Sunday, December 29, 2013

Shama Travels Volvo B9R Accident , Bangalore to Pattanamthitta, Dec 26, 2013

 

On December 26, 2013, a Volvo B9R bus crashed head long into a goods truck at Pachampalayam, about 120 kms before Erode, at about 1 am early morning. There were no severe injuries or deaths, the cleaner suffered injuries and some passengers had minor bruises. The bus was registered KA 01 AA 17 to Shama Travels, and was travelling from Bangalore in Karnataka to Pattanamthitta in Kerala, via Kottayam. It has started from Bangalore at 8:30 pm on Dec 25th. The driver of the crashed Volvo arranged for alternate bus for the passengers to travel from the place the accident occurred to final destination, the replacement bus departed at 3 AM in the morning from Pachampalayam.

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Now how do I know about this ? This news was never reported by any media, not even the papers covered it.

Simple.  I was on the bus. On the night of Christmas, 2013, I booked a bus to travel home to my hometown of Thrissur from Bangalore to spend a well earned vacation.I was one of the 45 passengers in the bus who had to endure the accident and the delay. It was my first road accident, I have been driving bikes and cars for the last 10 years and never had an accident.  This first experience was on a comfortable Air Conditioned bus , driven by an experienced driver on a regular route, and there was close to NO traffic in the area when it occurred, because it took place on a highway at 1 am in the morning.

Now here it the bummer: this was not they bus I was booked for. My bus was to start from Bangalore at 9:30 PM on the same night. I simply turned up 1 hour early at the departure station. The staff member there told me the 8:30 pm bus is just about to start, and that there were two seats empty. I could travel on it if I wanted. The thought of reaching home one hour earlier made me take up the offer without hesitation.

The bus was full of families, the travellers, like me, obviously could not reach home just in time for Christmas , because of ticket shortage and over priced tickets. So they had decided to make the smart move of travelling one day later. There were Moms and Dads and kids and grandparents. There were students travelling home. There were even some ayyappa devotees travelling solo to Sabarimala. The bus was missing it’s usual sprinkling of tourists, which is an otherwise a common sight on such routes. The bus made a dinner stop in Tamil Nadu itself at 11 pm.

At about 1 am in the morning, I was thrown from my seat , and there was a loud sound of the bus hitting an immovable object. I hurt my leg on the seat in front of me. One by one, the passengers started crying, and yelling the driver to “Stop !!”. It had turned pitch black, but we could see the front of the bus covered in yellow glow. The bus had actually hit the goods truck in its front, and was still kind of connected to it, travelling the same way like a connected bogies of a train. But the yellow glow in the front made some of us assume that the front of the bus was on fire. Panic, instant panic followed.

On October 30, 45 passengers were burnt alive as their Bangalore-Hyderabad Volvo bus burst into flames after its fuel tank caught fire on hitting a culvert at Mahbubnagar in Andhra Pradesh.

In another incident on November 14, seven passengers were killed and 40 injured when a Bangalore-Mumbai bus caught fire after hitting a road median at Haveri in Karnataka.

Both these accidents were heavily covered and reported by media, and obviously the incident was fresh in the memories of all the travellers in my bus too. When we saw the yellow glow in the front of our bus, we all assumed we too were destined for the same fate. People immediately started making for the emergency exit, but we found the hammers usually attached to the windows to break open the glass was missing. I tried to find any smell from burning wood or rubber, or even of leaked fuel, but could not find any. That was a slight relief, but we were still in danger. Even after repeated cries to the driver to stop the bus, he did continued to move the vehicle , still connected to the truck in front. After about 1 minute of driving, he bought the bus to full stop on the left side of the road.

Now that the bus had stopped, people were trying to get out. The to front left side of the bus, right next to the driver’s seat, had hit the truck in the front. That’s where the door is. The only proper door on the bus was crashed, and was inoperable. The emergency exits too were useless. It was pitch dark still, and the road too was dark. The only way to get out was through the front, the window was shattered, and had come apart, there was space big enough for people to jump through.

Surprisingly, and thankfully, we got local help. There were still people from other trucks which had stopped for the night, and they rushed to our help. A group of them got another truck to face ours and turned on its headlights. We now had sufficient light to make our way out. They then brought down the complete front end of the bus and moved the truck away. Then they climbed in and began helping the passengers to get out. All the while, they were enquiring if there was anyone hurt or needed special help in getting out. For the first time after the accident, I felt a little calm, knowing that help was close at hand. The bus was obviously not on fire, and someone had called the police and ambulances were on their way.

Once I got out, I limped to the side and sat down getting my thoughts together .I couldn’t believe my luck, I had hurt my knee, but it was a small price paid in place of my life. I thought of calling home, but knew this would worry them as well. It was still only 1:30 AM in the morning. Passengers know began wondering how to get home now. I pulled out my boarding pass, and began dialing the Shama Travels helpline numbers provided on them one by one. The first two were numbers no longer in use. But the third one rang, there was a delay, but finally the other side picked up. A certain Mr Shankar answered the call on 9995891464. He spoke malayalam, and I calmly told him that their bus had an accident. He enquired first of the passengers, asking if anyone was hurt. Then he asked if the location of the accident, and of the driver, so that he could get more information. By this time, an ambulance had come and had taken the cleaner away. He assured me he would make arrangements to transport all the passengers to their destination.

It was still only past 2 AM. Two more Shama Travels  buses bound to Kerala from Bangalore stopped to assess the damage, and they carried 4 of the passengers in their vacant seats. It would be another 1 hour before three buses bound the opposite way stopped. Three buses travelling from Kerala to Bangalore stopped on the opposite side. Now the drivers of these buses began discussing among themselves and with their superiors in Shama travels. Between the three of them, they had enough vacant seats to accommodate all the stranded passengers. They emptied out one bus, and moved the travellers to the other two buses. They then turned the vacant bus around to point to Pattanamthitta, back to kerala. In about 15 minutes, we were all aboard the new bus, everyone seated on their previously allocated seat numbers. At about 3 AM, the bus departed to Kerala from Pachampalayam.

I must mention here that the help and support we received from the drivers of all the buses, from Mr Shankar, together with the local support was phenomenal. I had heard stories of people being stranded by the travel officials, and passengers having to arrange for their remaining travel themselves. Thankfully, this was not such a day.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Carol Is A Defense Of Charity - And Capitalism

 

Marley was dead: to begin with.

That's one of the most famous opening lines of any work of English literature. It is, of course, the beginning of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, his 19th-century tale about the miserly Scrooge, who, after a visit from three holiday sprites, discovers the joy of the holidays.

Dickens published the novella in December 1843, and it was an instant hit, first in his home country and then across the pond in America. In fact, since it was published some 170 years ago, it hasn't ever been out of print. But in spite of the popularity of the work, Dickens was disappointed by his earnings from the book.

As Jon Michael Varese notes in the Guardian, the book sold its first printing of 6,000 copies by Christmas Eve 1843. By the close of the following year, the book had sold more than 15,000 copies. Dickens made £726, a sum of money that he found disappointing.

In a letter to John Forster, his literary advisor, Dickens wrote that he'd hoped to bring in at least £1,000. "What a wonderful thing it is," he wrote, "that such a great success should occasion me such intolerable anxiety and disappointment!" Varese, too, thinks the publication wasn't a financial success.

Still, it's worth noting that £726 was a lot of money in 1843. Correcting for inflation over 170 years isn't an exact science, but the Bank of England says £726 in 1843 is around £80,000 ($125,000) in today's money. For comparison, the protagonist of A Christmas Carol, Bob Cratchit, made 15 shillings, or £0.75, per week. So Dickens made almost as much from two years of Christmas Carol sales as Cratchit would have made in 20 years of working for Mr. Scrooge.

Forster believed they could have made even more from the book if they'd charged more for it. The book sold for 5 shillings (£0.25), which was, in fact, high for that time period. But considering Dickens's lavish requirements for his publisher — gold lettering on the front and back, four full-page color etchings, gilded page edges, a bright red and green title page — 5 shillings was less than it could have sold for.

As Varese notes, Dickens set the price at an affordable rate so that it could be easily accessible to most people. And not just because he wanted to provide all of London with Christmas cheer, but because he wanted to give them a lesson in economics.

Why Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol

In the fall of 1843, Dickens visited Samuel Starey's Field Lane Ragged School, a school that "educated slum children," according to the New York Times. Dickens easily empathized with such children living in poverty, coming, as he did, from a poor childhood himself — a fact that set him apart from many other English authors, like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, who enjoyed the social and class privilege of their births. To this day, Dickens is remembered for his empathy with those living in poverty. As his tombstone reads, "He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed..."

When his father was sent to debtors' prison, 12-year-old Dickens had to take a job at a blacking factory, where for up to 12 hours a day he pasted labels onto pots of boot polish. He was paid 5 or 6 shillings (£0.25 to £0.3) a week for his labor, and that price went directly to help his family make ends meet.

On October 5, Dickens was asked to deliver a lecture at the first annual meeting of the Manchester Athenaeum, an institution that provided education and recreation to the laboring classes. Dickens used the opportunity to speak against systemic poverty and injustice: "Thousands of immortal creatures are condemned ... to tread, not what our great poet [Shakespeare] calls the 'primrose path to the everlasting bonfire,' but over jagged flints and stones laid down by brutal ignorance."

After delivering the address, Dickens planned to write a pamphlet titled, "An Appeal to the People of England on Behalf of the Poor Man's Child," treating many of the themes he'd spoken about in Manchester. However, the pamphlet was never written, as the author chose instead to give his economic ideas flesh and blood — and, importantly, a wobbly leg — in the form of a story.

Scrooge, everyman

The word "Scrooge" has become synonymous with greed, the word we use for someone miserly, penny-pinching, and merciless. As Dickens writes of his main character, Scrooge was "a tight-fisted hand ... a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner."

But though he doesn't give away any of his money, and though he feels no sympathy for those less fortunate than he, Scrooge, as Dickens makes clear, is no criminal. He works hard for his money, day in and day out. And though he seems heartless, he's clearly not villainous, like Dickens's Sikes, the dog-beating criminal from Oliver Twist who ends up murdering his girlfriend.

He's also, as English professor Lee Erickson writes, quite similar to others of his day, who "feared not just the Sprit of Christmas Yet to Come but the financial future, which seemed likely in the deflationary moment of December 1843 to be very bleak." That is, Scrooge, like many other mid-19th-century businessmen, was concerned about the future of the economy, and was therefore "tight-fisted," in case things took a turn for the worse.

As Erickson notes, by the time Dickens published A Christmas Carol:

the prices of goods in England had been falling for the past four years and had fallen during that time a total of 22.72 percent. During this period, the rate of deflation had thus been 5.68 percent a year; and, in particular, retrospective price indexes show that prices had fallen and the purchasing power of a pound had risen by five-and-a-half percent from the end of 1842 to the end of 1843. As a consequence, those with income in excess of their needs were spending no more at present than they had to spend …

In the opening scene when we meet Scrooge, two men show up to his office to ask for charity. Scrooge, of course, offers no money, since, he argues, there are prisons and union workhouses, not to mention poverty laws, to provide for the lower classes. Scrooge didn't protest these government programs — he just thought they were sufficient for those in need.

But as Dickens powerfully argues, those programs are not sufficient. Charity is still necessary.

The economics of A Christmas Carol

Some have read A Christmas Carol as espousing socialism, but the book doesn't decry capitalism. To be sure, Dickens condemns greed, but that is just one negative effect of a free market, not its defining feature.

In Dickens, the remedy to greed is not socialism — it's charity.

After being convinced by three spirits to mend his ways, Scrooge does in fact improve himself, and becomes something of a philanthropist. He provides dinner for the Cratchits and medical care for Tiny Tim, none of which would have been possible for Scrooge if he hadn't been a successful, shrewd businessman. In other words, capitalism was the very condition that made Scrooge's philanthropy possible. Scrooge's wealth, Dickens argues, is actually a very good thing, when generously distributed.

And Dickens practiced what he preached. He earned a comfortable living as a writer, and he used his wealth and influence to help those less fortunate. One of Dickens's main projects was helping to establish Urania Cottage, a 19th-century safe house where women who led lives of crime and prostitution were given shelter, an education, and a chance to start over.

Though Dickens's classic story is set at Christmastime, the principles at its heart are meant to be read — and practiced! — year round. This is all the more apparent once you understand the author's noble reasons for publishing the work. It was Dickens's hope that all of his readers would come to the same conclusion as his repentant Scrooge:

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!"

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Michael Crichton Christmas

 

On the first day of Christmas Michael Crichton gave to me
A T-Rex who tried to eat me
On the second day of Christmas Michael Crichton gave to me
Two Lost Worlds
And a T-Rex who tried to eat me
On the third day of Christmas Michael Crichton gave to me
Three Rising Suns
Two Lost Worlds
And a T-Rex who tried to eat me
On the fourth day of Christmas Michael Crichton gave to me
Four Timelines
Three Rising Suns
Two Lost Worlds
And a T-Rex who tried to eat me
On the fifth day of Christmas Michael Crichton gave to me
Five Pirate Latitudes
Four Timelines
Three Rising Suns
Two Lost Worlds
And a T-Rex who tried to eat me
On the sixth day of Christmas Michael Crichton gave to me
Six Prey a-fleeing
Five Pirate Latitudes
Four Timelines
Three Rising Suns
Two Lost Worlds
And a T-Rex who tried to eat me
On the seventh day of Christmas Michael Crichton gave to me
Seven States a-Fearing
Six Prey a-fleeing
Five Pirate Latitudes
Four Timelines
Three Rising Suns
Two Lost Worlds
And a T-Rex who tried to eat me
On the eighth day of Christmas Michael Crichton gave to me
Eight Airframes crashing
Seven States a-Fearing
Six Prey a-fleeing
Five Pirate Latitudes
Four Timelines
Three Rising Suns
Two Lost Worlds
And a T-Rex who tried to eat me
On the ninth day of Christmas Michael Crichton gave to me
Nine E.R.s in peril
Eight Airframes crashing
Seven States a-Fearing
Six Prey a-fleeing
Five Pirate Latitudes
Four Timelines
Three Rising Suns
Two Lost Worlds
And a T-Rex who tried to eat me
On the tenth day of Christmas Michael Crichton gave to me
Ten Congos drumming
Nine E.R.s in peril
Eight Airframes crashing
Seven States a-Fearing
Six Prey a-fleeing
Five Pirate Latitudes
Four Timelines
Three Rising Suns
Two Lost Worlds
And a T-Rex who tried to eat me
On the eleventh day of Christmas Michael Crichton gave to me
Eleven Spheres a-humming
Ten Congos drumming
Nine E.R.s in peril
Eight Airframes crashing
Seven States a-Fearing
Six Prey a-fleeing
Five Pirate Latitudes
Four Timelines
Three Rising Suns
Two Lost Worlds
And a T-Rex who tried to eat me
On the Next day of Christmas Michael Crichton gave to me
Twelve Micros munching
Eleven Spheres a-humming
Ten Congos drumming
Nine E.R.s in peril
Eight Airframes crashing
Seven States a-Fearing
Six Prey a-fleeing
Five Pirate Latitudes
Four Timelines
Three Rising Suns
Two Lost Worlds
And a T-Rex who tried to eat me

Saturday, December 21, 2013

I hate cell phones

 

This is exactly what I feel about cellphones.

 

And Twitter too..