Friday, July 12, 2013

Close Encounters of the Newark Kind - 3

A sane person would probably expect that after the first two encounters with the nocturnal creatures of Newark,  I would be more careful when walking the streets at night. That sane person would be surprised to know that I had failed to learn a lesson and if anything, had become more careless. That's why the incident of 23rd January 2010 shook me up all the more.

That morning, I had gone to New York City to get my father's old film SLR camera repaired. Or maybe I had gone to collect that camera after being repaired - I do not remember exactly now. All I remember is, when I returned from New York that evening, I had two cameras with me. The film SLR in a small backpack and my one-year old DSLR in its black bag slung on my side. I, however, did not return home immediately. I deposited the two cameras at my friend Amrita's house, and accompanied Amrita and her husband Sumit to the housewarming party of a common friend. We returned from there around 10:00 p.m. There was snow on the road and a fifteen-minute walk to my house lay in front of me. I had the option of leaving the cameras at Amrita's house and walking home empty-handed, or carrying the valuable things with me. Can you guess which option I chose?

You are partly right. I left the backpack containing the age old film SLR behind and carried the new $1400 DSLR with me.

I was about two blocks away from my house; alert, watchful, and walking briskly with my small black camera bag slung over my right shoulder and hanging on the left side of my waist, when I saw the hooded figure approaching from the other side of the road.

He was a fair-skinned young boy - in his early twenties at most - wearing a hooded jacket and walking on the sidewalk across from me while talking on his cell phone, seemingly oblivious of his surroundings. My feelings went from alarm ("Is he a mugger?") to concern ("Is he alert enough to avoid getting mugged?") in the few seconds after I spotted him. Both emotions, as I would realize within moments, were completely unnecessary. When a car came along the road and stopped between him and me, he was the first to leap like a springbok and run like a gazelle the way he came. I was the one caught like a deer in the headlights, wondering what to do, because four men had come out of the car, and two of them were now headed towards me.

I was fifteen feet from them. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. "My camera!" I thought, "How do I save my camera?" That was apparently the only thing worth thinking about. My life came later.

Then everything happened very fast. I only know I had turned away from them and tried to run. Then either I stumbled, or I was pushed, or maybe I deliberately thought of lying down on my stomach, I cannot tell which. But an instant later, I was lying face down on the snow on an adjoining lawn screaming for help, and two men were on my side, holding me down and asking for my phone, which I pretended not to hear. Then one of them took out my wallet from the back pocket of my jeans and I knew I was saved. They left in their car in a hurry, leaving me lying on the snow, my camera bag trapped under my body.

The story could have ended there, but it doesn't.

I called up 911, who called the police, and they said they would send someone to my house shortly. I walked to the house. When the officer came, she asked me what was stolen. Some $13, a few train tickets, my school ID, and an ATM card, I said. On hearing that I had lost an ATM card, she asked me to prove that I had an ATM card. I did that. Then she asked if I would be able to identify the men or the vehicle. I replied in the negative to both. She wasn't pleased.

"Let me be frank here Sir. It's not that your case is not important to us. However, you weren't shot, you weren't stabbed, or your head wasn't bashed in. So this isn't a high priority case. On top of that, you say you can't identify them. What can we do?"

I suggested she could at least take down a formal report.

"It's your right to lodge a formal report, and we will take it. But you'll have to come to the police station to do that," she said. I asked if she would take me there and drop me back home. She said yes, and I climbed into the back of her car, which had a hard plastic seat and metal bars on the windows. On reaching the police station, she asked me to wait in the front room and went in. A few minutes later, she came out with another officer. "Yes, what happened to you?" the new officer demanded.

I said my wallet was stolen by four people, and I had been thrown down in the snow, pointing to my mud-stained jeans.

"That's all?" she asked. I had to acknowledge, somewhat ashamedly, that the damage was limited to my wallet and the stained jeans.

"OK, let me be very frank here: you will never see your wallet again. However, it's your right to lodge a complaint. Do you want to do that?"

I said yes.

"Fine. At the moment there's nobody here who can take down a complaint. They will be here in another four hours or so. You can lodge the complaint then."

I wondered whether it was worth my time waiting until three in the morning lodging a complaint which was not going to yield any result anyway. The first officer read my thoughts and said, "Once you are done with the complaint, I can take you home. But I'll be away at that time and it may take an hour or two for me to be back, after which I can drop you. So you'll have to wait for me."

I looked at my watch. It was past eleven. I made up my mind. "So if I don't lodge a complaint, will you drop me home right now?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "In case you don't want to wait, I can drop you home immediately. You must understand that it is your right to lodge a complaint and we are not denying you that right. But if you choose not to..."

I chose not to. She dropped me home. I went up to my room and turned in for the night.

And I thanked my stars that the Newark thugs had considered me low priority enough to just leave with my wallet. If they had lingered longer, they would have discovered my camera and then the police would have had to take me seriously, for surely I would have been shot, stabbed, or my head would have been bashed in trying to protect it.

1 comment:

  1. Well, but you were fine in all the three cases. That's what matters most! One advise would be never try to protect your camera by risking yourself in the way you described.