Gopalpur - Bangladesh + India x 2 - CycleBlaze

November 30, 2010


a lost day

The sound is like a train whizzing through a tunnel and it's a wonder how I slept in my tent's mesh shell at all. The green fan rattles around and round and drowns out everything else. It's seven, so I can get an early start.

The desk is there in front of the window like it was last night after I shifted it from the side wall, so that I could use the power outlet near the door. My computer and peripherals must be stuffed back in their respective cases in a pannier - strange how I can't recall doing that, but it was gone 11 o'clock when I went to bed last night, feeling quite knackered and in auto-pilot mode.

Nope. Not there. What did I do? No idea.

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The door is still bolted, so no one came in and grabbed the electronics stuff. The window has a steel grill on the inside. Then I notice - the window can slide open - it isn't locked. A hand could slide through it. Someone could pilfer that way - one of the crowd of teenagers that followed me into the room at 3-ish yesterday afternoon, one of them who watched me edit my photos on my computer. 

Some bastard has nicked it. That's all I know.

The ground floor entrance is padlocked, so I can't exit the building. I'm a prisoner. The irony isn't lost on me. 

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I go back up the stairwell and walk onto the adjacent flat roof. At the back is a tree that leans against the parapet and it's clear that's where they got up while I was asleep. It was probably gone midnight, with the ceiling fan whizzing around making a loud noise. Who would have thought.

I call out to people on the street and two guys eventually come into the bungalow grounds. It's a farce. I gesture telephone and say 'police' and they offer up their cell phones, like I know the number- even if my arm could reach down 10 feet to get them. Give me a break! Jeez. 

My voice repeats the words, getting louder, as if that makes an iota of difference in either clarity on requirement. Maybe it does, because they gesture for me to go downstairs to meet them. The entrance gate is still locked and I gesture key, then give up.

They twig and one calls the police. No answer. They eventually find the 'key man' and once in the yard, I reckon the police office must be central and walk in the direction of the main street, impatient for action, striding purposefully and with adrenaline pumping.

It's now nearly eight and the officer there is still in his longyi, but ten minutes later he's in uniform and we're on his motorbike going back the way I just strode and in the bedroom he gets to see the cleared desk - no computer, cordless mouse, pad, mains power cable or Grameenphone dongle - then we walk out onto the flat roof and I point to the leaning tree. 

He knows and can speak some English, but barks in local lingo at the 'key boy' who I saw last night when he came to the door at around nine or so with a police detective who said he just wanted to make sure I was okay. 

Police officers arrive in a truck, armed with rifles. They're on a mission and the crowd at the bungalow's main gate is 50-strong now. All are curious, but quiet. Then the chief comes and we chat. 

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The police officers all go after 20 or 30 minutes, except for one, who stands guard. Then the district CEO arrives with an entourage of staffers and hangers-on and God knows who - another 20 or so people discussing the 'key boy' and the caretaker duties and booking policy, which is something that they say I hadn't followed. Like I'd know. Get real.

The CEO or whatever she is is authoritative while conciliatory to a point. she hears me explain that I was just led here yesterday by a helpful local - as if it makes a bit of difference to the outcome anyway. Somebody stole my 'laptop' - a word that's in the local vocabulary and one that I hear repeated a lot among the jumble of conversations going on around me.

Eventually I'm left alone with just the one police officer guarding the gate - rifle held across his chest. It seems ghostly quiet now but the chief said he'll find the thief. He would say that though. When?... that's the point. 

All I want is my laptop back because I have some cycling to do.

My bike needs a clean and that's what it gets. All that gunk and grime of dust and straw and whatever that's clogged in the cogs of the sprocket gets racked out and the rims get wiped as well as the spokes and I clean the frame with an old cotton T-shirt left by some previous guest. 

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After that I play around with my bar-end, which has got damaged - the treads stripped when I let the bike fall over, so  I can't tighten the bolt now. Obviously the bar-end slips around - it's the one with my mirror on.

I find a piece of aluminium with ACME stamped on it - it's a holder for a mozzie coil  - on the wooden bedside cabinet. It seems just right, like I'd specify just such a piece of material and my Swiss Army Knife scissors cut a tiny piece say 3 mm by 10 mm off and I slide it carefully into the bolt hole and insert the bolt and it bites against this shim and tightens. Who would have thought.

Two women peek around the stairwell. One is around 40 and the other could be her mother. She's weeping and rambling and I've no idea what she's saying, but she is clearly sorry - it occurs she's the mother of one of the young suspects that the police have no doubt roped in. I'll probably never know.

I peruse the Bradt guide and look west on the map and the town of Borga beckons, but I'm stuck here. 

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At noon it's time to do something and carrying my camera I walk towards the station to get a progress report. The people in the town have transformed and there are no 'what's-your-country' questions or smiles or hellos and it simply feels like I'm ringing a bell and shouting 'Unclean. Unclean' like a leper. 

The armed officer marching along with me doesn't help this negative vibe, but what are they all thinking... maybe it's just collective shame, remorse or some unfathomable feeling it's hard to put my finger on. 

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At the station, the young suspects - five - get brought into the chief's office where I'm sat with a cup of sweet tea in front of me and I have my suspicions about one of them and let them be known, but they are refuted.

We all wait and drink tea.

By two o'clock the laptop has been found.

Thirty minutes later, so has the other stuff.

CSI doesn't come close. Gopalpur Police department kicks ass, quite literally I'd say.

Where was the stuff and who took it is never fully explained. I'm just a problem that the police want to get rid of and the less fuss made the better. Heads would no doubt roll if news of this crime reached the top of the chain of command and a posting to some remote hill tract outpost seems to me to be a dismal prospect and one to be avoided at all costs. It's just a case of 'case closed'; not that one was ever officially opened.

I've my laptop back and feel very pleased. The padded case is a bit dusty, as though it's been in a dry field, but everything works okay. The culprit, I later find out, has downloaded some soft porn pictures and installed Yahoo Messenger.

While all this was going on, one of the many people to walk through the police chief's seemingly revolving door is a guy named Mamun, someone who has lived in Southampton, England, since the late 90s and he's a kind, embarrassed man who wants to simply help out. 

We go for lunch at his home and he offers a bed for the night. It's 3:00 PM now - too late for cycling very far and it's nice to be welcomed and speak English. His wife cooks a fab meal and I'm treated to a massive pot of doy for afters.

Later, Mamud suggests we take a rickshaw back into the town centre, less then kilometer away. Fine by me. Once there, we first call in at a busy tea shop and then sit behind the counter of a plumber's merchants that belongs to his close friend and we drink several more cups of tea - some sweet and others black with ginger. 

People stop by and it seems everyone in Gopalpur knows about my laptop. I mean Ev-er-ry-bo-dy. Really. I'm the talk of this place of 50,000 or so - the first foreigner that people can ever recall visiting and as I suspected, they feel terrible about the theft.

Once the steel shutters of the plumber's merchant are rolled down and padlocked, the three of us walk to a nearby tea shop for yet more tea. Some locals - all men - are sat huddled with scarves around their heads and focused on a small black and white TV set that is showing the day's strike action in Dhaka. It's a bit chilly tonight and I have a long-sleeve merino wool top on, but could do with my jacket.

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The consensus is I shouldn't ride due west tomorrow, as there's a massive expanse of sand to negotiate to get to the river - miles of flat soft stuff. Instead, they advise me to ride south-ish towards the long Jamuna Bridge and get a boat from there. 

It seems to make sense, which after the sort of day I've had, is most welcome.

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