It was the most unexpected thing to happen. Like most people, I thought certain things happened only to others. That I was immunised against untoward incidents and such like. Two daring thieves (yes, they actually risked their lives to do their job) shattered my illusions about myself. They made me widen the scope of what I thought I would experience in my life and include the unsavoury and unwanted.
About five months ago, I was returning home from work. Getting a cabbie to agree to ferry me to Thane, where I live, from Wadala, where I work, at the fare the meter adds up, is quite a task. Most agree instantly if I agree to pay them half of the return fare too. That I have to cough up a two-way toll charge is a given. Often, I alight at the Mulund check post and travel in an auto rickshaw to Thane, which is what I did that day. I had been going through the same routine for at least a week. As the rickshaw sped over the Cadbury Junction flyover in Thane, there came a moment when I just couldn’t fathom what was happening. Before I could realise that I was being robbed, I had already been. Two young 20-something guys (perhaps younger), came speeding on a bike, rode dangerously close to the auto rickshaw and as I looked at them the way one looks dispassionately at other vehicles or pedestrians, the pillion rider leaned forward and picked my rather large bag from its perch on my lap. Smoothly. As if it was the most natural thing to do. All I understood at that moment was that the pillion rider doddered on the seat, swayed violently and almost fell over, trying to balance himself under the weight of his loot – my bag. MY BAG!!! Realisation!!! I think I tried to scream, to create a ruckus but I don’t remember hearing my voice. No sound escaped my throat. I was benumbed. The curly-haired, thin, wiry thief wearing a checked shirt had probably not bargained for the weight of my bag. I am known to lug around—apart from my personal effects—the kitchen sink too and a couple of books and though my shoulder groans under its weight, I feel secure that I have all that I need literally at hand.
By the time I found my voice, I was ready to kick myself, to throw punches in the air, to shake myself violently. How did I allow this to happen? My ego reared its head. How did I allow this to happen? I fancy myself as a sort of crusader ready to take up a cause and go vocal or viral about it. I always believed that in a situation that demanded that I rise to the occasion, I would put up a fight, use every weapon that I have—nails, deodorant, umbrella, books, safety pins, just about anything—to knock down my assailant / opponent. To think that I didn’t get even half a chance! To think that I allowed myself to let my guard down! As tears of anger and helplessness (I can’t believe this part, but it actually happened) stung my eyes, I realised that what hurt me the most was not that I had lost my belongings but that two petty thieves had punctured my pride and made a fool out of me. Ah! Does anything hurt a human being more than to be cut down to size in the most unexpected manner or to be caught on the back foot? Does anything scare one more than coming face to face with one’s vulnerability? Does anything wound more than ruptured vanity? Maybe not. At that moment what stung me the most was that I hadn’t given the thieves a befitting reply. They were smart and seasoned. They were desperate. Why else would they have risked skidding on a flyover and being run over by vehicles zipping by maniacally? I was trusting of humanity and the goodness of people that stops you from looking over your shoulder or thinking of the possibility of the ungovernable. Two thieves deflated my ego. Nameless people who now have in their possession my identity – my credit cards, debit cards, some cash, a wallet, pens, pencils, my house keys, my driving licence, a copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with a lovely bookmark inside it, a copy of The Book of Silence by Sara Maitland with another bookmark inside it, my official diary, my personal diary, a few story ideas, a Dictaphone and a cell phone cover and other assorted belongings. My cell phone, by some quirk of fate, was nestling in my hand as I had just finished making a call. I clung to it the way one clings to the familiar, the known.
It took me a few minutes to gather myself and accept that I was not invincible. Stripped of every penny I had but spared the agony of losing another cloth bag carrying books, I requested the zapped auto rickshaw driver to take me the nearest police station. I wiped my eyes, pulled up my chin, drew back my shoulders. I’d be damned if I let two petty thieves get the better of me. I tried not to think of the thief’s sister / girlfriend / wife / mother using my MAC concealer or compact (yes, I’m vain). I tried not to think of the thieves laughing away at my powerlessness. I made the necessary phone calls to have my cards blocked. I informed my family of the incident in a voice that sounded too calm to even my own ears. As I climbed the stairs leading to the police station, I was back to my old unflappable self. Deep inside, I felt exposed. To myself.
I didn’t let the burly policeman, who looked at me quizzically, see that. In a voice that meant business, I told him categorically that I wanted to lodge an FIR. He looked as if he didn’t believe what he had heard. I sat down. Four hours and many arguments later, I managed to get it done. But that is another story.
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