A couple weeks ago, my camera was stolen. That’s why this post doesn’t have any photos. The loss was unfortunate, yet the story behind it is memorable, involving a hateful child, a high-speed chase, and an incompetent police force.
It happened following the Dussehra festival, which recognizes the victory of the hero Rama over the demon king Ravana. In Jodhpur, the festival culminates at sunset, with the burning of Ravana’s effigy.
When I arrived, the demon had already been reduced to a smoldering pile of ash. Very soon, a crowd of kids gathered around me, as inevitably happens in public spaces. Whiteness acts as a powerful magnet for curious Indian children. The first few kids were harmless, asking me the usual questions about my name and nationality. But then another one showed up. He was about twelve years old, with pure evil in his eyes. He demanded I give him one hundred rupees, and then he started cursing at me. Based on his clothes, he didn’t seem poor. I think he just wanted to mess with a foreigner.
I headed for my bike, but the kids followed, led by the demon child. They shouted in Hindi, including a few words I recognized as obscenities. I wasn’t so much annoyed by their behavior as disappointed. Indian kids are normally so sweet and friendly.
When I reached the bike, I headed home, glad to be done with the whole incident, but a few minutes later, I saw those evil eyes glaring at me from the back of a motorcycle. He was with two older boys who seemed to come from nowhere. The three of them went past my bike and then slowed to let me get ahead. We kept leapfrogging each other until I felt a sharp tug at my hip. My camera case, which had been clipped to my belt, snapped off, and Evil Eyes taunted me as the motorcycle sped away.
I chased them, pedaling as fast as I could, but a bike is no match for a motorcycle. The thieves turned onto a side street and disappeared.
After circling around the block, I sought out the police, and the ensuing interactions shattered not only my hopes of ever getting my camera back but also my faith in Indian government.
In chronological order, let me describe the head-banging aggravations of working with the Rajasthan Police:
24 October, 19 hrs 32 min: The officers at the nearest police station sent me to a much further police station, because the scene of the crime was just barely out of their jurisdiction.
24 October, 20 hrs 01 min: When I arrived at the other police station, an officer handed me a blank sheet of paper and told me to write my own police report.
24 October, 20 hrs 02 min: The officer sat next to me and made small talk, distracting me from writing the report he had just requested. He was fascinated because I was the only foreigner who had ever visited that police station.
24 October, 20 hrs 34 min: On a visit to the crime scene, an officer asked me to tell him the exact location where the camera was stolen. I told him it happened while I was on a moving vehicle, so I couldn’t exactly specify a location. He said he understood, and then he asked the same question again several seconds later. This happened approximately ten times.
24 October, 21 hrs 24 min: The officers told me to come back the next morning to review footage from nearby security cameras.
25 October, 10 hrs 00 min: I went to the station, but the officers didn’t have any footage. They told me to come back in the afternoon.
25 October, 15 hrs 05 min: The police still didn’t have any footage, but they told me to come with them while they picked it up. Apparently, an Indian police investigation is a participatory event.
25 October, 15 hrs 36 min: We couldn’t look at the footage at the police station because their computers had too many viruses. We had to go to my office. And we couldn’t use the police flash drive because it also had too many viruses.
25 October, 17 hrs 49 min: After hours of looking at grainy footage, I found a grainy image of the motorcycle. The police officers couldn’t distinguish a plate number.
25 October, 17 hrs 55 min: The police borrowed my flash drive and promised to bring more footage.
7 November, 17 hrs 14 min: After I pestered them about it for almost two weeks, the police finally returned my flash drive. It still didn’t have any footage. I considered this a victory.
So I’m still without a camera, and on top of that, I’ve lost trust in strangers and confidence in India’s social institutions. However, I’m not going to radically change how I approach this country. Obviously I’ll be more careful with my valuables, but I won’t stop talking to curious children, and I won’t stick to the tourist friendly places. Living in India entails certain risks, and I’m willing to accept those risks, even if it means making a few sacrifices every now and then.
On that note… So long, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5. We had a good run.