The Thief’s Story by Ruskin Bond
The story is about a tramp who, being illiterate and unskilled, makes his living through petty crimes. To evade law, he changes his name, place of stay, and off course, his target. He is just about 15.
On one occasion, he meets Anil, a young man of 25, in a wrestling match. The tramp sees Anil as his next potential target. He attempts to work up a conversation with Anil. But, it does not proceed beyond some casual chat, and soon ends abruptly. The boy identifies himself as Hari Singh – an assumed name used to erase his trail. Hari Singh assumed a different name after each adventure.
Hari Singh pesters Anil for providing him some sort of shelter, so that he could rob his host conveniently. The unsuspecting Anil, a freelance writer, is a kind soul. Sensing Hari Singh’s plight as an urchin, Anil agrees to let him in, if he could cook a meal for him. The boy readily agrees and enters Anil’s one-room house. He gets to sleep in the balcony. At night he cooks a meal that was so awful in taste that Anil had to give it off to street dogs. Despite this setback, thanks to Anil’s benign nature, Hari Singh manages to extend his stay at Anil’s. The friendship grows, and Anil teaches the hapless urchin how to read and count. The lessons runs smoothly for a few days.
Anil is a freelance writer. On some days when he receives some fees from the publisher, he spends his money liberally allowing himself in small pleasures. On other day, when the purse is light, he lives frugally. Hari Singh is cunning enough to figure this out. He waits for the day when the next payment is to come.
To his good luck, Anil gets some tidy sum soon. After his dinner, he keeps the money under his mattress and sleeps off. Hari is alert. With Anil in slumber, Hari senses a golden opportunity. He tiptoes in, sits near Anil’s bed, and quietly puts his hand in to locate the currency notes. He grabbed it in great excitement, withdraws his hand, and slips out. It is a princely income for Hari Singh. It is Rs.600!
With no remorse, he tucks the notes securely and runs out to the street. It is a cold night, made worse by a drizzle and cold winds. Hari wanders here and there. Checking into a cheap hotel for shelter was a fraught option, because it could alert others about such an unusual visitor at such an unearthly hour. He sits down on a bench in an open maidan. The night chill bites him hard, as rains begin to pound the area. His dress is completely wet, so are the precious notes. He goes to the bazzar and sits down at the base of the clock tower. The clock strikes 12.
He begins to think of Anil. Poor Anil. In the morning, he will discover how he has been robbed. Now, he is cut from his benefactor for good. No more settled life. No more education, no more normal human contact. Anil is certainly not the big affluent ones, who would even notice a theft of Rs.600. Anil is not that type. He is too humble a person to be fleeced of his earnings.
Anil’s mind begins to change. He ponders, perhaps it is wiser to retrace his steps, and undo his trickery. He returns to the house quietly, and very carefully replaces the notes in the place under the mattress from where he had taken them out.
With the burden gone, he sleeps off. In the morning Anil wakes him up from his sleep, and hands over a fifty-rupee note!
Hari Singh is flabbergasted and hugely embarrassed.
Questions and answers will be posted soon.