Phones, Presidential Oath and the Restaurant Bill

It wasn’t predicted. It wasn’t on my schedule. In a way it was like any other unpredictable day in my professional life. As I was heading towards office thinking about what I might do in the newsroom, the cell rang- GSM I must mention, not the CDMA, as I have started carrying two if I am to exclude the third, data only CDMA phone that I put inside my backpack, over the past several days.

Presidential Complex was decorated with Moon and Sun on the presidential oath taking day

There is a convincing background for this, I must clarify. One of the numbers was published in the newspaper, at the end of one of my articles, and the text messages and miscalls (that’s right, not Missed Calls in Nepali usage!) kept flooding in. In addition to that, there are some benefits of carrying two different phones that are enabled by two different technologies albeit their service is provided by the same company Nepal Telecom. The reception of CDMA phone is very good in Kathmandu where the service of GSM is, to put it mildly, unbearable. Plus, if you go to remote places like Chandanpur village of Lalitpur district where I went last week, you won’t see signals for GSM while CDMA works perfectly fine. But, on the other hand, the GSM postpaid that I have is cheap to make calls compared to CDMA/GSM prepaid. So make calls from GSM whenever possible and receive on CDMA!

So the phone rang and on the other end was Suraj, a reporter colleague of mine at Kantipur, with a plan.

“Wanna go to Shital Niwas?” he asked referring to the grand building in Maharajgunj that has recently been turned into the Presidential Palace of the Republic of Nepal. The first president, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, was scheduled to take oath amidst a grand ceremony in the presidential palace (Rastrapati Bhawan) later in the afternoon.

“Why not?” I said, after all who doesn’t want to witness the history in the making from a closer point. Plus, in a day marred by the students’ protest that had forced the public vehicles to remain out of the road, there was his Honda Shine ready to take us to THE building that is also the office to the Foreign Ministry that I have to cover for my paper!

This man, from Gorkha, wanted to see the President. He was among the many curious onlookers assembled outside the presidential building.

There was only one invitation card and we were two. The card was blank so thinking that was a blank check we put both of our names on it. I had suspected that they wouldn’t let two people inside with a single invitation card. Why would they? They stopped one of us and I happily chose to stay out. Within a minute, I was chatting with curious onlookers on the street just across the main entrance of the Presidential Building. Those folks, ordinary public, were having all sorts of chats about their newly elected President and vice president. Soon Suraj came with another invitation card which actually belonged to one of my friends who works for a foreign news agency. I was smuggled inside. Then there was another reporter from the Kathmandu Post who also didn’t have the invitation card. He was also smuggled inside; this time the news agency reporter went outside just like Suraj had gone to smuggled me in.

That was it. It took me no time to realized that the atmosphere outside was more vibrant and intense than the one inside. After several minutes of wait, the President came to the venue and the ceremony started. Many, perhaps all, reporters commented that the Vice President shouldn’t have taken oath in Hindi. But then, all those reporters, including myself, were non-Madhesi.

I soon lost interest in the official program. I wandered around and, to my delight, the program was declared over. Everyone rushed towards the food stalls while I ran away from them. We were out of the vast complex. “Let’s go to a restaurant and have the food of our own,” I told Suraj. After waiting for a few minutes outside for the traffic to be cleared we were in a restaurant called Trendy just across the main entrance of the Rastra Bank. I had been there couple of time before.

We ordered medium sized vegetable cheese pizza and two plates of aalu dum.

The food came and we started eating.

As we were doing so a thought came to my mind. Do I have enough money to pay the bills?

“I don’t have much,” said Suraj. “Perhaps about eighty rupees.”

I joked that I might have to rush to Bhatbhateni department store, five minutes walk from the restaurant, where there is an ATM machine installed by my bank Nepal Investment Bank.

I had about 150. Suraj had actually less than 30 or something. We asked for the bill and there it was: Rs. 250.

“Okay,” I told Suraj, “I will come back in about 10 minutes with money.”

Suraj stayed in the restaurant and I walked out…towards the ATM.

When I reached the Store and found the ATM, I took out my wallet and looked for the ATM card.

To my utter dismay, there was no card.

At that point, I realized, we were in real trouble. And the trouble, for me, was double.

No doubt that’s D Wagle who would later in the day find himself in a very awkward situation in a restaurant near the presidential building

Where was my card? It would always be in my wallet, always. Just a couple of days ago, we had discussed about the ATM card fraud in Kathmandu. Yes you need the correct four-digit pin code along with the card to withdraw money from account but you can easily steal the money by doing a shopping in such places where they accept the card. You don’t have to provide pin code in such places. And places like Metro Mall at Soaltee Hotel complex are open 24/7. You can do the shopping of your life anytime.

There were some options though. The restaurant itself was owned by the brother of one of the editors of Kantipur Publications where Suraj and I work as reporters.

Two, there were some customers-literary personalities of Nepal- in the restaurant whom we knew and, uttering out names would be enough for them to recognize us.

Still that would be as easy an option as having your own money to pay the bills.

F—! What do I do? Just a day earlier I had given two thousands rupees to one of my colleagues without realizing that I had lost the ATM card. At that time I had thought that I would withdraw some money from ATM in the evening.

I started walking back to the restaurant after calling Suraj and updating him about the development.

Suddenly I realized that one of my friends works in the area. I called her and there she was, about to leave the area for her home. The office hours were over.

When I called her she was standing right in front of the restaurant…waiting for the bus. No need to mention here how thankful I was when she gave me the money I needed.

Suraj and I headed directly to the bank and suspended the ATM card.

Later in the night, in my home, after frantically searching for the piece of paper that contained user name and password of my e-banking account and finding it, I logged in to find that no transactions were made from the account!