Beauty in the breakdowns and the accidents

by Kim on January 26, 2013 · 31 comments

So, I crashed the rickshaw, but just barely.

It happened in Udaipur. We’d arrived in the early afternoon, hoping to find a guesthouse and settle down for sixteen whole hours after 4 days of driving on India’s maniacal roads.

I’d managed to weave us through the city traffic, winding along tiny alleyways best suited for walkers and cows. We’d ended up at a lakeside overlook with a view of the Taj Lake Palace. The hotel was a stunning sight, but it’s not like we could sleep there.

Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur

Taj Lake Palace

So we flagged down a rickshaw driver and asked him to lead us to more affordable digs. He nodded enthusiastically then took off like his ass was on fire. I set to chasing after him, driving much too fast in order to keep up.

Which is how I clipped a motorcycle. A parked motorcycle. Our rick made a terrible crunching sound as I sideswiped the bike. I hit the breaks, blocking traffic, screaming “Oh shit. Oh shit. OH SHIT” and envisioning scenes from Shantaram where those responsible for traffic accidents are promptly pulled from their vehicles and beaten.

I sat in the driver’s seat cussing, waiting for an angry mob to descend.

Sarah jumped from the rickshaw to check the damage and returned with the news that the accident had sounded worse than it actually was. The motorcycle was fine, she assured me, and our rickshaw was undamaged too.

So I drove away. Quickly. Because not only had I just crashed a bright-orange, flower-clad rickshaw into somebody’s motorcycle, but I’d done so without carrying my International driver’s license or my Oregon driver’s license, both of which I’d managed to leave in Brian’s backpack before we parted ways in Jaisalmer.

It was a few hours later that Sarah realized she couldn’t find her phone. Losing an expensive phone is a pity under any circumstance, but a flat-out emergency given our current state. We’d been using the GPS on that phone to find our way around India. Without it, we were pretty sure we’d end up in Pakistan or, at the very least, crying on the side of the road as we tried to navigate the chaotic madness of every Indian city.

GPS, India rickshaw run

GPS, oh how I love thee

We tore through our bags and scoured the rick but the phone had disappeared.

The only thing I can think is that the phone fell off of my lap when I got out to check the damage on that motorcycle.” Sarah said.

Hannah suggested we return to the scene of the crime. “Maybe the phone’s still there?” she said.

I’ll go with you,” I told her, but inside my head I quipped: ‘There’s not a chance in hell we’ll find that phone.’

So we searched the area where Sarah suspected the phone had gone missing but found nothing. No phone, smashed or otherwise, graced the shit-strewn, crowded, street.

The streets of Udaipur, India

The streets of Udaipur, India

Because, really, even if the phone had slipped out of the rickshaw, what were the chances it had survived the fall? And even if it had survived the fall, what would one do upon finding it? It’s not like we could be tracked down to have the phone returned to us. Besides, the phone cost $400, more money than many Indians make in a month. Finding that phone was like finding gold.

But just to cover our bases, we asked a shopkeeper if anyone had turned in a phone. “No, no, not to me,” he said. “Were you here earlier, in an orange rickshaw?”

Yes, that was us,” we nodded in affirmation.

He pointed across the street. “Go, to the police station, I think someone put a phone there.”

“That’s the police station?,” we asked, turning towards a non-descript building.

Yes, that’s it,” the man said, wagging his head up and down.

Hannah shrugged. “It’s worth a shot.”  We thanked the man and walked inside.

Six policemen eyed us. Piles of paper as high as my waist sat stacked on every surface, nary a computer in sight.

What is your purpose here?” asked a man behind a desk and Hannah launched in to our story, explaining about the phone.

The men spoke to each other in rapid-fire Hindi. “Is it a Motorola phone?” asked the stone-faced desk-man.

Yes, it’s black,” we nodded like toddlers.

Go next door,” he barked, and the other men looked on skeptically.

Next door we sat and Hannah explained the whole story again. Again, we were asked to describe the phone. Again, the officers discussed amongst themselves. Again, we were sent next door, back to where we’d come from.

Why does it seem like they don’t want to give us the phone?,” asked Hannah.

I was afraid I knew why. I’d hit a motorcycle and driven away. The shopkeeper was a witness and reported it to the police. I’d stumbled like a moron right into the crocodile’s mouth. No one had our phone. This was a ploy to arrest me.

Back in room one the men made phone calls and talked in hushed voices to each other. Hannah and I sat in silence, our hands folded neatly in our laps. I was trying to figure my next move. It was probably too late to escape, but maybe I could bribe them?

The door to the station opened and two policemen walked in holding hands, a habit that always disarms me. Behind them followed a tiny old man in a brown sweater. In his hand he held Sarah’s phone.

An officer explained that this man had witnessed the accident and had seen the phone fall out of our rickshaw. He’d tried to return it but we’d sped away too quickly. He’d left his number with the police in case we returned to fetch it.

Hannah and I jumped up, clapping, and thanked the man profusely. He handed the phone to us and we cheered, and then the whole room of stern-faced policemen cheered with us, smiling and wobbling their heads.

Hannah and I walked back to our guesthouse, I clutched the phone in my hand.  Bells chimed from a nearby temple and a call to prayer echoed over the city. I was still a free woman, feeling freer every day.

Cow in Udaipur

As free as the cows in India

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