Thursday, 30 June, 2022
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Kolkata tragedy not about traffic rules. Are highways ready for Ferraris & Lamborghinis?

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If the only lesson we draw from the Ferrari car crash is that a truck did not turn on its indicator, we are being wilfully blind. 

A Ferrari crashed in Kolkata. A 42-year-old man is dead. A teenage girl is in the ICU. The car is a crumpled red mess.

Shibaji Roy, director of a well-known sanitary ware company, was at the wheel. He died. A truck reportedly had suddenly changed lanes without switching on its indicator lights. Roy had swerved and crashed into the parapet.

But it isn’t just about traffic rules.

The image of a seven-car convoy of superfast cars – Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche and BMW – on a bumpy highway with lumbering trucks in a way epitomises how so many of us feel that we have left the old India far behind.

A news report in The Telegraph found that locals were still jaywalking across the highway, risking their own lives as well as the lives of those driving down the highway. Parked cars and moving trucks occupied two of the three lanes. Trucks moved at 40 kmph on the extreme right lane, forcing faster vehicles to dangerously and illegally overtake them from the left.

There are proposals to construct foot over-bridges and underpasses, but nothing has happened yet. Roy might still have been saved if proper gas cutters had been procured in time, but it is another issue if they could be used safely amid the spilt fuel. But it must have been tortuous for his friends to watch him stuck in the mangled car for 40 excruciating minutes while they waited for help to arrive.

But the larger question remains. Is this a country yet for Ferraris and Lamborghinis on our highways?

This convoy of two Ferraris, a Lamborghini, two Porsches and two BMWs had been going for such early morning rides since 2011. There has been no evidence to suggest that the cars were racing. But the needle of the speedometer of the Ferrari, which Roy was driving, was stuck at 130 kmph. The cars might not be racing, but there certainly was speeding, which after all is the point of having a red Ferrari.

This was, in the end, one of those horrible split-seconds when everything went wrong. It happens. At this point, we are only left with what-ifs. One of the drivers told the media, “Had the truck not switched lanes, Shibaji would not have had any trouble.”

A friend remarked that those who could afford this convoy of cars, some of which cost more than Rs 6 crore at a retail store, could probably also afford to build a racing track where they could drive safely and get their speed rush instead of racing on highways, which are designed for 80-100kmph and shared with all manner of cars and creatures.

But in our show-and-tell society where’s the fun in that? What’s the point of a Ferrari that shuttles between a garage and a private racing track? It needs to be displayed in public, and admired. It’s not a car. It’s a trophy, like a Gucci bag.

We were a society where ostentatious wealth once had to be discreetly kept out of sight. Now, we are a society where wealth cannot be enjoyed until it is flaunted as publicly as possible. We feel that wealth creates some kind of armour of immunity around us, that it makes us feel invincible. And you don’t have to be a Salman Khan to get that feeling.

One understands the adrenaline appeal of a fast car, just as one understands the call of a Himalayan peak. Some get it. Some don’t. That is not the point. Is it practical to pretend that we are on the Autobahn just because we can now afford the cars for it?

In his book Capital, Rana Dasgupta writes about a Delhi jeweller who buys a Lamborghini for Rs 3.5 crore but finds it impossible to take it out on Delhi’s crowded streets. D-uh! He sells it for Rs 2.2 crore to the 27-year-old newly married son of a real estate dealer who takes it out at 5.30 in the morning, loses control, crashes into barriers, kills himself and critically injures a man on a bicycle. This injured man is a school caretaker whose son has no idea how to pay the Rs 1.5 lakh needed for his operations. It’s the naked disparity of India on display in one terrible accident. We have acquired the wealth and its playthings, but little of the responsibility that comes with it.

We can, and should, blame all the issues brought to the fore by this tragedy. Do our emergency services respond fast enough? Are they equipped properly? Are road rules enforced enough whether by cars or trucks or pedestrians?

But we cannot duck the Rs 6-crore question. Is this yet a country for Ferraris and Lamborghinis?

Dasgupta writes in his book about Manmohan Singh, who “long ago, as finance minister, opened the window to the storm of global capitalism and set the course for new oligarchic elite”.

The debris of that storm can be seen in the tragedy of that crumpled red Ferrari on National Highway 6 and a shattered young family. But if the only lesson we draw from it is that a truck did not turn on its indicator, we are being wilfully blind. Two Indias crashed on that highway that morning and, for once, wealth provided no insulation.

Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.

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  1. Serious life taking accidents involving expensive cars and bikes happening on 4 lane high ways, expressways and access controlled ring roads especially during the mid and early morning in whole India because of vehicles being driven at very high speed and under influence of alcohol.
    Our heavy truck and buses do not have very good indicators. More expensive the car/bike, higher the speed it is driven. Here rich and poor both losing lives. Considering heterogeneous traffic on roads, cars and bikes should be driven within the legally prescribed speed and overtaking should be done carefully from the right only when the vehicle moving ahead gives you pass. Alas, people sitting in vehicles does not think that there could be an accident in a fraction of time on the road. Police need to curve overspeeding completely.

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