Manikarnika was standing near the bathing ghat of mighty river Ganga at Haridwar. There were many signboards cautioning the pilgrims and travellers. One board displayed, ’Slippery steps. Caution’, another one advised, ’Keep the place clean’, one more cautioned, ‘Beware of Pickpockets’, another one said, ‘Don’t use soap or shampoo’, one more instructed, ‘Don’t litter, don’t pollute’. She was watching the people taking a holy dip in the river, some reciting hymns and some just enjoying their bath in the running water. Almost everyone had soap and shampoo. Littering the place with wrappers, plastic covers, left over biscuits, dogs and birds hovering around, etcetera…. was a common sight. Nobody bothered about the Do’s and don’ts displayed on sign boards. She ignored one such board, ‘Beware of Pickpockets.’
Her father was in the hip-deep water and asked others to join him.
“You don’t know when you will come here next. This is a golden chance for us to be here. Water is neither chill nor hot, neither in strong currents nor stagnant. Very pleasant. Come, don’t hesitate.”
Soon mother joined him. Both Manikarnika and her younger sister Pratibha were almost about to enter into the water. The minute she kept the camera on the steps and got down towards water, a fellow at lightning speed came and ran away with the camera. Pratibha screamed, “Thief, Thief!” Soon everyone got alerted and tried to look for the guy. The thief in a flash of a second vanished into the thin air, without even allowing anyone to guess in which direction he fled. Manikarnika was shocked and broke into tears. She had borrowed the camera from her close friend Maheshwar. Initially, he was a bit reluctant to give, but later he gave it to her and asked her to be very careful.
He told her that it was very precious to him and carried more sentimental value than its monetary value. It was given to him by his father as a reward for standing first in the State Board examination. Now that his father had passed away, it was all the more precious to him. Such a precious camera! She had lost it to a local pickpocket at Haridwar. Then how could she face Maheshwar who had specifically told her to be very cautious? The idea of cutting a sorry figure in front of a good Samaritan friend was painful and unbearable. If it was her own camera, then also she would have felt the pinch. But that it belonged to someone else and she was answerable for the loss made the issue a worst tragedy she had to face.
Her father’s immediate response was to run in the direction of pickpocket and try to retrieve the camera. But all the onlookers advised him that it was a futile exercise. Such thugs were well versed in the art of cheating and we commoners had absolutely no chance of laying hands on them. In many a case, the police also were a party to the crime and they turned a blind eye. Even a police complaint would be of no use.
By then, the Travel Manager came blowing the whistle and asked everyone to board the bus. With a heavy heart and teary eyes, all the four of them left the place. No choice. They had to go. It was just the beginning of their 5 days’ tour. A miserable start. It simply killed the mood of going further on their entourage.
The next point of visit was Chandi Mata temple. It was on a hill top with enchanting views, long stretch of greeneries, monkeys swinging and swaying and enthralling with their monkey tricks, the mighty vast river crossing the eyes time and again, all these and much more, would have certainly filled their hearts and kept them in an ecstatic mindset, but alas, that one incident a slight negligence on their part leading to a total fallout of fun-filled tourist package, had dampened everything.
Manikarnika was unable to overcome her loss. She was more or less a dead soul. Pratibha too was not her usual self. Father tried to console the girls and assured them that he would get a new camera, knowing fully well that the new one, in no way could replace the original stolen one. He asked them to pray to Goddess Chandi Mata that this sole loss be the end of the tragedy in the trip. Let there be no more mishaps. Such comforting assurances lifted them slightly from their melancholy mood. The trip to Manasa Devi temple by to-and-fro ropeway made a big difference and they were slowly limping to normalcy. After visiting Bharatmata temple and Shantikunj, they could enjoy their trip as any teenager would.
Bus halted for lunch. At the dining table, Pratibha felt a bit awkward. Two tables apart, one small girl was constantly looking at her and telling something to her parents. Manikarnika went in the pretext of washing her hands and went to the girl and asked what she wanted. The little one showed her a negative roll in which the image resembled Pratibha to a great extent. Manikarnika snatched the roll and found that it was their film roll which was loaded in their camera. She asked for details from the girl as to from where she got it. She pointed out to a man outside the hotel and said it was found on the ground near him. Manikarnika took her father and went to him. Father straight away assaulted and manhandled him and started hurling abuses. But the guy being a ruffian, gave back. Because of the scuffle, a big scene was created. Father’s co-tourists came in and tried to convince father to give up the fist fight on the road, that too in a non-local place. Moreover, some more local tough guys joined. Manikarnika screamed, “It is our camera. You stole it and now you are beating my father. Better it would be, you return the camera to us and run away from here. Or else we will report the matter to the police.”
Soon a policeman turned up there to drive away the crowd and settle scores. Father complained the matter to the policeman, but the cameraman refused the charges. He insisted that it was purchased by him by paying his hard-earned money. Neither he was a cheater ever before nor a thug. He remained a cameraman by profession. Manikarnika emphasized that the camera belonged to them and them only. As an identity, she said a name ‘MONIKA’ would be scribbled on the outer case. The strap also contained a plastic plate with initials M, which now seemed to have been removed but the remains of plucking it from the strap could be seen. She kept on saying the camera undoubtedly belonged to them.
Policeman could not do much. He felt both were right in their own way. He said to father that assaulting a man on the road without any valid proof and picking up a quarrel with him, were not correct. He said, “It is a sheer Nuisance case. You are a tourist. I warn you. Say sorry. Pay penalty. Leave the place.”
Others tourists also joined and apologised for the unpleasant happening. They were all at Haridwar for a short duration only. Hence a police case and its settlement were too much for them. After a long-drawn drama, it was finally decided that father would buy the camera from the cameraman and compensate. The policeman instructed that both father, daughter and the cameraman should come to station, leave their phone number and address and then go. Their Travel Manager asked father to join at the next point of tour. Because of one person, others should not suffer.
At the police station, the cameraman was drilled further for getting more details, like from where he bought, which shop, first-hand one or second-hand one and for how much, what about money receipts, etcetera. There he confessed that he got it from local chor-bazaar, where stolen items and second hand goods were available for sale. Manikarnika and her father were let free after suitable advices to be more cautious in future.
They joined others at the next point of visit and continued their tour. Both Pratibha and her mother were waiting outside the venue. It was anybody’s guess to see anxiety and tension writ largely on their faces. They were relieved only on seeing father and Manikarnika beaming with a smile and the camera slinging on her shoulders. Father too heaved a sigh of relief. What a day they had to encounter! At last everything ended happily. The monetary loss was nothing when compared to the mental agony they went through.
Next day, with renewed vigour, they started their journey. It was a matter of sheer joy to watch the girls giggling, chirruping, passing wild comments on every little nonsense. They said to each other that having went through all problems and also got them solved, they should in no way miss the evening Ganga Aarti. They must offer their sincere prayers to Ganga Maata. By then father received a phone call from police station. He felt a wave of shiver running through in his spine. ‘What more now?’ He consoled himself saying that they must be wanting some bribe to close the case. First, he thought he would ask one or the other co-tourist. But he did not want to spoil their fun particularly, when nobody was aware of what why and how long it would take for the police to complete the process.
Manikarnika also accompanied her father. The cameraman was already there. The policeman said a VIP who came to Haridwar and lost his wallet. It contained some important papers also. Same pickpocket case – may be by the same pickpocket fellow. The VIP was very desperate without his papers. Police asked the cameraman to identify the pickpocket or his colleagues from chor-bazaar and help in solving the case. Though Manikarnika and her father were not needed, they were summoned to assist the cameraman. A policeman in plain clothes joined cameraman father and Manikarnika. They came to chor-bazaar which was not a healthy locality. It was cut off from main city. The very dirty atmosphere spoke volumes of transactions that took place there. The four persons --- policeman, cameraman, father and Manikarnika went around the area. People were strangely looking at Manikarnika, as decent and well-dressed women did not visit such places. She said that she was interested in buying an old electronic gadget which was not available in regular markets. Soon after, cameraman alerted the policeman and spotted the guy from whom he purchased Manikarnika’s stolen camera. She and her father went towards him enquiring about her requirement, while the other two came behind them and caught hold of him with a firm grip. If the policeman or cameraman had approached him directly, he would have run away from the scene. So, it was planned to trap the fellow in this crooked manner. The pickpocket was taken to a corner and questioned in typical police fashion. Otherwise he would not admit. After many a blow, he spilled the beans. It was not he who picked the wallet, but he knew who else could be the one. He then took them to their master and from there they could lay hand on the wallet and its thief. As per their practice, they generally would throw away all unwanted stuff and retain only whatever valuable to them.
The thief admitted that as some papers were from some government department, he brought the entire wallet intact and gave it to their master. The policeman did not interfere with their internal politics nor with their network of criminals. He straight away came back to Police Station with the wallet. But the cameraman was not happy. He had never entered a police station so far, nor had any criminal background. He dragged the camera thief also with him to police station. He wanted to prove and establish his innocence in the crime drama.
At the Police Station, the VIP was present. He was happy to get back his wallet and after ascertaining all things intact, he simply appreciated all those who helped him. The cameraman grabbing the opportunity, expressed his innocence and pushed the real culprit to the forefront. The guy simply accepted his guilt to avoid punishment and gave back the money he got for the camera, which in turn, was passed on to father.
Manikarnika nudged her father saying that she did not want to miss evening aarti at Ganga. The VIP official readily agreed saying, “You helped me in getting what I needed. Now it is my turn. I will take you there.” They thanked the police once again and left. Father asked the VIP to drop them at tourist point as his wife and another daughter would be anxiously waiting for them.
Manikarnika told the VIP official that because of him they could retrieve their money. Earlier they were forced to buy their own commodity at a higher price. She narrated a childhood story of how the problem got solved because a VIP was involved.
A crow was harassed by a snake. Every time the crow laid eggs in its nest the snake would simply sneak in and eat away. Crow was miserable. Neither it could fight the snake nor allow the eggs to die. It got an idea. It waited for the royal queen to go to the pool for taking bath. The knights with swords also followed her palanquin as bodyguards. The crow followed the crew. It waited for the queen to keep her precious pearl necklace on the shore. When the queen was in the waters, the crow suddenly steeped down and picked up pearl necklace in broad daylight and in full view of bodyguards. They were trying to shew away the crow. But the bird as per its plan, flew further and dropped the necklace right into the mole of the snake. The knights dug the mole and when snake came out, they killed it. The crow lived happily thereafter with its young ones.
She continued, “My camera is also nothing less precious than the queen’s necklace.”
The VIP official asked, “So I am the queen to lose my wallet which also was nothing less precious than her necklace. Isn’t it? Good joke.”
All of them had a good laughter. Manikarnika and father thanked the official and joined their tourist group.
They were in time to join the evening aarti, a divine show of lamps, worth watching innumerable times. With their folded hands and sincere prayers, all the tourists wished for everyone’s wellbeing and eternal peace. The travel Manager blew his whistle and asked everyone disperse for the day and to reassemble next day for their next destination. All the tourists including Manikarnika, Pratibha and her parents, were very happy for the comfortable journey and they prayed and wished for the same at the next place also but -- without any untoward incidence.
Manikarnika had a small doubt and wanted to clarify. She did not know whom to ask. She whispered into the ears of Pratibha and enquired, “Can Monika be a shorter name for Manikarnika?” Pratibha was wonderstruck. ‘Awesome! What a question!’ But all she could tell her sister was, “Let us go back to our place and I will ask Maheshwar to answer your million-dollar question.”