This weekend, a family member returned from a vacation to find that her house had been burgled.
Nothing had prepared her for this, though while entering the house she was flummoxed to see all the five locks on the front double-door engaged, instead of the three that she used to fasten as a regular practice. In fact, she hadn’t even been carrying the keys to the other two locks. A carpenter had to be called to saw and break open the door. Who had locked the doors beyond what she had before leaving?
It didn’t take long to find that out. The house had been rummaged beyond recognition from the inside. It was as if a private indoor tornado had struck and slurped out the innards of all the closets, cabinets, lockers, shelves, the food and beverages in the refrigerator included. Clothes from the bedroom were strewn across in the living room. Empty cola bottles lay on the floor. Not only had there been burglars, they had also lounged around inside and had a little after-party too.
The audacity was disturbing. It was as if someone had wanted to send us a nasty message that they could enter the house, bring it to shambles and end it with a celebration whenever they wanted. Who had this much ill-will against us? Who had we hurt so much for them to avenge it this way? Did they have more acrimony towards us, was more hatred coming?
The police visited, and an audit of the missing items was done. We ran through the list again and again, and to our surprise didn’t find much stolen, though a couple of ancient and rather close-to-heart jewellery items had gone. Fortunately, the family did not store much in the house as a habit. For the amount of physical disorder they had brought, the project would have been a bad return on investment for the burglars.
The accusatory finger immediately pointed towards – who else but – the domestic helps. Especially that one who had sinisterly quit four months ago after working for us for twelve years, and hadn’t returned her bunch of the house-keys for two months afterward. The one with the drunkard wife-beating husband. Who else would know when the occupants go on vacations? Who else would enter our house by opening three locks and leave while fastening all the five? Who else but a desperate alcoholic would steal booty worth a distress-sale price of barely a couple of lakhs?
The senior family members’ ire against her knew no bounds of fury. How could she break our trust, after we paid for nearly all her education and also footed a part of her marriage expenses? Or was it her husband and his drunky-time friends at the country liquor bar, who might have committed their adventure without her knowledge?
As they are wont to do, the elders of the family and all the neighbours spent the next day cursing everyone from the maid to our luck, to karma and all the evil-prevention pujas we had skipped performing in these years. The investigating officer and forensics team was due to visit in the evening, and we were going to leave no stone unturned in making the police thrash the hell out of the maid’s drunkard husband until he divulges the truth. The money may not come back, but nobody was going to break our trust and get away with it.
Just then, an uncle having his evening tea by the window noticed the little gap in the box grill. Made by bending the iron rods that made the grill, the gap was just enough for a slender man of 25 to enter and leave with a small plunder.
The grill hole was brought to everybody’s attention. It hadn’t been there before we left for the vacation. This had to be it. This is how the thieves entered, by breaking the rusting box grill and exploiting the imperfectly-sliding window doors, not through the front-door. One-by-one, everyone in the neighbourhood visited to examine the hole, providing dozens of theories explaining how the thieves must have managed it – what tools they must have used, what their height and weight must have been, what community must they have been from, how they must have researched the target before going for the kill, et al.
Tea was served, and the discussion moved to descriptions of similar burglaries that had happened in the vicinity recently. Of course it was the same burglars, said someone, explaining in detail how the modus operandi had been the same. As for the mystery of the two additional locks, the thieves must have fastened them from the inside in order to protect themselves in case the house-owners arrives while they were stealing.
So after all, this was the work of some small-time professional thieves. They were just doing their job! Some were even praising the thieves for their skill with breaking iron grills.
By the time the second round of tea was over, everyone felt sorry for the maid. How could we have vilified her like this? Poor woman, she was such a noble hard-working soul. Even her husband, no matter his alcoholism, was such a harmless guy who never complained about the delayed monthly payments for washing cars. If they had to steal, they would use the keys, and not break in through a window.
Everyone was at peace and was laughing. They had done more detective work in these two days than they had in all their lives.
The police visited in the evening, completed their procedure and left. But everyone in the family was just relieved that nobody had meant to hurt them, and nobody was going to be hurt because of them.
To me, the incident was an interesting Indian middle-class character sketch, my own personal Khosla ka Ghosla moment.