“Haw haw haw,” my friends guffawed when I told them what had happened. “We’re going to have one more drink tonight just for that!” With friends like that who needed enemies? For what had just happened was nothing short of tragic. On a Saturday night last week a private taxi had plunged straight into my compound wall, wrecked itself dizzily and came to a complete collapse outside our garage gate impaled on two of the gate bars. It was a Saturday night and it was 2 a.m. There was no one about. My houseboy Tanaji and Maia the cat were fast asleep behind the closed doors of Tanaji’s living quarters.
“I heard a very loud noise and I thought it was the end of the world so I did not get up,” recalled the very pragmatic Tanaji. Our neighbour Sylvester came out in his pyjamas and looked around. The taxi driver, all of twenty years old, had hurt himself rather badly and luckily there were no other passengers in the car. He had dropped them off at our friendly neighbourhood night club. Our neighbour Sylvester called an ambulance and sent the poor injured taxi driver off to the emergency room in the hospital. So far so good.
Now the story gets more interesting. The taxi is facing Arpora towards the west a big gaping hole on its front, the driver’s side. The collapsed engine is looping over the compound wall and now the car looks more inebriated than anyone else that night. Fifteen large men appear out of thin air. They lift the wrecked car like she was made out of paper and turn her around to face Saligao, in the opposite direction. Then they crumple the number plates like those were made of paper too so you couldn’t read the car registration numbers. One of the kind souls from the group wrenched a few branches from our garden crotons and attached the branches to the mangled remains of the tyres so passersby could see that this car was going nowhere. Our compound wall lights had fallen on the garden ground and one column of the compound gateposts cracked down to its concrete innards.
By six in the morning both Tanaji and the cat had decided that it was not the end of the world. Stepping out from their safe haven and rattling a jammed gate open they wondered how a car going to Saligao had a damaged front left side when the gate and compound wall were on the right. Phone calls flew and my staff arrived on a crisp Sunday morning after Mass. Discussions and analysis ensued. More neighbours came to see what had happened. Neighbour Sylvester who had been on the scene had vanished into the thin hot air of a Saligao afternoon. Our neighbour Shilpa tried “uncrumpling” the number plate now bent out of shape. Enlightened, she said she knew who the driver was.
Shilpa and her husband took the situation in hand, made a few calls. My staff made a few calls and dashed off to the Saligao police station to lodge a complaint. Now the story gets even more interesting. The Sarpanch from Arpora arrives on a motorcycle and examines the damaged car, now stationary and mute, awaiting a sympathetic tow to the workshop. My first reaction when I got the news was that of an innocent by-standee. I first asked if the boy-driver was hurt and was told that he had a fractured foot and had received treatment. We were all relieved. The other relief was that our Deputy Sarpanch Daya also came when he saw the dramatic remains of the battered car and compound wall. For a few moments it became a “them versus us” situation.
Our side insisted that some papers be deposited with us to keep a hold on the driver to ensure that the compound wall would be repaired at the driver’s cost. Their side insisted that they were standing guarantee that the wall would be restored to its original state at their cost and “when we are saying it will be done, why do you need any other guarantees?” Our side insisted that the driver’s license and the car registration papers be held by us in custody until the repairs were carried out to our satisfaction. Their side insisted that there was no need. Shilpa played referee. Both sides rattled the car doors to see if there were any papers to be employed as ransom. The car keys were not in the car, the car papers were not in the car glove compartment and the driving licence (if it had ever existed) was nowhere to be seen. The taxi had no tool kit, no dirty rags or dusters, no water bottle, nothing that most cars in Goa have in their nooks and crannies. In other words, the car had been swept clean.
Finally, I intervened. I convinced my staff that it would be alright since such eminent village persons were intervening on our behalf. Life, I said, was all about trusting. With a verbal assurance from the Arpora Sarpanch, we let it wait. A crack team of masons and assistants arrived on Monday morning and our side was quietly reminded that the police complaint should not be taken any further “as long as the repairs are done nicely”. Over the ten days that followed the compound wall and gate were restored to their original status. My new car, not yet 30 days old in its new home was locked up and covered during the operations. Always the one to count my blessings, I thanked the guardian angels of houses and cars for saving the car from being mowed in during the accident.
The compound wall is repaired, the gate is done and the light fixed on top of the gatepost. Tanaji took a quick spin in the car with the driver and declared that the world had not yet ended. Not in Saligao, at least. Shilpa is back in her shop minding the store, reminding me for the tenth time that she had intervened only because she did it “amche sumzoon” a sort of Konkanni version of “your problems are my problems too”. Belatedly, she added that if the mason and his team (distracted with other Panchayat work) did not report to us she should not be held responsible. During the next few days we also learnt that the taxi driver was the only child of elderly parents both too feeble and handicapped to work. We also heard that the family had once owned a tourist bus but that the coach was lying on its side in the village after a road accident. We also learnt that the taxi driver’s bills were being paid by the Sarpanch of his village because they were old neighbours and that everyone was chipping in to help the family while the boy lay in bed incapacitated. I was the only one with questions. Had the boy been drunk while driving? Had he been sampling something stronger? Did he fall asleep on the wheel in the early hours of the morning? Had he been over-working to ferry people up and down to party locations on a busy Saturday night and was quite simply exhausted? No one knew. Ask no questions. You’ll get no lies.