Death from above! … or any other direction for that matter.

I’ve now finished shooting, and am back in the USA after a typically botched stopover in Australia to graduate. When I left, the plan was to return in May for a few more scenes in a studio in Mumbai. Later I heard June. Maybe the thing is simply not going to get finished, which would suck after the life-threatening tales I’m about to relate. I’ve saved a post about road safety in India till now, because again I thought it would be in rather poor taste if one of us died the next day in a horrible accident.

I’ve said many times that Boston drivers are the worst I’ve seen outside the third world, and I stand by it. Nonetheless, this trip reminded me just how big the gap is. The drivers hired by the film company made Boston drivers look outstanding. The first night we visited the set, we were driving back at about 4 am, on the wrong side of the road, and the driver not only sent text messages, but took out the phone’s battery, blew on the contacts and reinstalled it.

txt mssg

I wonder what he was writing? Probably “Ur all gng 2 die. OMG LOL WTF?”

They spent most of the time on the wrong side of the road. When a truck approached, they would swerve back with a fraction of a second to spare. They would overtake around blind corners. One driver nearly killed Glen, Harry and Laura this way. With no way to return to the correct lane when a truck appeared, he had to swerve onto the dirt shoulder at full highway speed. You’d think he’d be chastened by that, but he did the same thing a few days later. He thought it was hilarious that we refused to ride with him after that, and it became a running joke for him and the other drivers that he was the “crazy” driver. I’m sure his thinking was much like Otto (the schoolbus-driver on the Simpsons): “I stand on my record: twelve accidents and not a SINGLE fatality!”
When I pointed out another driver sending text messages, Bhakti said “yes, he’s very brave.”

Many of the tyres are threadbare retreads; the chassis on buses and trucks is usually askew relative to the axles, so they’re pointing in one direction and travelling in another. This bears witness to past accidents, followed by just enough repair work to get them operational again. Roadworthy? Don’t be a sooky la-la.

bus

truck

Look ma, no seatbelts!

seatbeltless
The foreign-made vehicles sometimes had them, but they had invariably been poked under the seat so as not to get in the way. I would fish them out when possible, but sometimes this didn’t help much:

seatbeltish
As Otto said: if we crash, try and go limp. All of this made the half-hour drive to location rather nerve-wracking. Fortunately, some of the vehicles had opaque sunvisors along the top of the windscreen so we wouldn’t have been able to see the truck that killed us anyway.

visor
Kind of like Zaphod Beeblebrox’s peril-sensitive sunglasses, but permanently on. Very soothing.
So how dangerous is all this really? Well, in the month I was in India I saw the wreckage from three terrible crashes. You may recall the red hatchback in “Mumbai sausage party”.

smashed car
Another two happened out of the front of our hotel in Bhuj.
crash2

crash3

We arrived not long after the second one. A witness said they had been going at least 80 km/h (50 miles per gringo) when they slammed into the back of a stationary truck. The driver and front passenger had ended up on the bonnet.

The witness claimed they were not seriously injured. I was skeptical: take a look at that front wheel. We later learned that the driver had actually been dragged from the vehicle and savagely beaten by an angry mob, and was in intensive care. Apparently this is unremarkable. The police are so famously corrupt and ineffectual that vigilante mobs are a common way of dealing with accidents.

crash3b

Note the cracks where the passenger’s head hit the windscreen, knocking it clean out of its frame. Note also how the bench seats were bent forward by the other passengers hitting them. So there’s not much point wearing a seatbelt in the front anyway, because your ribcage will end up stopping not just you, but all the people behind you. And good lord do they ever pack ’em in.

toofan

how they hangin?

lean back a little

Especially the extras, who were carted to and from location in cattle trucks.

extras

And I don’t mean cattle-truck in some namby-pamby actor’s metaphorical sense either (“dahlings, it was horrid”); I mean actual cattle trucks.

cattle

To end on a cheery note: bet you’ve never seen a five-seater motorbike before. In fact, I suspect the manufacturers themselves would be moderately surprised.

motorbike

Next time, other cool ways to die.

1 Comment

  1. Alli

    April 10, 2007 @ 11:27 am

    1

    Hey Thomas I love your blog its cool… keep it up when you get back to the States, I’m sure those Americans are just as freaky as the Frenchies I’m surrounded by!
    xx
    Alli

    PS I heard you have skype – my skype name is allimarty so look for me

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