Kuldip, a driver on contract who earned a piddling Rs 1.30 for every kilometre he drove on the 128-km-long Outer Ring Road, spotted the bomb in just the nick of time and, banking on instincts drilled into him by a thousand Bollywood movies, picked it up and threw it away. Just like that.
It’s easy to debate and dispute the figure in hindsight, but Kuldip may have saved a 1,000 lives. "When I opened the bag, I saw three wires, just as they show in the films," says Kuldip, now fighting to regain at least partial sight at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. "Just like in the films, I first thought about pulling out the red wire to defuse the bomb. Then I thought it might be the green one."
Confused, Kuldip did neither. He picked up the bag and ran out of the bus as fast as he could, as far as he could. He placed it near a tree and in the split second that he turned away to run back, the bomb blew up. Kuldip also lost the better part of his right hand and will probably have to strain to hear his recently born son’s cries.
Kuldip was just a couple of months away from fatherhood that November day and settling into his job. (His wife, Nigam, has since given birth to a boy, Deepak.) But he let neither bother him when it mattered most. The bomb, as investigators discovered, had been kept near the vehicle’s CNG tanks. An explosion would have set the other tanks off in the middle of a busy road when hundreds of motorists were homeward bound.
It was two years ago that Kuldip made two significant changes to his life. When he landed a job as a bus driver, he sold off his truck. And, upon marriage, he moved to Delhi aiming for a permanent job with the DTC. "I left the truck driver’s job because the Bihar-Bengal route was getting too dangerous for me," says Kuldip. Crime was spiralling and trucks ferrying goods were easy targets. He first began driving a private bus and then when the DTC offer came along, he switched to the government-owned corporation.
An all-round cricketer who represented his village Teda in Baghpat district, UP, as well his junior college, the Arya Vidyalay Intermediate college, Meerut, Kuldip is now a certified hero. The DTC has provided him an apartment for as long as he is in service. And it has promoted him to the post of vehicle inspector. "I think it will be easier than driving but I will have to get some training," he says matter-of-factly. But then, no training could have prepared him for the instinctive courage and selflessness that helped save the lives of hundreds of people that Saturday evening.