Rome and the lessons in psychology

This May we went to Italy on a holiday. This was my first time in that country and I was really excited about seeing places that I had read about in my history books. We started our trip from Rome. The first evening was spent at the breath-taking Colosseum, a perfect start to our visit.

The next day we decided to visit the Vatican City. We took the metro train like the locals and tourists do, a bit crowded (nothing by Mumbai local standards though), and were about to get off at our station, the crowd increased near the exit.  One man was pushing against me, much to my discomfort and making me wonder why he was doing this. It reminded me of crowded buses in India where men try to push against women on purpose. I managed to push him back a bit and get off the train. But within a fraction of a second I realized my bag was open and my wallet was gone!!

Blood rushed to my head and in a flash it played out in my mind, how the guy who was pushing against me was game to this. Without a further thought, I rushed back into the train, my husband and son jumped right back in, not knowing why I was doing that! I went to the man who I suspected and told him that he had taken my wallet. He of course pretended that he understood no English. By now there were very few people left in the train, one tall guy walked towards us and asked what happened, all in Italian and showed some sort of an ID to the guy and asked him to show his bag, remove his jacket etc, sort of like searching the guy but without any contact. But there was no trace of the wallet. Obviously it was a team that was playing out. One was busy distracting me with his uncomfortable body contact, while another one was quickly opening the bag and pulling out the valuables and probably got off the train. I could clearly see how they had made it work, but had no direct proof. A lady who acted as a translator (she handed over a card for her services before getting off at her stop!), suggested that we go to the police station and lodge a complaint.

I had lost my credit cards, some euros, my driver’s license and my PAN card. So I wasn’t particularly chummy. However I stayed calm.  Our 7 year old son however was very upset. He came up with some brilliant ideas on how he would make alarms that would go off if someone touched the bag and steal-proof wallets. We went back to our hotel, called and canceled all the cards (the menu on the IVR could make for an article in itself!). Once all the practical things were taken care of, we sat down and discussed our next steps. We decided best was to continue the holidays. We checked to ensure that we could manage on husband’s credit cards and the cash we had on hand.  We then immediately split the places where our valuables would be kept.

After a while the feeling of loss, sense of stupidity and a tiny amount of guilt started seeping in.  First is of loss, on how would we manage, would we be able to do all things that we had planned etc. Thankfully husband had his cards and we still had some forex. Wondered what would have happened if one of us were traveling alone. The only way would be to head back home! Then comes the stupidity bit – on having kept all things in one wallet, not having listened to my mom who always advised to keep things separately (based on similar experiences she had!). And then guilt- for we could have been more careful and prevented it, been attentive to what was happening around us….

Owing to the insistence of our B&B owner, we went to the Carabinieri (Italian gendarmerie and not the local police, again a topic worth an article on the complex systems in Italy!). This was the most amusing experience. The categories on the Information Report were really puzzling, (see image below) and a reflection of the prevalence of such crime. We met people from 3-4 nationalities all having had similar experiences of losing their wallet during the day.  All of us derived some sort of false pleasure in analyzing the cleverness of the criminals and how they play on the psychology, discovering the elaborate orchestrated settings in which they operate etc.  And almost everyone there, felt somewhat glad at not being the only “bakra” (lamb to the slaughter). There was an equalizing effect at the police station!

Carabineiri 1

Every experience is a learning, so there are the obvious learnings: I learnt to become more aware of people around (sadly a bit suspicious of everyone around too) and manage our belongings more carefully; the kiddo learnt that the world was not all rosy; I learnt how to explain the good and bad things in life to a child. Husband learned how to generously share his credit cards to buy wife’s shoes and clothes! We all learnt that anything can happen to us, just as something that we hear or read, and to take things in ones stride We also learned that the human mind has incredible ability to rationalize just about anything and say well it was all a learning!

But most importantly, I learned that I have the capacity to respond to an unexpected, in this case not so pleasant, situation with a sense of calm and focus. My husband too pointed out that I was remarkably calm all through and handled everything without losing my footing. While I have not consciously trained myself to face such a situation in that manner, more lately I have become more present to what is happening around and within me.  I am more conscious of my feelings and responses, and that came to fore.

The way we respond to any event in our life- expected or unexpected, unhappy or joyous- is determined by the way we live our life everyday! An event can become a real mirror and reflect back our true nature!


5 thoughts on “Rome and the lessons in psychology

  1. Absolutely I agree, your reactions do reflect your personality and thought process, which probably in lay man terms is the process of ‘growing up’! And yes, your life experiences prepare you for for the unexpected, its amazing how adaptable we are though we think we are not!

    1. No doubt you are very matured and seasoned. ..When I miss even a single exit while driving, panic kicks in for me despite having GPS backed by Cellphone maps. Most of the time I travel alone to many countries and all the time I keep a copy of passport, visa in Cell phone memory as well hard copies distributed in multiple locations.. Credit cards, always split and keep in different locations..

  2. Quite shocking. My cousin had a similar experience at some holy site in North India (which is generally very crowded). In his case, they caught the main guy who picked the purse, but by that time, the purse was handed over to someone else. It seems, the police refused to file an FIR. Then one of his friends called some influential people they knew, put a lot of pressure on the police team out there, and guess what – The thief goes and gets the wallet and hands it over to them!

    Destination Infinity

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