Would a prisoner of a small and sweltering town feel any different if his prison were situated in the most beautiful holiday destination of the world? Perhaps no. Similar is the kind of feeling in me. Having reached Switzerland, I'm just locked inside the four walls of classroom, or rather condemned to endure stultifying lectures of experts in my professional field. Wistfully looking through the glass panes of the windows, I try to feel the scenic resplendence of the best tourist destination of the wold. Only in the evening I go out to the towns of Ouchi, Montreaux enjoying the metro ride or a trip in TGV train. Even light on streets is not sufficient for taking a snap. If not pictures, I don't know what would I offer in support of my statement that I had visited an interesting place ? Nightlife--oh, not my cup of tea. Can I afford it?
For my last blog post I chose to translate a story from my book “Virasat” and posted it before I left for my Europe trip. The story has a plot of a friend picking pocket of another and then helping him trace it out from the letterbox of his locality. Little did I know then that I would be coming back to the same theme while searching something for the next post. This time neither the friend is a thief nor the setting Indian. It is Geneva, the city of international repute, the destination of all global citizens, the object of one’s wanderlust.
It all happened yesterday, the 6th of November, 2011 on our way from Geneva to Lausanne. The dawn was misty yet bright enough to suggest that the horizon would soon clear up in favour of a bright day ahead . An attractive, cozy Renault Bus was taking us to our destination. There was chill in the air but we were not quite bothered about that. We just looked forward to see the exciting landscape of Swiss countryside. First we decided on a detour so as to spend some time at Lake Geneva before we headed for Lausanne. Now our bus parked near the lake and we got off. We just fanned out around the spot where our bus was parked, drifted less than a kilometer or so, began taking photographs and videos with a vengeance. The Croatian driver was supposed to guard our belongings while we went out.
While leaving the bus, we friends carried our backpacks, but two of us decided against it. They had perhaps done so to move about freely or, maybe, they were assured of the safety of their backpacks inside the bus which had the driver to look after. But they were mistaken. As we came back in less than an hour or so, a rude shock was awaiting us. Yes, we discovered that the dear old backpacks of my friends were missing. And they were the most crucial baggage to be lost, for they contained, among other things, Euros and Francs, a laptop, passports, credit cards, a couple of hard disks, insurance papers and so on. A person touring abroad would expect it the least, let alone remain prepared for the eventuality. And what to do now? Who would help us to get a second passport? To make the matter worse, it was Sunday. Nobody in the embassy would pick up a phone nor would anybody come forward to lend us his bandwidth to key in a quick text to the credit card company to stop misuse of the lost credit card.
And we could not believe it. It was really unimaginable that a rich city in a rich European country could have thieves, that too, to lift bags of those innocent visitors from a poor third world country. Initially our doubt was on the Croatian driver but it soon dissipated as it was discovered that the poor fellow had lost his bag too, which contained cash as well as his passport. Without delay, he gave a call to the police who came in five minutes. As soon as they came, they started asking questions and after eliciting barest minimum information about the incident, they advised us to go to the police station to lodge a report.
Now something near-miraculos happened.
While the two policemen were listening to my friends and their unhappy story, another policeman came rushing there with two bags which were reportedly found in a lavatory nearby. So quickly did they produce them that it appeared as if they were in the know of everything, or as though they were monitoring all the public lavatories of the city on real-time basis through their cctv networks sitting in their office! The contents of those two bags so recovered were examined: the thief had very kindly returned a passport and tablet PC but did not bother to return other stuff like euro or the laptop or the credit cards. We went to the police station, waited there for four hours before the police officer had the time to come out. It was proved once again that policemen, irrespective of their country of operation, behave and react alike, for they only know what is good for public. People suffer because they have no patience to wait for their turn.
Now, having said that, my thought goes to one question: why is there no notice to warn the visitors about the menace, say, for instance, “BE AWARE OF PICKPOCKETS”? Or ‘KEEP A CLOSE WATCH ON YOUR BELONGINGS’? I remember there is one such notice at the boat house [jetty] of Ooty lake. One can find that in any whatever place in India, be it a station or park ,or a subway or a temple. It is done in the interest of the public. Why, then, is the information withheld from the visitors that visit Geneva Lake? Is it due to the fact that Swiss people do not want to admit before the world that there are thieves in their country too, who indulge in mean activities like lifting a bag or picking a pocket? The whole world knows how corrupt people from other countries stash their money in Switzerland. But nobody here cares a damn about this. It is the land where big thieves and petty thieves co-exist. Whereas in India we make the world know that we have pickpockets amongst us—we are inhibition-free about this and we are mindful of the interest of people going round places as visitors. At least we don't hesitate to forewarn them when necessary.
“Atithi Devo Bhava”—we in India bow down our head in shame and would not rest until we bring the criminal to justice if a crime is perpetrated against a foreign tourist; our beggars are shamelessly photographed by the foreign visitors; we just ignore their excesses when they walk our streets with less than required clothes or smoke marijuana or peddle LSD; our saints take pride in recruiting foreign followers; we devalue our currency to make the best merchandise of our land affordable to the citizens of other countries…and the list will run further. We love to treat them well, mostly. If a taxi fellow quarrels with a foreign tourist, he does so merely to earn some extra. This is bad, yet consider a while what happens abroad and how we are compelled to shell out our money? Look, at Geneva airport, one even pays to use a trolley to take one’s baggage out of it. The amount one pays to buy a bottle of mineral water would be sufficient to buy enough bottled water to last a fortnight in India!
Let me copy n paste just five stanzas from the text I have drafted for my book “The Roadshow”. Is it my bias or is it an articulation of facts.
In the narrow hovels of a global village
The sun lost its way but not the sermons
With buzz and bang they went high pitch
‘No need to fear, oh heathens, we’re right here’.
Then they dumped all those, rusted and rotten
Our landscape acquired a new look—a junkyard
Our ragpickers worked overtime,
thrilled and delirious
Generosity only prevails, long live the givers.
My small village lost its name
With concrete barricades and iron towers
With barcodes and hallmarks and certifications
With polythene and cellophane
and signages and slogans.
Everything visible got numbers labelled on them
And they got crunched through the digital blend
Now nobody could locate or get located
And none can hide from their ubiquitous presence.
And then it happened as assured (predicted?)
We bought and sold everything
And got money to buy money
And only the money, on its last count.
A. N. Nanda