My first Near Death Experience (NDE) began with the above-mentioned five words.
It was 0545hrs, we were cruising down the NH43, from Jagdalpur to state capital Raipur. We had a flight catch seven hours later. Our speed was over 100kmph on the four lane highway. Yes, the timing had a lot to do with it.
Seated on the front seat, besides my driver, I was listening to a song on my cell, which I obviously do not now remember. Suddenly, I sensed a little hesitation on the face of a healthy, old man dressed in white standing a few metres away, ahead of us. His hesitation was understandable as one part of his mind wanted him to immediately halt in his walk to cross the road and the other wanted him to not halt.
Unfortunately for me, my driver, my cameraman and him too, he decided to NOT halt. Frankly, at that time, at that speed and at that short a distance, we couldn’t have halted either. BOOM was the sound. I did hear him emit a muzzled shout before his body was flung at least 20 feet away after having landing briefly on our car’s front. The look of it all was just not good. For the next ten seconds, my driver kept praying to me that we speed away. My cameraman wanted us to stay. As for me, I was grappling with indecisiveness.
‘Mohan bhaiyya ko maar diya’ x 5 times = chaos
My cameraman, Nitin was the first to get down, followed by me and my driver came out the last. In my mind, for the healthy, old man in white, it was all over. But the formality of a hospital trip shouldn’t be ruled out, especially when it was the only way to exit the NH43 which was making us feel very hot and uneasy by then.
Meanwhile on the ground zero, crowd gathered even at that hour and we had already begun getting our dose of abuses and threats. It was soon to convert into an all out public dhulai. The only ace we had, ironically, was the very car that knocked down the old, healthy man in white. We shouted our lungs out to the men who had gathered that it was important for the man to get medical attention if he had to make it.
And something yielded. Couple of the erstwhile angry, ready-to-beat guys joined me and my cameraman in lifting the guy up and putting him on the rear seat. We did so and sped to the government-run hospital, the only one in Kondagaon.
The only silver lining was that when we were getting him on to a stretcher at the hospital, he began uttering his name among other things. That did give me hope, I concede.
All the panic, shock, shouting, worrying and talking until now made my mouth go bone dry. I sensed how I was unable to pronounce words properly. My fingers began betraying what direction my brain was giving them. Could not locate numbers on my cell phone. As the crowd kept pouring in, angry, abusive people had only one question: kisne maara? And nobody in the crowd hesitated in using their fingers to point to us. I knew we were down and out. That was the closest I have come to feeling dead cold.
By then, it was more than great to just to be able to stand on my feet and listen. And to my horror I listened that the man I had presumed dead was Mr. Mohan Golcha, a local BJP bigwig as well as a very senior journalist from that region. So now I understood the reason behind the mass outrage following what was yet-another-accident on the highway. Cops told me there were way too many of them taking place in the area where we knocked the man down. But that was only much later.
Anyway, too much was going wrong for us. And somehow that state of despair settled down on me. Having regained a few more of my senses, I sweet talked with some of the agitators, who still were unsure if they should clean us up for what we did or hold back for what we did after what we did i. e talking the injured person to the hospital and owning up.
To a journalist, talking to people always helps and by-God it did. I extracted from the agitators the names of the local police officers in charge. And it so happened that I did recognise a few names in them.
Not the one to shy away from using my cell, no matter what, I made a call to the local Superintendent of Police. At 0620hrs, you don’t expect calls from anyone and thus when the phone goes unanswered three times, one shouldn’t really complain. But I did get fourth time lucky. My request was simple: before the crowd goes berserk, please evacuate us from here. I also told him that he should apply whatever charges on us as a result of this mishap but first, SOS!! And it was music to my ears when he said he will inform his men at the local police station to quickly respond to the situation. Being an IPS officer, it didn’t take long for his words to materialise.
Having hit the pit, it was time to look up.
Soon enough, news came from inside the ward that Mr. Golcha was out of danger. Unfortunately, he did suffer several fractures and stuff but it was better than being lifeless.
After spending another 15 minutes at the hospital, cops took us and the car to the police station. By then, news also spread that Mr. Golcha would be taken to Raipur for further treatment. A little relieved, I realised how an increasing number of people at the hospital began talking to us without using the abuse and related lingo. Suddenly, they were calling a mechanic to repair my car that had sustained damage in the accident. Quite a turnaround!
Subsequently, we did visit the cop station, my driver was put under arrest for a day, his vehicle was confiscated or held back for a day, we missed our flight, languished around there for the next 6 hours trying to find a car for us to carry our heavy camera equipment and all of that in the blistering heat of 40+ degrees. But nothing of it came even close to what we underwent at t 0545hrs that morning and for an hour after that.
PS: Mr. Golcha’s family was indeed very supportive and offered a car too to drop us to Raipur but guilt prevented me from taking up that offer. I am in touch with his people and am told hes doing perfectly well.