Saturday, November 29, 2014

The helmet connection

It is in the context of Phil Hughes’s death I was reminded of an accident about two decades ago involving a two-wheeler, two riders, one helmet and the then infamous Red Line buses that plied the roads of Delhi. Late by a minute or so, a young lad from the apartment directly beneath the one I was residing in rushed to the bus stop to go to college. He missed the bus and just then he saw someone riding a motorcycle come out of the apartment block in front of the bus stand. He thumbed for a ride and he was duly offered one to anywhere enroute where he can catch a bus. That was a fateful ride.
The driver was wearing a helmet and the pillion rider was not. That was the one helmet I referred to earlier. As the story unfolds, a couple of kilometres away the motorcycle was hit from the rear by a Red Line bus and both the riders fell off the vehicle and hit the road. The driver, with the helmet on escaped with no injury whereas the unfortunate college student who was on the bike and who was merely on it for a ride died on the spot, head injury. The Red Line bus did not run over him or anything like that.
Let us trace the culpability, in multiples and at various levels, for this incident, establishing or otherwise parallels with the Phil Hughes’s case. The Red Line bus, of course. A slight parallel may be established with Sean Abbot, if one is ungenerous to the bowler. The bus was not going on about its duty as the bowler was. It was not following the rules as the bowler was. After all, the bus hit the two-wheeler from behind. But, the ultimate result is the same – loss of a life.
Next, the driver of the two-wheeler. Going by the reports, he was not riding recklessly. He was trying to be a Good Samaritan, by offering a ride to someone in need. But, here comes the crucial question, should he have offered a ride knowing full well he does not have an additional helmet for the pillion rider? My heart and mind are working at cross purposes here. My heart says, no, the driver is not culpable on this score, but my mind rebels, though it acknowledges the large “chance” component in the whole incident. The incident is not quite a “Black Swan” but definitely it tends towards grey. Why venture into that area is the question my mind probes.
When you try to find a parallel with the Phil Hughes incident, the only conclusion will be to proscribe bowling short-pitched and rising deliveries. A cricket match but no bouncers. That is, no helmets, no riding on a two-wheeler.
Third, what about the culpability of the victim himself? As a young man going to college he must have been aware of the importance, indeed the criticality of wearing a helmet while riding on a two-wheeler. He, then, took a chance and made his family pay the price. I am not being cold hearted, please understand.
Translating this to cricket incident, are we to conclude that batsmen should merely run away from a rising delivery? That is, does Phil become culpable by merely standing his ground? The parallel fails miserably in the context of the existing rules, of the road and the game.
So, I say, Phil Hughes was hardly culpable for his fate, whereas the pillion rider was marginally more so. The rules of cricket are perhaps at a higher level of culpability but in trying to dilute this, people who love the game will strip it off one of its, indeed any sport’s, essentialities – intimidation. The rules of the road are very clear but lax implementation is very definitely responsible. I dare say the pillion rider, or his family, would have happily paid the fine if their son’s life would have been spared.
Is there a parallel between the Red Line bus and Sean Abbot? Definitely not. Abbot played by the rules and stands fully acquitted. Even had the fatal bouncer was illegal from the point of view of the number of such deliveries per over, the penalty if a “free delivery”, which I am sure Abbot would have been willing to bowl, as he has made his point of intimidation.
But, even after failing to establish the parallel on three counts/personalities, I claim on the whole there is one commonality – helmets. A better designed helmet may have saved Hughes’s life, and refusing to get on a two-wheeler without a helmet would have saved the student’s life. Better implementation of the existing rules, besides educating pillion riders (including women) would have saved the life of the student.
I venture to guess that there are millions more helmet-less two-wheeler drivers than there are cricket players around the world. If you remember, Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn went around streets of Rome on a Vespa scooter without helmets! That scene should be shown to all these millions sending out the message that doing the same is injurious to your life, a la cigarette smoking or tobacco chewing is.
This is the helmet connection and how Phil Hughes incident can find social relevance beyond the rarefied atmosphere of cricket.
Raghuram Ekambaram


palahali said...

"Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn went around streets of Rome on a Vespa scooter without helmets! That scene should be shown to all these millions sending out the message that doing the same is injurious to your life, "
HI RAGHURAM. just now i put this pic on facebook saying something similar to what you said

mandakolathur said...

Absolute endorsement of the blog, pala. Thank you so much. It makes me deliriously happy that we think alike.