If walking on the roads wasn’t scary enough with increasing traffic, people following their own rules and the dismal law and order situation should be enough to scare you. It is the ugly truth. I think it is very commendable that such a book has been published. Nitin Gadkari played an integral role in bringing out the book. He has also written the foreward for Have A Safe Journey. The book is divided into two sections. The first section has stories by established writers and the second section contains stories by people who participated in the Have A Safe Journey (HASJ) contest.
Anand Neelakantan’s story Hit and Run was disappointing, an old fashioned fable on truth and morality. It was followed by Ashwin Sanghi’s story Something About Mary which is an account of the first accident. The way the story was presented makes the reader care about the character and the outcome. I really enjoyed it and wouldn’t have minded reading more about her. Kiran Manral’s story Sudden Break will speak to you and leave you thinking long after the story ends.
In Car Pool by Pankaj Dubey easygoing Avni with a disregard for rules and Suryash, a stickler for rules, carpool to Goa. Opposites attract and they bond with each other to the extent of falling for each other. I really enjoyed the story. Written in lucid prose and very believable, you are in for the ride with them. It effectively makes a point about wearing seat belts without an ounce of preachiness.
Priyanka Sinha Jha’s Rush Hour is interesting because the victim is rescued by the one who caused the accident. He got her admitted, checked her progress and later on told her the truth. But left the decision to go to the police entirely to her. She got a new lease of life because of him. What would you have done?
I felt Why We Don’t Talk by Shinie Anthony didn’t quite belong in the collection. It was murky and a bit spooky. But the unexpected makes the story enjoyable.
The Level Crossing by Vikram Kapur is about a driver who hasn’t slept three nights in a row and continues to be on the road. He is working round the clock because he needs the money for his sister’s wedding. Without sleep he’s a sitting duck. A disaster waiting to happen. As passengers all we care about is our comfort and reaching our destination on time. Do we ever care or think about the driver’s comfort? After reading this story you will think about your driver and be more alert on the road.
Now moving on to the amateurs’ stories. Most stories are good as quick reads which has to do with the format of the short story contest (1500 was the upper word limit). These stories present themselves completely, mostly. Some of these stories are predictable because you know someone will die or be gravely injured in a road mishap of some kind. But having said that many stories are unpredictable and those are the ones I enjoyed.
In Ambalika’s An End I Did Not See competitions are being held on the occasion of Road Safety Week at NEHU. In a debate for Safety Ideation Contest, a literature student talks about creating a mobile signal jammer for vehicles to reduce the number of road accidents. One of the panelists is eager to turn her idea into reality. Talking and driving has become more common than drinking and driving.The story is well narrated and the surprising twist will break your heart.
In Anukriti Verma’s Safety First Alex and Rick were inseparable like Jai and Veeru from Sholay until death played spoilsport. The story gives a strong message about drinking and driving is strong but it gets preachy towards the end.
In Arvind Passey’s The Street Photographer a street photographer who captures gritty images meets a grisly end. The way things played out was unexpected yet real.
In The Perilous Eve by Aritri Chatterjee the life of carefree youngsters drinking and speeding on a bike to celebrate the New Year’s eve collides with death. I don’t understand parents gifting their underage offspring bikes and cars. They have had so many years of practice but they still don’t know how to adult.
Misplaced Dreams written by Barnali Ray Shukla was one of my favourites. Bus driver is casually drinking and risking so many lives. And there is no one to stop him. Three old friends are on a pleasure trip but they don’t know it would their last trip together. It is gut wrenching listening to their thoughts as they hurtle towards death. Even Gods can’t save you, if you drink and drive. Another clear message it delivers is that life is lived in the moment and does not come with any guarantees.
Dipali Taneja’s How Brief Was Your Stay is a heartbreaking story of a mother losing her child. In India people don’t bother using seat belts while sitting in the front seat. They are used more to be exempt from paying a fine rather than as safety measures. This mentality has to change.
People are basically good (like Anne Frank I would like to believe that) but they are wrapped up in themselves, their jobs and their families. With the busy lives they lead, they don’t have a minute for something unexpected happening. In A Helping Hand by Geetanjali Maria we realize how not extending a helping hand can have terrible consequences.
In A Moment of Thrill by Ketaki Patwardhan Jay is turning sixteen and wants to commemorate this milestone by doing something different. He wants to take his dad’s car out for a spin but his parents put their foot down. Does his friend manage to incite him to do it? Something unexpected helps him make a decision.
One Bad Turn by Meera Rajagopalan won the first prize in the contest. Most of us have gone on the wrong side of the road and taken shortcuts. I have done that when the road is relatively empty but I’m always scared a vehicle will come out of nowhere and I will be like a deer caught in the headlights. This story illustrates it and also asks a very important question – Shouldn’t we care for people who have done so much for their families but are unable to take care of themselves?
The Light of His Eyes by Ratnadip Acharya tells the story of an amputee who has survived and wants to make a difference in his own way. It struck me very deeply. He uses his life as an example to spread awareness. The story shows that if you are passionate about doing something you will find a way to do it, irrespective of the circumstances.
Roshan Radhakrishnan’s The Good Samaritans shows us a form which we should have with us when we are going out. It has details such as blood group, things the person is allergic to, emergency contact number and personal details like name and phone number. It can help doctors make the right call and help the accident victim get the help they need without delay. What these stories do is introduce an idea and if implemented many lives can be saved.
The True Hero by Roshni Chhabra won the third prize in the contest. Before reading the story I ask you a question – How important is the choice of a profession in your life? It is how society sees you. Hence parents have high aspirations for their children. What if the son of an army officer wants to be a traffic policeman? What now? It is superb storytelling and will leave you with many questions.
Sahar Fatima’s What Can I Do? won the second prize in the contest. Running from pillar to post with everyone passing the blame on, like in a government office. No one holds themselves accountable. No respite for the living or the dead. We are so used to the way things are that it doesn’t even surprise us anymore, just saddens us.
Memories is light and funny but makes a point without being preachy. I loved how the bond between grandpa and granddaughter was shown and how quotes from Harry Potter were woven into the story.
Taamra Segal’s Happy Birthday started out good but veered more into sentimental terrain which didn’t quite work for me. Highway 666 by Thommen Jose was creative in its depiction of Satan but it didn’t grab me. The writing could have been better in these stories.
Veena Nagpal’s Girl on the Road is set on the roads of Delhi. It is a live coverage of her movement (via her thoughts) through traffic to reach her office. She is in the driver’s seat and we feel what she has to deal with on a daily basis. The running commentary puts you in the car with her which makes the narrative urgent; one that will definitely help drill the message of road safety in.
The book ends with Vibha Lohani’s Who Killed My Family? Narrated by a child, it is not impactful in the traditional sense but prepare to be surprised. I doubted the decision to put the story at the end, but it will give you a different perspective.
The stories in Have a Safe Journey are short I thought, when I began reading the book but they linger on and ask you uncomfortable questions to which there are no easy answers. It might spark a conversation between the readers and the writers. Isn’t that the best outcome one can hope for?
Being a stickler is never good except for following traffic rules, and Have A Safe Journey will make sure you follow them. Doubt the veracity of my statement? Read the book!
Disclaimer – I received a review copy from the publisher but the thoughts are my own.