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The Thief's Story
I WAS still a thief when I met Anil. And though only 15, I was an experienced and fairly successful hand. Anil was watching a wrestling match when I approached him. He was about 25 — a tall, lean fellow — and he looked easy-going, kind and simple enough for my purpose. I hadn’t had much luck of late and thought I might be able to get into the young man’s confidence. “You look a bit of a wrestler yourself,” I said. A little flattery helps in making friends.
“So do you,” he replied, which put me off for a moment because at that time I was rather thin.
“Well,” I said modestly, “I do wrestle a bit.”
“What’s your name?”
“Hari Singh,” I lied. I took a new name every month. That kept me ahead of the police and my former employers.
After this introduction, Anil talked about the well-oiled wrestlers who were grunting, lifting and throwing each other about. I didn’t have much to say. Anil walked away. I followed casually.
“Hello again,” he said.
I gave him my most appealing smile. “I want to work for you,” I said. “But I can’t pay you.”
I thought that over for a minute. Perhaps I had misjudged my man.
I asked, “Can you feed me?”
“Can you cook?”
“I can cook,” I lied again.
“If you can cook, then may be I can feed you.”
He took me to his room over the Jumna Sweet Shop and told me I could sleep on the balcony. But the meal I cooked that night must have been terrible because Anil gave it to a stray dog and told me to be off. But I just hung around, smiling in my most appealing way, and he couldn’t help laughing.
Later, he patted me on the head and said never mind, he’d teach me to cook. He also taught me to write my name and said he would soon teach me to write whole sentences and to add numbers. I was grateful. I knew that once I could write like an educated man there would be no limit to what I could achieve.
It was quite pleasant working for Anil. I made the tea in the morning and then would take my time buying the day’s supplies, usually making a profit of about a rupee a day. I think he knew I made a little money this way but he did not seem to mind.
Think about it
1. What are Hari Singh’s reactions to the prospect of receiving an education? Do they change over time? (Hint: Compare, for example, the thought: “I knew that once I could write like an educated man there would be no limit to what I could achieve” with these later thoughts: “Whole sentences, I knew, could one day bring me more than a few hundred rupees. It was a simple matter to steal and sometimes just as simple to be caught. But to be a really big man, a clever and respected man, was something else.”) What makes him return to Anil?
2. Why does not Anil hand the thief over to the police? Do you think most people would have done so? In what ways is Anil different from such employers?
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