Thursday, March 06, 2008

G Is For Grand Trunk Road

Finding Maturity On A Freezing Indian Highway

Indian highway photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


I was just twenty years old when a close friend and I faced an evening of adventure and danger. We were on the Grand Trunk Road in India, on an interstate highway holiday with family and friends, when a hidden rock on a culvert sheared off the fuel cock on the car I was driving.

The entire convoy of cars made a diversion to find a motor mechanic who was equal to the task. It was a routine repair, so we persuaded the adults to go on ahead and we would catch up an hour or so later. The mechanic removed the damaged fuel tank and drained it. Then things started to go horribly wrong ....

Patrick and I, intrigued, stood by the mechanic’s teenage assistant as he prepared to repair the fuel tank. He sat on his haunches, the tank in front of him. We stood five or six feet away, to his right. He lit his oxy-acetylene torch, adjusted the blue-orange flame and leaned towards the tank.

The explosion was louder than anything we had ever heard before.

Of course, the petrol vapour trapped in the metal tank after it had been drained had ignited immediately. It was like a bomb going off.

Patrick and I were knocked off our feet and the teenage mechanic had been thrown several feet away by the blast.

I truly cannot remember what happened to the oxy-acetylene torch, but I suspect it must have been dropped to the ground. Luckily it did not injure anyone or set fire to anything.

Everything seemed to move in slow motion.

People came running from everywhere in that wonderful Indian way. In no time at all, it seemed that there were more than a hundred strangers around us, the story of what had just transpired spreading among them like a bizarre game of Chinese whispers.

Satisfied that all three of us were unhurt, I remember looking around to make sure that nothing had been damaged in the blast. It was then that the next shop caught my eye. It was a gas-cylinder distribution centre. On the footpath was one of those wonderful Indian inventions, a cycle connected to a square-framed storage unit on wheels. In the storage unit in front of the handlebars sat was a full load of gas cylinders, awaiting the cyclist who would deliver them one by one, warning pedestrians to move out of his path by – of all things – striking the nearest cylinder repeatedly with a large spanner.

Nudging Patrick, I pointed out how close the explosion had been to setting off a chain reaction with the gas cylinders.

We turned our attention to the petrol tank that had caused the explosion.

It was, alas, unrecognisable. Its metal surface expanding as the exploding fumes blew outward in every direction, it was now shaped like a football.

It was clearly a write-off.

One by one, Patrick and I went through the options. The car was effectively disabled with nothing to store the fuel for the journey we had to make. We had no means of contacting our parents, who were well on their way. And even when they did reach their destination, we didn’t know whether the place had a phone or, if it did, what the number was.

Compounding our problems, we had no money, apart from the ten rupees we had been given to pay the repair bill, based on negotiations between Patrick’s father, Sidney, and the head mechanic, before our parents drove off.

I can still recall the rush of adrenalin that fuelled our decision-making process. Probably for the first time in our teenage lives, we were being forced to make a crucial choice based on our well-being – if not our safety – far from the parental guidance to which we were so accustomed.

So how did we get through tiger country, travelling nearly 150 kilometres (almost 100 miles) in darkness to find our parents that night? You can read the whole adventure at Having A Blast.

51 comments:

John-Michael said...

You Dog, You! Right to the brink ...

You got me! I will, of course, have no option but to read on. Well done, indeed!

(and David, many "Thanks!" for your kindness.)

Daryl E said...

WOW .. I was sure that guy with the torch was a goner .. :-D

Andrea said...

Cute post.

Jules~ said...

oh my word! As you both leaned in..... I thought NO! Don't do that! Ah those young adult experiences that shape us. Now of course I am hooked and curious and will have to read further. Thanks for the story and the smile.

San said...

Wow, David, you left us hanging on the proverbial cliff. Great buildup of suspense.

And the images--they're wonderful. I in particular like the "Bridge Work in Progress." It invites the viewer's personal layers of interpretation.

Lee said...

Drat...I really wanted to finish the story. Wonder if the public library can get a copy of the book.

Great build up, David!

Lee said...

Oops! Forget to add how much I liked the last picture. Reminds me of south Texas back roads with an older world feel.

Nice memory shot!

Charles Gramlich said...

Man, that was close. I'll check out the link a bit later for the whole story.

Hilary said...

Wonderful read. Pages 107 and 108 were missing from the linked article, but I assume that's the part in the blog post?

I enjoyed it very much.. great writing style. I'm looking forward to reading more. :)

Lin said...

Oh, GOOD one, David! You already that know I like a good travel cliff-hanger.

Katney said...

Ah, yes. All those adventures from days gone by. I was going to say that nothing like that ever happened to me, but...well, maybe not QUITE like that!

And before I go look for the rest, I must say that the photo of traffic on an Indian road sure is typical. But where are the bullock cart and the yellow three-wheeled taxi?

Vienna for Beginners said...

*jeez* How could that guy ever work there and not know about the dangers? You had me in full suspense there. As far as you hitching a mule to reach your parents (that's how I bet you got there), I reached my viewing time limit before I could start reading! :-(

Maybe they'll give me another chance tomorrow.

Lee said...

For any who need a work around...I had total lack of failure with David's link. I just couldn't get to the story pages. So I Googled it solo. That works! I read the entire thing with no problem

Great story, David! What an exciting night!

Cheers!

Autumn said...

What a wonderful story David, you had me on pins and needles. You are so lucky no one was injured or killed in the blast.

Seamus said...

That accident would have been so easily prevented by just filling the tank with water first and then welding/brazing the petcock back on the tank. It is VERY fortunate that no one was seriously injured.

lynn said...

I'm hooked. I shall be back to read more...

Suldog said...

Excellent teaser! I'm clicking over right now.

imac said...

I guess I should have known---Being an Author----.

Well done David what a G post that was, sure was a blast from the past.

Maggie May said...

Well that was a cliffhanger. Hope we will find out what happened!
No one ever knows what young lads get up to & that man doing repairs ..... well!

Ida said...

Dramatic story!
Well done! :)

Neva said...

wow.....you do know how to make a sale!!!Unbeleivable...you have had so many unusual experiences...life altering for most of us...and look how great you have grown up!

Pernille's ting og tang said...

Dramatic story and great G:)

'JoAnn's-Digital-Eyes'NL said...

Thanks David, for the great story and I love the photo's , its all very well made by you, I can really imagine*'driving in the truck" (on the trunk road), a great post!

Greetings from JoAnn
Come and visit my blog and look what I posted with ABC's G ?

Helena said...

Good story for "G" day!!!

GoneBackSouth said...

Glad you didn't get blown up or there would be no Author's blog!

DigitalShutterMania said...

David, great and interesting story : )

Dragonstar said...

Oh, David - how unkind! It's 10.30pm here and I'm supposed to be clearing up ready for the night. Now I'll be forced to continue tomorrow - oh, what hardship!
See you in the morning!

Anne-Berit said...

A great story,and I`m glad you live to tell it.Good g-post:o)

Stacey said...

I imagine you'll never forget the sound....and I'm off to read the rest now.

holly said...

holy cow. what is it about men and gas that always gets them into trouble?

and what are you now, 'lost'? i write naughty notes to them about *their* cliffhangers, and now i chastise you. but in a friendly way.

right, now i'm away to read the next bit.

Diana said...

you are so lucky to be alive to tell the story! what an adventure!

CrazyCath said...

That is a great post! I had to read on and glad I did - won't spoil it for others. ;0)
Not only a top photographer, but a great story teller too!
Isn't it frightening what we did as kids? And more frightening when we realise (if we're honest) that our kids would do similar stuff and we'd only get to know if it went wrong...!

Janice Thomson said...

A wonderful story of your youth David. The jerrican idea was brilliant! To think the gas tank was still there in the end.
Engrossing read right to the end.
Thanks for sharing this!

Tammy said...

I am going there next!!!! I can't wait to find out how this ended!!!

Misty Dawn said...

Clever David - Clever - you've got me now... gotta go (I've got something more to read) ;-)

Tammy said...

I can't read the ending!!!! What happened!!!

D... said...

I can tell you love a great cliff hanger. ;)

Misty Dawn said...

I can't read the rest of it :-( I'm going to pout now

Mima said...

You write so well, and I really enjoyed the story, but the link stops after two pages, so very sad not to read the rest!

Mima said...

I would love to read it David, my email address is jemima @ jdixon dot fsworld dot co dot uk. Thank you very much.

Dave Coulter said...

Yikes!

I have heard that one can weld on a fuel tank, so long as the tank is full (no vapors, as you point out).

But,as in so many other situations I'd have to say: "you first!" ;)

p@tr!(k said...

dave, as someone mentioned earlier, truly a blast from the past! you may not remember, i was trying to light a ciggie at the precise moment of the blast, and the thought that went through my head was, hell, i really must quit! also couldn't smoke once we were making our way back to hazaribagh road because i had the second can of petrol between my knees! and ram lakhan slept almost all the way till we needed him, like you described in the rest of the story.
thanks for the memories, brudder! great!

Akelamalu said...

Crikey you had a lucky escape!

San said...

Now I went to the link and read the conclusion.

I'm so glad you lived to tell the story, David. That's the kind of experience that's more fun as it's being told (and read!) rather than lived.

Kimberly said...

What an incredibly intense experience! I really ought to stop complaining about having lead a dull life...

Momma said...

David - you are a master storyteller! And now I shall have even less sleep tonight, going on to read the rest of this story!

Peace - D

Tammy said...

I read Patrick comment. I wonder, did he quit smoking?

p@tr!(k said...

no tammy, i like living on the edge! i'm convinced smoking doesn't kill you... something else does! :)

Indrani Ghose said...

That was close. I couldnot get to the end of the story, it gave me the message "You have reached your viewing limit for this book."

I will try again because i am curious and the other comments are tempting enough.

Amrita said...

I 'd rather not go at all

Indrani Ghose said...

So you reached ultimately.
It is a good real life adventure story.