Surviving a car accident in India

There is nothing like surviving a scary-as-shit event to remind you what a gift life is.

This headline alone is probably jaw-dropping enough.  Given the way the road etiquette (or lack thereof) works in India, the likelihood of surviving an accident in this country just seems … not possible.  But seven of us live to tell the tale.

Even more incredible: I walked away from it without a bruise, break or even a scratch.  It could have been much, much worse for me.  After all, I was riding shotgun without a seatbelt.  (The seatbelt didn’t work.)

It happened on our journey back from the Golden Temple, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery about a two-hour drive from Mysore.  My art teacher offered to take us there in his van so we could do some on-location sketches.  Saturday is our day “off” from the yoga shala, so six of us took him up on the offer.

The visit itself was wonderful.  I did more exploring than sketching, but really enjoyed my time there.  Some of my favorite images are below.

After a few hours at the Golden Temple, we hopped back into the blue van and began ambling along a rural road in search of some lunch.  The van was pretty tiny, with even tinier wheels that weren’t in proportion to the van.  Although they seemed much too small to support the seven bodies inside the vehicle, those wheels made the distance to the temple, so I didn’t worry about it.  The back seat didn’t have space to hold six people — two of whom hover around six-foot tall, i.e. me — so I opted to ride in the front passenger’s seat.  It meant more leg room and a good view of the tropical, pastoral landscape as it unfolded before us.  That view would come in handy.

As I enjoyed the view of coconut trees and farms, I noticed some large dirt mounds up on the stretch of road ahead.  They were to the left of the car, on the passenger’s side.  My side.  We didn’t veer far enough right from these mounds.  The van got a little too close.  It clipped one.  Only, it wasn’t dirt.  It was much rockier.  Stones.  Very hard stones.  This miscalculation sent our tiny van up in the air.  Then a thump coming back to the earth.  Then a slight spin.  Then a fierce crash into a ditch in front of a farm field.  Then silence.

Then the sound of someone wailing in the back seat.

This whole scenario probably lasted a few seconds.  But time slowed down for me as soon as the wheel clipped that dirt mound with rocks of steel beneath it.  Bizarrely, I remained calm throughout.  In control.  Not scared.  I felt a presence of protection enveloping me in that moment.  Like everything was going to be OK.  It came out of nowhere.  I braced myself for impact by stretching my left arm forward and engaging my core, recalling that my seat belt wasn’t working and wanting to avoid a face plant in the dashboard or windshield.

My head should have smashed into the dashboard or windshield.  But it didn’t.   My arm should have snapped.  But it didn’t.  No physical calamity befell me.  I walked away unscathed.  This wasn’t the case for the others in that tiny blue van.  A bloody forehead, a sprained thumb and minor whiplash were among the physical injuries sustained.  We all walked away with some shock … and intense gratitude for no serious injuries.  We were alive.

Nothing makes you feel more alive than thinking that you are about to die.

The accident scene

I had a similar sensation about seven years ago.  It was another one-car accident.  I was driving alone in rural Michigan on Christmas Eve.  Madonna’s “Ray of Light” was playing on the radio.  I noticed some trees in the distance.  A few appeared to be swaying in the wind.  But I thought nothing of it.  I slowed down my speed a bit, remembering that police in rural Michigan have a knack for ticketing out-of-state drivers.  That’s when I saw it.  A tree slowly toppling down onto the road just ahead of me.  I didn’t have a chance to slow down or speed up.  The tree came crashing down on my car.  On my car.

In that moment, time stood still.  Frame by frame, I saw that large tree come down onto my windshield.  I didn’t have time to be scared.  I remember being calm.  Just like I experienced today, there was a feeling of protection that enveloped me.  I somehow managed to stop the car before that tree took my head off.  Another few inches, I could have been killed.

Seven years ago and again today, I found myself careening into a car accident.  Both times I remained eerily calm.  Perhaps my consistent yoga practice deserves some of the credit.  Perhaps, like a cat, I have been gifted with nine lives.  But there was something else, someone else, in the car with me each time.  I am sure of it.  I just don’t have proof.  Just a feeling.

I left today’s accident scene (and its throng of curious onlookers) in a tuk-tuk with four of the other ladies who accompanied me on the temple visit.  We took a public bus three hours back to Mysore, which was an adventure unto itself.

The entire way back, I stared out the window.  I remember seeing men sitting at coconut stands, children herding big flocks of sheep on the street and women in beautiful saris working in the fields.  These are images that would usually inspire me to click-click-click with my camera.  But I was too lost in thought.  Blank thought.  There was no particular theme or memory or prediction.  Just intense gratitude … and acknowledgement that there is someone very special watching over me.

Thank you, whoever you are.

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