Trust Deficit

This was like any other Wednesday. He was on his usual cycling route, listening to the same playlist that he listened to whenever he was cycling or running. He was keeping up his usual pace, and looked like he would again hit the ballpark of 9.5km in just over thirty minutes. Except that the moon was full and looking bright on a cloudless evening. He would usually hit a lower pace on such days as he’d look up to steal glances at the full moon now and then, taking his foot off the pedal. He usually preferred to cycle a little later in the evening as that’s when all the roads would be empty. It’s no fun cycling in the traffic, and he knew it. But the full moon was not the only thing different about this evening.

As he was cycling down a road, just beginning his fifth lap, each of which was just under one and a half kilometres, two guys came from his right, overtaking him and turning to his side of the road to block his progress, signalling him to stop. Maybe they were asking him to stop as well, but he only heard them once he took the earphones off, reluctantly letting Iggy Azalea sing on ‘I have one less problem without you’ when he could no longer hear her. These were seemingly innocent guys and spoke to him in local Kannada. He began to wonder what could put such burly men in distress as they looked like the kind of guys who’d induce distress in others. Despite being big and bearded, they seemed to be in distress and they showed a dead phone to indicate that a friend of theirs had been in an accident and they were unable to reach anyone for help as their phone was out and requested him to let them borrow his phone to make a call.

He wasn’t all that pleased to have to change his pace, pause his tracking on Runkeeper and allow them to make this call. He had already paused the music mid-way. But having always been helpful to people around him, he took out his phone, paused the tracking and asked them for the number they wanted to call. The more bulkier of the two, who was riding pillion on the bike got off and came to him to tell him the number to be dialled. As he started keying in the numbers on his phone, the less bulkier one, who was still on the bike went a little ahead to halt the bike on the side of the road to avoid standing in the middle of the road, or so it seemed to him.

When he had finished dialling the number, he hit call and heard ringing. He plugged out the earphones and handed his phone to the one who had recited the number to be dialled. After this, several things happened in just a handful of seconds. Instead of putting the phone to his ear to speak to whoever it was that he called, he turned to his friend, who was still on the bike, and grunted ‘Go’, who, upon hearing this, as though he had been waiting for this word all along, immediately started the bike and got ready to speed away. The one with the phone swiftly ran up and jumped on to the back seat of the bike and before his butt hit the seat, the bike was away and accelerating.

The poor guy on the cycle who had decided to lend his phone to help out someone in need, realised the elaborate ruse that had been used to steal his phone. The only thing missing was the bulky one at the back of the bike turning back and grinning with his crooked teeth. Realising this was no time for self pity, he immediately changed gears and started chasing after the bike that had now gained close to fifty metres on him in the time he’d taken to start moving. The very reason why he’d preferred cycling at this time of day was now against him. There was nobody around to hear his shouts of ‘Thief! Thief!’. So, he did the only thing he could possibly do and pedal on to chase them.

While he was shifting to top gear, half his mind went to a scene from an old Shah Rukh Khan movie ‘Main Hoon Naa’, where SRK chases down a bunch of guys speeding away in a car, on a bicycle. But he soon dismissed that to focus back on the reality of chasing the bike in front of him, which had now gained over a hundred metres and was headed towards a maze of roads. He started mapping all possible routes leading out from the turning that the bike first made, quickly calculating whether they’d be visible on any of those roads by the time they came into his line of sight, given the speed of the bike and the time he’d take to get there.

Of the five possible routes leading out, he quickly eliminated three the moment he got to the turning as the bike would have to be visible in the time it took him to get there, unless they traveled at over two hundred kilometres an hour, which he knew was impossible. That left two roads. One, fairly empty that could lead to five other options and another, a road fraught with traffic, where he could see many vehicles already piling up at a red signal.

He decided to not take the empty road as there was no sound of a bike there and he knew that catching a bike that could hit 150 kmph on an empty stretch of road when the maximum speed he could pedal at was perhaps 30 kmph, was something to be left to the movies. If they did take that route, he knew he had lost them already and headed to the road with the traffic where he still had a chance of catching the bike if they had been held up in the signal.

This posed another problem. He’d be stuck in the vehicles waiting for the signal to turn green as well, which would be of no help in catching them. So, without skipping a beat, continued on in the same pace to the other side of the road where every vehicle was coming in the direction opposite to the one he was headed in. One quick glance at the signal told him he had exactly ten seconds before it would turn green, allowing the vehicles to start passing through again. And that meant he had ten seconds to spot the bike among the hundred or so vehicles piled up, waiting. So he sped on on the wrong side of the road scanning the vehicles on his left to see if he could spot the thieves that stole his phone, and at the same time keeping an eye on his right to ensure he didn’t ride head first into an on-coming vehicle, which would only add to the damages. He came to the signal from the wrong side of the road just as it turned green, but had failed to spot the thieves. It hadn’t helped that there were two big buses also waiting at the signal, blocking out his view of what was on the other side.

And in just under a minute from the time he handed over his phone, he had to resign himself to the fact that he had lost his phone, forever.

This was the Wednesday three days ago and the guy on the cycle that had his phone stolen was none other than me. The theft was well executed and the entire plan banked on the fact that I’d trust the strangers enough to hand them my phone to make a distress call, taking their words at face value that they were actually in distress. At least, Plan A banked on it. If I’d refused, maybe Plan B was to punch me in the face and kick me in the ribs and take the phone anyway. They were big enough to have been able to pull that off.

Trust gets established at two levels. One is at an individual level. This is when we decide whether we trust a particular person or not. This is very easy and objective. There is no generalization involved. The act of trusting (or not trusting) is merely a consequence of their own interactions with the one doing the trusting.

The other is at a collective level. This is when we decide whether we trust a stranger or not. There will be millions of strangers that we may encounter, but the act of trusting in this case is not merely a consequence of their interactions with the one doing the trusting. But it is the interactions of everyone belonging to their class (strangers, in this case) with the one doing the trusting.

After this incident, it will be much harder for me to trust a stranger. And it might lead to people actually in distress not getting help.

It is easy to fight against being stereotyped, to fight to be treated equally. But this is a first hand narrative on how stereotypes get built.

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