December 2016. We were back in India after a hiatus of five years. Now, five years is a long time : Governments change, Notes get demonetised, your parents start looking old and frail.
To my Mother’s searching questions on “How hardhearted can you be to not visit your parents for long ?” I tried to explain away the gap with staple reasons like ‘H1-B extension, PERM, I-140, H4 extension…(an alphabet soup of immigration related terms) and also weren’t we face-timing once or twice a week !’
I was obscuring the real reason tho. Because America lulled us into comfort.
Here we were (Dad,Mom,Missus,The BIL and yours truly), at the historic Red Fort. It is quite the sight. MAJESTIC AF. The Mughals are damn fine builders.
But,but,but – here’s the thing though, after five years of continuous stay in America,being back in India felt like a hazy dream under the influence. Flying above the smog, I was a kite. Untouched, Pure, Pristine, Indifferent. Amex black card, Project Fi Phone, Apple watch, Hood By Air jeans, NB 991’s – accoutrements screaming of homecoming desi boy status. I was in a bubble. It felt nice, this bubble.
To enter the Red Fort you need to buy a ticket. If only the invaders knew hah.
The queue at the counter as you’ll expect is unorganized,messy and pushy. Dad and I volunteered to get the tickets. While I focused maintaining a no-fly zone around me (a laughable notion) Dad dove in headfirst. In midst of all the commotion someone unzipped the front compartment of my backpack and fished out my mom’s ancient hulking Samsung Galaxy phone. It took me a few minutes to understand what had happened because I had felt only a faint tug on my bag which I had written off as someone trying to breach my private space. When I saw the open compartment, I panicked and immediately rang the phone only to be greeted with “The number your are calling is currently switched off.” I’d never been robbed before. Not in India. Not in the USA. I was shaken and bristling with rage. But it could have been worse because the backpack held a bundle of new 500 and 2000 rupees notes (people would have killed for these), my project fi phone,my work phone, my fujifilm XT1,my passport, the missus’s passport and the keys to our New York Apartment.
I heard a pop.
That was my bubble exploding.
There’s a police station on the periphery of the Red Fort grounds. All five of us marched to there. I have never been to a police station in my life. Ever. My only knowledge of police stations comes from the Movies. Anurag kashyap’s movies.
We sat and waited for the head constable.Meanwhile in the other corner of the room two chain snatchers were getting the lathi treatment before being handcuffed and carted away to Tihar Jail ( I think.)
The head constable appeared. He spat out paan. Washed his hands and apologized for the delay ( I don’t know why. It is never like this in the movies.)
He sized me up rather instantly and said, ” America? Returned ya Visiting? Kuch chori ho gaya?” I said, ” Yes. Mobile phone.” He chided me. ” Once you land in India you become careless. You think it is all safe and sound kyon ki apne logh. Sir here you have to be careful all the time. Especially when in crowds.”
I was about to retort with ” please do the needful and not preaching..” when dad pulled out his Central Government Identification badge. The head constable perked up immediately, flipped open the lid of his laptop, gestured towards it and said, ” Our work style has evolved. We now file all FIR’s online. I can give you a ticket number so you can track updates related to your case on the internet without having to come to this thana. Our software is open source.”