Sunday, 26 January 2014

Lost and Found

It is nice when people do good things. It is nicer when it is altruistic. And it is best when it is done to us. I have had this pleasure at least twice now. Couple of years back when my other half lost her phone in the bus, I had written it off immediately. Nevertheless, I decided to follow the old trick of calling the mobile number to see if we are lucky. While I was expecting to hear "your phone is currently switched off", a samaritan answered the phone, which was still in the bus, and handed it over to the driver. The transport service had a wonderful lost property division and we were able to collect the phone next day happily.

On another occasion, few weeks back, I walked out of the tube day dreaming, leaving behind my badminton racket. I realized this only after entering the office and knew its too late. When I went back to the station to enquire, I was told about the Lost Property Office (LPO) that Transport for London operates.

LPO © Supafly1 
Any items found not only in tubes, but also in trains, buses and back seats of cabs are returned to LPO. So I went back to my desk, filled an online form, provided the identification details and submitted it. LPO has a twenty one day waiting period and irrespective of whether the item is found or not, the applicant will be notified of the status.

Twenty one days had gone and I didn't receive any notification. So I assumed it was not found and  in the spirit of new year, I decided to buy another racket. But for one last time, I called up LPO to ensure that my racket was never found. After few inquiries, when the attendant said that they found my racket, I was taken by surprise. Though they failed to intimate me, I would like to give the benefit of doubt to LPO as I don't remember providing a distinct identification, apart from the description, a badminton racket in a black bag.
In the window of LPO in Baker Street © Gary Knight2

Later, when I thought about how they would have found my racket, two scenarios came to my mind. One, some passenger found it and returned it to the authorities. Second, the maintenance team or the driver while inspecting the train, at the end of a service, had found it and returned to LPO. In both the cases, the person who had found the item also had an opportunity to keep it with them. But they didn't. Probably because, he or she is kind and was against owning some one else property, even when they can get away with it. Alternately, a cynical view would be the presence of CCTV cameras in the stations and trains that records every activity, would have acted as a restraint. I hope it was the former.

Irrespective of who it is or what their intention is, I am very thankful to them. And one of the key things, I think, that helped them to return the item is the kind of system that is in place. In the absence of a properly functioning system, like the LPO, right intentions alone may not be sufficient. A more relevant example to illustrate this theory is the presence of litter bins in the streets. Few years back, I happened to carry a coffee cup for almost a mile, without able to find a bin. That was the first time I realized the lack of enough bins in the streets of Hyderabad. So even if some one really has some inclination to keep public places clean, absence of a functioning system, litter bins in this case, will only restrict them.

This doesn't imply that the presence of a functioning system is a sufficient condition; I have seen people littering next to empty bins, in the streets of London, where there are no shortage for bins. Nevertheless, I think, a functioning system is a necessary condition and would motivate the well intended. Presence of more such systems, across various domains, either by private organizations, local communities or government bodies, could bring out more responsible behavior from its citizens.

In pictures: behind the scenes at the TfL Lost Property Office

Image Copyrights:
1. Supafly -
2. Gary Knight -

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