May 27, 2002 -- Polina Sirosh left her handbag stuffed with nearly $5,000 in cash on the back seat of a taxi - and got every cent back.
The lucky Manhattan photographic artist says it's thanks to a determined and gentle cabby whom money can't buy.
The driver, Saiful Mondal, 34, tracked down Sirosh using nothing more than her name on a bank card and the business card of a renowned interior-design architect he found in Sirosh's Fendi purse.
Then, when she offered him a $500 reward, along with her thanks, Mondal, a Queens computer student who is putting himself through grad school and whose wife is pregnant with their first child, refused.
"That's not my money," said Mondal, who had been a police officer in his native Bangladesh.
Sirosh, 26, insisted. He compromised.
"I told her, 'If you want, I can give that money to a charity in Bangladesh. It is a very poor country, believe me,' " said Mondal, who has lived here almost seven years.
Sirosh, who called The Post to rave about her hero hack, said, "I think it's great that New York has people like that."
She said the lost-and-found adventure began May 4, when she and her boyfriend had a downtown appointment with famed architect Adam Tihany to show him her work.
It was a Saturday and she forgot that the cash she planned to deposit in the bank was in a side pocket of her purse.
Later, she and her boyfriend hailed a cab - Mondal's - to a TriBeCa restaurant. Sirosh got out holding her big portfolios, and thought her boyfriend had her purse. He didn't.
The couple was in the restaurant when she realized it was gone.
Meanwhile, Mondal's next passenger had found the purse in the cab and handed it to him.
"I saw a lot of hundred dollar bills and some rolls of film," Mondal said. "I think, maybe the film is very important to that girl."
He was determined to find her and return the film and the $4,750.
"I'm a Muslim, and my religion says when you have something that's not yours, try to give it back to the owner," he said.
Mondal drove back to the restaurant, but she had left. He went to a nearby police station house, but she had not yet reported the loss.
Remembering that he had picked her up at the same address as that on Tihany's business card, Mondal called his office, got Sirosh's number and called her.
"Hello, this is the cabdriver," Sirosh said he told her. "Don't worry, I have your money. It's all safe."
Taxi and Limousine Commission chief Matthew Daus said Mondal's "professionalism and integrity are truly representative of the vast majority of New York City taxi drivers."