Vinay Babu Reddy The Highway Code - 2015

The Call

On a calm Saturday morning, while Navin was leisurely washing his car in front of his house, his phone started to ring. He could sense who was calling as he had set a unique ringtone for this contact. He picked up the phone with a smile and answered, "Hello, Sweetheart!"

A tensed and angry female voice at the other end screamed, "Do hell with your sweetheart! It's all over!"

"What happened?" questioned Navin.

"What happened? The one that you always wanted!" the girl responded.

Navin: "Please tell me what happened."

Dad has fixed my marriage with another guy

Girl: "Dad has fixed my marriage with another guy!"

It was a shock for Navin and was numb for a moment. With his heart still pounding, he enquired "Are you serious? How did this happen?"

Girl: "What do you mean? You knew my dad was looking for a guy since quite some time. You never took me seriously. See what has happened now!"

Navin: "And you agreed to it?"

Girl: "Yes, I did!"

Navin could hardly believe his ears. His girlfriend whom he loved so much has agreed to marry another guy?

The Prologue

Navin and Samanta knew each other for more than 6 years. They studied in the same college and shared immense passion for long drives. While on one such road trip, Samanta had taken a seat opposite to Navin at a highway dhaba. They both ordered biriyani. The quantity was quite generous but that didn't seem to bother Samanta. She was quick to empty her plate whereas Navin being a foodie himself was taking it slow. He wondered how she could have had so much looking at her slender body.

"You are done?" Navin questioned.

"Yes, I eat quite quickly, unlike 'girls'", with her fingers making quotes in the air.

Navin wasn't overweight but wasn't slim either. Out of curiosity he asked, "How do you manage to be so slim?"

Samanta: "Slim? I'm too thin! Wish I could put on some weight."

Amused by the reply, Navin responded, "Are you serious? I would kill for such a body...!" Navin paused embarrassingly, thinking he has uttered sometime really stupid. An oops moment later, he corrected "I mean... a slim body!" Navin inadvertently started flirting with Samanta. Samata burst into laughs, soon joined by Navin.

Their fondness for food brought them closer during the numerous road trips. Samanta was quite talkative, so Navin didn't have to spend much energy in engaging any conversation. This was a grace for Navin as he wasn't much of a talker.

One fine evening, while walking back to the parking lot after their dinner, Navin surprised Samanta with a swift kiss. It was the first time, he kissed her and Samanta who was a little freaked out responded, "What was that?"

With his focus still on her glossy lips, Navin stammered, "A kiss!"

With his focus still on her glossy lips, Navin stammered, "A kiss!"

To Navin's relief, Samanta regaining her calm, smiled and asked "For what?"

Navin: "I think I'm in love!"

Everything slowed down for a moment. Samanta's beautiful brown eyes were sparkling against the night lights. Her blushing cheeks were radiating a soft glow against the black backdrop. Navin wondered, did he just kiss the most beautiful girl in the world? Navin unwilling to spoil this magical moment didn't push Samanta for a response.

A few days later, Samanta eventually reciprocated the same feelings and they began to build their own beautiful tiny world, until today that is.

The Present

Samanta: "I didn't know what to do, Navi. You have no idea what I'm going through here. You are too busy to be concerned!"

Though they both studied together in Bangalore, Samanta had moved back to Mangalore where her parents stayed. It was after this the trouble started when her parents started looking for a groom.

Samanta revealed about Navin to her parents, but they trashed the idea of marrying to a Hindu boy with no further thoughts. Samanta belonged to a Christian orthodox family for whom inter-religious marriage was completely out of question.

While all this was ongoing, Navin hadn't even mentioned about Samanta at his place. With Navin not taking marriage seriously and Samanta struggling to keep her stand against her parents, they started to quarrel almost every single day.

they started to quarrel almost every single day

After a long fight the previous night, frustrated Samanta stated she would never call him again and hung up. But Navin knew their fights never lasted more than a night. So when he received her call this morning, he picked up with a smug grin on his face without realizing that his girl has said yes to another proposals.

Navin understood that he had pushed it too far and it was time for him to put his act together. He was taking things too lightly and was enjoying the pleasant days after graduation. He had secured a job in a reputed company and that feeling of standing on his own feet masked the entire trouble that his sweetheart was going through.

Navin: "Samy, listen. Please, calm down. I'm sorry for all these. Let me fix this."

Samanta: "No Navi. Dad has already communicated it to the groom's side."

Navin: "Don't worry, let me drive down there and talk to your dad."

Samanta: "Are you serious?"

Navin: "Yes, I will start right away!"

Samanta threw herself on her bed and started crying uncontrollably. Did she mess it up by saying yes? Or maybe, Navin has turned around because she said yes. She was confused!

The Drive

Navin packed his bags with a pair of jeans and couple of t-shirts and geared up for the road trip. He had recently bought a base version of a silver hatchback. He chose this car partially because it was within his budget but mainly because it didn't have power steering to spoil the connected-to-the-wheel feeling.

It was already 10 in the morning which seemed quite late for a 300+ km drive. He informed his mom about the trip but didn't mention about Samanta. His mom was dumbfounded by this sudden plan but didn't stop him. According to her interrupting a travel was considered ill-omen. Deep down though, she was very restless. She had a good reason to be tensed because Indian highways are very notorious and unforgiving. India has one of the highest mortality rates on the road. We hardly follow rules. In fact, following rules is considered amateur.

Hoping to return by the next day, he withdrew some cash at ATM and started driving. He stopped at a petrol pump close by, filled up the tank and got the tyre pressure checked. It was a sunny day to cheer him up but the dark clouds of the news were still hovering over him.

It is always better to start early to avoid the city traffic but Navin didn't have an option as it was an unplanned travel. He spent a good amount of time negotiating traffic until he left the city. After few minutes of stress free driving on the highway, it was noon so he stopped at a dhaba for lunch.

While at lunch, he was rehearsing the lines he would be saying to Samanta's dad. The plan was to start with his introduction and to give a background about him, his education, his job, etc. He wanted to corner her dad by proving that he is more than perfect for his daughter. He was too confident in this regard. And this over-confidence was probably the reason that led to this situation.

deep within his heart he knew that he can win this fight

Though the fear of losing Samanta was very realistic, deep within his heart he knew that he can win this fight. So he cranked up the stereo and hit the highway again.

The road until Hassan was pretty smooth so he put his foot down and cruised on. Suddenly, a huge pothole appeared from nowhere in the middle of the road. He had a fraction of second to react - either by braking and risk getting rammed by a vehicle behind or changing the direction and getting hit by a vehicle in the adjacent lane.

He didn't have the time to check his mirrors so he chose the pothole as the known devil instead. As he went over the ditch, his suspension thumped and a sharp jolt was sent through the wheels to his arms, almost shattering his bones. Luckily, it didn't break anything so he soldiered on.

He decided to reduce the speed, foreseeing more such unpleasant events. Frustratingly, the rest of the road was smooth and a few kilometers later, he was tempted to increase the speed again. But as previously, he was hit by another pothole and the experience repeated.

Adding to this outright danger, it became pretty common to find vehicles moving in opposite direction on this dual carriageway. Tractors and two wheelers from the surrounding villages were being driven head on; sometimes on the leftmost lane and sometimes on the right. It was getting difficult for Navin to comprehend their rules and this Highway Code.

The License

Just before Hassan, the road transformed from dual carriageway to an undivided two lane road. He observed that the dotted lines dividing the road are joined to become a continuous line in curves and bends. Navin wasn't sure what they meant.

Navin didn't take any formal driving classes; as with several other Indians, he just paid his way to get a driving license. He had once given a shot to get a learners license the honest way. He went to the registrar office with an application form and all the supporting documents. However, the officer rejected his submission stating that one of his documents was not in order.

Baffled with the officer's behavior, he walked out. As he stepped out, an agent approached him and asked if he needed any help. He showed the documents and asked what was wrong with them. The agent looked at the documents and said, they all look good but you have pay some money to get it done. Navin realized that he had to go via an agent and pay some bribe for license. He paid the asked money and 30 mins later his application was accepted for the written test.

Navin had already purchased a book on road signs and traffic rules to prepare for the test. He asked the agent for some tips to clear the same. The busy agent asked him to just appear for the exam and rest will be taken care of. This meant he didn't have to bother reading the book!

The final driving test was even more of a cake walk

The next week, just before exam, he was taken through the common questionnaire by the agent. And sure enough he cleared the test and secured his learners license. The final driving test was even more of a cake walk where he had to just drive for few meters with an officer in the passenger seat and reverse the vehicle to where they started. This skill alone was enough to earn Navin his driving license.

Navin now however, wished he had read the book he had bought, but after a while he was able to figure out that the continuous line meant, do not cross the line for overtaking and dotted line meant you are allowed to overtake. With this newly acquired knowledge, Navin maintained patience and used these lines as guide for his overtaking moves. He also made sure to always consider his speed and the speed of the approaching vehicle before planning a move.

The Ghats

As he was approaching Western Ghats, he stopped for a tea break and speed dialed Samanta.

While sipping his tea, he greeted "Hey, babes!"

Samanta: "Hello"

"Where are you now?" Samanta added.

Navin: "I am almost there, maybe another 100 kilometers to cover."

Samanta: "OK."

Navin: "What are you doing?"

Samanta: "Nothing, just lying down."

Navin joked, "Want some company?"

Samanta wasn't in a mood for such jokes. A small pause later she responded "I haven't told anything to dad yet."

Navin: "It's ok. Can you come out today? Let's have dinner together and plan for tomorrow."

Samanta: "Ok, come to Coffee Day on MG road and call me... Do you know where it is?"

Navin: "Don't worry, I will find out."

Samanta just replied "OK, let me know. Drive safe!" and hung up.

As Navin reached the Western Ghats, the road got really twisty and with some boost in energy after talking to his girlfriend, he put his foot down for some spirited driving. His sprint was short lived though, as the road got bumpier and was totally inundated with potholes. The small hatchback designed for city was having hard time coping with the road condition.

Navin didn't have any experience driving in the dark

He was barely doing 10-20 kph for the next 20kms or so and before he crossed the Ghats, night fell. Navin didn't have any experience driving in the dark; seldom did he have an idea on the highway rules at night. All he knew was to dip his headlamps to avoid blinding the opposite vehicles.

With the low beam, he could hardly see anything on the road or off it. The high beams on approaching vehicles didn't help either which kept repeatedly blinded him. He followed a well driven car for a while but soon lost that guide too.

He later chose to keep the high beam permanently on which took away some strain and did better job of illuminating the road. After he got a hang of it, overtaking became easier at night as he could spot an approaching vehicle even behind a curve, thanks to their headlight glaze.

The Chance

As Navin was getting comfortable and making good progress, he got slowed down by a 12 wheeler. He was nearing the city so the traffic had picked up leaving him not enough room for safe overtaking. The long drive had taken a toll on him by now, prompting him to take his chances and overtake on a curve. As he made his move, his cellphone kept on the passenger seat started ringing with the same familiar ring tone. He discounted it for a moment and focused on the job at hand. He was stuck in the top gear doing barely 60 and the car was taking for ever to pick up speed. Fearing he will slow down even further, his instincts didn't let him take his foot off and shift down, so he pressed on.

he had already approached the corner and noticed a bike heading towards him

By the time he reached an acceptable speed, he had already approached the corner and noticed a bike heading towards him. He was still besides the truck but had enough room to make the move so didn't back out. As he closed in, to his shock, the bike that was approaching was in fact a minibus with just one working headlamp.

The panic kicked in and a strong surge of adrenalin rushed to his arms and legs. His head and entire body felt light and all he could see was the approaching headlight and his steering wheel. Navin slammed his brakes hard while trying to maneuver the car. His wheels locked making a screeching noise against the tarmac and without control dragged him straight to the bus.

The car's bumper crashed into the bus doing over 90 and the front section buckled on the impact. The pedals dug into Navin's feet and the steering rammed his chest. The front pillars of the car caved in, eventually hitting Navin's head bleeding him to death...

Within seconds, it was all over! The loud bang of the accident had settled down, with just the noise of the fumes coming from what was left of the engine and a repeating music in the foreground - the ringtone of Samanta calling Navin!

--The Highway Code

⇐ Back