The very first drunk driving incident that registered on my radar has probably gone off yours a long time ago. It involved a young man called Sanjeev Nanda, a BMW and mowing through six people including cops, back in 1999. Once he had killed them, he hurriedly drove his car to a friend’s house and had the bonnet and bumper cleaned of blood. Nanda captured everyone’s imagination —even in that long-ago pre-Twitter age — and most newspapers reported the anger and hatred people had for that Rich Person Entitlement he carried with him, almost waving it before him like a flag. The car was a BMW (strike one), he killed policemen on duty (strike two), he had a friend’s servant wash off the car (strike three), that friend lived in Golf Links, Delhi’s poshest neighbourhood (ding ding ding, you’re out!) If Nanda had turned himself in, if Nanda had maybe gone to the cops and paid them off, if, if, if, who knows, maybe we wouldn’t even have heard that story.
I’ve been thinking of Sanjeev Nanda since the Salman Khan verdict came out. I’ve never understood the blind hero worship of Salman Khan — he’s muscle-y, yes, but he’s not that talented an actor, he’s known (publicly!) to have beaten up his ex-girlfriends, some of them Bollywood’s most loved leading ladies, his reputation as a thug exceeds his reputation for fine cinema, and yet, “the fraternity” as I suppose we must call the opportunistic, much made up stars of Bollywood were behind him to a letter. “One mistake should not define a life,” one of them definitely said. But in this case, one mistake was a big, huge mistake. It’s not “one mistake” when you kill someone, it’s a choice you made to take someone else’s life. And by driving drunk, you’re indicating exactly that: I don’t care very much for my life, and your life is laughable. Plus the better designed the car, the less likely it is that the driver will be injured in all this. No, it’ll be the humans he chooses to mow over like they’re characters in a video game, plowing on till there’s blood everywhere and screams, and yet, the people you work with, the people you work for will still defend you, still call you the greatest human being since Mahatma Gandhi, and am I missing something here?
On the other hand, if Salman Khan’s car had bumped yours, loyal fan, would you still think he was amazing or would you be ready to go, an iron rod in your hand?
It was entirely his fault for driving drunk and people who argue that other people shouldn’t have been sleeping on the footpaths anyway, are barking up an idiotic — not to mention elitist — tree. As someone familiar with Mumbai, you’d know there are people everywhere. If not asleep, what if it was someone taking their dog for a walk? Or someone who couldn’t sleep going for a stroll? It’s not unheard of in Mumbai for people to be out at all hours of the night, and it’s not their job to mind the footpath for any crazy drivers who might decide to run all over it.
If I sound angrier than I normally do, it’s because I am. In two years at college, I lost two people (one a very dear friend) to drunk driving. One was because of one of those above mentioned truck drivers, plowing through city streets and into a car full of people. The other was a passenger in a drunk driving incident. Such a waste and a loss to all of us, and how we mourn them still. All because people like Salman Khan and Sanjeev Nanda think the world is theirs without consequences. Lock them up, put them away. Make it impossible to drive a car when you’re over the limit.
Maybe if you’re one of his supporters, you’ll think a little more about his crime now.
(A version of this came out in mydigitalfc.com)