Penniless in Paris | columns | Hindustan Times
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Penniless in Paris

columns Updated: Nov 14, 2010 00:04 IST
Tithiya Sharma

I love Paris. Even when someone steals my bag. My second morning in Paris — it was cold and raining. I was alive in the moment, blissfully aware that I was in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, nearing the end of six months of travelling solo across three continents. Drifting only to consider who out of all the amazing people in this city of lights would I meet next.

I was with a Canadian couple and their American friend who I'd met at my hostel. We were at a café in the Bastille area on the morning of the D-day and a stealthy crook walked off with my bag. In a moment, my reality changed from happy world traveller to a penniless lone girl in a hostile metropolis with no travel papers, no money to call home, no fancy camera to document her misery and even no make-up to paint on a happy face!

This is every traveller's worst nightmare and the only thing I've been afraid of in my entire trip. I've walked down many a dodgy street, landed up in new countries late into the night, been jet-lagged and dulled, lost and distracted but I never dropped my guard.

When I found out that I'd been robbed, I expected a panic attack. Warned my friends that I was going to have a meltdown anytime and delayed calling my parents till after the expected emotional outburst.

It never happened.

I felt calm. Like I knew exactly what to do and expect. What I hadn't expected was the overwhelming kindness of strangers.

My Canadian friends handed me some cash and paid for my call home. I spoke to my mother, who told me I shouldn't worry. I filed a police report for the stolen property and the next morning headed to the Indian embassy with a copy of the report, no money and a predictable story.

I walked in and I felt safe. I was with my people now. The security guard brought me coffee and even chipped in with the two Euros I was short of, for the photo booth.

The counselor for Press, Information and Culture assured me the worst was over, and also told me about the distress fund the embassy is establishing, given the rising cases of theft in Paris. As I waited for my papers, it was lunchtime.

Devraj from the press secretary's office asked me if I'd like to eat. The next moment, he split his four rotis and sabji. It was the most delicious meal I've eaten in half a year.

Since I had no money for my passport, an official in the Indian embassy in Paris approved a deferred payment to be made in the Delhi passport office. Within hours I had a new passport. My friends in India went into overdrive to find connections in Paris, eventually facilitating a rendezvous with a Frenchman who agreed to give a perfect stranger a sizeable amount of cash!

Earlier that day, I had to check out of my hostel since I had no money, so I turned to 'Couchsurfing', a service for travellers by travellers. I wrote to three flat-mates who had hosted dozens of complete strangers in their home and within minutes they responded with the address, phone number and directions.

As I walked with my remaining possessions to find my new home, an Bob Dylan classic floated in my head: How does it feel?, To be on your own. A complete unknown. With no direction home. Like a rolling stone.

(Written from the living room of my hosts Alex, Nico and Ann, over looking a beautiful view of Paris.)

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