The Fool Loses His Tools, and What Happens After

As many of you know, I am back in Bangalore already. And, you know it right, I came back sans my bicycle, sans my mobile, SLR camera, three lenses, GPS receivers, bags, ah well. The list is painful indeed, and includes even KP's trusty pannier bags and my sunglasses. Needless to say, I had no choice but to abort the trip. This list is an effort to recount what happened, and how I reached back Bangalore. It's long, but I'm sure you are all curious to know all the details. And, I owe to you, the reader. So here goes.

I woke up on the morning of October 10th (Saturday). I had had a good sleep after the midnight break. But, where was my bicycle ? It was gone! And where was the friend-for-a-day ? He was gone too. His bedsheet and creaky bike were all that were left. I saw his chappals in a few moments, and I knew what had happened : friend-for-a-day (read more about this chap in the previous post. Sorry for the redirection) had flown off with all that I had. How many hours earlier, I couldn't say.

It took a few moments for the situation to sink in : I had lost even my mobile, and my purse. My trust had been royally betrayed. Trusting fool I had become. And here I was : 20 kms away from Dwaraka, not a penny in my pocket, and not a known contact around me either. No cellphone address book to contact people either. To be honest, I didn't feel bad. I didn't feel the pinch of the loss, and I feel it much now, either (at the time of writing). I'm happy I took the loss well.

And what did I have left actually ? The following

  1. Manohar's sleeping bag
  2. Shoes, and a pair of socks
  3. A towel, a dhoti
  4. Dirty yellow riding shirt, spanky clean saffron dhoti
  5. Red shirt with sweaty stains, dirty blue track pant
  6. Two water bottles, slippers

That's all I have of all my possessions. I push everything into the sleeping back. No chance of taking the slippers. They are too big, and who needs them anyway ?

I ask the Baba, who seemed to be just coming out of bed, if he had seen this chap anywhere. I also told him my version of what had happened. Got a two minute lecture from him about "thou shalt not believe the stranger". The nearest police station was in Dwaraka, and that's where I need to go at all, if I needed to have any hope of getting back anything at all. Taking a truck to Dwaraka itself would cost me 10 rupees. The baba graciously gave me 20 bucks. That was a start!

I waved to a truck and reached Dwaraka quickly. We enquire at a checkpost if the bicycle had been seen. Apparently not.

Around 7 AM, I enter the Dwaraka police station. I can't afford to buy even tea : no good losing 4 rupees out of the ten I have. The constable is sleeping. I wake him up and relate to him my tale. He shrugs off the story, saying, "yahan aisa kuch nahin hota. Woh kyon tera cycle le jaayega? Appke paas koi bill hai kya? Aap dus baje aiye. Tab sab karamchari ayenge, aur hum dekhenge." (nothing like this happens here. Why would he steal your bicycle? Do you have any bills for your equipment? Come at 10, when everybody comes here. We'll take a look at this then.). If we have any chance of catching the thief, it is early. I am sure he is probably off on a truck or something, speeding off somewhere with the equipment. If we delay, there is no hope. And delay is what the police seems to be helping at this point. Anyway, I realize the helplessness of my situation. Here I am, with no influence in the local place to force anything either. And it does not help to have the unsympathetic cop. He is saying it's all my fault. I well darn know it is, but hearing it from him aint music either. The only saving grace here is the two sweepers at the police station. These guys are good enough to keep my morale up, sympathize with me, and even offering me some much needed tea ! The sweepers also tell me to talk to the Sub-Inspector, the big boss of the place.

Ten O clock strikes. Many more constables show up. The game now seems to be to play football with me. One constable says the said temple does not exist. Another says that the temple falls in another jaamedaar's territory. A third one is giving me lessons on how not to trust strangers. But no attempts at trying to solve the problem. In all fairness, I acknowledge that finding this thief is not an easy job. I can't even describe him to any detail either. And ordeal this is. The biggest thought shaping up in my mind at this time is, "how do I get back to Bangalore". Just a reminder : I have not much in my pocket.

The only way to get back to Bengaluru would need money. And my mind is at work on how to achieve this. Begging and borrowing are good options. Stealing is not ! One bad thing about the mobile is the convenience it offers. How many of you remember any phone numbers at all now-a-days? But now I have the need - and springing in my mind are three numbers: Harsha's number, my Sunticoppa Uncle's number, and my office desk phone number. No point calling my uncle, I tell myself. That would cause needless panic. No point calling my office desk phone either, it's a saturday. So Harsha's number it has to be.

I ask the constable permission to make a phone call. Apparently, STD won't work there. So, I have to go out. Also means need to spend money. Constable gives me twenty rupees. No luck at the PCO. The numbers I am getting to remember just aren't right. Two wrong numbers, eight rupees lost. That's enough for tries, so I give up.

Next option is going to the cyber cafe. There are some in the town. Meanwhile, the Sub Inspector hasn't come to the police station yet, so off I go to try my luck at the cyber cafe. Thirty rupees an hour, and I'm trying to negotiate for half an hour. One hour is out of budget, right ? I have some luck winning over the guy at the cyber cafe with my story. They are surprised to see a software engineer stuck here in Dwaraka in this state. No proof is needed; My skill at the computer is obviously not questionable. First, I try to find some phone numbers. Harsha's website, Vicky's website. No luck there. I turn next to gmail. Reason: the chat feature. Good luck straightway. Ramya (Harsha's wife) is online. Back comes the number quickly. And he is around too. The first line I send to him conveys the seriousness of the situation aptly. It is, "I have lost everything". The reply is, "OMG".

But good tidings happen fast. Harsha contacts Vicky, who turns out to be more resourceful than I had imagined. Vicky's friends father-in-law lives in Meethapur, 20km from Dwaraka. And they are able to arrange some money (1000 rupees) for me at a pan shop. To get more money, the options seem to be a money transfer to an SBI account. The cyber cafe owner offers all help here, including his account number for transfer. Another strategy is using this money to reach Ahmedabad, while Vicky reserves a flight ticket for me to fly from Ahmedabad to Bengaluru.

I have a relaxed lunch as a result of all this.

Post lunch, we have almost closed in on the specifics. Book a bus ticket to Ahmedabad. Then fly to Bengaluru. The only hitch : what to do for the photo identity. A clean way seems to be to get some sort of identity proof from the police to show at the airport. A dubious way seems to be the creation of a "photoshop" Driving License. Being the honest folk, we want to avoid the latter option of course.

The police station situation improved in the evening, but only after the Sub Inspector arrives on the scene. He takes his time to dispose off the others before attending to me. I tell tom him my plight. I am advised that the best thing would be to get a letter from them about the lost DL and phone. Processing the rest would have to be lower priority if I needed to leave by the night bus. The SI has a sense of urgency to his actions, which the situation demands. He also quickly dispatches the romeo-cap styled jamedaar to the scene. Meanwhile, I get a letter stating that I'm so-and-so and have lost my driving license, etc. Letter has a seal of the police station. I'm hoping that this is good enough as an identity. Next I go to book the bus ticket to Ahmedabad.

Hope flickers for a while: Meanwhile, there is some crackle over the wireless - a bicycle has been found. I am asked to stay back for a while to identify this. This unexpected developments brings a new found hope into me. I tell myself that I don't need the camera and other things to continue the tour. All I need is the debit card, and my bike. I could ask vicky to cancel the flight ticket, and go back to the road. Hoping against hope, I let myself believe for a while in a future for the tour. These hopes are dashed at 8 PM. The romeo-cap cop comes back with the theif's cycle. I had told him as much too - that it was present at the same spot.

Now, all doubts cleared, I hop onto the bus at 9 PM. 8 AM, Sunday sees me in Ahmedabad. I want to show up at the airport clean, so I wash my clothes at a Sulabh Shouchalaya. While my clothes are drying, I present a comic picture. Imagine this : me with a slight beard, dirty yellow shirt, very clean saffron lungi, and wearing yellow adidas running shoes with white socks. Not very far from someone on the other side of the divide of mental sanity. Some people in the ST bus stand have picked up these cues rather quickly. A marwadi trying to hardsell people to buy his eatables, asks me, rather cheekily, "RSS? BJP? Taliban?". Another guy close to a tea shop is blabbering something in Gujarati. I tell him to speak in hindi, to which he replies with gibeerish. I give him a mouthful of abuse in English as a reply. That fixes the other onlookers as well.

I am 'rescued' from the distractions at the ST by AmitAnil Bhat, a cab driver known to Basavaraju(Basu), Vicky's friend. I accompany him to the his house, and spend the day till the afternoon there. Amit is a cycling fan too, and holds dearly in his house a book with the tale of the six parsis who travelled worldwide during the time of the second world war. This tale is revered in his home, and the name of the characters is at the tip of the tongue of even his daughter. I get a good welcome, good lunch, and a good nap. I also give some quick advice to Amit's daughter, who is a promising and ambitious 12th standard student.

Next off to the airport. The verification of identity is done at the ticket reservation counter itself. They ask me the phone number of the person who booked the ticket, easy enough. And I am through !!! Check in, and the flight to Bengaluru happens next. I have enough money at the airport to buy a copy of C K Prahalad's well known book, "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid". I'm keen to tie my experiences over the past years in rural areas into something that makes sense, and I believe the first steps have been taken...

I arrive Bengaluru Airport, with joy on my face : I've made it back. With significant help from my friends, for which I am grateful. And they arrive a few minutes later : Vickly, Harsha, Ramya and Priya. Subway sandwitches, Coffee at coffee day, and the long ride back home. Yes, I'm back !

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  1. Sree my guess is that he was an opportunist. I get that impression from your story. Its good to read your story though. One has to be vigilant. Unfortunately, you can not take people’s honesty for granted. However, on my last trip through India, and I still feel this is ok, if you ask someone to keep an eye on your bike, like a shopkeeper or someone who is not going anywhere, you should be ok. I would try to avoid to leaving under the watchful eye of a younger person though and prefer older people. I know this isn’t your situation but that’s for other times. I don’t think you need insurance. I think you just need to be more circumspect. I mean you showed that guy that you had a ton of money. His life is hard. I would never discuss incomes and money with poor strangers. Try to avoid the topic or downplay expense. See his reaction when he learned the price of your sunscreen. On my last trip many people asked me about the price of my bike. In truth it was a bomb that I picked up secondhand, but by average indian standards it was a good bike. I mean it had gears and a soft seat so it was better than what most people had. Its one thing to shout someone lunch, a nice gesture in fact, but don’t flaunt your wealth in front of poor people. Leave them guessing.

    When I go to India I lie about my marital status because most people I meet do not understand how things are different in the West. So for respectability I say I am married and have two kids even though I am single and have no kids.

    I do not go off anywhere with strangers who approach me out of nowwhere. Its terrible having to be so vigilant but being too relaxed can cost you a great deal more than a bicycle. I know about a French cyclist who went missing on his first day in India. He had cycled all the way from France to Dubai without incident. So I presume that he let his guard down with a stranger in Mumbai.

    Of course I may have been lucky in the past and my luck might run out next trip but I think its worth it to be extra careful. I have been preparing for my next trip for two years, I don’t need it to end suddenly because of bad luck or poor judgement. However, I do take a certain sort of risk still. So anything can happen. But I try to weigh the risks and not be careless.

    Good luck with future rides.

  2. how about traveling with no gadgetry? no worries and more engaging experiences.
    We will not get live updates 🙁 but you will have a safe tour. is that a option for you?

  3. @Aussie: Good luck for your next trip too (and do let us know when that happens!). Experienced chap you are, and so are your choices. We also use many of the same tricks you use. We typically avoid talking of costs, and quote very reduced costs for equipment. I am mostly in agreement of the “luck” factor 🙂 The only way out of this seems to be…

    @Aussie, Mallik: Would you guys believe this ? I was contemplating travelling on a regular indian bicycle. I also wanted to reduce the size of my bag to reduce the curiosity factor. In my early touring days, I used to carry just one bag. The safest thing seems to be going back to those days : wear very regular clothes, a small camera, mobile and other essential things. You guys will still get live updates since I will have a cheap mobile in my pocket. The real deal will be inside the bag, and hidden mostly 🙂

  4. Oops!!! what an experience..!!

  5. Experiences for a lifetime! 🙂

  6. @Pyli, Madhavi: Right 🙂

    I’m currently wondering if the effects of the ride are wearing off already : I have a lost helmet during the Sakleshpur ride to show for it !

  7. oh oh…

    U seem to be on a “losing belongings spree” watch out !!! 🙂

  8. @Madhavi: Will watch out 🙂 My friend KP pointed out to me today a very curious fact : the helmet belonged to my older set of equipment. According to him, it’s the losing pool !

  9. Shree – In the end you were safe and returned back safe. What to tell – these are just life experiences and IMHO you acted really brave. Have a safe trip next time!!

  10. I read through your entire Gujarat journey this morning. Just finished reading in one go.

    Wow, what an experience and what an escape.

    I think this experience will make this trip even more memorable to you and to me and to all readers alike. Remember, there are always two sides of the coin.

    Btw, I was inspired by your blog and have bought a hero thunder mtb myself some time back. One question, if you don’ t mind; did you use the stock saddle for all these rides? I feel uncomfortable sitting on this saddle after a couple of hours.

  11. Ha great man! great….. real cool when you come to think of it now. haha

  12. WOW! That would have been one incredible experience![Obviously in retrospect!]. Landed on your site through the BBC and its been an intriguing read to say the least.

  13. got curious @bbc , good learning from ur experiences, i ll travel very cheap next time 😀

    ppl in india are generally very warm and receptive , my learning is to be careful of loiters on the road just waiting to take a pick.

  14. What an experience!! A lesson for us too.

    Even I keep wondering if it makes sense to go back to old times.. basic bikes, minimal gadgetry, regular clothes. Our helmets and shorts and moisture wicking tees and camera and GPS and what not, all seem to attract a lot of people everywhere… more so in the rural areas.

    Btw, nice to see this, “I’m keen to tie my experiences over the past years in rural areas into something that makes sense”. Will keep watching this space :-).

  15. Shree, btw i did my second trip, mainly through Orissa on the bike, but also West Bengal. No negative dramas. All good. People are simple and honest for the most part. Probably because I am a foreigner, I got extra special hospitality sometimes. It was also around the time when the indian students in australia issue was at its height. I got a lot of anxious questioning about that but no aggression. I stayed in a bengali farm house one night and the mother camped outside my door while i slept with the daughter. It was the daughter who’d invited me home. I camped only once in Orissa at the Sarkosia Tiger Reserve. The villagers came to my tent in the morning. But i’m not sure what for. I was too sleepy to get up. The women had axes over their shoulders. The kids helped me pack up. If only people’s hospitality and kindness to us foreigners could extend to each other all the time.

  16. I bow to you shree for all you have stood yourself!!! and make me to rememeber you said about your home town-bus charges and the money you had and so seemingly life has put you back in same situation!!!

  17. @Ramesh: Thanks for your kind words.

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