  Radha will bless you.”


            She told me in Hindi; “My stomach hurts,” and she indicated both sides of her stomach with her hands.


            I examined her stomach, and felt it bloating.  Blood was coming from her mouth, so I was sure there was internal bleeding.  What could I do?  I told her, “Be calm mother, everything will be all right.”  I checked the pulse in her neck, which was strong, and gently caressed her cheek and forehead and chanted to her a while. “Radhe Radhe, Jaya Jaya Sri Radhe.” There were a lot of abrasions on the right side of her face and head, and her right eye was at a crazy angle.  “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.“  By that time all I had left was a single band aide.  I was so unprepared, both mentally and physically.  A single band aide was totally insufficient for her massive wounds, but I applied it to her worst cut anyway, so she would feel at least something was being done for her in her hour of need.  I should have torn my dhoti into strips and bandaged her head, but I didn’t think of that either.  Probably later some paramedic would come and find the band aide and wonder what crazy person placed a band aide on such a wound.  Her eyes told me she was concussed.


            The I got up to go check the women and babies who were less seriously injured over on the other side, but I saw a police jeep had pulled up near them, so I found my driver, his name was Viru, and told him to leave quickly, as the Indian police have the unsettling habit of detaining witnesses for long periods of time, especially if there has been a death by murder.  As a videshi, foreigner, I naturally stood out and would attract their attention.


            Soon one of those little mini ambulances you see in India from time to time would come from Bharatpur and take the injured away to a hospital that doesn’t have beds, or if it has beds, they have no sheets, or if they have sheets, they have no pillows, and if they have oxygen, they have no masks.  There was nothing more I could reasonably do.  I had no idea how a tiny ambulance would be able to transport nine humans, four of whom needed back braces and stretchers.  I felt sure the last lady would die.


            This was on the day after Rasa Purnima, the festive end of chaturmasya (four months of austerity for the pious), the day the wedding season begins, but I don’t think these women were going to a wedding, because they weren’t wearing their best jewelry or saris.  The truth is I don’t know where they were going, and I will never know.  I only know they never arrived.


            People said the driver was drunk and swerving all over the road; that he was coming from Jaipur, about 140 km away down the trunk road.  I couldn’t see his body and anyway, there was nothing much left to see.  I stepped over the shattered windshield lying on the road, and got back in the car.


            It was only then I noticed there was a traffic jam of about 50 cars and trucks and bullock carts and camel carts on the Jaipur side of the road.  No one was doing anything except sitting and waiting patiently.  There was a group of young men willing about, and I called to them “Hare Krishna” and they looked at me quizzically.  Then I shouted “Radhe!  Radhe!”  They all cheerfully replied, “Radhe!  Radhe!” in unison, their faces breaking into happy grins.  The whole thing had a detached, otherworldly quality about it, as if it wasn’t really happening.


            I blessed those women, though I have no power to bless, and I bandaged them, even though I have no power to heal, and I comforted them, even though I cannot comfort even myself.  I hope they lived.  If any died, I hope my chanting helped them in some incomprehensible way, but probably not.


            There was one woman who had been walking with the others at the time of the accident, but was uninjured.  She asked for a ride, and I told her to get in.  I tried to ask her questions, but she was too shocked to talk much, or maybe she couldn’t understand my foreign accent.  I remember she looked very sad.  We dropped her at her village a few kilometers down the road towards Jaipur, so she could inform the families; the sisters, husbands, mothers and sons.


With a start, I noticed there was blood on my hands and cloth.  I couldn’t hold back tears and was overwhelmed with the emotion of sadness.  I was glad the driver was too absorbed in his driving to see me cry, because I wanted to do it alone.  In my mind I chanted “Radhe Radhe Govinda / Govinda Radhe.”


We reached Jaipur around 11:00am, but in my mind I was still on the road outside Bharatpur, kneeling on the tarmac, wiping away the blood.

©2007 Jerry MacDougall
ashleynpearson says:
That seems like a scary thing to witness. You have a beautiful way of writing it...but wow, how very traumatizing and emotional that must have been
Posted on: Sep 14, 2007
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