A tribute to a thief

March 22, 2020

He came barefoot, and left with hard cash still in the drawer

It was long before restrictions were imposed on the number of dishes and the timings of banquet halls. We had returned quite late from a wedding. My wife, after changing hurriedly, did not find time to put away her jewellery into a safe place. Instead, she wrapped it in a used paper-napkin soiled with the greasy, spicy food served at the dinner. What then followed was a sweet sleep under the spell of a newly introduced and newly installed ‘split’ AC, the like of which had sent the family of Siddhartha into a deep slumber, allowing the prince to escape. But here an altogether different episode was waiting to unfold.

Being a habitual early bird, I woke up to brew myself a ‘bed-tea’. I was really angry at my wife’s carelessness when I found her purse lying in the kitchen. She responded with a big “NO”. Lo and behold, there were more surprises zooming in. Soon it became apparent that there had been a ‘visitor’ on the premises. To our shock, every drawer in the house had been pulled open and left open, as pushing it back would produce some sound, however faint. It seemed to be the handy-work of a highly professional burglar. Even my father’s heavy-duty cinematographic camera container had been opened and left open. Even the long forgotten suitcases were lying examined and investigated for any item of value.

The only drawer that was left undisturbed contained proceeds from a painting: hard cash.

Maybe the ‘visitor’ was thoroughly disappointed by then or over-worked. Ignoring the soiled paper-napkin, and finding no money in the handbag, he seemed to have headed downstairs hoping against hope to strike some dig. More disappointments had awaited him. All he could find was a piece of jewellery that being artificial, he had thrown it down in disgust in our little flowerbed, only to register his protest. The only booty he walked away with was a brand new hawai chappal that I had purchased a day earlier. This meant that he had come barefooted. He had exited through the main door, leaving it open because closing it behind him would have caused a clicking sound.

Sensing trouble, I implored my partner to come out of the house as the intruder might still be hiding in there. An elderly lady, our pious immediate neighbour, with whom we had strained relations, was on her post-namaz walk. Working on her rosary, she walked in volunteering to catch the culprit. It required a great effort to persuade her to step away from the trouble spot. I summoned two stout-looking youths to scout and look out for any homosapiens hiding under bed, a table or a sink. There were none to be found.

At this point I wished my Tipsy, poisoned by the dog-killing squad were there or Jackie had been around and on duty.

Very soon a sympathetic crowd assembled, of course much later than when it was needed. Informing the police was a unilateral advice against which on grounds of the reputation of the force, I exercised my veto. I had no grease for the ever-eager palms. Moreover, they would have rounded up some innocents on account of their professional compulsions and impulsions.

In our psychedelic numbness, we had failed to notice the breaching point to our fortress; even though I had successfully probed the point from where Sultan Muhammad Fateh had gained access to the walls of Constantinople previously thought impregnable. It was only later in the day that our maali, pointed out the ripped wire gauze through which the intruder had crawled in from the under-construction neighbouring house. It was a long pre-Eid vacation period, and the premises were unoccupied and locked. Someone among the day labour might have ventured. I did not want an innocent to be apprehended, especially since I was confident that the culprit had gone through a real misadventure.

To this day we remain indebted to him because he did not wake us up out of frustration. But with our two ancient cars, a Mazda 74 and the other one even older, a Morris 64, parked outside not as status symbols but proof of the paucity of our resources, he should have gone for some other quarry.

He must have cursed his own stars and bad planning while leaving the ‘Riko-dig’ in the chappal, that must have been used by his Shrew to tame him, I can imagine.


(This write-up is dedicated to former IGP late Dilshad Najmuddin)

The writer is a painter, the founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and the former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]

Note: Free art classes, all ages and genders, boards and benches provided, bring your own lunch. At House of NANNAs, Sundays 11am to 3pm. Expected guest of the week: Iftikhar Malik of Qilla Gujjar Singh havelis, my childhood buddy.

Authenticity advice, for paintings in your collection or intended to be acquired, offered. It might be pointed out that some painters appear to have been very productive posthumously. 

A tribute to a thief