An Otherwise Enjoyable Sunday in Delhi

An unfortunate experience shared by many who have spent any time abroad is that of being robbed, mugged, or having one’s possessions stolen from a locker, hotel room, etc. Of course, this can and does happen in our home countries as well but the experience of being robbed while abroad is made more unsettling by the fact that you are not in your familiar surroundings to begin with.

Two weeks ago, while sightseeing in Old Delhi with my new roommate Kate, my cousin’s friend Josh, and one of Josh’s colleagues, my wallet was stolen. I was crossing a busy street in front of three buses (the buses were stopped) when suddenly I was surrounded by a group of six women. All but one stood no taller than my shoulder. They huddled around me and clung to my arms. I was incredibly perplexed by the situation but didn’t feel any need for alarm. When I looked into their eyes I saw fear. My naive conclusion was that they were afraid of the traffic and decided to take shelter in the shadow of my sturdy Midwestern frame. I untangled myself from their panicked grasp and met Josh across the street noting the incredibly bizarre nature of the encounter. He agreed and confirmed that they looked terrified. One block later he made the joke that “she was so afraid, she had her hand in your purse!” At that moment a sinking feeling in my stomach and a quick check of my camera bag confirmed that I had indeed been robbed. The women had surrounded me, distracting me with their Daytime Emmy worthy acting skills, and snatched my wallet out of my camera bag which was slung behind my back. My wallet which held my credit card, debit card, MN drivers license, a minimal amount of cash, and other things. No!!!

I am a careful traveler but no stranger to theft. When traveling in Buenos Aires with my friend Laura my purse (actually it was an awesome banano a.k.a. fanny pack) was snatched out of my hand on a Sunday morning one block from our hostel. The thief sped away on the back of a two wheeler before I could even utter a string of cuss words at him. Ask Laura, the fact that I was too shocked to give him a piece of my mind in Mexican slang irked me more the loss of my banano and its contents.

After an unsuccessful attempt to locate any trace of the lady robbers on the scene of the crime we called the police to report the theft and embarked on a wild goose chase until we ended up at an outdoor “police precinct” about a mile away. The first question I was asked was “what happened?” The second, “would you like some tea?” Sure, officer, why not. I explained the situation and filed a report that my wallet was “missing.” I was told that reporting a theft involved more paperwork and time and did I really want to do that? I protested, saying that I knew I wouldn’t get my wallet back and I didn’t care about that, but the reason I was reporting the theft was in the hopes that another unassuming female traveler would not be accosted by the same gang. In the end I wrote a long list of what was in my “lost” wallet. Then we had some tea. Here is a hilarious picture of Josh, Kate, and me with the police report. I am being melodramatic on purpose, we actually had a lot of fun. The poor guy next to the desk, though, was not. It was shortly explained to us that he was suspected of pick pocketing and being held there under arrest. I think his Sunday was decidedly worse than mine.

In my experience the worst part of being robbed is not being left without one’s possessions, but rather the psychological aftereffects of the whole event. I was shocked and mad on Sunday afternoon, but I actually had a good time going through the whole process with Josh and Kate who were great sports. And of course it makes for a good story. But the next morning I woke up unsettled and afraid. Just now as I write this I realized that one can apply the Seven Stages of Grief to the explain the experience of being robbed:

  1. Shock and Denial: Are you kidding me!? But it was a group of women! I never suspected that I was being robbed! Are you serious?
  2. Pain and Guilt: Why didn’t I prevent it? How did I fail to realize what was going on? Why didn’t I realize one step after it happened instead of one block later and only thanks to Josh’s poor sense of humor? (which was much appreciated that day) And why did I have both my cards in my wallet?? I’m a seasoned world traveler, or at least I thought I was, how did this happen!?
  3. Anger and Bargaining: The vocabulary of this stage is censored. Let’s go back, can we just walk back and see if they’re still there? What the heck? Who does that? Maybe I’ll find someone who saw it happen…
  4. Depression, Reflection, Loneliness: I think in the case of being robbed this stage also includes fear. I experienced this stage when I woke up the next day and remembered what had happened the day before. It conjures up the same feelings of pain, guilt, anger, and fright of the previous stages. It can take awhile to get through this stage. In the days following the robbery I tried to remember what other items were in my wallet. More painful to lose than my credit or debit card or pocket money was a message from a friend written on a 10 rupee note, the receipt from a lunch with my brother over Christmas, and holographic cards of the god Ganesha which I had just purchased an hour earlier to send to my father. Every time I was reminded of something I had lost in the robbery I went through the first few stages again.
  5. The Upward Turn: As the days went on I no longer feel so shaken up and found ways to get along without the items that were stolen.
  6. Reconstruction and Working Through: In my case I bought a new wallet. Right away I was able to borrow cash from my roommate. I got a new house key made and replaced my metro card. I am a very organized person so one of the most annoying elements of this whole experience has been losing the perfectly comfortable system of organization I had going on in that wallet. Everything had its place!
  7. Acceptance and Hope: One day I’ll get over it. No harm was done. I was able to block my credit and debit card over the phone within 30 minutes of the theft and the thieves got the equivalent of $12, some American change, an almost full punch card for my favorite coffee shop, a bunch of other stuff that is of no use to them, and a $2 plastic wallet I bought in Chile 3 years ago. My new cards have already been sent to my parents house and will soon be in my possession. This experience is so new that I still unsettled when I think about what happened but I know, because of my experience in Buenos Aires, that one day I will no longer feel so uncomfortable when I think about the gang of women who stole my wallet on a Sunday afternoon in Old Delhi.

So as this post’s title indicates, the 15th of January was an otherwise enjoyable Sunday in Old Delhi. Earlier that day we met up with Daniel and Blythe in Lodhi Gardens, visited an outdoor book market, had lunch at the famous Karim’s restaurant, and visited the Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in Asia. So I will visit Old Delhi again, but never on a weekend. It is simply not advisable.


Posted on January 29, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. So sorry this happened, but I love your honest and authentic post.

  2. so is the guy in the brown coat the nice policeman who offered you tea? thanks for sharing this story. you are a good sport and a smart traveler. it could have been worse! i am so glad you had friends with you.

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