National Highway-70 (Hoshiarpur/Jalandhar): A framed studio portrait of 11x14 inches, a damaged motorcycle and a debt of Rs. 1.50 lakh are the only reminders of Jyoti Parkash, 27. The motorcycle has gone to his brother-in-law, who paid the hospital bill for the treatment that was of no help.
Pressing the portrait against her bosom, Mahinder Kaur, talks to her son: "Not this photograph, I wanted to see the pictures of your wedding."
The motorcycle is gone, so is the driver; the picture is "of no use" to the mother and the debt is her future at Singriwala village outside Hoshiarpur on the killer National Highway-70.
AFTER SEVEN YEARS in Dubai, Jyoti Parkash had come home to parents. The break was almost over and his flight back was in a few days. He had a new truck driving licence in Gulf, and new plans. “Then car hit him from behind as he stood on the highway, and killed those dreams,” said Jasveer Singh, Parkash’s uncle.
“He didn’t leave us anything. He spent all his savings on getting the licence,” said Mahinder Kaur. “I had raised him carrying dung on my head.”
Parkash, however, is just another file to police. “Death is part of life here, accidents keep happening,” said head constable Ravinder Kumar, as he pulls out Parkash’s papers from a dusty mountain of accident victims’ record at the Bullowal station on NH-70.
Buried in the heap is the average figure of one death in accident every month on the highway in the Bullowal police jurisdiction. Hoshiarpur police have recorded 30 deaths in three police jurisdictions on this route this year. Prodded for more such stories, Kumar pointed to the police station backyard, where smashed bicycles, scooters, motorbikes, cars, and trucks, that once roared as speed demons, now lies as dead horses. “Every vehicle has its own story, every story is tragic,” said Kumar.
Amid the siren of 108 (the number you dial for highway rescue), and recklessly driven buses and trucks overloaded with cement from ACC’s Bilaspur plant, life moves at multiple paces on this narrow road. The three ambulance teams on this road attend an average of seven emergency calls a day. “In winter, the number doubles,” said ambulance driver Sanjeev Kumar.
“On many small sections of this road, people organise Akhand Path to save at least some lives by prayer,” said Vipin Sharma, a medical technician on the 108 team. “Move the injured to hospital without delay or contact us,” reads a volunteer-organisation sign on the roadside. Accident here is folklore, and not just one Jyoti Parkash, the national highway has snuffled the lights of many homes.
TRAGIC TALES ARE scattered across almost all villages along the highway. One belongs to a family from Dingriyan village. Kulwinder Kaur of Sikanderpur village was only 19 at marriage, and 19 only when she became a widow. The killer road took her husband and father-in-law after just 75 days.
A decade ago, at the peak time of harvest, season that is known to usher new hope, expatriate from Spain Swaraj Singh Dhillon, and his father, teacher union leader Pakhar Singh Dhillon, were on way home from farm in the evening. After refuelling, they took a turn on the highway when a truck overloaded with cement from Bilaspur, which had no headlights, crashed into the SUV. Death came on the spot. Swaraj was 26 and his father 59. “The impact was heard even in the next village,” recalls Surjit Kaur, Swaraj’s mother.
Not much has changed since. Swaraj’s son, Yuvraj, born six months after the accident, turned 10 last week. He has seen his father and grandfather only in pictures. Sometime ago, his mother moved back with her parents. Amandeep Singh, Swaraj’s elder brother said: “The crash still echoes in my head, loud and clear.”