A Lovely Thief Called Bindiya
Simple is the way simpleton does. Gone were the days when even thieves preferred a simpler way to filch and then confess, and then to accept the punishments for the lure of coming back to a life of acceptance and love. Yes, I’m going to tell you a village story.
Bindiya was a permanent member of our village. It will be more correct to say that she had a kind of diurnal membership, for she used to remain in the village only for the whole of a day and go back to her house at the nightfall. She used to perform all sorts of chores given to her, like cleaning and scrubbing, plucking and herding, baby-sitting and washing. She was happy doing all these if we considered the importance given to her on every occasion. She used to be consulted for things like dealing with wasps, tackling a rat, or even killing and identifying a snake which used to be the poisonous ones invariably.
She had a family, consisting of three sons and a husband, all these she had acquired after her second marriage that was a successful one. She was poor like many in her hamlet, and she used to take the help of my village folks to tide over those spells of stringencies. She used to take loans, which she could pay back by working and making her husband and sons work in the debtors’ fields, and many an occasion she used to plead for moratoriums or even exemptions. She was also into small-time thieving, say lifting a plate or a bowl or plucking a few cucumbers or water melons. She was caught sometimes and some other times she was not, but none had chosen to award her the highest kind of punishment by firing her out of the job. She commanded love despite her occasional waywardness.
One day Bindiya chose to filch at our premises. She was delayed that day and when she came to us, the darkness had already set in. she was hurrying to get back, mumbling that her sons would be hungry and that she would have to cook for them. She was also telling how her husband would not beat her despite all her occasional delays. But she had no serious business with us requiring her to overstay on our premises.
Those days there was no electricity in our village. We had lighted a small brass lamp called ‘Chungi’ to illuminate the verandah outside. It was a naked light fuelled by kerosene. When my sister went inside leaving the lamp on the verandah, it gave Bindiya a chance she thought she could use. She promptly put out the lamp and took it to the fence nearby to hide it.
When my sister came there was no lamp. She enquired as to who had taken that leaving the place in abysmal darkness. Nobody answered. Bindiya was there. But she volunteered an answer, “How do I know?” She was not asked the question particularly and why did she have to answer it so defensively? This was enough for a suspicion. An intelligent child that was my sister had to come up with a doubt begging for its confirmation.
She did something quite clever. She went to Bindiya, pulled her hand and smelt it. Wow! It smelt kerosene.
She asked point blank, ‘Bindiya! You're a thief and you're caught. I’ll now raise alarm and you’ll be beaten to pulp. Tell me where have you kept the lamp?’
‘Small sister, my princess, please don’t? I’m always so good to you. Don’t I bring water lilies for you everyday? Don’t I bring berries from inside the brambles? Didn’t I give you a ladybird?’ pleaded Bindiya.
‘Aren’t you enticing me to give up, Bindiya? Go and bring the lamp from the place you have hidden it,’ ordered my sister.
Bindiya had no other go. She didn’t want to aggravate the issue. Presently, she went to the fence, dug her hand into the straw heap and pulled out the lamp. It was not cold since everything happened in a matter of five minutes: there was a stealing; there was an investigation; there was a lead and there was a solution! Even the justice was dispensed. My sister chose to excuse her, for she was promised a live bird in exchange of her silence.
But months gone, Bindiya had no time to catch a bird for living up to her promise. My sister felt cheated. She came public and disclosed everything including the secret understanding with Bindiya that never materialized.
The result: it was not Bindiya who was taken to task for her act of filching; rather my sister earned a few rounds of scolding for behaving so foolish!
Bindiya is no more but her memory lingers on.
A. N. Nanda
Labels: short story