I drink. I drive. But, for the past several years I have not done both together. My rule is zero tolerance. I will not have a sip, a glass or a bottle if I am to drive. I will have nothing, not a drop. This is something I observe with no exceptions. Today with so many options available, walking, auto rickshaw, taxi, Uber and family and of course the train, I have minimal inconvenience when I go out and drink and then have to get home. I will come to my reasons for this rigid policy later.
I was deeply saddened, unusual for me, when I read about the grisly deaths in the Sabuwala family in the morning newspaper. For those of you who may be unaware, here is what happened. Ms Janhavi Gadkar, a lawyer, educated for some time in the UK, working in a senior position in Reliance Industries, celebrated the conclusion of a transaction by downing a few whiskeys at the Marine Plaza Hotel at Marine Drive. She was thoroughly drunk. She got into her car, a large Audi SUV, and drove home at high speed on the wrong side of a dual carriageway road. After a distance of some 10 kms the inevitable happened. Mr Sabuwala a petty soap trader was in a taxi with his family returning from a family celebration. The cars crashed head on. Mr. Sabuwala dead, taxi driver dead, members of Mr Sabuwala’s family injured, some seriously, some critically. Ms Janhavi Gadkar unharmed.
Janhavi Gadkar's Audi
Every cliché in the book can be applied in this case.
Poor innocent family.
Celebration turns to sorrow.
Lives snuffed out.
Lives changed forever.
For absolutely no fault of theirs.
The poor suffer.
The rich and the powerful get away.
So many countless others. Every one will unfortunately apply and be true. I really feel so sad.
You must have heard that other word, bandied about so much -`closure’. You must have heard how everyone wants closure. Please tell me, how the Sabuwala kids will ever have closure as far as their father is concerned. What had he done to have his life ended in this way. How will they ever have closure.
I thought back to the 5 other cases that I am sure you will remember. A drunk Sanjeev Nanda in Delhi who in his BMW killed 3 police constables and poor migrant workers. The next would be one Mr Neel Chatterjee a senior officer at Standard Chartered Bank who after a night of revelry killed a watchman near the Siddhi Vinayak Temple. For some reason that case was, as they say, totally hushed up. Case three would be a drunk Alistair Pereira who driving a Toyota Corolla ran over migrant workers sleeping on the footpath at Carter Road in Bandra. The fourth would be a drunk and drugged Nooriya Haveliwalla driving a Honda CR-V another SUV, who killed a cop and a petty hotelier. The last is the loveable Salman Bhai who was only being human when he got drunk, drove a Toyota Land Cruiser and killed, once again, poor migrant labour sleeping on the pavement outside American Express Laundry at Bandra. I remember the tweet by the very erudite Abhijeet - 'Kutta road pe soyega kutte ki maut marega' (If you sleep on the road like a dog, you will die a dog's death). Aptly put Abhijeet ji. In every one of this cases completely random, unconnected and innocent bystanders - as the cliché goes – lost their lives. In every one of these cases the drunk driver escaped unscathed. A 75 kg human body [or Kutta as Abhijeet says] is no match against a big car weighing more than a 1200 kilos travelling at speed.
What about the case of Charu Khandal? This is the other side of the coin. She worked with Red Chillies the Shah Rukh Khan company as an animator. Charu and two friends were returning from a party. They may have had a lot to drink, however, they, were not guilty of drinking and driving, they were in an auto rickshaw. They were all above the legal age of drinking. They were in full compliance of the law. They could not have been more correct in their behaviour. Manoj Gautam whose car hit Charu's auto rickshaw drove rashly, was drunk and hit the rickshaw seriously injuring Charu.
What I cannot understand is why do or why did these people do this? All of the drivers were rich, at least rich enough to use a driver or some sort of public transport. Why must they drive? Why must they drive at such terrifying speeds, speeds at which you would not drive if sane? All these drivers were socially extremely privileged and aware of not only the dangers of driving when drunk, but presumably well-travelled to be aware of the crime. None of the 5 drivers I write about were uneducated or had not passed thru the University of Life. Do we have no fear of the law, the rights of other human beings, the fact that when drunk or drugged our physical and mental capabilities are impaired and that operating heavy machines can be lethal?
The sheer idiocy or arrogance or both of Ms Janhavi Gadkar simply shocks me. Like me, she is a lawyer. She worked at some of the better firms and is now working with Reliance Industries. This is a position of responsibility. Did she not realise what could happen if she drank as much as she did and drive car? Why could she have not left her car at the Marine Plaza and catch a cab home? I have no idea? I cannot understand this sort of behaviour.
Turning now to my own rigidity. Take a hypothetical example. I have a small bottle of beer and drive home. I would surely not be legally drunk. On the way home my car is overtaken by a motorcyclist with no helmet, his un-helmeted wife riding pillion and their 4 year old son sitting on the headlamp [all illegal]. This is a very real scene, it happens every day several times a day when you are driving. The motorcycle hits a pothole falls over and I run the family over in my car after having one beer. A crowd gathers, alcohol on my breath. I am manhandled, the police arrive and I am taken into custody. Whatever may be the rights and wrongs, all of which will be determined when the `law takes its course’ I have alcohol on my breath. At once I am in the wrong and no amount of explanation can change that. See what I am saying? This sort of thing can happen to you any day any time even if you have not had a drink. Simply add alcohol breath to the equation and you are in very deep trouble.
Now take this a step further. The newspapers pick up the story. The headlines will scream `Top Lawyer arrested in drunk driving case’. Forget the fact that I am a self-proclaimed washed up lawyer. Then further snooping will reveal this blog from where the papers will publish that I enjoy drinking, I drink at the hallowed Bombay Gymkhana. And so on and so forth. No I am not blowing my own trumpet. This is something that is all too real. I do not want any of this. I do not need to drink and drive.
It is possible Abhijeet tweeted wrongly. The real `Kuttas’ are the drivers. They should die a `Kuttas’ death. Unfortunately, it is the innocents who are dying a dog’s death. Such utterly pointless and avoidable deaths.
I really am saddened.