Thursday, February 18, 2016

The storm that was

The second I boarded the flight, I was asleep before even knowing it only being awoken before landing in Dhaka. The man I was sitting next to starting having a conversation with me as to why I was visiting Bangladesh, whether it was my first time etc. I told him I was a cricket journalist and was going to cover the Bangladesh Premier League...of course he was interested! We talked a bit of cricket. He was extremely kind to help me get a local sim card and even verified if the person who was there to receive me was actually from my hotel. While having to pay for my sim card, I realized that I had forgotten to exchange Rupees for any Taka and had no local currency on me. I tried withdrawing cash using the Forex card that my company had handed over to me, but to no avail. I exchanged the 800 Rupees I had in cash for some Taka and bought the sim. I claimed my baggage and it was time to say goodbye. However, before leaving he said: Don't go anywhere yourself. Don't leave your hotel alone or let the locals around know that you aren't from here. The locality you're put up at is pretty safe, but don't risk going anywhere alone. I paid attention, but honestly didn't know what to make of it; I'm hardly one to live a guarded life, especially given my many shenanigans in Bangalore.

My hotel taxi was waiting for me, but Saurabh and I decided to meet at the airport as his flight from Chittagong was arriving just then. On meeting him, I explained my trouble with the Forex card, so he gave me 2000 Taka to keep in case of any sort of emergency and said we’d figure how to withdraw money the following day. I didn’t know Rayad was part of the Barisal Bulls, on finding out which, I was quite glad as there was someone else I knew in Bangladesh. I had exchanged a couple of mails with Isam before heading to Bangladesh with another Saurabh, an ex-colleague putting us in touch. I called him as soon as I was on my way to the hotel. Alan asked me to call Rizwan as soon as I got to Dhaka and said that if I needed anything at all, he was the one I should get in touch with. I got to my hotel – Tropical Daisy, checked in, paid with the card which surprisingly was okay to swipe, after which I fell asleep almost immediately.

I called Rizwan first thing next morning. He said he had been expecting my call and invited me for a party for the sponsors that the Barisal Bulls were having that evening. Alan forgot to mention that he owned the franchise! Saurabh had told me way before that I had to make it for the party which was also a welcome party for Chris Gayle. I told Rizwan that I would be there around 7:30 that evening.

Nigel, just like Alan, had put me on to Nishat and Naushad as soon as he had heard I was travelling to Dhaka. Nishat came to see me that evening and we stepped out of the hotel to try and withdraw some cash. We went to the closest Standard Chartered ATM, but the transaction failed again. I called my colleague in Bangalore and asked him to check with the bank what the problem was. He called back and said that I had to reset the pin online and it would work then. We were walking around the Dhaka streets and it didn’t seem very different from India. Instead of walking back, we took a cycle rickshaw back to the hotel. I reset the password and we headed out once again to try and withdraw money. I went to two ATMs after, but the problem persisted. So we thought we’d get early dinner as I had skipped lunch and then she would drop me off to Saurabh’s hotel as that was on her way home. We got on to a cycle rickshaw and were in the lane parallel to the hotel when Roshan called. The call suddenly dropped. The next thing I know, two chaps on a bike came so close to the rickshaw that I thought they would hit us. I felt my bag fall off my shoulder and thought I had dropped it, but in a second’s time I realized what had happened. I saw the bike zoom past us and my bag in the pillion rider’s hands. The only thing that came to my mind was: Shit! My passport’s gone!

We were literally 50 metres from my hotel. As the timing of the incident would have it, I was out of credit on my phone. I hyperventilated, obviously! I was terrified, anxious, and angry – all at the same time and didn’t know what to do! I ran into the hotel and first called Saurabh. I told him what had happened and he said he was on his way. Luckily, GV, a colleague who was supposed to come along for the tournament but failed to get his visa on time, called just then to tell me what the bank guys said. I told him my bag was gone with my wallet, forex card, passport, etc. and that it needed to be blocked. The chaps at the hotel called the cops at the closest police station. They said they would come in five minutes, but no surprise they didn’t turn up. GV called back to tell me I had to block the card online, so I bolted to my room to do that, but realized my laptop was in my suitcase, the key to which was in my wallet. I tried calling Rohan in the meantime to see if he could block the card, but I couldn’t get through to him either. Someone from the hotel came in and broke open the lock. I was hoping the card wasn’t used until then and it wasn’t. I blocked the card.

I messaged Alan as soon as I had some time to breathe in peace and told him what had happened. He was thrown into a frenzy of rage and helplessness. He asked me to call Rizwan, adding that he would speak to him himself and to keep him posted whenever I could. Nigel went into a similar panic mode and shot out emails to his friends in Dhaka telling them of the situation and asking for them to help me out with whatever they could.

Never having been to a police station in my life, my first visit to one was in another country, lodging an FIR for my lost passport! The policemen didn’t seem surprised at all with the complaint. They didn’t speak English nor Hindi; only Bengali. I just felt really grateful to have Nishat along at that point as she could do all the explaining. I got my FIR copy and went to see Saurabh in a hotel taxi. (I didn’t use public transport after that day until I got to Bangalore!)

I called Isam and told him what had happened. First things first, he transferred some credit to my phone. He said he would come meet me the following day and then we could decide what to do next. He offered to host me for the rest of my stay in Dhaka, which I thought was extremely sweet of him and his family. I finally met Saurabh and he asked me to move into the hotel where they were staying. He said he would speak to his manager and get a room for the rate the team was getting it. I met Rizwan. He was just extremely sweet and concerned. He sorted my stay at their hotel so that he could keep an eye out adding that he would arrange for transport to and back from the stadium – which he did. Alan said I should stay around Rizwan so that he would ensure I was safe and taken care of. I felt slightly better after the long, stressful day, hoping that the party would serve as a welcome distraction. But, my head was only revolving around my passport and what I needed to do to get back home. 

But of course, there were silver linings. 

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