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Because accidents don’t happen only to others

I discovered,first hand,the terrible cost of riding without a helmet

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Because accidents don’t happen only to others
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I discovered,first hand,the terrible cost of riding without a helmet

I was going to start with a description of October 8,2010 but I have no recollection of that fateful day,even though I have heard many accounts of it. I was on the pillion of a motorcycle taxi in Uganda,where they have two-wheeler taxis called boda-bodas.

I was with a friend who is tragically no longer alive. I chose to sit in the middle and that ended up saving my life. We had found a safe boda driver and my friend and I were headed to a nightclub on a Friday night,when a speeding car hit us from behind. Neither of us was wearing a helmet since it was inconvenient to carry a helmet around when all you wanted to do was dance the night away in Uganda’s nightclubs. My friend wasn’t wearing a helmet,even though he owned one. I chose not to buy a helmet though I had seen a motorcycle taxi accident the very week of my own accident. I thought those kind of horrific incidents only happened to others. It could never happen to me. I am lucky that I lived to find out that it could.

If only Uganda had passed a law making it mandatory for everybody to wear helmets while riding two-wheelers. Now,we must make sure that the Delhi government does not make the same error,and demand that Delhi too enforce such a law. Helmets were originally mandatory for all in Delhi. Apparently,some Sikh groups raised an objection that Sikh women should not be forced to wear helmets; since it is impossible to differentiate between Sikh and non-Sikh women,the Delhi government has exempted women from wearing helmets. The result is that a majority of women in the city do not wear helmets when riding two-wheelers.

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Imagine my reaction when I see women on two-wheelers with their heads exposed. I want to roll down my window and say,“You could be in an accident,and yes,it could actually happen to you.” I want to open my car door and try to get out,only to have them see that I can’t,not without help. Seeing my limited mobility ought to convince them to wear a helmet.

You would think that given that my accident happened in 2010,I would be completely recovered by now. I wish that were true. My bodily injuries have indeed healed,but the part of my brain that was injured will remain so. The boda driver suffered only bodily injuries that naturally healed; he was saved from a head injury because of his helmet. I had a brain injury because I chose to look pretty that day. I have learnt my lesson. I had a year of looking very pretty indeed with my head completely shaved for head surgery. I do not enjoy telling this tale. I am doing so because I believe I experienced this horror for a reason: to save others’ lives.

My choice of not wearing a helmet didn’t only affect me; it affected all my loved ones. My parents’ lives have completely changed,because now they can rarely go out together. They make sure one of them is always home to look after me. Yet,they do it without complaint. My 22-year-old brother has chosen to work from home so as to stay close to the family and lend a helping hand. He’s supposed to be the younger sibling and I am supposed to take care of him,not the other way round!

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Before the accident,I used to ask my friends “what if” questions. It’s ironic that I asked my boyfriend,“What if I got into an accident and for the operation the doctors shaved my head. Would you still be with me?” I am lucky that I lived to find out he wasn’t fibbing when he said,“Yeah,of course.”

I do not take these decisions lightly. Most people don’t have loved ones who are willing or able to sacrifice so much,not to mention the ability to pay for quality healthcare. I wish that I could turn back time and go back and wear a helmet. My life would have been much better,as well as the lives of those near and dear to me. Even if the person you are with is a responsible driver,wear a helmet for precaution,as others on the road might not be as responsible. Count yourself lucky that you have an able body and start protecting your head while you still have the chance. That’s an order from someone who made the mistake and is now paying a heavy price.

The writer,a graduate of Wellesley College,US,volunteered for BRAC International in Uganda

First published on: 22-06-2012 at 03:25 IST
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