Outfoxed, humbled

I did not expect that I would be visiting an Indian police station so soon because of phone-related matters, but it happened. Even less did I expect to be visiting a police station again for such matters. Until it did.

Here’s how it went down.

8:50 am. I walk out my apartment door, messenger bag around my neck, down the stairs, by the garden, and out to Gandhi Feroze Marg (the street right off where I live). It’s a Friday, the weather is temperate for once, and I’m going to CSDS for the final day of the week. The Marg is quiet for once, except for a few autos and bicycle rickshaws that zip by. A short walk, then up the stairs to the Violet Line train at the Lajpat Nagar metro. I try to get on at the back end of the train, per Shreyas’ (a Lokniti colleague) advice from two days previous to avoid the crowds.

9:09 am. Four stops later, I’m at the Central Secretariat stop, where the Violet Line ends. The swelling crowds push me out of the train. Up an escalator. Down another. Waiting for the Yellow Line to pull up, I stand in one of the (95% male) queues and squeeze through the boarding masses onto one of the bridges connecting two train carts. I pat my pockets to feel my phone and my wallet present.

9:23 am. Rajiv Chowk metro station, where Yellow line meets Blue. Delhi’s busiest station, at peak rush hour. The doors open, and a stampede presses out of the car. My messenger bag is caught between the two people in front of me, and as they walk it pulls my neck down. I lean forward to grab the bag with both hands and wrest it back. I step backwards to enjoy the nanosecond of peace before the incoming hordes surround me. I pat my pockets. Right pocket, wallet and key. Left pocket… Empty. A sinking feeling in my stomach.

9:40 am. Arrival at the CSDS office in Civil Lines twenty minutes before anyone from the Lokniti team is there. I start Googling ways to track iPhones and e-mail USIEF (US-India Education Foundation, the administrative organization for Fulbright scholarships). When Shreyas walks into the office, we use his phone to dial mine. It goes immediately to a message that the phone is inactive. “The first thing they do is pull out the SIM card,” he says.

10:30 am. Pranav, who just returned to the office yesterday after observing the elections in Sri Lanka, is driving Nitin and me to the police station so that we can file an official report and see if the police can track the phone. We speed by a dense forest on our left; two monkeys with bright pink faces fight each other on the sidewalk. Pranav parks on the street outside the station.

11:03 am. The three of us are standing outside the station, waiting for the chief inspector shows up. A proud-looking man in a red-checkered shirt walks by and looks curiously at me. Pranav explains to him that my phone has been stolen. He looks he straight in the eye and bellows, “You are our guest! In India, everyone is a thief. You must think that everyone is a thief.” He points at Pranav. “He is a thief!” He points at Nitin. “He is a thief!” He points at the police. “They are thieves!” He points at himself. “I am a thief!” Tut-tutting, he walks away. I ask Nitin if that was the chief inspector. “No,” he says. “Just a typical passerby here. You didn’t ask to hear his opinion, but he was completely sure you needed to hear it.”

11:38 am. After handwriting a long description of the event on a piece of paper and signing it, the inspector informs me that they will issue a report and, if I return Monday with the IMEI number for the phone, they will be able to trace it if someone else uses it. I am skeptical; Shreyas told me earlier that these guys are pros and that they have machines that can change the phone’s IMEI. But it’s definitely worth a shot. An official police stamp is slammed onto the written statement.

12:23 pm. Over a communal lunch of chat, chickpeas, potatoes, and rice, Pranav, Nitin, and I recount the police station visit to the rest of the Lokniti team and Dr. Kumar (who shall hereinafter be referred to as Sanjay ji). “The color of your skin certainly made them more helpful,” Sanjay ji says. I tell him the story of my visit to the Red Fort last weekend to see Modi, and explain that this was not my first time at a police station for phone-related matters. He looks at me mischievously. “Perhaps these thieves were helping you to see Modi next year.”

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