I am also good at losing things, books, pens, glasses, watches, phones and money. I haven’t yet lost my passport and ended up in detention. Curiously, I once got nearly detained for the opposite reason: I had too many passports – an Indian passport, for I was born in India, an American passport, for I lived in the US, an American diplomatic passport, for that was my status, and a blue UN passport, laissez-passer, for I worked for the World Bank.
So, it was a pleasure, at the end of a modest but pleasant lunch in a museum café in Bochum, Germany, to hear my friends talk of their Lost and Found experience.
Ashis, my brother, narrated that, on his way back from Turkey, airport security asked him to remove the iPhone from his person and he quickly inserted it in the handbag on the conveyor belt. The handbag looked like his but was someone else’s. Returning home, he could not find his phone, checked his computer and found where the phone had ended up, in Bangalore.
He called the person, a government clerk, who was relieved to find that the unknown phone in his bag was not a terrorist’s explosive device. But he was irritated that he had to pay a large sum to mail it back to its owner. Ashis mailed him the money and a token amount as his reward. He felt the poor man merited some compensation for his hassle.
When Dorothy exited a tourist bus in Rome minus her backpack, her Italian friends said they were praying that she would recover the lost bag. Her German compatriots said lost valuables are seldom returned in Italy and suggested she forget about it. Dorothy went ahead and bought a new laptop, the most valuable thing lost in her backpack. When she fired up the laptop, the first message that popped up was a notice from the Italian police: she was required to recover within 24 hours a brown backpack including a laptop computer, which someone had found and deposited with the polizia nazionale.
Ulrik, a museum curator in Essen, had lost his wallet some years ago during a visit to East Germany. Despondent, he perked up when he received a call at home from a woman in Leipzig to say she had found the wallet. He returned to Leipzig, but the woman said she was sorry she no longer had the wallet. She had, as the rules required her to, handed the wallet over to the local police. Ulrik went to the police station, but the police didn’t have it either. According to rules, they had passed it to the East German Lost and Found section. Ulrik then rushed to the Lost and Found section, but, no, they didn’t have it either. They had it forwarded it to the West German police. Ulrik returned home frustrated, planning to pay a visit to the police the next day, to find the wallet, neatly ensconced in an envelope, hanging from his door knob. She called the East German woman the next day, thanked her and offered some reward money. She refused any gift, again strictly according to rules.
Jonathan then said that it was hard, nearly impossible, to lose anything in Japan. He had traveled in train from Osaka to Tokyo, and, after alighting, realized that he had left his briefcase in the train. He had no hope of retrieving the briefcase, but since it contained his passport he was obligated to report the loss to the railway police station. The conversation was not easy, for the police officer spoke scant English but he insisted that Jonathan see him the next day, precisely 3.47 pm. Jonathan did not understand why and was particularly confused at the precise time specified, but he did turn up at the police station on time. The police officer rushed with him to the train platform, where the Osaka-Tokyo train approached, and the officer entered the compartment Jonathan indicated. They both saw the briefcase lying untouched exactly at the spot Jonathan had left it in his seat, though the train had shuttled between Osaka and Tokyo for three days.
Losing may be disconcerting, often costly and discombobulating, but recovering a lost wallet, backpack or briefcase, against seemingly impossible odds, is certainly a great pleasure.
My mother, rather distraught, visited my father in the emergency ward of the largest hospital in Kolkata. When she returned, I noticed, with the typical perceptiveness of a ten-year old, that her gold necklace, inherited from her grandmother, was missing. Maybe the clasp at the neck came undone as she walked. The precious necklace, we believed, was gone for good. The next day I accompanied my mother as she went to visit my father. As we were about to enter the hospital, we saw, on the street in front of the gates, where at least 50,000 people must have passed since my mother’s last visit, glinting in the bright afternoon sun my mother’s glittering 24-carat gold necklace.