Jun 9, 2010
“Some men make a womanish complaint that it is a great misfortune to die before our time. I would ask what time? Is it that of Nature? But she, indeed, has lent us life, as we do a sum of money, only no certain day is fixed for (re) payment. What reason then to complain if she demands it at (her) pleasure, since it was on this condition that you received it?” (brackets supplied)
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher, statesman and orator, Italy (BC106-43).
Who is Ashok? He would have been added as one more number to the statistics of death of Indian road accident victims. But, in his case, when Conrad Ashok Kumar Pashan died in a two-wheeler accident at Valencia Circle, Mangalore on June 2, 2010, local citizens gave vent to their rage holding a protest Rasta Roko near Valencia Circle. Ashok was pillion–riding, with his cousin Michael D’Souza riding the vehicle. He was being reached to Bajpe airport to catch a plane to Dubai, to resume his job in Sharjah. According to eye-witnesses, Ashok was thrown off on the road when the bike skidded and the rider lost balance as the tyre swerved on the edge of the incomplete, unmarked and unprotected concrete bed. This happened at 7 AM and though Ashok was rushed to the nearby Fr. Muller Hospital immediately, he breathed his last at 8.30 PM the same day.
On the funeral day, June 3, the angry crowd of protesters stopped the hearse carrying Ashok’s body in a coffin and dipped their head in final homage to yet another victim of road accidents in Mangalore due to the negligence of road building contractors and nil or poor supervision by the babus of Mangalore City Corporation (MCC). It may be noted that by June 5 MCC woke up from its criminal slumber and smoothened and leveled the road surface and tapered off the side aprons – a case of locking the barn door after the horses bolted off.
Why did Ashok go on a two-wheeler to the airport while other air passengers zoom off on high-end cars? This reflects the life-style (or lack of it) of the Pashan family which is now rooted in St. Josephnagar at Jeppu, over a century-old and still the largest housing colony in Mangalore - promoted by 130-year-old Jeppu Workshop. It was suggested that a taxi could be hired. But, Ashok, with only a small hand-carry-bag with three sets of clothes in it, decided that a two-wheeler was good enough. Incidentally, it was his first home visit after he got his job in the Gulf in 2008. On his maiden journey to the airport then also, Michael had reached him on his two-wheeler. This reflects the economic condition of the Pashan family.
Ashok is the elder of the two sons of Pascal Pashan who had come to Mangalore as a young lad from his ancestral homestead at Kokkada in Uppinangady taluk. He worked as a sacristan at Milagres church for eight years and later as a clerk in Cascia Tile Works and AR D’Souza cloth shop on Market Road. Married to Theresa in 1967, the couple had two surviving boys – Ashok, born in 1969, and Santosh Stephen, born in 1971. Pascal died in 1979, leaving the responsibility of bringing up the two sons to their 39 years old widowed mother who is now frail and exhausted with several years of chronic, debilitating illness and frequent hospitalization.
It is in this setting that Ashok had to struggle through high school earning his SSLC and later do certificate courses from St. Joseph’s Industrial Asylum (Jeppu Workshop) training school in carpentry and interior decoration. Among his notable works is a specially carved chair (with a co-worker) to enthrone Pope John Paul II on his historic visit to Bajpe, in 1986, where he delivered a sort of sermon on the mount to the multitude assembled on the vast plateau. The neatness of his work is also seen in the wall-to-wall show-case he had made for the “Middle Room” in his small, cozy home. He has also hand-carved, without usual electrical tools, the main door of the house, with his artistic prowess reflected in the door panel with a ship motif in relief. Ashok took orders for furniture, show cases and interior decoration and executed them at sites.
Meanwhile, his younger brother, Santosh, completed his PUC and starting as a canteen worker and ended up owning the small canteen close to Don Bosco Hall on Balmatta Road. While the younger brother married at the age of 35 years, Ashok, now 42, put off the topic of matrimony, with the burden of supporting his closely-knit joint family upper-most on his mind.
Enter Michael, Theresa’s brother’s son, who gave Ashok his last ride. Now 41 years, he has been member of this close-knit family from the age of six. He has a shop in Kulsheker selling stationary, providing travel services and securing PAN cards. He was still shell-shocked and in a daze when I visited the bereaved family on June 5. The visit brought back to me the lines of Henry Wardsworth Longfellow, US poet and scholar (1807-1882):
At first laying down, as a fact fundamental,
That nothing with God can be accidental.
The bereaving household seems to have absorbed this philosophy. It was a picture of serenity, resignation and dignified mourning. There was no breast-beating and blame game. But, that is no reason to absolve callous road contractor mafia and MCC babus of their criminal acts of omission and commission leading to death traps. Ashok got 5 minutes of media exposure. But, others have been killed and gone silently without trace beyond the bereaved families. Ashok need not have died. But, having died, his death should bestir the concerned to act and save others from potential death traps. If this is done, Ashok would not have died in vain. This is a wake-up call to the slumbering babus of MCC and their colluding contractors. One can only conclude with John Milton, English poet (1606-1674) in Paradise Lost:
Awake, arise or be for ever fallen!
John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is editor of his website www.welcometoreason.com (Interactive Cerebral Challenger)
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