Four years before Salman Khan mowed down five people sleeping on the footpath and ran away, Charudutt Acharya was 28 years old. At the time a small independent writer, everything was looking up for Acharya. He had just got married, and was looking forward to becoming a father in a few months' time.
"I was happy," he recalled in a moving Facebook post about the incident, a day after Khan was granted bail in the 2002 hit-and-run case. The post has already been shared over 10,000 times on social media.
"I was delirious. I asked him if I would die... He said ‘probably not’."
It was an afternoon in October and Acharya was travelling in an auto, not too far away from American Bakery, where a few years later Nurullah Mahboob Shaikh was to die under Khan's Toyota Land Cruiser. Suddenly, a young woman from Pali Hill, who Acharya said is the daughter of a "film industry bigwig" came speeding down and barged into the auto, causing it to flip completely over.
"My left leg was an unrecognisable mess," said Acharya, adding that the auto-driver, who miraculously escaped unscathed, pulled him out of the vehicle. "The young lady and her friend, who had got out of the car, saw the mess, sat back in the car and took off."
Good Samaritan To The Rescue
Acharya described how, a stranger among the gaggle of passersby assembled at the scene, stopped his car, gently placed him in the backseat, and drove him to a nearby hospital.
"I was delirious. I asked him if I would die," remembered Acharya. "He said ‘probably not’."
The stranger called Acharya's wife, and returned the next day after Acharya had been wheeled back into his hospital room after a "long and tough" operation. On meeting Acharya, he explained that he was an Indian gym instructor whose near-blind, widowed father had come under the wheels of a speeding vehicle a couple of weeks ago, and that he had died because help had come "too late." His son had come back to india to cremate his father, and was on his way back after the 13th day ritual when he saw Acharya lying on the road.
"He said when he saw me on the road, he had to stop for me," said Acharya.
Finding The Hit-And-Run Driver
Meanwhile, the auto driver had been able to note down a portion of the car license plate number, which he gave to the police.
Two and half months later, when police finally tracked down the woman responsible for the accident, she visited Acharya at his house. According to Acharya, she told him that she fled at the time of the accident as she feared the people on the street would "do something nasty to her."
"I asked her why she did not go to the cops and tell them this is what happened. She just said nothing not looking me in the eye (sic)," he said. "I asked her the question again and she just continued to be silent. She gave me a bouquet of flowers, cried a bit and left."
Months passed, and she wasn't convicted, said Acharya, who only got some basic compensation from the car and auto rickshaw insurance companies. "So that was that."
A Painful Recovery
Acharya had three more surgeries over the next few years, and has never walked straight since that fateful day. "I live with this partial permanent disability, making do with a walking stick."
Even though he said the accident cost him professional, financial, emotional and psychological loss, he considered himself "bloody lucky" for having a support system that has helped him in his road to recovery.
Now an established television script writer, Acharya is 44 years old.
Hitting... And Running
"A hit can happen due to various reasons including elevated levels of alcohol in the blood. But a run happens when there are elevated levels of inhumanity and arrogance in the blood," said Acharya. "A run happens when there is confidence in a corrupt system to back you up. A run happens when you know that money and ‘Bhai power’ can ‘settle’ things."
Hitting out at Khan for running away after mowing down five people, Acharya called it "shameless, cowardly." He asked those supporting Khan to imagine buying jelly pastries for their loved ones at American Bakery — and then being knocked down by the actor, who simply drives away.
"Salman Khan ran for 13 years," said Acharya. "He first ran from the accident site and then did all money and power could do to keep himself running."
Understanding The Survivor's Life
While he has no issues with Khan getting bail, Acharya said he felt the need to share with people how a victim's life doesn't change after the court verdict. "I want people to be sensitive to the victim," he told HuffPost India over the phone on Friday, just after Bombay high court suspended Khan's sentence and asked him to furnish Rs 30,000 bond for fresh bail. "How the victim gets help should not be up to the whims and fancy of the rich and famous."
Khan has repeatedly said he was willing to pay damages to the victims who came under his vehicle. One person died, while another person lost his leg due to the accident.
"Salman Khan ran for 13 years... He did all money and power could do to keep himself running."
Describing a hit and run survivor's life after the accident, Acharya said it includes operations, implant failures, infections, and huge monetary loss.
"You wake up in cold sweat often. You cry when your kids want to play football with you. And you keep going to court for hearings where all the time the large hearted human being Khan says he was not at the wheels," he said. "He does not even recognise you. Maybe he even smiles and waves at you thinking you are his fan."
Five years later, the survivor would still sit on the 'handicap' seat of the bus, in hospital waiting rooms, in dance parties, on the beach, said Acharya. "You sit your entire life out," he said. "So go figure."