Ever lost anything expensive in an #Uber?
Saturday, October 12, 2019, was a good day. I was back at work after a two-month long break. I had a long reunion lunch planned with my college girlfriends, and a Bangalore Writers Workshop (BWW) batch that was graduating at 5 pm. It was a packed day full of good things and people – a blessing I often take for granted.
I finished my class in Indiranagar by 1.30 pm and rather than drive back and forth on Old Madras Road again, I decided to book an Uber. I even got one fairly quickly. I didn’t bother calling the driver assigned because he was just four minutes away. He came promptly enough. I always say hello to the drivers and usually they are friendly and like to chat too. This driver who must have been in his late 40s/early 50s didn’t acknowledge my hello, which I chalked up to embarrassment or disinterest. I couldn’t blame him because if you are driving the streets of Bangalore, you wouldn’t want to be friendly with anyone either. I got into the car holding my iPhone, my bag, and a cake I was taking for my friends. I made a few quick calls, texted my friend just as we reached the destination. I said thank you to him and was about to get off the cab when he spoke for the first time. “Madam, cash payment.” That’s when I realised I had forgotten to switch to my usual card payment. I paid him the INR 100 I owed him, took some time to carefully put my wallet back into my bag, and collect the cake. He waited patiently enough, so smiling another thank you at him, I got off to attend the much-awaited reunion.
We were very excited to see each other after years so there was much talking and hugging and all the usual catching-up on news. Then we decided to take pictures. As my friends had upgraded iPhones, I desisted reaching out for mine (which was 6s) as we clicked pictures. By 3 pm, all of us had arrived, and this time I wanted to take a picture in my phone. That’s when I realised it wasn’t on me or anywhere in the house.
We searched frantically for 10 minutes and finally my friend decided to call the phone. I said it won’t help us search because my phone is always on Silent. But to my surprise, a man answered the phone. This was around 3 pm.
He said, “Hello”
I took the phone from my friend, and said in Kannada, “Sir, this is my phone. Please tell me where you are, I will come and collect it.”
He immediately hung up.
We went to the Find My iPhone app and saw that the phone was near Cox Town.
After a few more minutes, the phone was near Commercial Street.
We logged into Uber and complained about a Lost Item so Uber patched a call with the driver. He obviously didn’t answer the phone.
This is the most annoying thing. They don’t give us the driver’s number directly at all.
I played back the whole journey and realised that he must have seen me drop my phone in the car as I paid him and ceremoniously packed my bag, but he didn’t let on. So obviously he was bent on keeping the phone.
We also tried to complain to Uber another way because in the bill I noticed that the man who drove me and the details displayed were different. Again, this happens often enough so I didn’t even think of flagging it earlier.
Our reunion was shot. We quickly gobbled some lunch, cut the cake I bought to celebrate me losing my phone, and my friend CA and I headed to the Byappanahalli Police Station. We reached the cops only to learn that they were as helpless as we were in tracking the cab or getting hold of the driver.
My friend CA is well-connected so she made a few calls to a few senior cops and finally the cops at the station took an interest in the case. They did what we had been requesting them to do, viz, get the address of the driver/owner through the license plate, the only detail we had on us. They tracked the address but they didn’t get his phone number either. In all this, Uber was completely useless. We tried multiple complaints on the site. The same thing would happen. They would try to patch a call that would go unanswered and then get disconnected.
By then it was close to 5 pm. I called my facilitator and explained the situation to him and was gutted because this was the first BWW graduation, in seven years, that I was missing. But here we were frantically trying to get the cops to help us and it couldn’t be helped.
We showed the Find My iPhone tracker to the cops and begged them to use their contacts in other cop stations or traffic police to stop the car. By then the driver had been to Electronics City, Bommanahalli, Koramangala, HSR Layout, Sarjapur, and once on the Outer Ring Road very close to where I lived.
I was convinced that the phone was with the driver and not a passenger because no one in their right mind travels so far and wide in Bangalore on a Saturday, which was some consolation at the time.
The cops said they couldn’t stop or request traffic cops or other police in those areas to stop the car because it was out of their jurisdiction! They assured us that now that they had the car owner’s address they would go to his house the next day and get him to return the phone. I said the owner was not the thief but his driver definitely was. They assured me that didn’t matter and they would get him to divulge information about the driver and I would get my phone.
As everyone knows, our phones today contain all our data including banking details. I put the phone in Lost mode from the apple id, but I was still worried. The cops insisted that I was not to block or change my sim or do anything yet.
We left the station at 5.15 pm and my friend tried to call her contacts in the RTO to get a phone number. It being a second Saturday and so a holiday, this proved for a long while to be a dead end.
I called my contacts in the Bangalore Traffic Police only to hear them reiterate what the cops had said. They couldn’t get us a number from the license plates, and also that they couldn’t stop the car because it was out of their jurisdiction.
I had given up by then and decided to borrow a spare phone from another friend of mine who stayed in Cox Town. Thing was, I didn’t know how to get to his house because I always used Google Maps to get there! So he had to meet me at a known point close to his house and pick me up! A friend dropped me to my car even as my friend CA kept calling her contacts to get someone to help us.
And all the while we could see how the cab driver was navigating around the city of Bangalore with my phone with him. This time he was in the South of Bangalore driving around Majestic, Rajajinagar, and the like.
I drove to Ulsoor to be picked up by my friends AJ and MU. I had decided to call it a day and parked my car under a tree and waited for my friends to show up with the spare phone. As it was dark around the lake, I had my hazard lights blinking. I was going through the ordeal my day was (also life, which is a different post altogether) when a cyclist rammed into my car from behind, picked himself and his cycle off and raced away. A kind lady who was on her evening walk assured me that it wasn’t my fault, maybe the boy was drunk, and even checked my car to ensure there was no damage. I was so shaken by the episode on top of everything else, I couldn’t even get out of my car. I was trying very hard to control the panic that was rising in me. I thanked the lady tearfully. And a few minutes later, my friends came over. I told them I needed a place to cry so I would join them for dinner after all and we drove to their place.
In the meantime, my friend CA had found a cop who was willing to stop the car if he came into his area which was Majestic. Unfortunately, the car that was till then riding around his area went away to Rajajinagar, and the cop said, yup, you guessed it: Out of my jurisdiction. I thanked my friend and told her to rest and have dinner and we followed my own advice.
But my friend CA was persistent. She kept making calls to cops but to no avail. She finally called me half an hour later and said, “See, Bhumi, that fucker is in Hebbal now. I wish we had just followed him.”
My friend AJ asked me the status and I told him that the car was in Hebbal.
To which he also replied, “Let’s go follow him.”
I said, “Are you serious?
And he said, “Yes, let’s do it before your phone runs out of battery and shuts down.”
We grabbed car keys and found that the car was now in HRBR Layout.
This was exciting. We were close. We followed the car from Cox Town to HRBR Layout to Banaswadi to Tin Factory to Mahadevpura to Phoneix Market City in peak 10-11.30 pm Saturday Bangalore traffic.
Driving as AJ was, so fast in the traffic, like in the movies, he broke his side-view mirror. This was like another personal blow to me.
We lost the signal just then so I pressed “Play Sound” on the Find my iPhone app. We tried calling my number and we got the message saying that phone was now out of coverage area. It took us 15 minutes to get to the U-turn near Phoenix.
We didn’t know what to do. Through the app, we could also see that my phone had very little battery left and that meant we wouldn’t even be able to track it anymore. I decided we had done enough and if I were to lose the damn phone, then that’s fine, but all of us need to stop trying to get it back. I was resigned but incredibly stressed out because my finances at the moment do not stretch to buying another phone.
We gave up and just then my friend MU said, “I wish we just find him somewhere.”
And it was like a miracle. We saw the car we had been chasing parked right ahead in front of us on the opposite side of V R Bengaluru Mall. AJ accelerated and parked in front of the car. We got off to realise that the car was empty and there was no driver there.
I felt incredibly frustrated.
And I was also thinking, damned if I am going to wait for this driver to show up now. For all we knew he could have gone to treat himself to a bloody movie or some shopping at the mall.
That’s when I smelled the eggs and fried rice. I knew then that I would find him at the roadside food cart. Without even saying a word to my friends, I marched to the cart on the crowded street and there he was enjoying his noodles and fried eggs.
The sight of him so blissfully enjoying his food after causing us all so much frustration, just flew me into a rage and I grabbed at his shirt and abusing him in Kannada, said, “Bastard, give my phone now.”
My Kannada is very good and unaccented when I am in a rage so it was all very impressive. I don’t have to tell you, my readers, what the sight of me raging and pulling at him like a Goddess of Vengeance did to him.
He was completely shaken but he recovered quickly enough and calmly said, “I was just about to return the phone to you, anyway. Why are you shouting at me? When you called me did I not tell you I would give you the phone after my duty ends?”
I said, “Don’t lie, you motherfucker, you never even took the calls from the Uber Call Centre.”
The righteous prick says, “Yes, I don’t receive calls when I am driving, amma.”
My friend AJ and MU who finally sighted where I was came up to us and AJ said, “Look boss, you better give us the phone now because this has now become a police case and you will unnecessarily be in trouble.”
The driver says, “Tell the police. What’s it to me. She left the phone in my car. It was her fault. I told her I would give it back. And what can I do with someone else’s phone.”
“You can’t do anything, you stupid imbecile. If I lock it, you won’t even get any money from it. Come now, I want the phone immediately.”
The crowd was all agog at this drama because I was really loud and angry.
My friend MU tried to cajole him nicely and play the good cop. She said, “Come, Sir, give us the phone now.”
And the fucker says, “Let me finish eating my food at least. The phone is in my car.” This, when his car was less than 10 steps away.
I lurched at his shirt again, and said, “Listen, you fucker, come and give the phone now or you’ve had it. I am not going to wait till you fucking finish your food.”
At this, the food stall owner also chided him and said, “Go give them the phone first. You can eat later.”
And only then did he walk up to the car.
Once the phone had started beeping when I pressed the Play Sound on the app, he had decided to switch it off and put it away in his dashboard and treat himself to noodles and eggs. He removed it from the dashboard and the guilt made him say, “You know I didn’t even realise it was in my car till some customer gave it to me.”
Even as he was saying this, I could see the lies and guilt on his face.
By then more people had gathered to see the scene and when someone asked him what the issue was he said, “This madam forgot the phone in my car and even after I told her I will return it to her she’s abusing me like this.” It’s possible that he even had tears in his eyes as he recounted this. I fired my last parting shot shouting, “This useless prick of a man is a thief and a liar, and if we hadn’t found him, I would have lost my phone for good.”
And so saying, I got into my friend AJ’s car and we drove back home.
I reached home at 12 am that night. AJ and MU even later. My girlfriends and I finally celebrated on WhatsApp and my friend CA started texting and calling all the people she had reached out to, to update them.
It had been an unnecessarily eventful day, and unlike anything I had anticipated.
At 7 am the next day (Sunday), a cop called my mother and was incensed that I had found the phone on my own. He was very indignant that we didn’t call him and inform him. My mother explained that all this happened around midnight and we naturally didn’t want to trouble anyone then. He rallied around with how he went to the address they had and realised that man had shifted houses, but he tracked his new address too only to find from him that the phone had already been returned. We anyway politely thanked him for doing what he did and apologized for not informing him at midnight. He insisted we go back to the station and inform the station head. When I called the station head he texted me saying he was busy, so I thanked him on text and left it at that. My friend CA being who she is, politely called the station head later in the day, explained the sequence of events, and thanked him for his help!
I still don’t understand why Uber didn’t share the driver’s number with us, considering they share it before the trip anyway.
I also don’t understand why the cops cited jurisdiction and didn’t do what my friends and I did. It would have been over within an hour.
Now that I got over the ordeal, I tweeted to Uber today (Sunday night/Monday morning).
Within minutes, they sent me the driver’s phone number.
They could have done this on Saturday itself. So why didn’t they?
They didn’t because I didn’t think of shaming them on social media – and also with two-factor authentication enabled everywhere, which is also connected to the phone – I couldn’t even get on my social media handles unless I got home, an option I didn’t have that day.
Now, lovers who are reading this, just imagine this was a case of rape/molestation/abuse AND theft of my phone. How unprotected and unsafe we are with these apps that ostensibly aid us get around the city!
So if you are reading this, please share this post.
(If you know me, you know I never ask for publicity, but this is important.)
LESSONS LEARNT FROM THIS EPISODE
For the common UBER/OLA customer:
- Take a screenshot of the driver details and especially his number once your booking is confirmed. Email this to yourself or send it to a friend. The cops need a phone number if they ever deign to help you with your case. Please do it every single time.
- Call your driver because if you do, you can access your call logs with your service provider and get the driver’s number immediately if there’s trouble. Apparently. This is what the cops told us. Not sure how easy/tedious this process is so I believe Instruction 1 is easier.
- The license plate number is pretty ineffective today as the owner’s numbers are not displayed. You would have to try to get it from an RTO and that will work only if you are very lucky.
- The moment you realise the driver and the driver details are a mismatch, take the time to complain on the app. Not that anything gets done, but at least you have been vigilant.
- Before getting off the cab, look inside at the seats and the car floor to ensure you haven’t left anything behind. Do this even when you are in a hurry/excited/tired. Do this especially when you are in a hurry/excited/exhausted.
- Understand that there is no safety with these apps, because they don’t even have a fucking call-centre. They do not run to help you, only to help themselves.
For the common Indian:
- Cultivate a few stray cops as friends. I am afraid I have no idea how you can do that at this point. But if you don’t have contacts, you are screwed in Bangalore, maybe all over India, because no cop will lift a finger to help you. At all.
- Or earn a lot so you can bribe your way through trauma. Unfortunately, my finances don’t run to a lot.
- Understand that the cops are not at all tech-savvy and don’t understand basic things about tracking, even in today’s age, even if Bangalore is an IT bloody hub.
- Their solutions are still very old-school and involve doing things with an incredibly laissez faire attitude even if it’s crime.
- Most of the cops had no clue how Uber or Ola works. As in, they had no clue how cabs were booked through an app, or that they don’t have a call-centre! They had even less clue about tracking through phone apps and the like. They didn’t even know what Google Maps was!
- Invest in an iPhone. So worth the money in cases like this. And register and turn on the Find my iPhone feature, even the Share your Location with a friend feature, if you want, especially for women.
- If you ever have the misfortune to lose your iPhone in a cab, get another friend who has an iPhone or use your laptop if you have it on you, to track your phone through the Find my iPhone app. Hail the nearest auto, and follow the fucking car. Don’t waste time running to cops or tweeting and messaging to Uber/Ola.
For the women, in particular:
- Try not to be a single woman in India.
- And if you are, be very careful and safe, as far as you can. And don’t lose things. Our society is still regressive as fuck and you realise that only when you get in trouble and seek help from societal organisations.
- And if you ever have to go to a police station, go with some men if you want to avoid a lecture on being single!
In a separate post, I will tell you how my single friend CA and I got a 35 minute lecture on why we need husbands and how we have to make compromises and settle for the most easily available guy so we are not in such situations because the husbands will give us stability and complete us. Not only that, they would also scare such thieves and assholes away. No kidding. This happened at the police station where we went seeking help. No real help was forthcoming but plenty of unwanted advice was.
Again, if you notice, I was a lot more violent and scarier than my male friend AJ (though, it’s not a criticism of my friend). If I didn’t have rheumatoid arthritis and more importantly, if the driver looked reasonably clean, I WOULD have punched him and damn the arthritis. Instead, I had to settle for shoving at him using his shirt.
It’s possible that everything does happen for a reason.
If the cyclist hadn’t rammed into my car, I wouldn’t have been heart-broken and full of self-pity, and if I hadn’t been that way, I would not have had dinner with my friends AJ and MU, and we wouldn’t have gone on the great Bangalore chase and found my phone.
Don’t say all is well that ends well. It ended well because my friends CA, AJ, and MU didn’t give up, even when I did. So fuck that shit.
So, maybe don’t give up.
It pains me more than you can imagine, to write all this and point fingers at especially the cops and Uber/Ola (services I will no doubt continue to use because what else choice exists), but it’s important we realise how sad, inept, and unsafe the entire system is.
I have deliberately left out details of the cab number, the cops’ names, and the phone number of my thieving lying driver because the point of the post is awareness and not vengeance.
And lastly, apologies for the length of this post.
Thank you for reading, and thank you even more for sharing.