Friday, February 03, 2006

The time I almost died - Part 2

The time I almost died - Part 1

Soon we reached the hilly area. Hill roads are narrower, are on steep inclines and have very tight u-turns. One needs to be careful when driving on them. On a straight road you see the road clearly in front of you. But on hill roads you don’t know what is in store for you round that blind u-turn, a big boulder, an approaching vehicle. So you’ve got to be extra careful. Dad taught me three cardinal rules for driving on such roads.

Stick to your side: There are no clear demarcation of lanes on the road. So when taking a right turn there is a tendency to go inside, thereby crossing over to other side. Now the person coming from opposite side doesn’t know about this (blind turn) and rightfully stays on his side. Result: A head-on collision. So it is necessary to stay to your side.

A vehicle going uphill has right of way: If a portion of road is too narrow for both coming & going traffic to pass, the vehicle going uphill has right of way. The reason is that the climbing up takes more effort and is more stressful to the car. On very steep inclines it is difficult for the vehicles to start moving once they’ve stopped. But vehicles going downhill can always do that.

Avoid using brakes when going downhill: An amateur driver will use brakes extensively when going downhill as gravity speeds up the vehicle beyond acceptable limits. The result is overheating of brake pads and may result in brake failure which might again lead to catastrophic accidents. The trick is to ride on a lower gear than you normally ride in on level roads. The engine will slow the car down and reduce the affect of gravity.

OK I end the boring stuff now.

So where were we? Yeah we were on the hills, driving towards Borra Caves and Araku Valley.

Before I continue let me give some explanation (not an excuse) for my actions, the description of which will follow. I was driving a tiny car that was packed with 5 other grown boys. This bunch was getting more and more unruly, the music was loud and I had the burden of the above guidelines on my mind. We took the diversion to Borra Caves. This route was steeper and the road was narrower than the normal route to Araku Valley. On a particular stretch of road which was downhill, there was an especially tight turn along a deep cliff. Now normally I should have slowed down and carefully executed the turn. But somehow in the whole confusion in the car and because of things on my mind, I did something else. I actually depressed the accelerator lever instead of the brake. Assuming that I was depressing the brake and confused why the car wasn’t slowing down, I depressed the accelerator further. Now the car was too fast to take the turn and the turn had already come. Too late!

What followed was a whirlwind of actions in a state of abject fear. At stake were our lives as there was no chance we would survive a fall from that cliff. While still accelerating the car, I somehow was able to take the u-turn (required really fast hand movements to turn the steering wheel). The shock was so much that I was not able to stop accelerating until the end of the turn. I stopped on the side of the road contemplating what just happened. All the boys were in shock too and for once in the trip were completely quite.

A decision was then made to not go to Borra Caves at all. We decided that we didn’t have enough fuel in the tank to complete the journey if we went to the caves. Of course that was a lame excuse. The real reason – we were too afraid to continue driving on this road. The rest of the journey was quite uneventful and went as planned.

In my defence, let me add one more point. I was used to driving a much bigger car 'the Ambassador' with brake and accelerator levers well spaced out. I had driven the Maruti earlier but just for a few minutes or so. This was my first long drive on this car. There was almost no gap between the accelerator and the brake. One can easily confuse between the two, esp. if one is used to driving bigger cars.

I however take responsibility for the danger I put my friends and myself in. That was a rash thing to do. I also take some pride in how I skilfully managed the turn. I know many people can’t do that.

What happened on that day happened because I was taking in all the influences at a time (the music, the friends talk, the guidelines) and was less focussed on the main activity at hand – Driving. Years have passed since then. I have matured. I have learnt to concentrate my efforts, to focus and not ingrain every influence I come across. I guess this is good. But in the process of focussing there is also a problem, and this fear is nagging me with each passing day - Am I becoming less perceptive?