Sriram Narayanan on safety

Posted by Sriram Narayanan at 12:00 pm on Saturday April 26, 2014

Considering the way science and medicine have progressed, dyslexia did take its sweet time in being recognised as a serious problem, rather than just a lazy kid’s excuse. And I wonder if there is a proper term for a medical condition I have had for a long time now.

Beyond my parents and their immediate siblings, I have a severe problem understanding how I am related to my relatives. In fact, I have a problem understanding how anybody is related to their relatives. For instance, I still don’t know how Bheeshma is related to the two groups of warring cousins in the Mahabharat. And I know Krishna got involved in the war owing to his kinship with the Pandavas, but I don’t know the root of that kinship yet.

One such of my difficult-to-fathom relatives once made a profound statement when I was a kid. A statement I can never forget. I was about 10. Or 11. And thanks to the absence of satellite TV, my only entertainment was wearing off the VHS tape that had Street Hawk recorded on it.

For those of you too young to know, Street Hawk – aired in India in the mid-1990s – was about a motorcycle that’s an, ahem, all-terrain attack and pursuit vehicle. So the guy riding the bike wore a black racing suit and black helmet. More black than the black Stig. And the bike had stuff like lasers, missiles and the ability to hit 300mph under ‘hyperthrust’. If you don’t know about VHS, and ‘the absence of satellite TV’, I suggest it’s time to remind your mum to change your diapers.

So this relative, who is some sort of an uncle to my mother – I don’t know how – but is about as old as her – I don’t know how – had an Enfield Bullet 350cc. And I was keen on meeting him. Not for the bike, but to borrow his helmet and do Street Hawk-like facial expressions in front of the mirror. Now, this uncle – or granduncle – of mine did not have a helmet. “Helmets are only for people who are likely to fall off their bikes,” he had told me quite proudly. But I rode pillion with him anyway, disappointed about not getting to wear a helmet.

Owing to my problem with understanding family relations, you’d have guessed I am not in touch with any of them these days. So I have no idea what my granduncle felt when he read about Indian-made cars offering no resistance to becoming mangled pieces of metal in a standard Euro-NCAP crash test last month.

Like a lot many more of us, he must have cribbed about India being hopeless when it comes to quality and safety, and gone on to remind whoever was in the kitchen to put just half a spoon of sugar in his tea.

I find it shocking that people are shocked by the results. India is a market that would rather pay for a sunroof, chrome strips and 14-speaker audio system than waste money on airbags, rear disc brakes, ABS or ESP. The cheapest car in the UK as of now is the Dacia/Renault Sandero. It starts from £5,995 for the base version. Which is about Rs 6.2 lakh.

This basic variant comes with four airbags, ABS, emergency brake assist, and traction and stability control as standard. It has no Bluetooth, no power windows, no USB port, no climate control. Would you pay Rs 6.2 lakh for a car that doesn’t even have powered windows, even though you get airbags, traction and stability control? You wouldn’t. None of us would. We are a culture that spends lakhs on a home renovation or a wedding. But neither our homes nor our marriage halls have a basic fire extinguisher.

So stop being shocked. And if you think Indian traffic doesn’t let you hit speeds that require airbags and stability control, there’s a relative of mine I’d like you to meet. The two of you will hit it off real well.

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