Lost In India


Dear Ezra and Lian

I really don’t know how widespread this is in India. However, I do know if it’s a real fear for many. In fact, there is a recent Hindi film about a deaf/mute girl being left behind in India while her family returns to Pakistan. The girl is Lost in India. I want to see it. It sounds like an accurate description of a real phenomena relevant to India. Two families I know have lost relatives in India. They don’t know what happened to them. That’s just my own close friends. I don’t know how many others have lost family without telling me. When I travelled in India with Ezra, I always held him with an extra tight grip.

So many people have no official identification papers. Records are not computerized on a mass scale. Police are overwhelmed with other work, so devote little time and effort to missing persons. Even the widespread use of cremation, makes identifying the missing very difficult. There’s a whole culture of getting lost in India. Foreigners for years have travelled to Goa or Himachal Pradesh and then dropped out. Their passports and visas expire, but they never leave India. They never get asked for identification. They create brand new and sometimes totally different lives for themselves there.

If you are travelling by train, every train has at least 1 little kid; usually more and sometimes as young as Lian is now. This child will be sweeping up garbage that people throw on the floor. They will then ask for a tip. Others will be selling candy, pens, or trinkets. These trains sometimes will be travelling over a 1000 miles. Sometimes the kids will sneak on board for a free trip away from some bad situation. The train stations in big cities usually will have dozens and dozens of kids living there. Those kids could have travelled thousands of miles from their old homes to live there. Most of those kids don’t have parents. When Mommy and I were “house parents” for 2 months at an orphanage, some of those kids at the orphanage used to live at the train station.

Once, I had visited Darjeeling and travelled down the mountain to catch the train to Calcutta. I was at the station at New Jalpaiguri (NJP) West Bengal. I had a long wait for the train. On dozens of bulletins boards were pictures of over an 100 people. There were pictures of old and young, male and female, kids, toddlers and babies. A few weeks before, there had been a big train accident in the nearby state of Bihar. It had killed a couple hundred people. (This happens a few times every year in India, it seems.) Those pictures were of those who had died in that accident. Even though it was weeks later, those people were still unidentified. There were no reports of missing persons connected to the victims. There was no identification on their bodies. No friends, no relatives, no neighbours to claim or give their names. They died unknown, un-mourned and quite possibly un-missed.

In India, if you pull out a camera to take a picture or a video, people will happily jump into your picture. Few ever hurry away or cover their faces. I have had dozens and dozens of people ask to have their picture taken with this tall, white, red-headed guy. Back before digital pictures were common, photo shops were always busy. I have always chalked it up to the deep desire, not to be Lost in the Crowd. It’s the yearning of every Indian to remembered and recognized. It haunts me still to think of those pictures of the unknown who died on that train.  I believe that haunts most Indians, that they or someone they love will also be Forever Lost in India.