Monday, August 11, 2008

SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION

It seemed like a case of spontaneous combustion, which I guess it was, after a manner of speaking. (Does it matter that it was a car, and not person that combusted? Although I think seeing a person combust would be super cool on some freaky level.)
One minute, four off-duty copy editors (and some non-journo friends) are ending the day with chai, cigarettes and conversation. The next minute, there’s a car on fire in the middle of the road.
Our first instinct (and this may explain why some people see journalists as shallow or apathetic), is to call a photographer…
“Think we should call one of them?” (Note that there’s no need to spell things out)
“Na… it’s just an empty car. Not newsworthy enough.”
“Maybe we should, anyway… It may explode… missing that would be bad…
(Internal debate for about a minute.)
“We should at least try calling. Maybe we could carry a 100-word copy in the city section.”
“Hmm…”
One of us (OOU) goes off to wake a rather grumpy photographer, who probably turned over and went right back to sleep after hanging up on us. (Can’t blame him, it was past 1 am, and we already had a copy of the next day’s paper, fresh off the presses. It would be stale news by the time we filed the copy, forget seeing it in print!)
“U think someone’s called the fire dept?”
“Probably”
“What if no one did? Think we should?”
“Na… the cops are here. They must have”
“I’m calling anyway”
“Whatever”
By this time, the cops had materialised, I thought for a minute, out of thin air. But they were probably lounging around one of the other tea-stalls that dot the area (I mean, who cares about security? The blasts happened like 15 days ago… and only killed 45-50 people... hardly newsworthy, rt?) About 9-10 of them try forming a human chain, to keep the traffic off the burning stretch.
OOU: Hello. Fire?
Fire Dept (FD): haa.. bolo..
OOU: gadi me aag lagi hai.. (there’s a car on fire)
FD: yours?
OOU: No
FD: ok… what car is it?
OOU: Honda City (How does it matter?)
FD: ok then, we’ll send someone
OOU: Ok (wonder if they’d have come if had been a Maruti 800 or something…)
While OOU was on the phone with the FD, the dormant reporter in the rest of us (ROU) woke up. (We all have a sleeping reporter… It’s that part of you that needs to have all the news, immediately, and first hand.)
The big question was do we approach the car? As strong as our journalistic senses were, it turned out that our collective instinct for self preservation was just as strong.
After a long drawn battle (which lasted about 4-5 minutes in real time), we gathered together and drew courage from that little piece of plastic called the press card. (People often think of reporters as super-brave, foolhardy, or just plain gluttons for punishment, but they’re just people with press cards… Mark my words: it’s all in the cards…)
While our battle raged on, some brave, if silly, souls managed to douse the fire with the help of a few well-aimed buckets of water. Except that it was an oil fire, and from where we were standing, we were watching the oil drip onto the road, bringing the flames with it. (Watching flames drip is rather trippy, btw.)
Suddenly, someone tells us that the two 20-something-women across the road are the owners of the car. So, inspired by the magic cards, OOU troops across to talk to said girls, and gets a car door slammed in her face for the effort.
At this point, we were speaking with the cops. They’d earlier told us they hadn’t been able to get through to the fire dept…(“Number nahi laga”…They’d tried once… What kind of morons stand watch near a burning car without making sure there’s a fire truck on its way?), and were now trying, rather stupidly, to hold off traffic with their bare hands.
When OOU suggested that they set up barricades (which were 10 mts away to begin with,) they hemmed and hawed till AOU (all of us) went over and dragged them into place ourselves.
Eventually, (about 20 minutes later) the fire truck showed up, (The fire station is about 2km away), and the cops took it easy(er). OOU decides the barricades can’t be seen from a distance, and so heads off to direct traffic, followed by another OOU. Soon, TOU (two of us) are signalling traffic and yelling at bus drivers, whose inner reporters were causing traffic to queue up.
When the fire truck drove off, we realised all that excitement had nothing to back it.. total downer. The owner of the car was being driven back home after watching a particularly pathetic Hindi movie, by himself (or so he claimed, thereby creating the mystery of the unidentified 20-somethings). The Honda City was taking a U-turn, around a circle at a popular intersection (It has to be popular if u have traffic jams at 1am), when the engine suddenly collapses. The driver tries to fire the ignition, and smoke starts spewing out of the engine, which then quickly catches fire.
Turns out, the car was CNG-powered, and a leak had caused a break in supply to the engine. When the driver turned the key again, spark met gas, and boom!
Ok, so I’m exaggerating. Sue me!
Truth is, the car was scorched and the road bore a few signs of the night’s excitement… But that was it… just an accident, as the cops and fire guys said. Not even an explosion. (The CNG cylinder was too far away from the engine, for any 'newsworthy' excitement.) The crowds went home, the fire guys back to the station, and the cops back to whatever it was they’d been doing to begin with. And AOU had one last cigarette for the night, put away our magic cards, and headed off, each to wherever s/he was headed.


[Incidentally, this story is based on actual events that took place between 1 and 2 am on August 11, 2008, and is being carried as a 70-word copy in the August 12 edition of a local newspaper. I was trying to prove a coupla points:
1.You CAN pad a 70-word copy to make a 1000-word copy.
2.This was a 70-word story because no one died or was injured.
3.This is my blog and I can say what the hell I want. (Unlike in a newspaper, where this would be called ‘editorialising’)
4.I wanted to.
5. HAH!
]

4 comments:

arvindiyer said...

Similar story happened when I Was doing some work in Madras a few years back. Why does all this happen when we have chai in the middle of the night? An ambulance with the siren on was racing on the road and when it was to take a sharp turn, the wheels lifted and the ambulance turned turtle. And all I could think of was, if this was the case of an ambulance would they send ANOTHER one.. and where the hell is my camera:( But I did try and help the ppl in the ambulance. No casualities. So the police gave the ppl chai and waited till another ambulance came and took them away.

Human life has no meaning in this world.

Zeph Keyes said...

Especially if u'r in the media... where we only concerned with eyeballs.. doesnt that sound wrong on sooo many levels? lol

OsKar Bebblebox said...

what were u doing out so late anyways? acche sanskaar ki ladkiyaan ye sab nahi karti... kuch ho jata to?

Zeph Keyes said...

DOODLEBONG: u know i have the power to have Uli try to drown you in bluberry jam! so stop acting funny :P