It was Valentine's Day and I was all packed up for a weekend with my girl at Godavari. I had chocolates, a long-stemmed rose and other Valentine's Day goodies in my bag. I was all set for a romantic weekend, packing my new digital camera, two new tennis rackets and even the bag was new- a Rs 1,000 Nike knockoff from Bluebird.
So I took off from Boudha on an Enfield to pick up my girl in Jawalakhel with a song in my heart and the wind in my hair. I arrived at our arranged rendezvous all amorous-like, until I looked behind my back and noticed that my weekend bag had vanished. Fallen off on the way somewhere perhaps on Butterfly Road or who knows where. Well, I met my date not with that look of love but of absolute panic. My best Heroji outfit! My passport tucked away inside my Calvin Klein undies! My new camera! Imported tennis rackets and balls! Lau kha!
My girl and I got on the bike and retraced my tracks hoping to find the bag. We drove slowly and I kept hoping some street urchin would run out of a shop holding my bag high, looking to return it to the stupid white dude who had dropped it in traffic. But it became clear that the bag was lost. Who, in a city of over a million, with the economy the way it is, would not look upon an attractive bagful of over one lakh of merchandise?
The slow depressing ride back home was contemplative. As a Buddhist, I daydreamed about karma, the need to let go of worldly attachments and the circle of samsara. But my little worldly circle was bisected by cows eating garbage from the gutter next to the child playing in the trash next to the curbside street vendors of Chabahil selling cheap socks and tin cutlery.
And I felt the eyes of my girl burning into the back of my helmet: what a dunce! But she came up with the idea: why not ask those traffic cops over there if anyone has seen a lost bag?
Well, remembering my experiences with police back in the west, where a cop is more likely to shoot you dead than help you when you are hysterically in need and also remembering the last time I had asked a traffic cop anything in Asia when I was totally lost in the Bihar, looking for a temple outside Patna on a motorbike, where I had pulled into the police stand hoping for directions. What did I get from that cop? An IRs 500 ticket (payable right away) for making a wrong turn into the station. So I was less than hopeful when we asked the traffic cop in Gausala Circle if he had seen a stray bag bouncing around the streets of KTM in the middle of morning rush hour.
With a truly concerned look, one of KTM's finest directed us to the station a block away for further inquiry and, lo and behold, there was my bag sitting unopened in the station office. It had been turned in by an off-duty cop from Chabahil who had picked it up and walked it over to the station. I tried very hard to give the finding officer a Rs 500 note. His refusal was simple and with a smile: "I am just doing my job."
Off we went, the Valentine vacation saved by the effort of one honest off-duty Kathmandu traffic cop who was just doing his job. I've forgotten his name but I would really like to thank him, his boss, the chief of police and the entire Nepali people.
Riding to work every day, I can't help but notice the blue-suited cops directing traffic, trying to keep things moving, making me think that perhaps my friends in the press and the bilaterals and INGOs who report on corruption in Nepal may have gotten it all wrong. Perhaps the majority of Nepalis in public service just want to help out where they can and simply "do their job".
Jiggy Gaton is the pen name for an unaffiliated aid worker in Nepal, who now ties his bags very securely to his motorbike and pays close attention to all directions given by KTM Traffic Cops (well, he tries to anyway).