10th June ’14
My laptop got stolen yesterday in Dublin town. As I stood around for four hours in police station and embassy I lived again and again what the thief would feel. When he opened it and gawked at the screen picture. He wouldn’t give it the time of day. Just another picture. He wouldn’t stare at it every time you open it like I do. Interested anew in the unmatched expressions of Irfana, Sombabu and Raghav. Irfana is on top of things. She understands and she cares. She is self-conscious about her position but thinks that she can make herself comfortable in it, and in any other position.
Sombabu draws a huge breath inside. My children. My place. My work. My efforts. He has spent decades mastering his breath, his thoughts, his emotions, his body. He still loses his temper. But he does not feel depressed. Or confused. These are huge achievements. He looks out typically at the world as he is doing here, chin up, a smile, cool, comfortable, full of an utterance he has yet to formulate.
Raghav knows that he was a failure which is why he was put in this school, this miniscule school with a class of two for him. He knows what the world is, where he is in it, but he also knows, they are good people. I am still a failure but oh, who cares?
Then I wondered, when will the thief find out my name? When will he begin reading my blogs, journals and miscellaneous writing? Will he ever open folder x and folder y? Of course he won’t. And as for my four books, he will never discover them, nor the rest of the world.
I knew I had a copy for almost everything, thanks to Irfana’s fine stratagem of copying everything somewhere back in May. But I don’t know where. And I stopped thinking of going to a store, buying a laptop, setting it all up, retrieving my stuff bit by bit. Stopped thinking because it was so tiring.
Did the thief know what a useless laptop it was? No, he would admire it, as we had initially done in the shop. And I had provided him with the cord and everything, neatly folded and velcrosed up.
My mind turned to my greater problems. My passport, my visa, my green card. In that order. If I didn’t have my passport, I could not travel the next day. If I did get a replacement, as embassies were obliged to give their citizens, how would I still get the British visa? Why would they simply give me a new one in a new blank passport when the old one had been like pulling teeth? The green card was easy. A few phone calls to Adam Green and he, bless his professional heart, would know exactly how to do it. And I had over two months.
My brain worked slowly. There were three phases. In the first one, I was slowly overcome by a cold fear, as I stood in the library and realised what had happened. I had laid out my stuff on a table and chair and walked off with my wallet for a cup of tea. I had walked many blocks to reach the elusive Pierce Street Library and need refreshment. The sign said “tea room” upstairs and reading room below. Before beginning the day’s work, I needed to go upstairs.
Had the lady I spoke to been different, nothing would have happened. She looked so hospitable, so welcoming, told me there was free internet everywhere, that I was welcome to sit anywhere I liked and work. She gestured towards a table and I walked to it and joyously laid out my things. It would have been ungracious to not do so, after her welcome. She could have said, “This is a really crime-ridden area. Be careful of your things.” She did not, and gave me quite the opposite impression—“This is a lovely place. Enjoy it. You are in safe hands now.” I could not have laid out my things. The table she gestured to and that I went to was under the eyes of the desk she sat at. There were at least three or four librarians at work. All the guests were busy with computers and books.
The tea room was full of natural light and had power plugs. I wished I had brought my laptop up. Then I started reading the Irish Times and went through two and a half cups of tea while I went through its pages. Uma Malloney had an excellent piece. I made notes. Finally, refreshed, I went down.
I smiled to see my laptop gone. What nice librarians. They had felt it wasn’t safe so they had put it away. My bag as well. Strange they had left the shopping bag out. They must have realised it had nothing much in it. I went smiling to the desk, and spoke, as sometimes happens, to two people together which annoyed them. It took a minute to make it clear that they had not picked up anything, that my things were in fact, stolen.
One of the two became very proactive and also protective. She called for the security guard but he was on lunch break. She gave me the address of the police station and told me to go there. She made me write down the details on a piece of paper and thanks to Jonah, I could give her a phone number as well. After the guard’s lunch break they were going to look at the security camera’s video. Meanwhile, I should go and file a report. She seemed confident that with the video they would be able to find the thief. There seemed to be known criminals operating in the area.
The second phase began in the police station. There was a line and it moved slowly. When it reached me, it crawled to a stop. Others had come for routine passport applications. Mine was a whole theft. The police man slowly and carefully wrote down a few facts. He chatted with me in a relaxed manned, one dozen pairs of eyes eating into my back as I stood at the counter. He told me with a kindly smile, at least four times, “Oh, that area! We consider it a very bad area.” Thanks a lot, I thought. This same morning I had been walking around Dublin, humming to myself, “Oh Dublin! Wonderful city! Go anywhere—everywhere’s nice. Sit anywhere—places galore. Sit and work—such a wonderful atmosphere. Thank you Dublin!” And, because someone had mentioned it, I chose to go to Pierce Street Library, thinking further, “I’ll look at every library in the city.” I knew of five, and I did end up going to four. The fifth one, inside Trinity, used to have tourist lines a mile long. I am sure there was another entrance or another section but I did not bother to find it. I went to ILAC library, to Beatty library, to the National Gallery and to Pierce Street.
The policeman reminded me of Nikos. He got the Indian Embassy’s address for me, tried to call them, told me to just go, found the directions on his phone, took my details again, made sure someone had gone down to the library, told me he worked till 10 at night and yes, I could come back, gave me his name and number, and after what seemed to be an hour—turned to the next in line.
I was sorry, as I walked away, that I had not turned to the line of people and apologised for taking so much time.
The taxi driver knew where the Indian embassy was. I could have hugged the tricolour flag as I entered the building. Phase three began. The place was crummy, with a dirty carpet and disorder in the pile of tourist pamphlets heaped on one side as soon as you entered. An arrow directed me to the basement, where sat an ID Tiwari kind of person at a dining table, obviously not at work. On one side was a counter with glass shutting out the office behind, a little hole for applicants to speak through. I started in English, then switched quickly to Hindi.
The man and then the woman at the glass window, did the usual Indian things. They repeated what I said slowly. They looked and sounded perplexed. They were like lay passers by I might have accosted to explain my problem. They denied that anything was possible. I said, “Do it!” as I fell into familiar Indian-ness myself. They then asked, “Give us your passport number.” I got busy trying to remember and to phone Nandini to look it up for me. They got interested in the project. They encouraged me to guess and with every combination I came up with, they searched. They found it. They then discussed the whole thing in detail among themselves, mostly how their software worked.
Then they explained that this being a small embassy, they did not have the facilities to issue fresh passports here. Those could only be made in India and took 5-6 weeks. What they could do was give a travel document. However, that was good only for travel to India. I had seen those words at entries into countries and such places and had a hope, though an ever diminishing one, that this travel document might let me enter Britain, maybe for just one day, to collect my money and suitcase and so on. I told them to let me see the officer in charge. They said the usual Indian things like, “Ab apko kah to rahe hain, baith jaiye. Jab vo khali nahin hain to apko kaise jane de sakte hain? Ap hi bataiye?” They were full of rhetorical questions: “How can that be? How can we do it? I can’t force you into his door can I? When he is not free what am I to do? Why don’t you sit down?” My research brain ever alive, I made mental notes of everything, even while another part of that brain kept pushing away anything extraneous and wept, “FOCUS.”
I of course paced and did not sit down. I was afraid the officer would escape if I did not stay on my feet. I had a lot to plan as well. H’m. Ask Trinity if I could stay on for another five days. Go for just one day to London. Collect my cheque, my suitcase. E-mail Naveen to change my ticket. E-mail him also to make a UK visa appointment for me too since I would need a fresh visa. Make an emergency passport appointment for me as well. E-mail Maurice to say, “Please tell me where to find another key to your house. The key you gave me is lost.”
So much to think through. And at each step, to tell myself, “Think carefully. There can always be another option. A better choice than the one you are making.”
As I was finally sent to the officer’s, I realised miserably that the British would not in fact let me in on the strength of a “travel document” which would in fact be a piece of letterhead with my photograph, now-found passport number, and the seal of the second secretary, Indian Embassy, Dublin. All the time I had been thinking of passport-related things I had been thinking of a novel in which the smuggling and frauds intended are committed with just such a story as mine.
Then I had been thinking of all the good things I could get out of this experience, all the knowledge I was getting, etc etc. and I had to acknowledge that it would be a huge expense and a lot of extra time to put into replacing my stolen things, and it was all going down the drain. It was time to grow up. There was no point fooling myself that this was educational in any way. I communicated with the thief, “Man, why don’t you throw the passport, so useless to you, into the police station and go off with your 1000 dollar haul in the form of an actually useless Samsung laptop?” I communicated hard, “JUST DO IT.”
As I sat in front of the second secretary, Ravi Chandra, just made the first secretary, waiting for him to finish with his phone call, my own phone rang. I had talked to Nandini a half dozen times and thought it was her. When the phone said “unknown” for the incoming call, my heart jumped. Let it be the nice policeman, buzzed a prayer inside. It was. They had found the bag. I could not guess how or where and I did not ask. I said that I would get there right away. The second, I mean first, secretary, prompted me—having grasped everything from my hums and haws—to ask if the passport was there, safe? I asked. It was.
I didn’t go right away, however. I waited and chatted. I told him how the embassy needed improving. I translated my thoughts of the last hour and a half into tactful language. The thoughts were, “What a horrible place. Everything is horrible, the carpet, the walls, the approach, the system, the people, their speech, the soft boards, everything. What a bad face of India. And it hasn’t changed in the forty years that I have been seeing Indian embassies.” What I said was, “I know how you could train your staff to make it a nicer experience for those who come into the place. I work on this you know.” And other such friendly things.
Then I ran as fast as my feet could carry me, blessing the thief, blessing the Lord, blessing the librarians, and most of all blessing the policemen of Dublin. I JUST ADORE DUBLIN.