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In my recent visit to Rajasthan, I came across this commemorative altar on the National Highway 8. The altar depicts two men astride a motorbike. Before it is placed a clay lamp with a green chili to ward off evil spirits. The men, said the villagers, had died in a road accident two years ago.

In many parts of North India one can come across “chattris” or commemorative altars to the departed. These are usually erected by the families in the memory of their ancestors and are often located on the field or land owned by the family. Standing sentinels, guardian spirits. In some regions, such as Shekhawati, they can also be found painted on the walls of the houses.

There is so much that connects us to these men. Indian statistics show that currently 270 people die everyday on Indian roads. Much of it is caused by faulty traffic plan and fast modes of transport. Most National Highways cut through towns and villages without requisite by-pass or provision for slow moving traffic and pedestrians. And most lack first aid facilities for traffic victims.

The traditionally dressed men on the motorbike – an Enfield or Bullet – died one such death. The family of the deceased has placed the altar on the road. Like a milestone. Marking, it seemed to me, the pain of loss.

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