If you have ever driven through Central India, you already know that lanes mean nothing, lines on the road mean nothing, signals mean nothing and drivers are yet to discover the fact that we drive on the left. Blinkers, low-beam headlights and right of way too remain elusive concepts to these nascar drivers in-waiting.
It was about 3pm. It was hot. I was suffering. I was spread-eagle in bed, shirtless, on damp sheets with the ceiling fan on. It was about 43 C outside and the thought of getting into the truck and driving to the riding school was almost as inviting as a dental appointment.
I was staring blankly at the ceiling fan go round and round, contemplating taking the day off and just staying in – and my phone rang.
“Mahaveer Singh” flashed on my screen as Slash ripped out the Godfather theme. I sighed.
“Baba you need to be here.”
“Why? Whats up?”
“You know those two mares right? Natasha and Ghodi?”
I’ve already introduced Ghodi in my previous post, “The Philandering Pony”.
Natasha was a big, hot-headed bay mare. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother mentioning that mares are hot headed.
I have never encountered a more dangerous animal of the female persuasion (except perhaps that girl outside a pub on Flinders Street who was bludgeoning some guy with a folding chair.) They are ALL hot headed.
“What happened to the mares?”
“They got out”
“What do you mean they got out?”
“Escaped from where? Their stables?” My voice began to shake from a mix of frustration and sudden anxiety.
“Yes, they got out of their stables.”
“Okay, and then what?”
“They ran into the arena, ran out the arena gate, ran out the school gate and then ran out the gated compound, and ran onto the highway.”
To understand my feelings at that moment, you’d need to understand how the riding school was placed. We were essentially on a plot of land, within a gated community. They horses had to get past a total of 3 separate gates, all atleast 7 feet tall, all manned by security. However, the last gate opened out onto the Bombay-Agra road, which was a massive 6 lane highway with overloaded, underpowered, badly driven trucks, insanely fast trucks and hundreds of little cars designed to go no faster than 80 miles an hour all driving at 120 with no sense of direction, lane discipline or safety.
I paused for a moment to process this.
I hurriedly slipped on my shoes, and frantically buttoned up my shirt as I darted for the door, simultaneously trying to figure out which direction the idiot was pointing in when he said “That Way”
“Mahaveer, are they running towards the city? or away from it?”
“They are coming in your direction.”
“Ok, I can try and head them off. Where are the other staff?.”
“Waiting for you.”
“WHAT? TELL THEM TO FUCKING GO AFTER THEM! AND WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU DOING?”
“Counting Rajasthan registered trucks on the highway.”
By now I was charging down the stairs, phone in hand, yelling at the top of my voice.
I got to the car, cranked her up and drove like a mad man through Indore city traffic towards the highway.
Now there was a problem. The highway had a huge divider, which they could not have crossed. Which meant I had to go down the wrong way to catch them. That is, if they hadn’t been mowed down by a lorry already.
Now I was conflicted. I am normally a stickler for traffic rules, and have been known to deliberately ram people breaking traffic signals and for shouting and swearing down lesser men who break the traffic laws.
Now I had to drive down the wrong way of a 6 lane highway.
Balancing the pros and cons of leaving them to die vs getting past my own narrow mindedness (a serious challenge for me) I decided to do it.
I hurtled past oncoming traffic, trying to stay out of the way of huge trucks, buses weaving in and out of lanes and of course, dozens of little cars, driven by little men who bought their driver’s licenses from the vegetable market.
My hands shook and my back was drenched with sweat. The car was like an oven and I watched the temperature gauge climb slowly, but she banged on like she always did.
And then the traffic stopped. There were no vehicles driven by people wanting to eat my soul flying toward me anymore. The road was empty. In the distance I saw a wall of trucks. All stopped, side by side, essentially blocking the whole road.
Now this is not an extraordinary occurrence. Trucks block highways in India all the time. So far I had seen no horses and I was beginning to think I was too late.
As I drew closer to the trucks, I noticed a crowd of people standing by the side of the road. On Indian highways, when large groups of people stand by the side of the road, it means theres been an accident. Many a time I have seen pedestrians and bikers, hit by cars, lying in pools of their own blood, convulsing from pain and head trauma, while a mod of locals essentially shows up to watch the show. People take videos with phones, stare, point and even call their friends to watch. The possibility of someone helping is almost next to nothing.
That was it. I saw my two mares, flattened on the road, their entrails spread across the tarmac, split limbs, eyes gauged out, twitching, their bodies, battered, fighting for the last bits of life left in them.
My overactive imagination is a curse sometimes.
I stopped the car and got out. Mahaveer was leaning against one of the parked trucks, his leg propped up against the tyre. Behind him were Uggam Singh and Sawai, grinning, the mares standing quietly behind them.
I almost collapsed from relief.
“Baba! We got them!”
Mahaveer got into the car with me and we escorted the mares back to the school, driving slowly beside them, shielding them from the oncoming traffic.
The truckers had seen these two mares galloping along the road, and (thankfully) took it upon themselves to slowly come to a halt next to each other, essentially blocking the highway at a stretch where there was a divider on one side and a steep drop on the other.
The mares just slowed down and hung around till the lads, who were jogging behind, managed to catch up.
Just before we exited the scene I thanked the truckers with a bottle of old monk each from the Dhaba up ahead. Because in those parts gratitude is spelt A-L-C-O-H-O-L.
When we finally got back to the school, I slumped down in a chair, allowing myself to recuperate from the incident.
Mahaveer sauntered up and squatted on the ground next to me.
“How the hell did they get out?”
“Yes, I know they fucking ran. How did they get past 3 gates?!”
“They opened the gates for them”
“They opened the gates for them…”
“Because they were running so fast, they thought the horses wouldn’t be able to stop and would hit the them.”
“And why didn’t you shout and tell them to stop?!”
“I was counting Rajasthan registered trucks on the highway.”
I have, over time, come to realise that pressing certain issues is a completely futile, fruitless endeavour. Mahaveer had a way of trivialising the gravest situations with such conviction that he’d even me scratching my head over it.
Needless to say, the security were very harshly spoken to over the incident.
The next morning, I walked into the riding school only to see two empty stables. I could feel my heart in my throat already. Uggam Singh trotted up to me, grinning.
“Don’t worry Baba, they are in the wash bay.”
“Oh.. Okay, thats good. Where’s Mahaveer?”
“Counting trucks on the highway…..”
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