I stole but I was never a thief.
In my early childhood in Sujangarh—when I knew neither a kiss nor a miss—I stole dadi’s kissmiss n cashews, kaka’s kites, cousins’ crayons, and friends’ fries.
As a young school-going kid in Guwahati I stole stamps from ‘Pick Me’, coins from maa, and comics from the Wheelers’ station stall. And in typhoid’s hungry stupor I engaged with a distant relative’s engagement laddus in stealth while the satiated slept.
Stealing cashews n kissmiss were hit-n-miss affairs and earned me terms of endearment camouflaged in the choicest Marwari curses—O’ let your nerves shatter, O’ burn alive wherever you are, O’ go sell balloons etc. Kites or crayons, I came out with flying colours in my exploits.
Stealing coins was never a big deal. Though the danger of getting picked up always lurked in ‘Pick Me’, the triangular ‘phoren’ stamps lured me time n again. The whistling trains pumped adrenaline in the book-thief turning him into the ‘ghost who walked away’ with the ‘Phantom’. The pleasure that I derived from devouring king-sized laddus during my nightly prowls surpassed that of Count Dracula when he sank his sword-length sharp canines in an unsuspecting succulent neck under eerie shadows.
Paradoxically, I stole when I was innocent—when neither money nor material mattered.
With innocence, I also lost my appetite for stealing.
Coming of age, I have been at the receiving end of the organised thievery perpetuated by many business associates, most lawyers, and all governments. They steal in ways subtle, in-your-face, or crude. I am left winking while they hoodwink with impunity. I harbour no ill-will towards my lawyer friends. I too have LL.B—“Best in Legalized Loot” degree, though I don’t practice : )
My childhood stealing skills are no match for the sophistry of the sophisticated.
I stole, but I was never a thief.
The thief in me was a child.
(Sujangarh: small town in Rajasthan, India; Guwahati: city in Assam, India; Dadi: grandmom; Kissmiss: raisins; Kaka: uncle; Maa: mother; Laddu: Indian sweet; Marwari: language of Rajasthan; Phoren: foreign/imported; Pick Me: A popular store in Guwahati)