Another Chance at Life
A terrible road accident was a spectacle for many, until a car pulled up to help the person, who says he owes his life to the ‘stranger’.
NEW DELHI, 31 MARCH 1992: When I left the office for a news assignment that early summer evening, I had absolutely no idea that this was going to become a dateline of my own life story.
As a young photographer with The Times of India in Delhi, I was on my way to a photo shoot before I wrapped up for the day. I was thrilled to be leaving for Paris in five days. I couldn't wait to fly out-I was going to visit friends, and to give my career a boost, I had also planned meetings with photo agencies there. I had, in fact, received my visa only a while before I headed out for my assignment at about 7 p.m.
On Moolchand flyover, with my camera bag-containing my equipment, my passport and $500-strapped to my back, I rode my motorbike at moderate speed. Suddenly, something massive hit me from behind. All I knew was I was no longer on my vehicle.
I was flung from my bike and had hit the road. Before I blacked out, I could see my helmet lying at a distance, smashed into three pieces.
Hours, maybe days later, I opened my eyes (I later learnt that I was shifted to the ward after 19 days). Was I at an airport terminal? But why were the air hostesses in white uniforms? I realized I was on a hospital bed. Under the influence of morphine I'd been pumped with, it took me some time to understand this was the ICU of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Even as I flitted in and out of consciousness, I could sense a lot had happened already. And who knew what was to come? I later learnt that the impact of the accident was such that my skull had been fractured, leading to a complication called CSF rhinorrhea, in which the fluid surrounding the brain drains out of the nose. After the doctors monitored me, waiting for me to stabilize, I was finally shifted to a private ward. A slew of surgeries followed-a reconstruction of the skull, my broken right wrist fixed and a rhinoplasty. My jaw needed mending too.
I lived by myself in Delhi, and after hearing about my accident, my mother rushed from Kolkata to be with me. My colleagues rallied around me and looked after me like family. Sunil Narula, then chief reporter at TOI, along with other colleagues, managed eight bottles of blood and stood by me throughout. So did the AIIMS public relations officer, whom I happened to know professionally.
As I lay in hospital, I tried to piece together that fateful Tuesday. A friend, MadhumitaMitra, who was the first to be informed about my accident, told me that someone had found me grievously injured on the flyover. It was a hit-and-run case, and judging by the amount of blood I had already lost, it seemed like I'd been lying there for a while. The man drove me to Moolchand hospital, not far from the scene of my accident. He saw Madhumita's number in my pocket phone book and because we had the same surname-I also had my press card with me-assumed she was a relative.
"I rushed to the hospital when I heard the news," Madhumita told me. In the meantime, it seems, the kind soul had informed my colleagues with the help of the same phone book. The doctors advised that I be shifted to AIIMS immediately as they did not have the facilities to treat my case. In the commotion, Madhumita could not ask for the person's name or any other details. Assured that I was in good hands, the gentleman left, as my colleagues had also arrived by then.
It was a long road to recovery, which turned out to be a life-changing experience. I got discharged after about six months, my face visibly altered. I sported a ponytail before the accident, but one of the surgeries had required a tonsure. The hospital stay cost me over a lakh, though, thankfully, my office health insurance took care of most of it. Even at home I underwent regular tests and scans, and was able to resume work only in January 1993. Even today, my memory gets foggy at times and I find it difficult to recollect bits from my past.
Life, however, slowly returned to normal. I did a four-year stint with a TV news channel before I started freelancing. Though I never went to Paris, I did get an opportunity to work in Nepal in 2003 and moved to Kathmandu. When I came back to India in 2006, I decided to settle down in Kolkata.
I would often think of the person who stopped on the flyover to help me. I had no idea who he was, but I knew I owed him my life. I wish I could tell him how I felt, but I did not know how to find him. As life took over, these thoughts got buried under the recesses of my mind.
One evening in May last year when I was cooking dinner, I got a call from Madhumita. She had been to a social gathering that day where she had met a lady. It seems the lady looked in her direction a few times, making her wonder why. Curious, Madhumita walked up to her and introduced herself. "If I'm not mistaken, we met briefly many years ago," the lady said to her. "Were you the person my husband contacted, when we found that accident victim on Moolchand flyover many years ago?"
Madhumita was speechless. "It was like the events of that entire evening came back to me in a flash," she said breathlessly over the phone. It was amazing that 23 years later, the lady had spotted her at a get-together, after meeting her only briefly that fateful evening. Here was my chance to meet the man who had saved my life: I urged Madhumita to find his contact details. I had to meet him now; I could wait no longer.
A few weeks later, Madhumita called me, "The gentleman's name is Mr Rajiv Nag and I have his cell number. Maybe you would like to give him a call."
"Of course!" I thanked her and hung up to dial the number right away. A man with a calm, rich baritone answered the phone. Life, it seemed, had been conspiring for me to meet him in person-Mr Nag, who lived in Delhi, was in Kolkata to visit a relative! Off I went to meet him.
The reunion was extraordinary. We did not discuss the details of that ruinous evening-he was leaving for Delhi the next day and it was a bit late at night. I fumbled for words of gratitude-nothing I said would describe how I really felt. No 'thank you' would ever be enough. All I wanted was to see him once: I just had to see the face of my saviour in my lifetime.
I left soon, but not without an image that will stay with me forever-the smiling face and reassuring demeanour of Mr Nag. A man who thought of nothing, except that a life that had to be saved, no matter what, even as bystanders looked on and vehicles swerved past as I lay there, on that flyover, bleeding.
WHAT DRIVES GOOD DEEDS
When Reader's Digest spoke to Rajiv Nag, he was hesitant about us using the word kindness to describe his gesture. "It was more an act of duty," said the modest software consultant, now 62.
"I was on the flyover, driving home with my wife and three-year-old son," he said, "when I saw cars braking ahead of us and then going past." Soon, they were stopped in their tracks by what they saw. "A man lay sprawled on the road, drenched in blood and groaning in tremendous pain," Nag recalled. "His head had hit the divider and looking at the blood that been lost, it seemed that life could go out of him at any moment."
With the help of a biker who had stopped by, Nag heaved the man as gently as he could to lay him in the back seat of their car. "With my horn blaring, lights flashing and the man crying in pain, I jumped a red light or two to reach the nearest hospital," Nag told us. "But each time there was a slight bump on the road, the injured man would jerk out of the seat, by reflex, and then fall back groaning."
Nag got support at every stage. "We were helped along by the traffic police to reach the hospital at the earliest. The staff at Moolchand started treatment right away, without waiting for paperwork to be completed, and the policeman stationed at the hospital was very cooperative too," he said.
This was before 2004, when the central ministry concerned with road transport and highways issued a circular to police chiefs in all states that there should be no legal impediment for being a Good Samaritan in a road accident. [See Kindness of Strangers, November 2012.] Didn't the thought of being caught in police and court matters worry Nag? "In life, if you keep thinking about things, you'll never do them," he replied.
As told to Snigdha Hasan