London travails – I

Getting lost and losing things is a way of life for me, I have come to terms with this inadequacy.

I have lost many things many times, including love!  But the loss of one precious thing, the shock of which had the potential to cure me of this illness, was my passport that I had lost in London nearly three years ago.

You can only imagine how it feels after losing a passport — the only proof of identity acceptable in an alien land — unless you have lost one yourself.

Mine happened on the last day of the trip, in fact in the last hour. Or what could have been my last hour in London had I not left my hand luggage on the train at the Heathrow tube station.

It was only after I got on to one of those moving walkways at the airport that I realised my rucksack was not on my shoulders.

It took a few seconds for panic to set in. Then I started running back on the walkway towards the tube station realising I  must have left the bag on the train. But it is impossible to walk back on a moving walkway.

There was no option but to go all the way and then run back. Breathless I reached the entrance to the tube station and told one of the guards, an elderly black man, about my ordeal. He took pity and opened the gates and informed me that  my train’s still on the platform.

GHOST IN LONDON: I have no photos of London. Had lost my camera along with my passport. My memories of the city are only in my mind.

The train was there, but in my panic I forgot on which side of the platform it was because now there were two trains on both sides. I had to quickly start searching so I began with the train to my right but there was no trace of my blue rucksack. On the second train I could search only the first compartment before it left.

I stood on the platform shell-shocked. What next?

Even the guard looked worried when I told him the train left before I could search it. He helpfully suggested that I talk to the station manager and see if he could get the train searched.

Coming from India it sounded like a far-fetched idea but when you are stranded without your passport you’ll try anything that anyone tells you.

So I walked in to the station manager’s office. The officer was a middle-aged Chinese man whose heavy accent suggested that his many years (I’m assuming) in London had not managed to add a Brit layer to his tongue.

Nevertheless, I told him about my rucksack that contained my passport. His first reaction was: “What have you done? (His expression said how could anyone be so careless!)”

I had no reply. He beckoned me to a room inside where there was large electronic map of the entire Heathrow line showing rectangular dots in motion. He pointed out the two trains that had by then left Heathrow — one had just reached a station and the other was on its way to another one.

What do you want me to do, he asked? If you could have them searched, I replied gingerly. And he actually had the trains stopped and searched, as little dots piled up on both lines on the electronic map.

After nearly seven minutes the manager got a call that confirmed my worst fears — no bag found. “I’m afraid I can’t do anything more than this,” he said.

I thanked him and walked in a daze towards the Air India counter.

Then I remembered the photocopy I had kept of my passport. “Sorry sir we can’t allow you to fly without the passport,” the man at the counter said rejecting the photocopies I was pinning my hopes on.

By this time I was numb. My official tour was over and with the little money left I was on my own in a foreign city without my passport.

After nearly three hours of running around, I was through with checking out all the lost & found counters at the airport and filing an FIR with the Heathrow police. It was 11 pm and my flight had already taken off. I was exhausted, famished and nowhere to spend the night.

Like a lightening it struck me that without my passport no hotel will give me a room.

I had checked in at a small hotel in Sussex Gardens near the Paddington station for the last two days of my stay and became quite friendly with the elderly lady who managed the hotel.

When I called up to say I’ve lost my passport and couldn’t leave she was as worried as my mother would have been and said: “Son don’t you worry. Come right back and I’ll have your room ready.”

At last some cheer! Can you imagine my relief?

ENDS PART I

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