Prologue: It is 7.30 in the evening of 26/11. And Karthik Rathod, a 25-year-old architecture student, gets out of an auto and picks his way through the milling crowds at Andheri station. He is returning from a shoot at Vile Parle. That was his second assignment for the day. Before that, he was in Dhulia shooting for a friend’s wedding. His camera, an EOS 7D, and his two lenses 18-135 mm and 50 mm, have served him well for the day, he thinks.
‘I was in my own world, lost. I was walking towards the ticket window to buy a ticket, when I suddenly realised, ‘Where is my camera bag? Did I leave it somewhere? Oh my God, it’s in the rickshaw!’ I ran towards the station road, looking for that auto, hoping it might still be there, still have my bag. My mind, like, shut down at the time. I had no idea what to do.
For me - a student of architecture coming from a middle-class family - that camera meant my life, my means to my bread and butter. It was the result of all my life’s savings, earned through making architectural models, drawings and photo shoots. I was literally running from one corner to the other, with a bundle of thoughts assaulting my mind: ‘Let me accept it, it’s the result of my own karma’. ‘Is it possible that I can get it back?’ ‘How can I be so unaware?’ ‘I deserve not to be a photographer, I am so careless.’ ‘How can I face my parents?’
‘Helpless, I went to the cops who were sitting at a small police chowky outside the station. I explained the situation to them. And they asked me if I knew the rickshaw’s number. Who reads the number plate before sitting in an auto, I thought. They asked me to report to DN Nagar police station. I remember thinking, ‘How does it even matter? What’s gone is gone. How can it even come back?’
Interlude: It can. If you’re lucky enough to lose your stuff in Vijay Yadav’s auto, it can come back. This auto driver has come back to the station, to the police chowky, just to return a dreamy young man’s very costly camera. In the next few minutes, Rathod spots Yadav with the camera bag. He goes straight to him and hugs him, mumbling a million thanks.
A senior inspector from DN Nagar police station is present at the spot. He is clearly impressed. “Hya jagat imandaari ajun jivant aahet (Honesty is still alive in this world),” the cop says. He gives his cell number to Yadav. “If any traffic cop bothers you, please call me. I will be glad to help you. I salute your honesty.” The cop is eulogising Yadav so loudly that people have gathered around. They are wide-eyed at the story of The Lost Camera and The Honest Auto Driver.
Epilogue: ‘I was so happy, new life was pumped into me! How could I thank them all? We all exchanged our contact numbers. The least I could tell them was, ‘If there is any photography-related work, do call me.’ I wanted to recount this incident to as many people as I could. Let it be an inspiration for all. God knows what I would have done if I hadn’t got my camera back. It would have been traumatic. I couldn’t have gone home, certainly couldn’t afford a new one, would have quit photography, would have just collapsed on the road. But it was like I received all the grace and help I needed.’
Spotting a lost bag on 26/11 in my auto, I got suspicious: Yadav
Vijay Yadav (42), the auto driver who stays in Santacruz, said, “I dropped Rathod near the Andheri station ticket counter and left for home. After I turned my auto on SV Road, a woman hailed me for going to Marol. Before sitting, she asked me about the bag in the backseat. I turned and saw it. It struck me that I had just dropped the owner at Andheri station. For a moment I felt suspicious. A lost bag on 26/11, I thought, so I went to the police chowky at the station and parked my auto there. I was about to approach the policeman when I found Rathod, who ran to pick up his bag and hugged and thanked me.” Yadav has returned many forgetful passengers’ cell phones in the past.