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128. A Tragedy

Though mighty crowds, hardly controllable, surged round Gandhiji wherever he travelled, he was spared the sight of any serious accident. Perhaps the only exception was during his tour of Almora District in U.P. in June 1929. This is how he narrated the accident :

"Throughout a life of continuous bustle lived among crowds for nearly thirty years I cannot recall a serious accident though I can many narrow escapes. But in Almora on the day of my entry i.e., 18th instant, and after a crowded meeting, as J was returning to my host's house, a villager named Padamsingh who came rushing, as villagers do, to the car for darshan, met with what proved to be a fatal accident. He could not dodge the car in time, he fell and the car ran over him. He was quickly carried by kind bystanders to the hospital where he received the utmost attention and hope was entertained that he would survive. He was strongly built and brave. He lived for two days, his pulse was good, he was taking nourish­ment. But the heart suddenly stopped on the 20th instant at 3-15. Padamsingh died leaving an orphan boy 12 years old.

"Death or lesser accidents generally do not give me more than a momentary shock, but even at the time of writing this I have not recovered from the shock. I sup­pose it is because I feel guilty of being party to Padamsingh's death. I have found chauffeurs to be almost without exception hot-tempered, easily excitable and impatient, as inflammable as the petrol with which they have to come in daily contact. The chauffeur of my car had more than a fair share of all these shortcomings. For the crowd through which the car was struggling to pass he was driving rashly. I should have either insisted on walking, or the car proceeding only at a walking pace till we had been clear of the crowd. But constant motor ridings have evidently coarsened me, and freedom from serious accidents produces an unconscious- but unforgiv­able indifference to the safety of pedestrians. This sense of the wrong is probably responsible for the shock. It is well with Padamsingh. Pandit Govind Vallabh Pant has assured me that the son will be well looked after. Padam­singh received attention at the hospital which moneyed men might have envied. He was himself resigned and at peace. But his death is a lesson to me as, I hope, it would be to motorists. Although I may be twitted about my in-) consistency, I must repeat my belief that motoring in spite of all its advantages is an unnatural form of locomotion. It therefore behoves those who use it to restrain their drivers and to realize that speed is not the summum bonum of life and may even be no gain in the long run. I have never been clear in my mind that my mad rush through India has been all to the good. Anyway Padamsingh's death has set me thinking furiously.”