A one way ticket to hell

He had stopped drinking six years ago. But he continued to pay for it… Listen to the audio story Tappu, narrated by Neelesh Misra. A tale about unending grief and guilt of a person whose life became living hell after he killed a man in a road accident.

The little fellow looked belligerently at me and demanded to know who I was. I had come home early that day and found this five-year-old boy on my doorstep, refusing to let me go in.

Hearing us argue, my wife, Pammi, emerged from inside. She had laddoos in her hands that she filled that little boy's pockets with. He kissed her cheek, threw me a menacing look, and ran off.

"That is Tappu. He and his mother have just moved into the yellow house," she told me with a smile. Then, hesitatingly, she said, "Veerji had called inviting us for dinner, what do I tell them?"

Refuse the invitation. It is going to be just an evening of chasing drinks. I don't want to be there, I told her.

Tappu, written by Deepak Heera Rangnath, tells the story of unending grief and guilt of a person whose life became living hell after he caused an accident while driving drunk, and killed a man.

This audio story is a part of collaboration between Gaon Connection, India's biggest rural media platform, and the World Health Organization South-East Asia (WHO SEARO) for a social campaign against alcohol abuse. The campaign takes the form of a series called Meri Pyaari Zindagi, made up of audio and video stories. The stories are narrated by Neelesh Misra, the founder of Gaon Connection.

The fatal accident

I stopped drinking six years ago. But I still continued to pay for it. The more I tried to forget, the harder it became to lay the ghost of that memory. Of me as I raced down the highway. The music blared and the alcohol lay warm in my stomach and I was light headed. I had done this so many times. Driven all night after an alcoholic binge.

Why should this night be any different. And, just one bottle of alcohol in this big body of mine would hardly have an impact. I held stepped on the accelerator hard. In the distance I could see a motorcycle. I was sure there was enough time and space to overtake the biker. But before I knew it, the mobike was closer than I expected.

I stamped on the brakes, but it was too late. When I got out of the cab, the first thing I noticed was the motorcycle under the wheels of my vehicle. A pair of spectacles lay on the side with its lenses shattered, a button that had been yanked loose, and I could make out the corner of a gift wrapped toy.

That was the last time I drank alcohol. It was the last time I drove my vehicle. And, it was the last time I slept at night. Because in that split second, from a taxi driver, I became a murderer.

It is shocking but all too true that deaths resulting from alcohol consumption are higher than that caused by diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and diabetes. Alcohol kills 260,000 Indians every year either by causing liver cirrhosis, cancer or leading to road accidents, points out a 2018 WHO report.

Tappu

Coming back to five-year-old Tappu, he would wait for me every evening when I got back from work. He once asked me if the taxi parked outside was mine. And, why I did not drive it. I deflected the question telling him I was forbidden to drive it. Wouldn't his father forbid it too?

Tappu looked at me for a bit and said, "I have no father. My mother told me that once my father was going along the highway on his motorcycle and lost his way. He went away very far, right up to the skies. He never came back. But he became a star," Tappu told me and holding my hand, pointed to a shiny star.

I snatched my hand away, entered the house and slammed the door shut. I buried my head in Pammi's lap and sobbed. I did not know if Tappu was the son of the man I had killed with my drunken driving. But I did know that it must have been someone in a haze of drunk driving who had snatched a father from a child. Even if he did time in jail for his crime, the guilt would never come off.

The following day Tappu peeked in just as I was going to eat. I called him in and asked him if he would eat makki ki roti with gud (jaggery). "Will you teach me to drive the taxi," he countered. I gave him a hug and told him to study well and that someday he would own many, many taxis. I am not sure Tappu understood my choked words. But he bent down, kissed me on my cheek and scampered off.

The piece of gud I put into my mouth slowly began to dissolve some of the bitterness within me.

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