Thursday, December 17, 2009

High Waters

The view of the evening sky from the sea side restaurant was spectacular. The Sun making its way down the horizon, cast awe-inspiring hues across the sky. With the warm august breeze of the Tyrrhenian Sea blowing mildly across the Genoa coast, the setting was perfect for a romantic dinner. Seated in that open air restaurant and soaked in the air of romance were Anushka and Dhiraj. She held his hand and said, “Thank you for the wonderful 10 months that we had here, DJ. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every moment of it. This break has been so refreshing and nourishing for me. I failed to realize how time flew. These 10 months are going to be etched in my memory forever. I’m going to miss all this and you, when I get back to India. I knew my return date since a long time but now that its tomorrow, my heart is filled with weird emotions and I’m getting so restless. I know you will be back as well, in another month, but somehow I’m loathe to think about life without you, even if it is just for 30 days.”
DJ suddenly got out of his deep slumber. It had been 4 weeks since Anushka had left. He checked his watch. It was 1:10 AM. He got up and went to the living room. “Cabin, Check in & Laptop bag, all packed and OK. 6 more hours for the flight and tonight I will be in your arms, honey” he thought. He had been waiting for this day, the last day of his in Genoa, with much anxiety. He placed his waist pouch containing his passport, flight ticket print, Indian & Euro currency notes and the Longines watch that he was going to gift Anushka on the laptop bag and thought, “Wake up at 5, take bath, call the taxi and leave.” He got back to the bedroom, eased himself on the bed, placed his mobile phone next to him and tried to get back to sleep so that he could relive that evening and continue that dream. As hard as he tried to sleep and dream that moment, his mind kept thinking about the days ahead and the amount of fun that he would have with his loved and dear ones. It took more than an hour before he fell asleep again.
An abrupt thunderous sound of the front door wakened DJ. He tried to check the time but couldn’t find his mobile phone. He turned around to see the clock on the table. It was 3:30 AM but more glaring were the drawers of the table which were flung open. He ran towards the front door and to his horror, he found the front door open. He immediately reached the living room to check his baggage and by what he saw, he felt a lightening strike his heart ripping it into pieces. The cabin bag, laptop bag and the waist pouch were missing and it looked as if the whole room was scanned. Out of sharp instinct, he ran out of the house, out of the apartment, turned to his right and kept running. Few blocks away, he could see two men walking away with his belongings. “Passport. My passport. Leave my passport”, shouted DJ. The burglars heard his shouts and galloped across the street onto their left and by the time DJ could reach that point and turn left, they were out of sight. He ran further and scanned all the adjoining streets but all he saw was empty roads, sopor buildings and shut doors. Gathering his breath, he started to trudge back with zillions of thoughts shooting across his head.
“What do I do now? Can I still travel back today? How am I going to contact anyone? Is this just a bad dream? Do I have to stay here till I get another passport? How will I get another passport? How do I locate the nearest embassy from here? Is there any other document which could double up as a passport? How do I contact the police now? Hell, I don’t even know if there is a station nearby. How do I manage everything without speaking Italian? They also stole the laptop damn it, it had the scanned copies of all my documents. I don’t even have money to do anything and I have closed the bank account and my lease agreement expires today. Will they agree to let me stay here till I can go back? Where do I stay otherwise? How did those rogues get inside and why did they choose my house? Why me, god, why me? Why do I always have to endure tough times? Who was that idiot who said – A man makes his own luck? Ok, ok, don’t get psyched up DJ. Think, think.” As hard as DJ tried to think about what needs to be done, his mind kept feeding those whys, hows and what ifs to him. He kept thinking about how he could have avoided this situation, the right/wrong things that led to this. It’s amazing how human brains have this cultured instinct of dissecting the past into bits and bytes soon after an incident like this.
Back in his apartment, DJ felt as if he was locked in a huge dark chamber with no way out. He started to feel uneasy and claustrophobic. He got up and thought of trying his luck locating a police station nearby and that’s when he realized that he had ran across the streets of Genoa in his boxers! He sighed and put on his pants and to his pleasant surprise, he found his USB stick which had another copy of the documents, in the pocket. “May be I can go to the Srilankan Grocery & Internet store. The Lankans stay in an apartment adjacent to the store. May be they will be of some help. At least I can communicate with my broken Tamil” he thought. 15 minutes and he was in front of the apartment but he didn’t know their flat number. He pressed all the 16 numbers on the intercom apartment door entrance. Few seconds and 7 of them answered back in a sleepy tone “Pronto”. One soft voice with a slight Tamil accent was unmistakable. “Akka, naa akka, Dhiraj. En passport poyidchi akka. Robbery aayidchi akka. Innike en travel date. Enna saivum onnu teriyaadi. Help akka”. Few minutes later, DJ was pouring his heart out to them. DJ & Anushka were regulars at the store and they had developed a warm relationship with the Lankans. As Lakshmi akka consoled DJ, Sri her husband, dialed 113, the emergency number and spoke to the cops. “Let’s take prints of your documents and go to your apartment. The cops would be there in 20 minutes. If you want to make a call or two to India, you can use my mobile”, Sri said.
After freshening up, DJ called up Anushka. The moment he heard her voice, he felt a lump in his throat. Fighting his emotions, he told her the entire story in brief. “Stop crying Anu. Things can only improve from now on. Listen, I don’t remember my Manager’s or the Global HR’s number. Its 8:30 AM in India right? I need you to call them up and explain my situation to them. Ask them to call me on this number immediately. You can reach their extensions through the receptionist. I will talk to them and hopefully something can be worked out. Don’t worry” and he hung up. It was 5:15 AM when Sri and DJ got back to the apartment. The cops had been waiting for them. Sri spoke to them in Italian and narrated the whole story. The cops then inspected the house thoroughly and said, “Sembra che i ladri sono entrati in casa rompendo aprire la porta del bagno. noi non pensi di aver notato che. Comunque, dovete venire alla Questura e registro una denuncia formale.” “Dhiraj, they think the thieves might have entered through the bathroom door and that you need to go to Questura (police station) and register a complaint. You go with them and I will follow you in my car” Sri interrupted. “Ok, but will I be able to travel today without my passport?” DJ asked Sri. “No, no passaporto, no fly Indiano” one of the cops interrupted. On hearing that, DJ felt a bit deflated. Days of anticipation and anxiety was turning anticlimactic. With a heavy head, he got inside the polizia car.
The cops led DJ inside the Questura, stopped in front of the night shift officer’s room and knocked a couple of times. “Cazzo. ciò che è adesso? Non riesco nemmeno a fare un tranquillo pisolino qui” an annoyed voice behind the door said. One of the cops bent forward and replied, “Ci dispiace signore, ma noi abbiamo una situazione di emergenza qui.” The door opened 10 minutes later and behind it was a man who looked like he hadn’t slept for days. The cops and the officer spoke for a few minutes. The officer then turned towards DJ and said, “Venire dentro e di compilare il modulo di reclamo.” Sensing DJ’s ignorance, the officer said, “Capisci l'italiano? Non capisco Inglese! Bellissimo!” and signaled him to come inside his office. DJ understood basic Italian words which were just about enough to understand what his client said but he could never manage a conversation. Outside office it was more actions and guesses that worked. Just when he was wondering where Sri was, Sri entered inside, “You’ve got a call from India”, he said and handed over his mobile. It was from the Global HR head. DJ detailed him about everything. “Oh! That’s so unfortunate Dhiraj. I’m really sorry. But there is no need to panic. Listen to me carefully. The first thing you need to do is to lodge a complaint in the police station for passport theft and obtain the complaint copy. Then you go to the nearest Indian consulate/embassy which is in Milan and request for an Emergency Certificate. The consulate should provide you one, after you have filled out a form attaching a copy of the complaint. If there is any problem at the consulate, don’t hesitate to call me or ask them to talk to me. You can reach me on this number anytime. Once you obtain the certificate, inform us and we will arrange for an air ticket immediately. With this certificate, you can come back to India from any country, transiting through any country” the HR head said.
DJ felt like he had found a life boat in deep sea. The HR head continued, “I spoke to Sri too. He mentioned that they also own a money transfer office. I will arrange for some amount to be transferred right away. Just keep all the bills so that you can claim it later on. Let us not worry about that now. You just get the complaint copy and the certificate and we will take care of the rest. Remember to buzz me when you need anything.” The conversation felt like a warm hug to DJ. It pricked him for a moment for being too critical on his company sometimes. Back into the office, he acquainted Sri about his conversation. “La vostra firma qui per favore. Avrò la tua copia in un minuto e si può avere la vostra conversazione fuori” ranted the officer. “Scusiamo. Dhiraj, please sign here and we will wait outside. He will get the copy ready” Sri said. Few minutes later they were driving back home with the complaint copy. “Let us locate Milan Indian consulate on the map sooner we reach home. You take prints of whatever is required and I will arrange for the money. There are trains every hour from Genoa to Milan. Its better you leave early. I hope you can manage things alone in Milan” Sri asked. DJ didn’t respond. He kept staring outside the window.
It was 11:20 AM when DJ reached the Indian Consulate in Milan and to his dismay, he saw a long queue in front of the consulate door. “Is this queue for a specific thing or would everyone, even those with emergencies, need to follow?” he thought. He moved ahead to enquire with a person in the queue. “Pichhe jaa oye” came the reply. DJ walked and stood at the end of queue. “Gosh! Is this an Indian consulate? These guys look so different. Their language and their build is so very different. No wonder India is so diverse” he thought. The Indian consulate was located on the 5th floor of the building. It had a separate entrance which housed the staircase and a couple of lifts. There was no security or any person who could help or direct things at the entrance. Just a board on the wall beside the entrance door which displayed the timings: “Consulate timings: 9AM to 12 Noon. Documents collection time: 4PM -5PM”! Even after several minutes, the queue showed no sign of movement and DJ let out a frustrated sigh. The guy standing in front of DJ asked, “Ki Kaam hai?”. “Passport chori hogayi hai. Emergency certificate lene aaya hoon” DJ replied. “Yaar, phir toh bahut din lagenge! Ye dekh, main do hafte se yahan ghoom raha hoon, passport ke liye, aur yeh saale roz ek nayi cheez maang kar vapas bhejte hai. Aur phir yeh timings. Barah ko band karte hai. Chaar baje ke baad, sirf documents vapas dene ke liye kholte hai. Agar barah baje se pehle andar nahi ghuse na, toh vapas aana padega. Aur kal toh chutti hai. Saala, barah se char tak kya karte hai pata nahi” he said.
DJ just smiled and ignored him. He didn’t want his equanimity to be disturbed by some frustrated stranger. He believed he could get the certificate today, if not now then in the evening. At 12:15PM, the consulate entrance door was closed. Everyone in the queue abused the consulate men and started to leave. DJ stood there wondering what to do. He decided he would grab a quick bite at a restaurant nearby. Three junctions ahead he spotted an Indian restaurant and walked in. He was greeted by the typical aroma and flavor of Indian food and that’s when he realized how hungry he was. Just when he was thinking of what to order, a popular but sad Hindi movie song “Koi humdum na raha, koi sahara na raha” started to play in the background. He quickly ordered a couple of Veg rolls – take away! 10 minutes later, DJ was sitting in the park next to the restaurant with a whirlpool of thoughts in his head and the rolls in his hand. He just wanted to get through with all this soon and head back home to be in the arms of Anushka. An hour later, when DJ returned to the consulate, he was shocked to see the same long queue! He quietly walked past everyone and stood at the end of it.
The long wait had seemed like an eternity to DJ. Exactly at 4PM, the consulate door opened and a chaos ensued with everyone rushing inside like raging bulls. Most of them took the stairs as the lifts were jammed. The consulate was just 3 medium sized rooms in a serial order. The first room was the waiting room, the second was occupied by the consulate officers and the third was where all the documents were stored with access strictly for the consulate employees. 3 men who worked at the consulate sat behind a thick transparent glass wall with small openings at their desk’s height which was big enough to exchange the documents. DJ struggled to enter inside the packed waiting room where everyone was screaming and shouting coarse. Though entry inside the consulate with consumption of alcohol was strictly prohibited, the air inside the waiting room was heavy with body odor and alcohol smell. DJ felt like throwing up. Inspite of this bedlam, the 3 men behind the glass walls maintained their decorum and went about issuing the passports to the squalling crowd at their own pace. Most of them had issues with the spelling/date/place entered in their passports and they stood there demanding the correction. Few of them had come over to collect the passports of their relatives/friends and with the consulate officer strictly denying to issue the passports without a letter of authorization, an uproar ensued. Not even in his wildest of dreams had DJ imagined something like this.
When it was 5 minutes to 5PM, DJ decided he had enough of it and pushed forward towards the glass wall. Ignoring the stares, DJ pushed ahead, reached the counter and shouted, “What is happening here? Is this really a consulate? Why is everyone here acting like an uncultured and uneducated idiot? If you have received your passports and there are issues with it then come back again and fill out a form for the correction or if you are here filling in for someone else, go get an authorization letter or get the actual person here because that is what the rule book says. Stop shouting and being vulgar to our fellow Indians inside who are just trying to do their jobs. Learn to respect and follow the rules. These officers won’t get an orgasm out of giving you guys a hard time.” There was momentary silence in the room. DJ then turned towards the officer and said, “Sir, I have an emergency. I had to travel back to India today but my passport was stolen early morning, from inside the house while I was sleeping. My visa validity expires in 2 days. I have been asked by my company to collect an emergency certificate from here so that I can go back to India immediately. I have a copy of the police complaint too. Could you please help?” The officer looked at DJ for a few seconds, took out a form and said, “Fill this out and attach copies of the police complaint and your passport. Also include 2 of your passport sized photographs.”
DJ took the form and settled in a corner of the waiting room ignoring the stares. He took a few minutes to fill the form but wondered from where he would get his photos. Meanwhile the crowd that had gone silent and had started to disperse. DJ got up, walked towards the glass wall to the officer and said, “Sir, I have filled the form and here are the photocopies you requested but I don’t have my photos right now”. “Well Sir, you can go out and turn left, few meters away you would find a studio. We need to attach the photos with the request, you see” he said. DJ didn’t want to go out as he feared that the consulate office might close for the day. He opened his wallet and took out the 2 photos he had of Anushka and himself together, handed it to the officer and said, “You can cut this out to have mine but do return the other half. I hope this is ok?”. The officer answered in the affirmative and asked DJ to wait for a few minutes while he completes the formalities. Few minutes later the officer came out and asked DJ, “What would be your flight itinerary Sir? Where would you transit?” “Genoa-Paris-Bangalore, Sir” DJ replied. The officer disappeared inside the documents room and emerged after a few minutes. He walked out to the waiting room and said, “Here is your Emergency certificate Sir. Note that you need to go through Paris only.” DJ thanked the officer and was about to leave with the certificate when the officer said, “These are the kind of people we deal with everyday. Most of them don’t understand rules and changes the national governments bring in quite often. They think we change things according to our whims. We don’t know how they enter inside this country but later most of them loose their way and end up with some problem or the other. Anyway, it was a welcome change to have you here. Have a safe trip back home.” DJ smiled and took his leave.In the train station before leaving to Genoa, DJ made 2 phone calls from the booth, to Anushka and to the Global HR. “Great Dhiraj! As per your previous itinerary, I had requested the travel guys to hold on to a ticket for tomorrow. I was just waiting for your call to confirm the same. I hope you have no problems traveling tomorrow?” the HR asked. “No, Of course no” DJ blurted out. The last thing he wanted was to stay back for another day doing nothing but rolling over the same thoughts. “Ok. Check your mail for the e-ticket after a couple of hours. I will also call you to provide the ticket number just in case” and the HR hung up. DJ took a deep breath and walked towards the platform. It had been an incredible day for all the wrong reasons. But he felt the high waters receding. Though his mind was blank, he couldn’t sleep the whole night. Early next day, before he checked in at the airport, he hugged Sri and thanked him & Lakshmi for everything. They had come over to see him off. As he boarded the flight, he felt a drop of tear rolling down his cheek. He knew he would have been in real soup if not for them. He did a silent prayer, made a wish for them and bid good bye to them and to Genoa.

11 comments:

☆♪♥Shalini♥♪☆ :) said...

That was a real super duper write up Sunil!! Awesome... I didn't stop reading till I finished it.. You have a great flare for writing!! :) Looking forward to read more... Happy Writing!! :)

SouMeow said...

Suni, Awesome Narration... I was really gripped with tension till the end of the story..I can very well imagine how complicated the situation can get if things like this happen when one is outside his home-country and even worse if we dont know the local language.You have brought out the feelings DJ goes thru very well. This blog will surely be of big help for people who God forbid get into such situations.

Congratualtions once again for adding another precious gem to the beautiful necklace of literary gems. :)[Waiting for the next blog already :)]

SouMeow said...

Suni, Proud of you Mr.Versatile :)

kusuma said...

nice!! it looks like a real life story
ha ha
it was thrilling from the begginning to the end.
really it guides any one who looses his passport in foreign country. we could feel the anxiety that DJ ws experiencing.good. in this mechanical world there are good people like sri and lakshmi. you could have gven transalations of the italian dialouges . it would have been better. at least people like us would have understood how the police behave there.
language also is nice. congrats continue writing. all the best.

sushma said...

super kano tumba chennagide. nanage full tension gotta while i was reading. i between it also reminded me of your paris trip. paapa yeshtu kashta alwa. not bad u have used so many italian sentences.
looking forward for more write ups. great going bhai!!!!!!!!!

Manoj said...

Dude where in the world do you come up with such plots. I m sure everyone of us come across such situations in our life, but not everyone can represent such occurrences in such a lucid yet fast paced narration.
You have a gift bro & it shows. Congratulations on another well written piece.

Sunil S Murthy said...

Thanks all :)
Kusumom, translations not being there was deliberate. I didnt want to make it easy for the reader cause it wasnt easy for DJ. Else how can one understand what he goes thru. Anyway, you can use google translater :)
Sush, Jai bolo google ki! :) it does pretty good translations too ;-)
Shals, I somehow knew you would be the first one to read :) thanks.
Som, Sammu keeps eating gems everyday...I just borrowed one! :P

Nagendra said...

Sunil,

That was amazing...You have been gifted with an awesome narration skills & picturization...really great work...keep writing :-)

Deeps said...

Tension tension tension.... suuperbly dipicted sunil.. I hope you have started with a book by now.. Haven't you yet?! :) Was just wondering on the way back from office just a couple of days back on howcome I have not received your next blog post :) Just enjoyed the story Jeeju... Very nice!

jyeshta said...

simply awesome...
by the way is INDIAN consulate same as ur description in Genoa or is it a pure imagination..???

When is ur next post buddy ??
don't keep us waiting for a long time... :)

ಗೀತಾ ಗಣಪತಿ said...

Dear Sunil,
We both read this post today and were overwhelmed by emotions.
Ganapati has become sentimental now. Thank you so much for everything. you know why.

take care..
Geeta