Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I felt like a coward today. Like a loser. I felt ashamed of myself. And I cried.

I feel ashamed even writing this post. Don't know what's keeping my fingers moving.

"Death stands mute at the doors of the `maut ka kuan' where Dil Fariyad, Afzal Khan and Goutham perform the speed feat on three vehicles. The intuitively perfect calculation of time and speed by these daredevils from Ajmer in Rajasthan will sure keep time waiting for an eternity... To the question of fear of death, Jagdish Raj Sharma, owner of the visiting exhibition said rather philosophically, "Iska naam hi maut ka kuan hai. Maut hamesh hamare saath rahti hai. Vo to ooparvale ki marzi hai ki ham aj bhi zinda hai (The performance is called well of death. Death is alway beside us. However, it is the grace of God that we are still alive)."" - Defying death in `maut ka kuan', The Hindu, Dec'05

An hour back, me and my papa went to the Daresi Ground (Ludhiana) to watch the Dussehra Mela. As we were roaming, we were chatting about the danger and the possibility of a terrorist attack at Daresi Ground. We did a bit of shooting and then we moved on. A little later, we noticed a huge cylindrical chamber, the familiar maut ka kuan. Papa asked me if I wanted to see it. I wasn't that interested, but I said yes.

We both climbed the stairs and reached at that level of the frame where the wooden walls end. Papa and me both noticed that the walls are nearly vertical, and although we've both seen this particular performance at least once previously, we were both a bit surprised at the steepness of the walls.

There were two bikes and four Maruti 800 cars parked at the base, and we started waiting for the show to start. A few minutes later, a young man wearing a reddish shirt - he was probably not over 25 - entered the chamber through a door at the base of the cylinder and revved his bike a few times. The public's eyes got affixed on him. The excitement was increasing. Everyone was waiting for him the climb the walls of this death pit.

And he did. Within seconds he climbed the walls and started circling the near-vertical cylindrical chamber. The breadth and depth of the situation cannot be described in words. No photo, no video, no words have the power to describe the magnitude of risk that the young man took as he circled the circular wall. He continued to circle, even changing his configuration inflight. He rapidly pulled notes from onlookers who offered him bits of money, he freed both of his hands from the bike's steering, he even jiggled the bike - all while performing the already-incredible activity!

My legs started to shake. My eyes became wet. I didn't feel any thrill. No fun. Only sadness for these brave boys who carry their lives on their hands every second while they're performing. I say again, it's their insult to try to describe their magic in words. It can be felt only on watching a show in reality.

The young man finished his performance and climbed down the wall. My heart, which was beating rapidly for the last few minutes, started to come back to normal. Just then, I saw four more men enter the chamber on their bikes, and this group of five men started revving their bikes. I knew that this time they're gonna push even further. The men quickly started circling the chamber. They jiggled, made formations, performed, saluted, took notes, and did everything that they should not have been doing. I tried to hide and stop my tears. I felt helpless. Ashamed. Ashamed that I sometimes find it difficult to get out of a cozy, warm quilt. Well-fed, two phones, three computers, bank accounts, bank balance, credit and debit cards, my own car, I felt very ashamed of myself. As those young men circled the death pit, with their life hung by a fragile thread, I though about myself and felt ashamed.

When the boys finished the performance, I told papa that I'm not feeling good. That I can't, and don't want to see more of it. All these minutes, my papa had been feeling exactly as I had been feeling, and he agreed that we should leave. That the huge amount of concern that spontaneously develops for these men is more than what can be born. See, we can't even bear the concern. And they're doing it.

We climbed down the stairs as the bikes and cars started the composite performance. For the next many minutes, me and papa kept talking of these poor boys who are totally unaware of the magnitude of risk they're taking. Multiple times each day. Multiple days each week. Multiple weeks each year. Multiple places in India and elsewhere. I felt like I'm a loser. What have I done by walking away? I've only proved to myself that I don't even have the courage to watch these men put their lives at stake. What to talk of putting my life at stake? As I was walking away from the cylindrical chamber, I said to myself -"Main to bhagoda ban ke ja raha hu, back into my comfortable world. But that doesn't mean that this show will stop. Even if I won't see it doesn't mean that this cruel show won't continue to happen. The boys don't value their lives. They don't know how to make money, and so they will, again and again, put their young lives at stake. The show must go on.".

I feel so sorry for them. And it can't be described. It can only be felt if you know what can go wrong and what its consequences are gonna be. Those who don't understand engineering and physics have no fucking idea that these boys are putting life, LIFE at stake. And that there are SO MANY things that can go wrong.

One breakdown, or one mistake, and life shall painfully leave the shattered bodies. And how much do they get? A few hundred rupees? Just that? Yeah, that's what they get for this feat that only they can pull off.

This guy on YouTube probably watched a real performance. His words echo the sentiment that's in my heart at this moment:

"No halmet ho jackets just regular clothes no safety no training no timings just practise. THIS IS REAL STUNT. REAL DARE DEVILS"

Yes. That's what they are. REAL DARE DEVILS. But they're also the unsung heroes of the Third World. They won't get coverage on Discovery Channel. Documentaries won't be made on them. They won't get sponsors or co-sponsors. They don't have companies insuring their life. They don't have branded teams getting media coverage. Their families are as poor as they are. They don't have a medical team ready with first aid. They don't have money to pay for medication. Nobody's gonna pay for their treatment. They don't have those assurances that allow the rich to take more risk. They don't have any safety equipment. They have nearly zero money in their pockets but infinite courage and infinite energy. And a desire to earn a buck or two. They sport real smiles as they fearlessly circle the death pit. Smiles that feel like swords piercing through my heart. Smiles that make me realize that there's so much wrong in this world. That make me wonder why these boys are unfortunate. I'm unable to look at the smile of the man in the Maruti 800 in the photo above. I can't bear his fearless smile. It feels like a slap. Their families are not aware that each day, their sons, brothers, husbands and lovers beat death in a match against the relentless laws of physics. These men are not aware what friction or gravitation is. Or what force or momentum means. They use their gut, and their gut alone to pull incredible tricks. And amidst all the malls, the cars, the India Shining, the blitz, the development, the GDP growth, the Chandrayaan, and the news stories about the Arrival of India, these fearless, low-paid warriors will continue to beat death and entertain crowds for decades to come.

UPDATE [25-NOV-15]: A video on FB of this.


  1. :( I know.. I remember seeing something like this when I was young(I still am :P), and I decided then and there, I'm not watching this EVER AGAIN.

    But then I realized, not watching this is even worse, cause they're doing this for money, as a livelihood, where will that come from if a few people choose to thunk like me.

    But still.. somehow I just could never muster courage to watch it again.

  2. Ya, it can sometimes get difficult to enjoy something when the sad story behind it can be seen.

    That's why I don't eat non-vegetarian stuff :)

  3. Though I have never watched any such show 'live'...but still I can very well understand the level of risk involved here...These people are truly the unsung heroes...!
    Of course the major culprit is ke liye insaan kya kuch nahi karta...he even puts his life at stake...Though there are many other areas where people put their life at stake for money being one of the major reasons...but thing is that there probably the rewards (money/recognition/insurances as u mentioned) can somehow & to some level justify the reasons for this choice...but here where there are no such incentives...& it's being done & made done just for few's not done! It's really sad!

    Happy Dussehra! :)

  4. True, that's the tragedy. High-risk with high-pay is still understandable, as is low-risk with low-pay, but high-risk with low-pay is hard to digest.

    Happy Dussehra to you too!

  5. Bro, why is there a typical Indian mentality behind this post?
    We enjoy playing the role of audience, and just sleep over it!
    Why doesn't anyone of us take any initiative? We see these guys, sympathize and leave. These guys don't need anyone's sympathies..had that been the case, they would have been begging rather than pulling of this daredevilry.
    So lets either stop sympathizing/ or do something to give them a more worthwhile job.

    Next time rather than running away from them, just go to them with some kind of offer to make their life better! Maybe then, you will stop having that cowardly feeling!

    P.S. Please take this comment in a constructive sense. I am not criticizing you, but my frustration is on our mentality of sympathizing and not doing anything about solving any problem we face. Feedback/comments welcome.

  6. @Prabal

    Apology for noticing this comment so late!

    Sure, I am taking the comment positively. I agree with you that my post sympathizes with the guys and doesn't do anything to help them. I also agree that I and others should (ideally) be doing something to help such daredevils.

    But I have to disagree on one point - I don't want them to be given a more worthwhile job. Do I want them to stop doing this and do something else? Nahi. They're talented and make a living off this talent, just like the scores of daredevils in the West.

    I want them to get not another job but better tools, more attention, more money, more recognition, more safety and more training.

    However, while I want this to happen, you're right, I don't want to (at least now) invest my efforts and time from elsewhere towards these guys. Indian mentality is the correct term for this. I have to agree.