Communities stand up for the Red Panda in Arunachal Pradesh

(Note: First published on WWF-India’s website)

A rare beauty
Known for the beauty of its reddish-orange coat and white ‘teardrops’ falling away from its eyes, the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is found in parts of Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Southern China and India. In India, it is found in the states of Sikkim, northern West Bengal, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, where a majority of its population occurs. Classified as a Vulnerable species by IUCN*, increasing habitat loss poses a major threat to its survival. WWF-India is currently working with its stake holders to conserve this rare animal in most of its distribution range across North East India.

Communities for nature
Since 1992, WWF-India has partnered with local villagers, Indian Army and Forest Department in the Western Arunachal Landscape (WAL), which covers nearly 7000 sq. km. area of Tawang and West Kameng districts, to conserve its rich biological diversity. The maximum forest area in WAL is under the customary tenure of local indigenous communities. WWF-India facilitated the establishment of Community Conserved Areas (CCA) in 2004 to ensure sustainable management and community protection of such forests that also form the habitat of the red panda.

One such CCA is the Pangchen Lumpo Muchat CCA, which comprises of Lumpo and Muchat villages. According to Nawang Chota, Secretary of Pangchen Lumpo Muchat CCA, “After the formation of the CCA we stopped hunting and fishing in it, and prevented outsiders from indulging in these as well. We also started community based tourism to provide a source of income to the villagers.”

In November 2010, three other villages – Socktsen, Kharman and Kelengteng, came together to form the Pangchen Socktsen Lakhar CCA. Together the two CCAs control 200 sq. km. of area. The wide variety of wildlife found in these forests includes the red panda. While formation of the CCAs stopped the hunting of wild animals, the continued loss of habitat posed a threat to the long term survival of the red panda. To prevent this, villagers from the two CCAs came together to form the unique Pangchen Red Panda Conservation Alliance with the support of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and WWF-India. The aim of this community initiative is to help red panda conservation not only by banning its hunting or capture, but also by preventing the habitat loss and protecting the plant species on which it is dependent.

By preventing habitat loss the alliance also hopes to reduce human-wildlife conflict caused by wild animals such as wild boar, porcupines and monkeys raiding crops and villages. A Yak dung briquette unit is also under construction in the area to reduce fuel wood consumption and provide additional income. In addition, Pangchen Tourism Package involving five villages from the two CCAs is being developed to attract tourists and thereby provide an alternate source of livelihood for the locals.

WWF-India’s continuing support
Pijush Dutta, Landscape Coordinator, WAL, WWF-India said, “With this one of a kind initiative it is hoped that conservation of red pandas can be undertaken in a scientific manner with proper records maintained of sightings by villagers. The next step is to prepare a detailed master plan in consultation with the villagers for the management of the forests in a sustainable manner”.

“WWF-India will support this Conservation Alliance by undertaking a biodiversity documentation of the CCAs, conducting training courses for the villagers for sustainable management of local forests and support community based tourism as a conservation incentive,” adds Pijush.

* Wang, X., Choudhury, A., Yonzon, P., Wozencraft, C. & Than Zaw 2008. Ailurus fulgens. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. . Downloaded on 09 December 2010.

The Art of Printing

The art of photo printing is slowly becoming archaic like a floppy drive or a cassette player. Nowadays, hardly anyone prints their digital photos, forget printing from film negatives. But not too long ago it was an art. It is still an art but the great practitioners of that art are slowly but steadily dying out. The intuition to judge the correct timing for development and fixing, the ability to extract detail from where it would seem impossible, correct mistakes made by the photographer and in the end produce a print that is virtually identical to the vision of the photographer is no mean task. But great printers are rarely given their due and most are content to toil in their darkrooms in search of that perfect print. It is therefore all the more important to celebrate one of the true artists in this field who printed for some of the very greats in photography. Reproduced below is an excerpt from one of the two lovingly written articles paying homage to Voja Mitrovic – one of the greatest printers in photography.

If you have even the slightest interest in photography, go grab a coffee, put your feet up and read the two articles (links after the excerpt) at your leisure.

Both Voja and Picto would have a tremendous impact on my own destiny. In June of 1979, after arriving back in Paris, I went to see Pierre Gassmann at Picto and asked for a job as a printer. Pierre, with his tough-love gruff voice, asked me what I knew how to do—and I exaggerated and told him that I was a great printer and knew how to do eve- rything with black-and-white prints. He said to me, “We will see. You will have a three day tryout, and if you aren’t as good as you say, you won’t get the job.” On my first day of my tryout, I was given 100 negatives and told to make 8×10-inch prints of each by the end of the day. At 4 p.m., a tall, handsome man with a foreign accent, one of the printers in the lab—Voja—came to my enlarger and asked how it was going. I told him that I had only printed 20 negatives. He said to me, “You will never get this job—give me the negatives.” I watched him take the hundred negatives to his enlarger, and in one hour, he printed the remaining 80 negatives, putting each sheet of printing paper in a closed drawer after exposing each negative. At 4:50 pm, he took out 80 sheets of exposed photographic paper and went to the open developing tank. I watched him chain develop all the prints, and one by one put all 80 prints, perfectly printed, into the fixer. At 5:10 p.m. that day, Pierre Gassmann walked into the lab and said, “letʼs see how you have done.” He put his foot on the foot pedal to light up the fixer tank with bright red light, and went through my 100 prints laying in the fixer-and a few seconds later, looked up and said to me, “you are as good as you said; you are hired!” After Gassmann walked out of the dark room, I took Voja aside, and said, “thank you. I will find a way one day to thank you for this!” He looked at me and said, “I was an immigrant also. I know what it means to need work—we need to help each other!”
—Copyright 2010 by Peter Turnley, Paris, France

Article I
Article II

Both the articles were written by Peter Turnley and were first published on Mike Johnston’s consistently excellent photography blog-The Online Photographer.

Change Through Education

by Ameen Ahmed and Anil Cherukupalli

(Note: First published on WWF-India’s website. The following modified version appeared subsequently on WWF’s Global Intranet.)

Meet the Pardis
Hardly a community in India’s recent history has been more affected by changing laws and times than the Pardis. A nomadic tribe spread across the central states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the Pardis have depended on forests for their livelihoods for countless generations. In particular, they hunt wildlife.

The erstwhile Maharajas, recognizing the Pardis’ considerable skills, employed them to drive wildlife toward the kings’ hunting parties. Many farmers in central India employed Pardis to guard against crop-raiding wild animals; the deal was that the Pardis could keep the meat of the animals they caught.

Within the Pardis community, there are divisions according to various occupations and hunting practices. For example, the Phaandiya Pardis hunt their quarry using a rope noose. The Teliya Pardis sell meat and oil extracted from reptiles they capture. But the most remarkable aspect of hunting by Pardis is their total dependence on traditional means and basic equipment, like rope, wooden clubs and knives, to bring down wildlife. They rarely use a search light, vehicles or guns.

Troubled times: post-Independence and the Wildlife Protection Act
The British treated most Pardis as social pariahs. Most of their sub-sects were included in the list of “criminal tribes” in the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. Though the act was overturned after independence in 1952 and they were “de-notified,” the historical stigma remains.

Life for the Pardis took a dramatic turn for the worse in 1972, when the Indian government adopted the Wildlife Protection Act. Pardis were not only prohibited from entering many of the state-controlled lands, now designated as protected forests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, but overnight they were also required to stop hunting.

The Cost of Cheap Medicines: Antibiotic Pollution in Patancheru

(Note: The following story is the result of a series of interviews done with affected villagers, environmental activists, lawyers and other stakeholders along with visits to the affected areas by Anil Cherukupalli and Tushar Dhara in June 2009 as a follow up to news reports referring to a Swedish study that found extremely high concentrations of many drugs in local water sources in the Patancheru area of Hyderabad.)

The mantra that drives India today is development through industrialisation. Having missed the first wave of industrialisation India latched on to the emerging industries of the new millennium: Information Technology and Biotechnology. The precursor to biotechnology was the pharmaceutical industry which took root in Hyderabad from the late 1970s onwards. The succeeding decades saw Hyderabad emerge as one of the world’s largest centres for bulk drug production. The drugs were exported to major markets around the world including Europe and the USA and in lesser developed markets in Africa.

The rise of the Indian generics industry was made possible by a host of institutional and non-institutional factors: availability of a large pool of scientists; the Patents Act of 1970 that made a distinction between product and process patents which removed the legal constraints for manufacturing generics. In particular, the establishment of Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited (IDPL) in 1961 by the government in Hyderabad led to the concentration of the generics drug industry in the southern Indian city.

The pharmaceutical manufacturing units are concentrated in the Patancheru industrial area, which lies 25 kilometres to the northwest of the city. Although a separate municipality before 2007 Patancheru became part of the newly constituted Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation that year. The newly constituted GHMC made it possible for the erstwhile suburban municipalities to access more funds for civic amenities and provided an integrated development plan for the Greater Hyderabad conurbation.

Though Hyderabad has become an important node in the global pharma industry, the environmental, human, economic and social costs have been overlooked. Although the benefits of providing cheap generic drugs are not in question the environmental cost is being borne by communities located in the vicinity of the drug manufacturing units in Patancheru. Since the early 1980s, when the pharma industry took off, these communities have had their water and soil polluted by the untreated industrial effluents. This has affected their livelihoods in the form of decreased agricultural yields. On the health front, although the evidence is anecdotal, abortion rates have increased; stunted growth has been reported in children, and increased incidence of skin diseases. The communities lack of the means to make their voice heard and along with willful disregard of existing environment laws and their monitoring by the regulatory authorities makes Patancheru a typical case of environmental neglect in a developing country.

A Swedish research team led by Joakim Larsson from the University of Gothenburg conducted a study on the levels of pharmaceutical drugs in the water discharged from a common effluent treatment plant in the Patancheru area of Hyderabad. The shocking results of the study, which was published in January and April 2009 in peer reviewed scientific journals, revealed the presence of very high levels of antibiotics such as Ciprofloxacin (up to 6.5 mg/L) and the anti-histamine drug Cetirizine (up to 1.2 mg/L). In one place, the levels were found to exceed human therapeutic blood plasma concentrations!

Moreover, it was not just Ciprofloxacin or Cetirizine that were found in the treated effluent. According to an Associated Press report, the supposedly cleaned water contained 21 different active pharmaceutical ingredients, used in generics for treatment of hypertension, heart disease, chronic liver ailments, depression, gonorrhea, ulcers and other ailments. Half of the drugs measured at the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment!


Nearly 4.5 years and 250 odd posts later I thought it was time for some change. As you can see I’ve shifted domains. Do feel free to look around and explore. Many things have changed while some have remained the same. I hope you will like what is to come.

From Corbett To Keoladeo

(Note: This trip report was first published in the April 2009 edition of Bird watchers’ Society of Andhra Pradesh’s newsletter-Pitta. An edited version of this post was featured in You & I Magazine.)

Breaking Dawn

They say that you can never forget your first tiger sighting in the wild. The majestic walk, the earth shattering roar and the easy but arrogant confidence apparently imprint him in your mind forever. With such descriptions and statements in mind I set off back in late January 2009, to the Jim Corbett National Park in Ramnagar, Uttarakhand to join that relatively small club of people who have seen the magnificent beast in the wild. While two days of frantic dashes and sudden hushed stops throughout the length and breadth of the Brijrani area of the park did not yield even a small glimpse of that much praised animal (except for some fresh pugmarks), in all those wanderings I did get to see an amazing variety of bird life both in Corbett and a few days later in the Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. And in the latter I saw a sight that completely drove the tiger from my mind. It was the most beautiful bird I had ever seen in my short birding career. But more about this bird and the Bharatpur sanctuary later. Let me first guide you through the foggy grasslands, thin gurgling streams and cool woodlands of Corbett by conveniently concentrating on birding aspects of the trip and ignoring for most part our increasingly desperate attempts to spot a tiger.

Lonely Morning

We reached Ramnagar too early to enter the park so our jeep driver took us to the Kosi river to pass time. It was still dark but a thin light was breaking out in the east marginally illuminating the murky riverbed that was mostly dry except for a small flow. As we stumbled over the smooth and rounded pebbles of the river bed, a sudden clear ringing rent the perfectly still dawn air. It was the di-geri-doo call of a lapwing. Although it was still too dark to see the bird. I wanted to hang around a bit for the light to brighten to identify the lapwing and see if there were any more birds but it was time to proceed to the park.

White-capped Water Redstart

As we waited to collect our park entry permits at the Brijrani gate and be assigned a guide we saw that ubiquitous septet, the Jungle Babblers (Turdoides striatus) hopping around. After we proceeded into the park, as soon as we passed the buffer zone and were crossing a shallow stream we saw a Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus) running away from us. After crossing the stream and climbing the crest of a small mound we found a rivulet below on our left in which we observed through the rapidly thinning fog a group of Black Storks (Ciconia nigra) out fishing early. We continued towards the canteen at the beginning of the park proper to quieten our grumbling stomachs. Stomach filled, I was sipping on some hot Bournvita when I spied a little bird hopping around the tables in front of the canteen with its tail raised. It was a White-Capped Water Redstart (Chaimarrornis leucocephalus), a bird I did not expect to be so used to civilization.

Red Junglefowl

No sooner had we left the canteen, our guide Mahesh pointed out a Lesser Flameback Woodpecker (Dinopium benghalense) in the distance seemingly bent on breaking its beak on the bark of a tree. As we were driving through a wooded area we heard the harsh bark of an Indian Muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak) from near us and stopped by the side of the track to investigate. A flash of color in the dense bushes next to us sent our pulses racing. Alas, it was not a tiger passing through. It was only a “lowly” timid Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) giving us the once over with its bobbing head!

Towards late afternoon we made our way towards the Malani region of the park to catch a glimpse of the core forest area that no day visitors are allowed to enter even with entry permits. Mahesh, sharp as ever, pointed out a group of birds in the distance sitting high in the branches of a tree well above the average tree cover. Their bare, red colored fleshy necks gave them away instantly. It was a group of Red-Headed Vultures (Sarcogyps calvus) seemingly relaxing under the late afternoon sunshine.



Ever since the growth of the so called ‘multiplex cinema’ it has been fashionable among some quarters to keep stating at regular intervals that the Hindi film industry has finally come of age. In other words, the Hindi film industry has finally shed its insane plots and acquired a global persona that everyone from San Francisco to Sydney can relate to. For a long time I believed that to be mostly empty hype. Having seen Dev.D yesterday changed my opinion. If a crazy, beautiful, hilarious, sad, mad, ugly beast of a film like this could get made in the context of mainstream cinema and receive a wide release then indeed Hindi cinema has come of age like no other language cinema of India I know of has.

Anurag Kashyap always had a reputation as a talented and controversial director and through Dev.D he demonstrates why he is one of the best directors Hindi cinema is lucky to possess. Saratchandra’s Bengali novel ‘Devdas’ has been a perennial favorite among Indian film directors with as many as 9 versions already made using it as a source. Kashyap’s film is anything but faithful to the novel. Along with co-writer Vikramaditya Motwane he twists, bludgeons, and mutates the novel into a contemporary setting. He wisely avoids going the melodrama way like other directors before and instead concentrates on the core, the emotional attyachar if you will, of all the central characters and especially of Dev.

Abhay Deol is steadily building his reputation as cross over cinema favorite and with this film he demonstrates why he is so good in such ‘auteur’ films. After a stunning performance in his recent ‘Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye’ he cements his indie status with a sterling modern take on Devdas.

Newcomers Mahi Gill and Kalki Koechlin are equally stunning in their roles as Paro and Chanda aka Chandramukhi. Mahi as the headstrong Paro and Koechlin as the disarmingly seductive Chanda prop up the emotional core of the film with star making turns. The transition of Koechlin, in particular, from an unconventional school girl to a professional seductress of great charm is both stunning and shocking.

What is even more remarkable is how strong Paro and Chanda are. They are completely unlike the simpering, crying-behind-closed-doors, always-waiting-for-the-hero ‘Bharatiya naris’ that you usually find on Indian film screens. Spurned brutally by Dev Paro soon moves on to her new life without a second thought or signs of weakness. Spurned by her parents and a hypocritical society Chanda soon makes a life for herself, and even if she has to sell her body and voice for that life, she does it on her own terms. I wonder what the regressive Indian right wing organizations will think of such strong characterizations?

The cinematography by Rajeev Ravi is another aspect of the film that hits you with a solid fist in your visual guts. While the camera starts sedately, almost conventionally it steadily deteriorates into extremely ugly close-ups, insane time lapse sequences, flashy over saturated colors and kinetic character driven movements mimicking the emotional upheaval of the film’s central characters. The frenetic, adrenalin-infused editing needs special mention even if in certain segments of the film the edits should have been much tighter.

The soundtrack by Amit Trivedi, to put it simply, is mind blowing. It is music that grabs you by your auditory balls and just does not let go. Be it the raunchy Bihari twang overloaded but hilarious ‘Emosanal Attyachar’ or the world weary beauty of ‘Saali Kushi’ the music is an aural romp through ever shifting soundscapes.

Final word-get out and immediately drive to the nearest film theater and watch this mad fuck film. It will be a blinking benchmark on your filmy radar. And if you can, watch the film after sampling a few choice shots of vodka. Taken over and ruled completely by the film for 172 minutes your roughly surprised senses will thank you for it.


The guns have finally fallen silent. The staccato bursts of gunfire have died down. The intermittent explosions have stopped. The pigeons which flew away after every explosion have settled down. But something does not feel right. This was not like one of those bomb blasts we have been seeing with such regularity in India over the past few years. The blasts, even though extremely tragic, had a neat closure to them. But this siege was not neat. It was brutal, ugly, bloody and drawn out. To think that a dozen terrorists made the city, the country, nay even the world stand still speaks volumes both of their meticulous planning as well as of the utter failure of our security apparatus.

I’ve never liked Mumbai as a city. I’ve never lived there but while I was in college I visited it every year for four years. And every time I came away irritated by its insane (to me) rush to get somewhere, its ugly contrasts, mixed with a little envy too perhaps that Mumbai was so much more cosmopolitan than Hyderabad. I’ve always thought people made a lot of unnecessary fuss about Mumbai, its so called spirit, character and every other clichéd adjective you can think of. But this time, unlike the many tragic events before, my heart went out to Mumbai and its people. As I followed the breathless TV reporters fall over themselves to bring the rest of the world as many live images as possible of the ‘unfolding situation’ I was filled with a curious mixture of emotions. There was sadness at the needless and immense loss of life. There was multi-directional rage too, at the politicians who seem to mumble the same platitudes every time something like this happens but are soon back to their ways, of dividing this beautifully complex country to suit their narrow needs.

There was rage too at the terrorists, a helpless and hopeless sort of rage mixed with some despair. I’ve tried but I still cannot understand how someone of roughly my age can take a machine gun, walk into a hotel, into a railway station and start shooting indiscriminately. How can he look into the eyes of a woman trying to go home after visiting her relatives and shoot her in the throat? How can he separate people based on their nationality and gun them down? Try as I might I just cannot comprehend this inhumanity, this utter, deep dark hate that someone has inculcated in him. After all, he was not born with it. He was somebody’s son. He must have experienced some love. How do you go from being a human being to someone who does not blink twice before pressing the trigger and pumping bullets into fellow human beings, irrespective of whether that human being is an old man, a woman or a child? This hatred is beyond me.

And that fills me with a certain hopelessness. How do you guard against such unfathomable hatred? How do you tackle it? Will a more proactive intelligence help? Will upgrading our archaic police force into something more modern and efficient help? Perhaps those measures will help in the short term. But in the long run we have to reach out to the source of such hatred and wipe it out. Not with guns or smart bombs as so many have now begun to advocate, the ‘Israeli way’ they call it. For that will only lead to a never ending cycle of violence. But by understanding the roots of such terror and turning people away from this futile murderous orgy; through education, through alleviation of poverty, through better job prospects and through respect. For nothing blunts hatred more than happiness and peace.

The Case of the Missing Bag

(This is a true story. It really happened. Names have been changed to protect identities. Most of the conversations that form part of the narrative are based upon that most unreliable of friends-memory or from conversations after the fact so some literary license has been taken in narrating the precise sequence of events.)

A fancy red Chevrolet smoothly glided to a stop beside us as we waited for the light to turn green at the Dairy Circle cross in South Bangalore. But it was not the car that attracted our attention; it was the pulsing beat emanating from within it. An unknown song of the techno variety was playing. The bass from it throbbed intensely and seemed to overpower our heartbeats into voluntary synchronicity. It was an excellent sound system. I turned to the auto driver and said as much.

“Kya sound hai na? Mast system hai!”

“Arrey, hamare pass bhi hai boss. Main mera system lagaya tho mera auto bhi dance karne lagega!”

I smiled at the infectious enthusiasm of the driver and his obvious pride over his auto. In fact, it was a most interesting auto. Its interior was festooned with ribbons of glowing, multicolored lights so that it gave you the feeling of being in some dingy dance bar.

I did feel like dancing. What had seemed like a bleak and hopeless case initially turned around in a most dramatic fashion at the end. The many twists and turns tinged the whole week with a cinematic quality. Even now, when I look back, I marvel at the amazing adventure it became in the end.


Like most things in life, it started in an innocuous fashion and can be traced back to my insistence to get out of the city for the weekend. I was in Bangalore on a break and was staying with Pavan in his flat, my college friend who was working for a startup and shared the flat with two of his friends, Anand and Vishwas. I was getting bored staying alone in the flat so I kept pestering Anand to plan a weekend trip. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily in light of the events that transpired later, we soon learnt that a couple of our common friends were driving to Mysore for the weekend. They invited us to come along and we quickly decided to follow them there. So the three of us, Pavan, Anand and me took an auto from Pavan’s place to go to Brunton Cross Road to another friend’s place. The plan was to pick up a friend’s car from there and travel in that to Mysore. Pavan was in a hurry. He wanted to be in the car as soon as possible so that he could catch up with our common friends somewhere on the road to Mysore. We quickly packed and started in an auto for Brunton Road. The auto we had taken was one of those old, sputtering and whiny ones. It was going too slow to suit Pavan. So we got down opposite Shopper’s Stop on Bannerghatta Road and quickly took another auto. The auto driver of the first auto saw us take another auto and was not amused. He started cursing us. We were in too much of a hurry to pay much heed to his angry words.

The second auto was new, fast, relatively quiet and smooth. Since we were three people in the auto with two being considerably overweight there was not much space for us to sit comfortably. So Pavan asked me to keep his bag behind us in the luggage space of the auto. His bag contained my Macbook Pro laptop apart from his wallet, cell phone, money, clothes and some documents. I was carrying my camera bag; a constant companion while Anand was carrying his own bag. The rest of the auto ride was uneventful. We braved the horrendous Bangalore traffic and reached our friend’s place on Brunton Cross road. We got off the auto and I started taking out money to pay the fare. In the meantime, Pavan and Anand started asking the auto driver for directions to get to Mysore Road from where we were. The auto driver seemed helpful. I paid him. We then climbed to the second floor flat of our friend to pick up the car keys. We drank some water, checked out the flat, locked it and then climbed down to the garage. We got into the car we had come to pick up. I got into the back seat and Anand, who would be driving, gave me his bag to keep it in the back. Pavan, who was sitting next to him, asked me to keep his bag too in the back.

“What bag?” I asked him.

“My bag re. Don’t you have it?”

“No, I thought you were carrying it.”

Pavan turned to me with a shocked face and cursed in a loud voice.

“Shit! It’s still in the auto man.”

Our lives were not the same after that. We all took a deep breath and considered our options.

“Ok, the auto would not have gone far so let’s go looking for him,” said Pavan.

“Alright, we might have also forgotten it in the flat upstairs so let me go up and check and you two go look for the auto on the road,” I suggested.

Anand and Pavan left in the car while I went upstairs to look for the bag with a thin and already fading hope.

There was no bag in the flat. I went back downstairs and waited for my friends to come back. The laptop was a recent acquisition and as such I should not have had much attachment to it but even though I hated to admit it to myself I had fallen in love with Apple’s sleek design. It was also bought from money that I had saved by foregoing some luxuries and healthy food! And that made the loss acute.

Anand and Pavan returned soon after and one look at their faces told me the full story. We decided to search again over a larger area, as the auto shouldn’t have gone all that far. So I got into the car and we set off. We looked at every auto along the way hoping against hope to find the auto we had taken. As we searched, I asked Pavan to use my phone and call his mobile that was in the bag. There was a chance that the auto driver might hear the phone and answer it. Pavan’s phone kept ringing and ringing for about five minutes before we got the dreaded message. His phone was switched off!

Pavan apparently also had an unknown amount of dollars in the same pocket where his phone was present. We realized that once the auto driver heard the phone ringing in the bag and opened it he must have found the dollars and then the laptop and decided to keep them.

Unfortunately, honesty is in such short supply in contemporary India that whatever little hope we had entertained of the auto driver answering our call shattered in an instant once we heard the message that the phone was switched off.

Still, we searched for the auto all along M.G. Road, Brigade Road and Ashok Nagar but to no avail. We went back to our friend’s place to ask the caretaker of the building if in case the auto driver had returned. The answer was negative.

With a heavy heart we made our way to the nearby Ashok Nagar police station. There we talked to a young Sub Inspector (SI) named Mohan. Mohan listened to our sorry tale and asked us some questions.

“Do you have the auto number?”

“No sir.”

“Do you have the police serial number or DL number of the auto driver?

“No sir.”

“Do you at least have the name and address of the auto driver?”

“Not exactly sir but we remember reading the license display board of the driver and remember his name and the locality he lives in.”

“(Smiling) What is this sir? Without the auto number or police serial number there is no way to trace the auto. You can register a complaint but to be frank I suggest you stop hoping. 99% of the auto drivers in Bangalore are corrupt. It is next to impossible that you will find the bag now. For your satisfaction I’ll ask the constable to send out a wireless message just in case the auto driver has returned the bag at a police station.”

“You know you should change your T-shirt,”
said the SI pointing at Pavan’s t-shirt, which mocked the iPod frenzy at that time with a drawing of a toilet and iPooed printed above it. “These things will happen to you if you wear such sarcastic T-shirts.”

We thanked the SI for his reality check, for stating the obvious and for his gratuitous advice and went and registered our complaint. The constable who registered our complaint was properly shocked upon hearing that we had forgotten our bag in an auto but he also repeated whatever the SI had said and asked us in future to note down the police serial number of any auto we got into or at least take a photo with a cell phone of the license display board. All good advice but which came a little late in the day to help us.

With our hopes slipping by the minute we decided to follow the advice given by a traffic inspector we had met in front of Garuda Mall before coming to the police station to register our complaint. There is a database of all Bangalore auto drivers at the DCP (traffic) East office, Shivaji Nagar Bus Stop. The inspector had suggested that we try our luck there with the limited information we remembered of the auto driver.

So we made our way across town to the DCP office. But by the time we battled through the traffic and made our way there it was already 6 pm, well past closing time. The person who managed the database was long gone. Another person offered to help and with his assistance we managed to narrow our search and get a few addresses based on the auto driver’s name and locality. We were asked to return the next day to seek formal permission from the DCP to resume our search for a needle in a haystack.

I had been harboring some hope still until I saw the sheer size of the auto driver database. There were over one lakh auto drivers in Bangalore at that time! Finding just one in that huge database based on our limited information seemed a Herculean task, an almost impossible exercise in sheer futility. The faces of my friends also bore the same signs of despair as if they were thinking along the same lines.