It couldn’t have been more than 5 mins since I left the autorickshaw, when I realised my cellphone was missing. After rummaging through my belongings, I couldn’t find my hapless Micromax Q7 — hapless because it was in a pretty bad state thanks to lil’ Idhant. Since, I had left home in a tearing hurry, I couldn’t recall well whether I had carried my cell along (and thereby forgotten it in the rickshaw) or I had just forgotten to carry it at all. On calling upon my number, it just kept buzzing, so I called up wife next to check if the phone was lying around at home. On getting a negative reply, I yet again persisted in ringing up my number and my worst fears were confirmed when after a few rings more, the cell went dead. I didn’t need an Oracle to tell me that the phrase “out of coverage area”, clearly implied that someone had heard the rings and decided to silence the puny instrument for good. And the needle of suspicion pointed to the autorickshaw driver, who was the last person who had seen my cell.
For some odd reasons, I found it hard to believe that the seemingly honest bloke, who I had chatted up while 45 mins journey, would transform into an unscrupulous knave, who wouldn’t flinch from bumming a cellphone. The driver was a North Indian, or what is often called as a ‘Bhaiyya’. He was also an educated man, medium built, dressed up neatly, presenting a picture of sobriety. But, the facts on hand said otherwise. My cell had rung a few times, before it was strangulated into silence. And going by the past experiences, especially of my father, who had lost a couple many in these rickshaws, the evidence pointed to just one thing: the arseole had decided to make merry with my phone.
After muttering a few many oaths under the breath, I resigned myself to the new reality. Have to buy a new cell, need to get a duplicate SIM, etc. Yet, nothing could compensate the loss of data, namely, all the contacts on the cell and yes, the pics and videos of Idhant. It was this loss that hurt the most, and like many other people who have lost their cell, it dawned upon me that it is not the hardware that you rue, but all the soft memories inside.
Fortunately, I had backed quite a few of the pics on phone, so except for the loss of my contacts, I could live another day. Also, the fact was Micromax was a low-cost stop gap for me, till an Android Qwerty hit the market (which Motorola Charm did, just a few days earlier), hence in some weird ways I was not all that sad. Hence, over the next few days, I did indeed get the phone I desired, my old number, and life was back to normal, except for the simple fact, whenever people called up on my cell, they expected a warmer greeting like, ‘Hi Abhijeet’, or ‘Bolo Jatinder’, but since I did not have any numbers, my voice was hesitant and cold.
Also, I came to realise that it was my son who missed the phone much. He loved playing songs on it and dancing to them, since, Micromax didn’t cost the moon, I was pretty lax on him handling it (not the case with the new cell). Hence, the little guy missed his music player much more than I missed my phone. But things changed suddenly as my wife started getting strange smses at 6 in the morning.
“One person is using your phone”, used to be a curt message, coming from a number (8828941953) we were completely unaware of. The first few times, I brushed the message away as some spam or something, till one day, I had an Eureka moment. Long time back, while fiddling with my Micromax Q7, I had enabled a security feature in the phone, which sent a SMS to my wife’s phone every time the sim was changed. It was a password protected feature, and I promptly forgot the password. Also, the fact that the sim wasn’t changed even once and thus there was no such sms on my wife’s phone, the setting not only stayed the way it was, but I forgot about it altogether. Till, these weird smses reminded me of it.
My first instinct was to call up the phone, abuse the bastard and get the phone back. The second instinct was to run to the nearest police station with the number, file a complaint and screw the bugger. Both the approaches had their cons, in the first case, the guy would be wary and scared and might just dump the phone for good and the second one would require a lot of running hither-thither, you see, cops don’t like cases where there is nothing for them to foul up or rather investigate and thereby make a few bucks on the sly. It is their job, that’s how they survive and thrive. Hence, I calmed myself down, reminded myself that the only way to get the phone back was through ingenuity and patience. And that’s how I got about the job.
The first thing, I needed to ascertain was as to who was using my phone, was it a women or a man, possibly the class as well, because my strategem would be dependant on that. So, a few days later I called up from my own cell, because that will be one number that won’t be saved on the phone, and posed as a salesman from Airtel. Over the next few minutes, I offered the person an absurd plan; 3 year life-time free for 99 bucks and a silver coin. The purpose was to know a few details about him. Going by the noise around, I guessed that the phone was with the driver still, and his language and accent confirmed the fact that the ‘Bhaiyya’ driver had upsurped the phone for self. Predictably, he did not entertain my call and hung up pretty soon. So, now I knew who my adversary was and I had to work keeping the same in mind.
Next on my agenda was to get his name, address and other details. I knew well enough, that till I register a police complain or something the telecom companies would not cooperate, and since, I did not have any connect with someone at Idea,so it was impossible to find who’s number this was. Thus, I had to get the details from this person itself. I waited for a week or so, and then one evening I called the person from my office landline, speaking with a gruff Marathi accent told the man that this was a call from the “government” and that “Mobile detail verification drive” is on. Since, ‘Bhaiyyas’ and especially autorickshaw drivers are very scarred and sceptical of Marathi manoos or language, it was a psychological ploy to wean the information. Not surprisingly, the poor guy was shit scared and blurted out the details. So now, I knew that the phone was registered in the name of, Ramcharan Verma, Age 28, Address, Indiranagar, Vakola, Santacruz (E), and that the document submitted was his license copy. It was a short call, which ended with that. At stage two, thus, not only did I have the number of the person but his name, address and other details. It was time for the final nail, but again that had to wait.
The reason, I waited out a few more days was because, I didn’t want Ramcharan to suspect that the “mobile verification” call was done by me and that he was the source of the information. A week would have been enough for anyone to forget to forget such a call. Finally, after an interminable wait, one fine evening I confronted Ramcharan on the phone. The voice was not clear on the other hand, but I was more than clear. In the course of next few minutes, I informed the ‘Bhaiyya’ autorickshaw driver that the phone being used by him was mine, that I had traced his name and number from the ‘government’ and also that he had 2 choices, either to hand over the phone himself or face the cops. To make it sound more scary, I added that I was sitting at DN Nagar police station, and while the cops were coercing me to complain, the only reason I held back was because he was a poor guy.
I could easily make out that person on the other end was completely freaked out, especially after I referred to him by his name, spelt out his address. He vehemently kept denying that the phone was mine, mumbling incoherently, “naheen sahab, naheen saab”. I very calmly told him that the choice is yours, and hung up saying that. Never even once did I lose my cool, or use a harsh word. The man was petrified and this is just how I wanted him to be. I let things be at that, sure that very soon it will all end, I had an inkling.
Sure enough, the call did came the very next day. This time, it was a Marathi manoos, speaking in chaste Marathi, he presented himself as the owner of the rickshaw and stated that his driver had found a phone and he’d like to return it. I coolly informed him that, his driver had not found the phone, but stolen it and I had got it tracked from the CBI in Delhi. Yet again, I made a similar offer, turn the phone in and the driver must come himself, else I let the authorities have their way. There was a pretended non-chalance in the phone, a sort of a confidence of a man knowing how things will go. Dilip Joshi, checked on my address and asked if I can pick up the phone. I completely refused and stated that the same person who stole the piece has to return it and that too by coming over to my place. Throughout the conversation, I kept dropping hints that this was much bigger than they could have imagined and the whole government machinery was behind me. To corroborate the fact, I gave him the name and other details, “If I want, this very moment the person who stole my phone will be in prison indefinitely. You guys have no idea what a mess you are in”.
In the evening, I received another call, asking me what time and what place could the caller come to return my phone. I gave him a place and time for the next day. And so did he come, a normal looking bloke scared and nervous. He was not the one who had bummed the phone and if one were to believe him, after my call the day Ramcharan freaked out and ran to the owner Dilip Joshi for help, who after slapping him a few times over, got involved in the scene. In the meantime, the man made good his escape to Gorakhpur, his native place.
I listened to the story then I asked him to stand with my phone in the hand and clicked his snap (as shown), in case my cell was used by some Paki terrorist, I told him so. Next, I went on to tell him how, we were keeping a tab on every person’s movement and could even listen in to all the conversation. Also, how keen the cops were to get involved. Yet, again, I kept referring to “Dilli” in a mysterious manner for added effect. I also told him that the matter was frozen and not over and the cops could get involved anytime. The man was positively shivering with fear and am sure will never ever rob a cellphone even if was the easiest thing in the world.
Nonetheless, getting the phone back in my clutches was a great feeling. And Idhant was even more happier, since he had got back his music player. In a matter of 3 weeks with 3 calls I had managed to get my stolen cell back without having to turn to any cops or anyone else, all I had used was some psychology mixed up with technology.
P.S. Ramcharan, or whosoever laid his hands on my phone wasn’t a techno-challenged nincompoop, all the data on my memory card had been erased, all the contacts were gone, a whole lot of Bollywood and Bhojpuri videos had been saved up. The only thing that was spared were a few lectures by Jared Diamond et al, my Bhimsen Joshi MP3s and yes the porn clips. So, anyone needs a few hundred Bhojpuri song videos, you know whom to ask