Lost and Loving it…. (RIP Divakar Bari)

On 23rd July I was hunting for my form 16 from my previous company. They had’nt sent it to me yet and I was frantically calling old friends and colleagues in a desperate attempt to beat the deadline. One of the people I pinged was a junior who had worked with me – Divakar Bari. I reached out on skype and found out that it was his birthday. He replied the next day.

[7/22/2014 9:39:05 PM] Paramananda Ponnaiyan: Bari saar happy birthday
[7/23/2014 11:14:36 AM] Divakar Bari: Thank you Sirji.  You are indeed Awesome 🙂

Reminding me of a popular refrain I used to say (still do?) when I solve a hard problem. We chatted a little more about my form 16, he offered to approach the HR for the same. I then asked him, how he was doing.

[7/23/2014 11:15:35 AM] Divakar Bari: hehehehe ..
[7/23/2014 11:16:19 AM] Divakar Bari: nothin much on my end .. a lot of planning on some fronts .. gotta plan few years ahead.

I just got to know that he passed away on 8th August 2014. 15 days after this message.

When I look back on the short time I knew him, Divakar has to be the most frustrating young person I had the opportunity to work with. His very existence in the company I worked was a source of pain for me.

Divakar was not a good software engineer, atleast whatever I saw of his code left a whole lot to be desired. And yet, he survived for almost 2 years in the burning cauldron of a startup atmosphere. When he was working with me, I kept all the manual jobs for him. Things I could easily explain and he could execute. I like to think that he started showing some initiative. My boss was not happy though and put him on a performance improvement plan (PIP). Then in a quirk of fate there were layoffs in my team and Divakar’s improvement plan was forgotten so that he could start doing some of the work of people who had been laid off. Saved again.

I remember we used to have long talks on the nature of existence. Divakar did’nt think there was any reason to stress it. Even on PIP he used to be much the same as before. It was as if whatever the world did to him it would’nt change him. This irritated me. I wanted him to be ambitious, hard working, focussed. He did’nt care, didnt even feel the need to care. Life was a series of happy accidents he used to tell me. He didnt expect to get into my company, but got placed somehow from campus. He used to say that the recruiter made a mistake. Once in the company he enjoyed the experience but if he was going to lose it, he was ok with that too. He was sure there would be something more to enjoy over there too.

Maybe the close shave of PIP changed him. Not so much the PIP but being saved by fate changed him. Although we used to have a good laugh whenever I brought it up, I know that after the layoffs he worked a lot harder. That is also probably why he made that statement of planning for the future in the chat. If you know Divakar, that line is as alien as the Pope speaking in Hindi.

And just when he was turning a new leaf, wanting more from his life than what came his way, his life was taken away. Shakespeare could not have scripted it better.

I am left wondering, though, if he had’nt gone through that PIP, if he had’nt changed (if I (and others) had’nt tried to change him) would he have been happier for the few months of his existence?

It seems to me, Divakar, the earlier one, the untainted one, was right. There really is nowhere to run. The life we have is right now. Why suffer for a future that may not exist ? Why not just enjoy it as it is.

[ I hope noone is offended by what I have written, its just my way of paying tribute to a guy I enjoyed some time on earth with. I mean no ill feeling to anyone]
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Lost

Missing people is a big problem in India. The success rate of finding a person who is genuinely lost is dismally low as frankly the police department is not equipped or staffed properly to deal with it. For small children its even lower and tracking a person who cannot communicate like a dumb person or mentally challenged person, it is practically impossible.

My dad went missing last weekend. My dad has Alzheimers disease. Although he is physically fine, he is not able to communicate even the simplest things. From the outset we were told that our chances of ever finding him again were low.

Our first instinct when we were told the news was to get as many people as possible on the road to scan the area. My wife Paluk reached out to everyone we knew while I started the search for dad. The care-taker whose carelessness had put us in this spot told us that he had lost track of dad in Indiranagar.

We posted flyers all over Indiranagar and spoke to passers-by, dhobis, ironing persons, mailmen… anyone if they had seen anyone with a white shirt and white dhoti holding or wearing a blue sweater.

As I walked the streets with a colour photo of him in my hand, the futility of the situation hit me over and over again. I asked myself if I were in the place of the people who were being asked, would I even be able to notice, forget recall an unknown person walking by me. I could only pray that dad would somehow leave an impression on passers-by.

While facing disappointment and discouragement on the one hand, we were also witness to the humanity and sacrifice of the volunteers who came to our side at this trying time.  At any given time we would have 10 – 20 volunteers on the road searching for dad. These people were friends, colleagues, dad’s old colleagues from the navy, even people who had just seen the news on social media and reached out to help. This gave us encouragement and hope that we would find dad soon.

We got a number of sightings once news began to spread. The thing about sightings is that its pretty impossible to verify whether it really was dad or someone who looked like dad or maybe a lie altogether. To deal with this we changed our strategy. We would first show the photo and check for recognition. If a yes, we would ask questions about his dress “What was he wearing?” etc and sometimes throw in a red-herring like “What was the colour of his pants?” (he was wearing a dhoti) to catch any liars. Even with this methodology we still had 10% of the sightings totally off the charts. Looking at the other points a credible story seemed to be appear. In this way we moved from one area to the next, following the most credible of the sightings.

According to the data that fit the story, dad had crossed over to 100 ft rd from domlur and then moved up to kodigehalli and then moved to CMH road and adjoining areas over the course of 3 days.

While the volunteers and I were on the streets doing the search, Paluk went about organizing media coverage such as more pamphlets, putting an ad in the news paper and even getting us sometime on the TV and cable channels. My brother also flew down from the US to help in the search.

Very soon my Dad’s photo was all over the Internet and Dad’s course mates and ex-colleagues from the Navy started calling in to see how they could help. The commander-in-chief of the southern naval command called and assured me that no stone would remain un-turned to see that dad was returned safely. The Navy applied pressure on the police and also provided a few personnel to help in the search. MLA’s and influential persons from bangalore and the center called up the police station to galvanize the police force.

A whatsapp group was created and all the updates appeared there. A friend of mine Albert Bivera from Mumbai pulled in a lot of people into the search and also helped directing the groups via whatsapp.

The search was physically and emotionally taxing. We would go to sleep every day at 2Am only to wake up at 5 Am and continue. To be closer to the place where dad went missing, our friends Srobona Das and Nelson Carvalho offered their place to stay.

Tuesday I reached a point where the emotional turmoil inside and the physical exhaustion on the outside, put me in a zombie state, not having the energy to care anymore but still caring too much to stop. I sat at one of the places dad had already been, hoping that he would return, while directing other groups so that their searches would not overlap.

On Tuesday night we combed a 2 mile radius around Chinmaya mission hospital at night, hoping to catch him while he slept. This was done with a beat policeman Mr Manjunath. No luck.

Wednesday morning all the leads went cold. There were no new sightings of dad. We combed the area around Chinmaya Mission hospital twice that morning, but did not get any new leads. The number of volunteers at that time was very few (more were coming in the afternoon) and we started looking at hiring private detectives to continue the search. We were also thinking of getting colour posters printed and pasting them all over Indiranagar.

For me, the biggest question, was where do homeless people sleep? Any homeless person on the pavements, I learnt, was picked up by the police and handed over to some NGO organization. For healthy homeless people it is usually  the beggars colony in kengeri and for mentally challenged destitutes it is RVM foundation hospital on bannerghatta road. We also found that the places where homeless people can sleep without getting caught by the police are only bda complexes, railway stations and bus stands. We searched all the complexes, stations and bus stands nearby but no luck. A friend of ours sent a photo of dad to RVM foundation to check for dad.

On Wednesday afternoon around 4pm we got news that a 90% match had been found at RVM foundation hospital. We quickly asked for a photo. They responded on whatsapp. The photo was that of my dad, he was found. I rushed from Indiranagar to Bannerghatta rd to verify that it indeed was dad. We didnt tell anyone, as we didnt want to stop the search until we were 100% sure that dad had been found.

I reached RVM hospital by about 5.30 to see my father elated and thanking god to see me. Tears of joy and gratitude to the heavens.

Dad had been found on Tuesday evening in a dried up late near Anekal. The villagers had helped him out and handed him over to an NGO called Niranthara who had in turn handed him over to RVM on wednesday afternoon. We were told at RVM that this was the first time a missing person had been taken home within an hour of arriving.

Dads upper body clothes were clean. He had mud on his feet and hair, but otherwise physically he was fine.

If dad was in Anekal on Tuesday evening, then who were we tracking in Indiranagar? How could a person with no money reach Anekal ? Did the caretaker lie to us about where he lost him in the first place (it turned out he had already lied about the form of transport he had taken and the reason for him going to indirinagar)? If he lied why did he do so?

These questions for the most part will remain unanswered, we have filed complaint against the caretaker to see if there was a bigger plan here.

In conclusion, we are really happy that dad is back and this is a call to us to be more vigilant about his care. We thank all the Volunteers for their help and support and hope we will be able to be of service to you in the future. The police handling of Lost cases, from accepting the FIR to the actual work of finding leaves much to be desired. I hope to contribute there in the future.