In early 1970s, owning a two-wheeler in Trivandrum was a milestone in a middle class family's growth trajectory. Availing myself of a two-wheeler loan from my employer, I too became a proud owner of a ‘second-hand' Lambretta purchased from my friend who moved to another city on transfer. At that time, the waiting period to get a new scooter was two to three years after booking. Those days city roads were much less crowded and one could move slowly, stop and give way to any faster vehicle, and still be on time at the destination. One could travel from one end to the other end of Trivandrum city by scooter in less than half an hour at 30 kmph! Life was so comfortable.
The happiness was shortlived. One Sunday morning, on reaching home after a short official tour, I was given the bad news that my scooter, kept locked in the car porch, was stolen the previous night. After reporting to police and receiving some negative feedback from the insurance company (a claim would be considered only after police closes the case), I slowly reconciled myself to the pre-scooter modes of conveyance.
Three months passed and during the fourth month, one early morning a colleague from office came to my house with a stranger. He was a constable from the Pollachi (in Tamil Nadu) police station deputed by Circle Inspector Krishnamurthy to trace the owner of a scooter found abandoned on roadside at Pollachi (more than 400 km away from Trivandrum). I was asked to accompany the constable to Pollachi to identify the scooter and do the needful to get it back.
During our journey to Pollachi, the constable explained to me the effort taken by his boss for restoring the scooter to the rightful owner. When the police took possession of the scooter in an abandoned condition on the roadside, the number plates had been painted black and there was no easy way of tracing the owner.
Everyday Krishnamurthy used to inspect the scooter to find any mark of identification on it. The first few days he could locate only the engine/chassis number. One day, he found a faint scribbling ‘KRT 1684' on one side of the spare tire. Taking a chance, he wrote to the Trichur (Kerala) Regional Transport Officer for particulars of ownership of the vehicle. There was no response.
Weeks passed by, but Krishnamurthy's occasional inspection of the scooter continued. One day he opened the panels and, on one of them, saw a scratched writing ‘MSS 2888'. He lost no time writing to the Bombay RTO giving available details and calling for particulars of registration. The Bombay RTO promptly responded, giving the address of the person who originally owned the vehicle. That was the Kerala home address of my friend and collegemate Kuttisankaran, who had sold the scooter to me. Krishnamurthy sent his constable to that address with instruction to meet Kuttisankaran or collect his whereabouts. Kuttisankaran's sister, who was present at the address, told the constable that her brother had sold the scooter sometime ago and he alone would know to whom it was given. The constable, on instruction from Krishnamurthy, obtained the contact number of Kuttisankaran and successfully obtained my Trivandrum office address and from there itself proceeded to Trivandrum.
The day we reached Pollachi was an unusually busy day for Krishnamurthy, as he had just returned from a site where a villager had committed suicide. Still he spent about 20 minutes with me, helping me in completing the identification and arranging for transportation of the scooter to Trivandrum, where a representative of the Pollachi police station was to surrender it to the Magistrate's Court. Krishnamurthy persuaded the same constable, who came in search of me, to accompany the scooter. For all the trouble he took in helping me retrieve my scooter, beyond nice words, the only way to express my gratitude that came to mind was offering him some cash. His response humbled me and I will remember the lesson I learnt that day from Krishnamurthy for my life. He said:
“I appreciate your nice gesture. You are our guest from another State. I do not claim that we, people in khaki, do not accept any gifts offered by someone who is happy with our work. But not from you. If you strongly believe that I have done my duty well, please do convey your feelings to my bosses whose details I will give. If you still want to part with some cash, do support this constable to buy some sweets or gifts for his child when he returns from Trivandrum, after completing the work there.”
The next morning the scooter was surrendered in the court in Trivandrum. I could get it back just by producing an indemnity and surety signed by two of my friends and after almost four months gap, I returned home on my Lambretta.
In compliance with Krishnamurthy's suggestion, I wrote to his bosses appreciating his work and the constable returned to Pollachi a happy man, with some sweets and gifts for his child.
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