Friday, March 16, 2007

Lost And Found

The first ever wallet I bought with my own money and which — needless to say — contained my own money, stayed in my pocket for barely a month. In 1993, P V Narasimha Rao, then the Prime Minister, had come to my city, Kanpur, to address a rally. Nothing happened during the two hours we spent waiting for him, but he was just about to finish his speech when the rains came down heavily, and people ran for shelter. In the chaos, my pocket got picked. A fellow reporter dropped me home after I finished filing Rao’s speech.

In early 2000, I was dining with friends one night at a restaurant in Delhi’s Pandara Park when I lost my wallet again. Quite a lot of money was there, but what bothered me most was the loss of the Press card, issued by the Press Information Bureau to accredited journalists. Bill Clinton, then the US President, was arriving, and I was assigned to cover his press conference, and the card was a must to get passes for the venue.

Time was too short to get a new one and the procedure far too complicated: first an FIR at the police station, then getting a challan for Rs 200 from the SBI, that too from a particular branch, and so on. I was halfway through the complication, in the hope I could still get a new card just in time, when I got a call. It was the restaurant owner: “One of our sweepers found it. You don’t expect the money to be there, do you? But everything else is intact.”

The next year, I relocated to the south of the Vindhyas: to Chennai. Ever since, losing the wallet has become a rather pleasant experience. Sometimes incredibly so. In 2003, I was on my annual trip to Delhi, and hours before I was to take the Tamil Nadu Express to Chennai, I sat drinking with old friends. Time flew and the alcohol flowed as we caught up on each other’s lives, and by the time we reached the station, I was barely sober enough to tell Platform no. 1 from Platform no. 12. I returned to my senses when I wanted to buy a bottle of water and found the wallet missing. What happened next — will not bore you with that now.

Two weeks later, I was sitting in my office when a parcel arrived. I tore it open and out came my old wallet! It was accompanied by a letter, written on ruled paper torn out from a school notebook. I wish I could quote from it, but it is tucked away somewhere, safe. The writer — God bless him — wrote that he tried calling me immediately after finding the wallet but could not get through, so he was couriering the wallet. He regretted that he had used my money “to enjoy” with his friends and that I should forgive him. The sender lived in a small town in Maharashtra — below the Vindhyas! I can go on and on.

Last month my wife, while attending a conference in a Chennai hotel, left her wallet behind. She realised the loss hours later, after she went to the ATM. Gone are the days when losing your wallet meant a loss of a few hundreds of hard-earned rupees. These days, thanks to the credit and debit cards, it could mean rebooting your life. She rushed back to the hotel. A waiter handed over the wallet along with loads of cautionary advise. She, like most people, sought to purchase his honesty by giving him a 100-rupee note. He refused to take it.

The other day, a fellow blogger told me a story when we met for lunch. His sister-in-law had left her bag, containing her mobile and Rs 5000, in an autorickshaw. The auto driver scanned her mobile phone to trace her contact, and then, from a PCO, made calls till he reached her. Bag handed over, he refused to take any money — not even for the calls he made or the petrol he spent on locating her house.

What prompted me to write this piece? A letter forwarded to my e-mail, written by Juned Choudhury, a Bangladeshi national who had travelled on Pandiyan Express from Chennai to Kody Road:

“While alighting from the train … a small bag of mine containing valuables fell under the seat and was left behind by mistake. I did not realise this till after about an hour and a half, when a friend of mine travelling on a separate bus to Kody received a call on his cell phone from the platform Inspector of Madurai saying that they had found a bag and the owner should go and collect it from him. I got off the bus and hired a taxi to travel the 70 km to Madurai.”

The bag contained his passport with a couple of valid European visas; Indian, U.S. and Bangladesh currencies amounting to about Rs 16,000, his Visa card, airline tickets, spectacles, pen and notebook, and cellphone. They were intact.

(Published on 13 October 2006)

3 Comments:

Blogger yogesh said...

Hi Mr. Bishwanath,

I came across your blogs ( both this one and by the ganges) recently and I am really glad I did. You have an uncanny knack of putting across serious things in a almost hilarious way. Best wishes on my part.

My father had a similar experience too. He has this habit of carrying his original vehicle documents around and when eating in a hotel in bangalore, a guy stole the packet from him. As you know, getting new vehicle documents for a 12 yr scooter is a nightmare and just as we were thinking what to do, comes a courier. In it are all the documents intact with a small letter in kannada which says, I was looking for money and I found 20 rupees and these docs. I don't have any use for them. So I am couriering it back to you! (signed, ganesh)

It is so gladdening to see such sincere souls, who were forced to steal by circumstances. You won't find these things in any other country in the world... if only our politicians knew the value of honesty and sincerity...

10:57 AM  
Blogger vinesh said...

Your blog is very nice... i like your blog ....
Madurai Hotels

12:45 AM  
Blogger Anubhuti said...

Mr Ghosh,
I agree that such things are commonplace in the south of vindhyas, but such things have happened to me often in the heart of the country, the alleged crime capital of the country{by your media}.
I think, at the endof the day, it's just good luck and a bit of good karma.
For once, stop maligning the north always. There are nice ppl here too, may be not as many as the south.
You also were born here, remember ??

10:51 PM  

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