“Why do people carry gold jewelry when they travel?” I remember asking my dad as a child. Around 1960s, it was fashionable for people to wear gold ornaments while traveling, especially women. Dad’s reply was interesting.
“It is better to have a gold ring or a small chain when you travel. For any reason, if one dies while traveling alone, he carries something which can be used to, at the very least perform the last rites. That way the body is not at the mercy of others’ charity.”
Those were the times when fast communication was almost non-existent, travel facilities were minimal, visiting cards were not prevalent and neither were ID cards. If one died and was not identified, a group of people strangers would perform cremation formalities.
Then dad added, “But while traveling never carry jewelry more than the basic minimum. Never carry it to show off”.
A few years later, I was at the bank of River Ganges in Benaras (Kashi/Varnasi). I was on an audit at Fertilizer Corp of India, Sindri near Dhanbad. This is another popular, important pious place for Hindus. For the weekend, I decided to visit Benaras and bathe in the River Ganges.
It was January and the water was extremely cold. It was impossible for me to swim in the strong current of the River. The alternative was to go some steps into the river and take a few quick dips. It needed courage to dip in the ice-cold water, so early in the morning.
As I approached the river, there were two guys sitting with a reasonably sized metal safe and a receipt book. They had a signboard saying:
“Beware of Thieves.
Government appointed custodian for valuables.
Please collect receipt for your deposits.”
I had left my money at the hotel and carried only a few rupees with me. However, I forgot to take my wrist watch and gold chain off. The chain was a little long, so it was possible for it slip out when I took a dip in the water. I thought it a better idea to leave it with these official custodians.
While I was considering, a South Indian couple with two children, aged approximately 8-10 were with the custodians. They probably read the board. They deposited all their jewelry and valuables including the cash they had and collected the receipt.
One of those two guys at the locker came running to me to scare me. He told me that there were a lot of thefts at the riverbank while tourists bathed in the river. He said it was for my good that he was suggesting that I deposit all my valuables with them. I began to wonder why a Government official would invite and insist.
I took an intuitive decision not to leave anything with them. I told them I had nothing much to deposit and carried on to the river.
Somehow, after seeing the custodian, I was suspicious about the entire place. I suspected someone would take my clothes too, which carried some cash, watch and my gold chain. In case it did happen, what would I have on me when I went back to the hotel? I had to be careful.
I left my shirt and pant on one of the steps close to the bank of the river. I took only a few steps till I was about 3-4ft in the water. I could keep an eye on my clothes. I chose to take a few dips rather than a small swim. That way I could see my belongings after every dip, every few seconds.
The water was freezing cold and so was the winter weather. I took my first dip and in almost unconsciously looked at my clothes to make sure that they were still there. I did this after every one of the 7 dips I took.
Normally, when we dip in the river, we are supposed to sync our thoughts with the Almighty, the river Goddess and pray. Unfortunately, I was just thinking about my clothes. Not good! I decided to be better prepared when I visited again in the evening.
On my way back, I saw a family of four crying and beating their chest. I walked to them and asked them why they were upset. Did something drastic and wrong happen while they bathed? When I approached them, I recognized that this was the same family I had seen near the custodians before I left for my bath.
Holding the receipt, they, including the 2 kids, were crying and told me in Telugu (which I knew well), “Oh, we lost everything. We are doomed. We deposited all our ornaments and cash with the depositors. They just disappeared with their vault. We don’t have money even to feed our children nor to buy tickets to get back home!” A respectable family was left to beg for charity from other visitors there. A pitiful scene.
I was happy that I did not bank my valuables with them. Since multiple IDs are now available, I make it a point not to carry unnecessary valuables while traveling and check the genuineness of operators with the hotel authorities or local permanent shop keepers.
We have to be careful of devils who play on sentiments of innocent even in most pious places. Let us remember, even in mythology, devils are Gods’ neighbours! After all, Ravan co-existed with Ram and Shiva.