Back in 1944, high on the success of Operation Overlord, better known as the Normandy invasion, the Allies reckoned Hitler’s Wehrmacht was finished. They decided to make one final push towards the Rhine, a pencil like thrust into the heart of Germany, cutting across Holland. The Allies did make the push along a rapier like highway that thrust towards Germany through the low-lying Dutchland.
What was supposed to be a strategic master stroke by General Montgomer turned out to be one of the bigger mistakes that the Allies made during the war. In the ensuing showdown at Njimegen in Holland between the Allies and the Germans, the former were beaten black and blue. And that highway that was supposed to be the channel of the entire push? It became the Allies’ undoing. Strung out on one straight line, the Allied forces on the highway were pulped by the Germans. While this is part of WW II history, a very dramatic version was recreated by Hollywood with a massive star cast and was called A Bridge Too Far.
“On Indian highways, one’s never sure if one will come out alive at the other end”
Like in the film, the American GIs did call that highway Hell’s Highway. And it was, for you were never sure if you would ever come off it alive. Or at least injured. I reckon we can pretty much apply the same tag to our Indian highways. One’s never sure if one will come out alive at the other end. Fine, accuse me of exaggerating and over stressing the point all you like, and to some extent I will plead guilty, mumbling about artistic licences. But can you deny that Indian highways are nothing short of a giant ever changing hazard test?
I believe it is definitely so for every car driver in the country, and even more so for the average Indian motorcyclist. Picture this. You’re cruising comfortably at about a very 80kmph on whatever motorcycle catches your fancy. You’re not even contemplating breaking the ludicrously low legal limit and your right wrist is well in control. From out of nowhere a herd of goats rush on to the highway, smack in the middle of your line! I guarantee you, you’re in for a date with the nurses at some hospital. Alternately, think about the number of times you’ve had to swerve out of the way at the last minute when a driver pulls out into your path with a mobile phone stuck to his ear.
“In spite of road surfacing that is leagues ahead of what it used to be just a decade ago, our highways continue to be death traps”
I could write a book on the number of such potentially fatal examples I could come up with. But only at the risk of repetition, for in each case the end result is the same for the biker. A blind date with a nurse at some hospital. The moot point therefore is this, Indian highways are unsafe. In spite of road surfacing that is leagues ahead of what it used to be just a decade ago, they continue to be death traps. Part of the solution of course has to come from the authorities and the administration. But the other part has to come from us. We need to figure out how we can protect ourselves best. Before we hit the highways we need to ask some basic questions of ourselves. Are we going to be visible to others on the highway? Is my motorcycle in perfect running order? Am I wearing enough protective gear?
After all, we mustn’t forget, while a large number of GIs did get killed on Hell’s Highway, quite a great many survived. We must follow the lead of those who survived and do everything we can to finish our ride on our hell’s highways and live to tell the tale.