As Mumbai marks the 24th Road Safety Week, my mind naturally wanders back to the day my life changed forever. It was January 15, 2000 and I was working as a part-time Reader’s Relation Executive (RRE) with a media organisation.
I had finished conducting a survey in the area near the Pune-Bangalore Highway by 8 pm. As I was getting late for my hostel, my team head asked me to take a lift for a short distance, saying that I could proceed to my hostel in an auto rickshaw from there. I accepted a lift on a Yamaha RX 100 bike from a colleague. I was riding pillion and did not wear a helmet.
It took just 15 minutes for my life to change completely. I have no memory of what actually happened to me. On January 16, I woke up to find myself in hospital, my clothes soaked in blood. I could not recognise anybody. I was in a hospital close to where the accident had taken place. I was told that I had been in a road accident.
On a fateful winter night, with the cold cutting into people like a knife and thick fog reducing visibility, our bike had crashed into a truck in a massive collision. The truck had been carrying building material. The driver of the truck, I was told, was drunk, and applied the brake suddenly. The bike went under the truck, flinging my colleague and me to two sides of the road. I had a depressed skull fracture.
Residents in the area who noticed the two of us lying on either side of the road and bleeding profusely took us to hospital. The doctor first attended to the driver, who was in a serious condition. His right hand was later amputated. He was subsequently shifted to his hometown in Rajasthan. Seeing my gaping head wound, the doctor at the hospital stitched the portion that was open.
He did not notice the rest of my wound, which was covered with my thick hair. After he stitched the open portion, the staff tried contacting my relatives. The first person the hospital staff could get in touch with was a friend called Sameer-Ul-Haque, who I had met just a day before I met with the accident. On hearing the news, Sameer-ul Haque, along with my colleagues Dhruv Goswami and Nisha Jariwala rushed to the hospital, as I was in a coma. Sensing that the hospital I was in did not care too much about my condition, my friends first shifted me into the hostel that they stayed in.
I was regaining my memory in flashes and my friends were finding it difficult to get information from me about my parents. Before they could wait for my memory to fully return, the police traced my friends and interrogated them about whether they had abducted me and brought be back from the hospital without the knowledge of the doctor. Incidentally, this was not true.
I was then wheeled into a private hospital at Senapati Bapat Road in Pune. I was fortunate that in the fracas that ensued between hospital officials over whether I should be admitted (I had been in a road accident) my neurosurgeon - my saviour - saw me sitting on a wheelchair with the area around the injury infected, rotting. He fought with hospital authorities, stressing on the fact that I would die if I was not operated upon immediately.
I was finally operated upon on January 19. It took me almost three years to recover from the accident, and two more years to regain my normal life. Living life with memory loss was obviously not easy. When I travelled back home, I met school friends but couldn’t identify many of them. Memories of my school life, which for many are the most cherished moments from childhood, were lost somewhere. I had to re-learn a lot of things: language, dialect, calculations - all seemed like an uphill task.
For the person interacting with me, my memory loss seemed to be a thing to ridicule. Now I have slipped back into normal life, but I sometimes wish I could delve deeper into my brain and get back the lost memories. I try not to get caught up with the past, and instead look forward to creating new memories that could last me a lifetime. The amount of medication I had taken in that period - especially steroids that were injected into me - resulted in a lot of weight gain. The weight gain itself was a huge change.
Not that I had been lean, but I went from being just healthy to being obese. To live with the excess weight, and dealing with my new image was a tough ask. It might be easy for others to make fun of me, but for me, every day is a struggle that I have to overcome. When I am ill, the pain I feel is double that felt by a normal person, as general over-the-counter medication doesn’t work on me. I need to take higher doses, and even injections, when there is serious illness, even when I get headaches.
I look healthy from the outside, but even small cuts on any part of my body affect me like major wounds would for others. The smile on my face doesn’t always show the grief I feel inside. So when somebody says they understand what I must be feeling, I ignore it. One can only relate to the pain if he or she has experienced it. Living my daily life is like learning a new lesson each day. My family has narrated important incidents of my life to me, so I have a rough idea about them. Friendly banter with childhood buddies or memories that I had with friends in school are some things that remain a void in my life.
If not for my family, friends, colleagues at work and my neurosurgeon, I wouldn’t be alive to narrate this story of what I call my ‘rebirth’. I sign off by saying it is very important that even a pillion rider wears a helmet. Death calls suddenly and it can take less than a minute to change one’s life - to go from sunshine to shadows. While I may have not been destined to die that day, I had a near-death experience. A helmet would have given me nearly five years of my life that slipped away because of the accident. As for the adrenaline rush that speed gives - I can only say, don’t risk life and limb for a few thrills.
Sundari Iyer is a Sports Correspondent, MiD DAY