First, I got my passport today. By Speed Post. You know what an experience it was applying for it, what with it having expired, having been issued from a different state, and requiring a change of address to boot. I had been expecting a Police Verification and I don’t know if this was ever done or not. I was half expecting (dreading, really) being asked for a handout when that happened, but that never happened. I had been expecting a certain amount of follow-up (which I had been stoutly refusing to do) and some glitches along the way and that never happened either.
All that happened was that I got a note saying I should collect my Speed Post from the Post Office. Hardly daring to believe it could be my passport, I went along at the appointed hour and there it was. The post man first obtained my signature for the parcel, then he tore open the envelope, drew out the passport and stared really hard at the signature there. Then he saw the photograph and realized that it had to be me, so he handed it to me and I was done. Simple.
I felt really pleased that this whole thing went through painlessly, just the way it should. I have long held the belief that it is possible to get some routine things done through government agencies in the normal way, without bribing or using any influence. I have held this belief in the face of mocking laughter, out-of-hand dismissal, and some pretty stiff evidence to the contrary. In my experience, the people who most assertively dismiss this contention are those who have never tried, who have just assumed that bribing or using influence is the only way to get things done in India. Some things in India do work. But people don’t want to believe this. Everyone wants to get their work through, any old how, without bothering too much about ethics and suchlike, and then complain about the corrupt bureaucracy. But, whenever we have tried to get stuff done the straightforward way, it has always worked, from obtaining a BSNL telephone, to registering our apartment.
In my limited experience, the Bangalore cops, much maligned though they are, are not all that bad. The other day I was out on my bike and I was pulled over by the cops for a routine check. They wanted licence and insurance papers. I had everything, but was still worried that they would want a bribe. They didn’t. They glanced at my licence and waved me away. That’s all.
The other good thing that happened to me is a little more complicated.
As you know if you read my previous blog, I had gone on this trek last weekend. The trek was long enough, and the other trekkers inexperienced enough, that I suggested hiring a vehicle to take our equipment to the top by road, while we walked up through the forest. I had hoped that some less enthusiastic member might offer to accompany the luggage, but, after a good deal of hemming and hawing, nobody came through on that. So the driver would have to take our luggage and go on ahead of us on good faith. We would meet him at the top and collect the luggage and pay him.
When I got to the top and discharged the jeep at 5 p.m. I realized that I would have to go back down and look for the others. There were some who would certainly be struggling, and I was the only experienced trekker in the group. Moreover, I had the emergency supplies: pain-killers, crepe bandages, and Glucose.
I stacked the luggage in a corner of the guest house at the top, told the chap in charge that I would be back soon, and set off to find the rest of my group.
Telling the chap was more a matter of courtesy than anything else; he had no moral or other obligation to look after our stuff. But I had no qualms about leaving the luggage unattended. I felt the place and the people were trustworthy. And, in general, I have the optimistic (if rather foolish?) belief that if you put your trust in someone and ask for help, *mostly* people will not betray you, especially not the friendly rural people or people of the trekking community. (This is closely linked to the belief that the majority of the thieves and scoundrels of the world lurk in the cities.)
So I was fairly distraught when I got back more than an hour later, to find that my white foam mat had disappeared. How could this be? Who would flick a sleeping mat? And why just the sleeping mat, when there was mountains of other stuff lying about as well? I looked all over the guest house, but there was no trace of it. I asked the chap in charge, but he said he knew nothing of it. And really, why should he?
What about the jeep driver, then?
The jeep driver was a young chap, a rascal at bargaining, but a cheerful, likeable fellow for all that. I had chatted a bit with him during the drive. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be a petty thief, but in any case I had counted the items we loaded into the jeep when we left and the items we unloaded later. I had taken a thorough look in the jeep to check that it was truly empty. I thought I had noticed him take this mat out and I thought I remembered him bringing it into the hall where everything was stacked. I did not think that he had stolen it.
Nevertheless, it was gone. We managed with nine mats.
The next day, we returned to the town and there met up with Bindu, who had taken a jeep back. She, much to my delight, handed me back my white foam sleeping mat, intact.
Here’s what had happened: Apparently the mat had flown away in the wind and rolled downhill (plausible, because it was quite windy up there). The driver, on his way down, spotted it and recognized it. He knew we were planning to spend the night at Kodachadri, so when he came up to the top the next day with another party, he kept an eye open for someone from our party and handed it to them. Simple.
I was so, so pleased. The sleeping mat is not an expensive item, and it has almost zero sentimental value. What had really hurt me about the entire episode was the sad realization that even here, even with such small things, people could not be trusted. Now, my fond belief was thoroughly vindicated: not only had nobody stolen it, the person who had found it (and who could have “stolen” it by the “finders-keepers” logic) had even gone to some lengths to return it.
So, I continue to have faith: The world is not essentially a bad place, and sometimes good things happen to good people.