Lucky Man

It’s never just an S bend — it’s someone cutting the corner
It’s never just a slow truck — it’s someone trying to overtake
It’s never just a bus stopping — it’s someone getting off

Yep, my poetry needs some work.

Disclaimer: this contains some distressing images. Check out these fluffy hamsters if you’re the queasy type.

I was around 3 hours in to the drive from Manali to Chandigarh. It’s a mountainous drive at the bottom of the Western Himalayas and for the most part, the roads are pretty good. Plenty of bends, but wide enough and good visibility.

It was raining on and off so the road had a thin coating of water. I noticed that as I was taking some of the corners, the tail end of the bike started sliding out. I was in control, taking the corners at a steady pace, but it felt like riding on jelly.

Just as I was thinking the road felt excessively slippy, two guys at a tea stall waved their hands in a downward motion; in most countries this means slow down.

As I approach the brow of the hill I could see a line of traffic and two trucks that had smashed into each other. I drove up closer to the scene, it looked like no one was hurt, and the way the vehicles had landed meant that the traffic could get by.

I let the clutch out to pull away and two young lads riding a Royal Enfield (not wearing helmets!) overtook me on my right hand side. Before I had a chance to finish my “can’t believe those nut cases aren’t wearing a helmet in these conditions” their bike spins out, the pillion rider puts his feet down to correct the slide and comes flying off in the process.

Pillion Rider rule numero uno: Always keep your feet on the pegs.

Fortunately they weren’t going very fast and they both picked themselves up. I slowed down and pointed out that the road has an abnormal amount of surface oil and they should be super careful.

After about 3/4km I approach an S bend. If I’m honest with myself I was going too quickly given the conditions ~30/35km. As I lean in to the lefthand turn around the first part of the S bend, I can see that a 4x4 is flying towards me cutting the corner, he’s about 1 metre over on my side of the road.

I didn’t want to take the corner any harder than I was because the back wheel could have slipped out and I would’ve gone right under the wheels of the 4x4. Instead I manoeuvred away as much as a could but it wasn’t enough. I slammed into the side of the 4x4 and hit the ground.

It felt like an instant that I stood up — howling “ouwch” over and over.

On reflection I’m proud of my lack of profanity.

There was a cafe on the corner, a guy comes over to see me. It felt like he was looking at me like I was an alien. I hobbled along in the kind of pain you experience when you smash your shin into a really nice table.

I asked if the guy could help me pick Grumbles, my bike up. He said he would but he just stood there looking at me. At this point I think he was in more shock than I was.

It didn’t look like he was in a hurry to pick Grumbles up. I was, Grumbles was on a blind corner, and it’s my friend’s bike. Trucks were coming around the bend , skidding and narrowly avoiding him. I took my helmet off and noticed the visor had been smashed off and my nose was bleeding.

The adrenaline must’ve been doing its job. I couldn’t feel any head injury at this point.

The impact must’ve been pretty high because my watch had been hit off, it was about 3 meters ahead of where I landed. Look at that Apple Watch hinge, it’s a robust mechanism.

Within what felt like a few seconds, a guy in a white t-shirt drags a guy up to me in a red t-shirt. Aggressively pointing his finger in his face he says “this is the guy who did it.”

The other driver looks like he’s about to cry, I kind of felt bad for him. The next second, the white t-shirt guy punches the other driver in the face repeatedly, I had no energy to intervene, but I just shouted stop, that this was an accident, they happen, I am ok, we don’t need anymore blood spill.

I held on to the other driver’s hand and said that it’s ok, don’t worry. Quickly I realise he doesn’t speak English. There is a big crowd around us and someone must’ve shouted kiss his feet — which he did. I was already in shock , but this was pushing me over the edge. I was wondering why they were giving the other driver such a hard time.

A good looking, bald, average height, hazel eyes, mid 20s guy called Rahul sits me down, orders me a chai, tells me that he’s called for a tow truck and that there’s a Royal Enfield garage ~30km away. “Right next to Royal Enfield is hospital bro, I’ll take you there.” In an endearing Indian accent he says “everything will be no problem”. He has kind eyes, I trust him.

Rahul’s older brother Ajay comes over with some antiseptic and starts applying it to my wounds.

He’s speaking in Hindi or Punjabi with the crowd of people that are surrounding me, everyone is nodding their heads. He looks at me and says, “that’s unacceptable what that driver did.” Instantly I started blabbing that accidents happen, it’s ok.

He cuts me off mid flow and says, “no my friend, he tried running away. We found him at a coffee shop down the road. He denied the 4x4 with a smash down the side of it was his. We made him empty his pockets and we found the keys to the 4x4. You do not do that in India bro, he could’ve left you for dead.”

Struggling to take it all in I started drinking my tea and slowly I begin to realise the damage to my body.

My jeans are ripped open all the way up my leg, I have wounds on my legs and my right foot is in a bad way.

Rahul, and the rest of the crew load Grumbles on to the tow truck.

They lift me into Rahul’s Jeep. We follow the tow truck closely. Rahul points out that you can’t trust tow drivers, they steal bikes, so we drove like mad to keep up with him. I’m hoping we don’t have a second accident for the day.

The plan was to drop Grumbles to the Royal Enfield garage and get me to hospital.

About 5 minutes in to the car journey I can feel a numb sensation across the righthand side of my face. There’s a pressure behind my eye. I keep closing my left eye to see if the vision is impaired right side. 20 minutes in , the sensations get a bit more intense. I ask if we can find some ice for my face. The lads do an inventive job–emptying a packet of cereal and filling the foil wrapper with ice from the shop.

We get a call from the guy who’s towing Grumbles — the police want to see papers. We arrive at the police check area. I barely make it out of the Jeep and the police “OK, sir, OK”. They can see I’m hurt and let us all go.

Thank you.

We drop Grumbles at Royal Enfield. I use the toilet in the showroom where everyone drops what they’re doing looking at me. I can’t help feeling like an anti-advertisement for riding motorbikes, but they’re kind enough to bring me water and coffee.

I get a job card for the bike repairs and we get to the hospital.

Now the pressure behind my eye is getting stronger and I’m starting to wonder what life might be like with just my left eye working.

I keep flitting between, thank fuck I’m still alive and, whaaaa… the last 400km of a 25,000km ride over Asia and I’m knocked-off in a hit and run, unlucky.

We pull up outside A&E.

I open the car door, put my right foot down to walk. Not happening. Very big and very sharp pain now. I hop along on one leg until they bring a wheelchair for me and insist I use it.

I assume it’s a break. It’s now twice the size of the other foot. There’s a huge queue to see the doctor, but I’m shuffled right to the front.

Crash Bandicoot taken off the track.

Rahul is carrying my bag, whenever I look at him he re-utters “all will be no problem bro.”

The door opens to see Dr Arun. I shake his hand and explain what happened. I can remember the sequence of events clearly — as I’m relaying the events, I remember that this is a good sign. If I can’t remember what happened, that’s serious concussion.

I’m sent for X Rays which only took a few minutes.

Once we pick up the X Rays we go straight to the front of Dr Arun’s queue of patients again. I smile at everyone, trying to get across I’m thankful that they’re letting me go ahead of them. Warmly, they smile back in a way that says it’s ok — amazing how much communication is non verbal.

Dr Arun picks up my X Rays, looks me right in the eye and says you’re a lucky man — I can’t stop thinking of The Verve track Lucky Man — there’s no breaks in my foot. The swelling is a nasty sprain — potential ligament damage — but nothing to loose hair over.

He prescribes me a pile of medicines explaining when I should take them. Some morning, some before breakfast, some after breakfast … I couldn’t take it in, I just watched his lips moving around singing Lucky Man to myself.

Rahul wheels me to the Pharmacy where we pick up my prescription and Rahul’s friend Vishal is outside in his Jeep. They load me into the back. The adrenaline is fading now, the pain is increasing. I’m in agony, but I’m feeling a sense of euphoria.

A renewed appreciation for life, helmets and the incredible people of India.

Just as Vish pulls out of the hospital and shifts into second gear I see this:

Ironically, Rahul’s surname is Thakur.

It must be a sign. I hope it’s a sign.

We find a nice hotel. I tell the guys we’re having lunch. It’s on me, eat as much as you want, eat as much as you can.

From left to right: Vishal, Sadartha, Rahul and yours Truly.

The Peshwari chicken is incredible. ISIS really need to settle down so we can all travel Pakistan and sample their incredible food.

I decide to take a room at the hotel we’re having lunch in. It’s right next to the Royal Enfield garage and the hospital is a stone’s throw away.

The lads carry my stuff to my room. I crawl on to the bed and collapse in a heap. Rahul repeats the instructions Dr Arun gave me about the medicines.

Sadartha says that Rahul is getting married next year, and that I’ll be invited. “We’re your India brothers now. Everything happens for a reason.”

They ignore the no smoking signs and roll up a joint. I can tell they have to make tracks, but they’re staying for a while to settle me in to the room. After 20 minutes or so, they can see I’m tired and taking a bit longer to respond. At which point they make sure I have all of their numbers, and repeat “anytime, you call us, we be here. All will be no problem… We go now ok, but you call us.”

They leave and I drag myself to the bathroom. My right foot trails along behind me. It’s glowing with pain, I’m trying not to react. The headache is cooling off now and the mirror is a fascinating place to look. My face, my body, my life still intact.

I try calling reception for help but the phone doesn’t work. I give up trying to fix the phone and after an hour of haunting flashbacks, I fall asleep at 6pm. I don’t wake up until 8am the following day. I’m happy I woke up.

Today I will be grateful for everything.

After breakfast and fighting the yelps of pain, I make my way to the Royal Enfield showroom. I see Grumbles looking as good as new. I feel like I’m being reunited with my child — I run over and give him a hug chanting his name like a football fan. The mechanics assume my head injuries had a real impact, but they’ve no idea I was a mad hatter before the accident.

The floor manager asked what happened, I explain. Quite quickly there’s a crowd of staff and Royal Enfield customers surrounding me. I use photos and improvise the best I can for non-English speaking folks. As I begin to lecture them all about wearing a helmet, the floor manager shows me this photo:

He was an army officer. The accident happened on the same day I was hit off, on the same stretch of road. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and he died at the scene.

His bike was a mangled mess.

I was shocked but it didn’t properly sink it until I pulled out of the Royal Enfield garage on my way to Chandigarh.

As I changed in to second gear I burst into tears and cried like a baby. Happy sad style.

I couldn’t believe my luck:

  • I only had minor injuries. Some concussion, and a battered leg.
  • I had no pillion rider. Less than 24 hours before I had Yula riding with me — she’s a whirlwind a good energy from Israel — I would’ve never forgiven myself if she was hurt too.
  • Grumbles had a leg guard. This took most of the impact away from my legs, potentially saved my back too.
  • I was wearing a helmet. Just a few days before my helmet was stolen in Kasol. I was lucky to find one that fit me in Manali. And I was wearing it, please please take note India !
  • I was wearing protective clothing. When my dad drove me in to the train station before I left for Bangladesh, he said that whenever he rode a bike, he wore a jacket with back protection. If he came off badly, he didn’t fancy having someone feeding him through a straw for the rest of his life. Those words stuck with me and offered enough motivation to buy a decent biking jacket.
  • I had India brothers. Rahul, Ajay, Sadartha and Vishal all clubbed together, cleaned up my wounds, organised a tow truck for Grumbles, drove me to hospital, took me to a hotel and made sure I was comfortable. All for nothing in return.

India Heals

Today the world looks more beautiful than before.

Himachal Pradesh

It’s not changed, I have.

I pull in for chai, and India continues to help.

Just as a finish writing this over lunch, a guy called Dilip asked what happened. He listens with that depth of eye contact you get from Indians and without telling me, pays for my lunch, wishes me all the best and runs back to work.

I am a lucky man.

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