he needn't have died
by rajesh k. sharma
Last week Sandeep died. A bus ran over him on a busy morning in this sleepy town.
I do not remember much about him apart from his expressionless face and unusual reticence. Two or three times he met me outside the classroom, greeting me with an expression that I cannot forget. As he smiled, his facial muscles became remarkably mobile. He spoke little and softly, conveying unsuspected modesty and grace.
Why did he die? No, this is not the right question. Why did he have to die? He could have lived on, but for....
I have grown up in this town and have recorded its descent into Hell. But every town is also a metaphor. When you peer into the dark reality of some metaphors, you learn that they are made of blood and bones and they have metalled, crowded roads twisting through them.
A silent dispossession has taken place on the roads. They have been insidiously snatched away from the people. Those who own cars have usurped them. As a result public roads have ceased to belong to all people. The pedestrians and the cyclists have lost the most. Their relative immobility in this age of speed dooms them to die like cockroaches on the roads.
I frequently see the cars of ministers and officers of the government whizzing through traffic at killer speeds. Ministers, in particular, are seen walking so infrequently that it is really to be feared that they may lose the use of their legs altogether. If only these persons could walk or cycle on the roads, they might understand the grief and sense the anger of the dispossessed. Anger, which erupts in the curses that follow their speeding cars every time they pass them.
But Sandeep was run over by a bus.
The bus belonged to a private transporter. It had been driven, as on any other day, into the town, against instructions from the traffic authorities that heavy vehicles should keep to the by-pass. The police swung into action, they say, but only to swing back into inaction. Among the public, nobody wanted to admit to witnessing the accident. One person told me that someone had told him, on condition of anonymity, that the bus had hit Sandeep. He had not slipped and fallen in front of it. The person obviously wanted to avoid the nuisance of a police investigation and also the retaliation by the transport Mafia.
And why did Sandeep die precisely at the time he did? A silly question, you may say. He died at that time because he was destined to die then. But do you know he could have been in a hurry? A reporter wrote that he was going to take private tuition. Since he died at 8:03 A.M., as reported by some persons, he was obviously late. The tuition probably began at 8:00 A.M. Why did he need tuition? Why did he find classroom teaching inadequate?
Sandeep needn't have died. He wouldn't have, if only those few things had been in order.
Rajesh Kumar Sharma
Department of English
Punjabi University, Patiala – 147002
*Published in http://www.spark-online.com. Copyright © 2000 Rajesh K. Sharma. All Rights Reserved.