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Thursday, 24 June 2010

In the house of Marwas

Out he ran, jumping over the stooping crowd gathered in the basement, up the stairs and towards the front gate, between the legs of the stick wielding villagers leaving them frozen in their spots, their mouths wide open, amidst the laughter of children who had lined up on the balconies of houses that overlooked Marwas house. Radha fainted...again.

Earlier, in the morning...

For Radha, everything so far in the day had been routine. She got up in time to see the setting moon which looked like a careless white blot on a blue painting, took a bath, put somber smelling rose powder over her neck and dragged her children out of their bed, acting stone cold to their cajoling cries. Soon she packed their breakfast and saw Vikram and Shyama cycle their way to school.

Soon after seeing her children off to school, Radha started preparing lunch for the men in the family. Vikram’s father and his 2 brothers ate their early lunch consisting of 6-8 ghee (Indian butter) laden Chapatis each, along with green beans and yellow pulse boiled in desi ghee and stirred in a curry of spices, finishing their meal with 2-3 desi ghee ladoo’s. After their meal, each of them headed off to raise the shutters of their respective shops. With all that ghee, it was not a wonder that Radha’s household was one of the most affluent in the village.

Soon the wives of her brothers-in-law too left for their session of morning gossip at the temple, leaving Radha alone with her mother-in-law in their enormous house which could comfortably fit 50 people, if need be. What followed afterwards was also routine: just as every other day, Radha’s mother-in-law nagged her on trivial matters: a single dirty spot on floor or a utensil which did not shine like a mirror. Today Radha’s mother in law’s third eye was fixated over the fact that the stairs leading from ground floor to first floor were covered in dust. With a cement factory barely 3 miles from the village - there was neverending dust in the air and house required to be dusted daily! But then the maid had just dusted those stairs a few hours ago! In early days of marriage, Radha would frequently be reduced to hysterical sobs on facing such tantrums; but over the course of 10 years – she had become accustomed to it.

Radha screamed back at her mother-in-law saying that dust was in her mind and not on the stairs, but nevertheless picked up the broom. After having swept off the dust, she mopped her brow, adjusted her saree, and started to climb back up when she noticed that the door to the basement was open.

This is new’, she thought. From what Radha had heard from her husband: basement of the house acted as a storehouse for gold and cash. Lots of gold and cash. And before she knew, her feet took her through the door and down the stairs … to the basement.

The entire basement, including the stairs was covered in a fine sheet of dust, with plentiful of spider webs hanging at all corners. Even in the piping hot weather, the basement was cold, damp and mostly black. The only rays of light that came were through the door on the top of the stairs.

Initially groping, then squinting, and finally becoming accustomed to the darkness of the basement: she saw 2 rooms standing side by side, a little away from the stairs. One room appeared to be secure with a huge padlock on its gate while the door of the other room was slightly ajar.

As she cautiously approached the open room, she heard a faint noise – almost like the sound of someone breathing. Her heart started beating faster. She stopped, intently trying to listen. But she heard the noise no more, infact, her entire head was filled with the noise of her own wild heart beat. Her good sense told her to leave but an overwhelming feeling came over her to just have a look into the open room. She shrugged her fears, and telling herself to be brave she took another few steps. Then, only half-an-arms length away from the door she again heard a noise, and this time there was no mistaking it. There was a clear sound of breathing in short gasps. A terror seized her body, her large black eyes grew to frightening proportions as all color was drained from her small and beautiful face. She stood frozen, expecting a sharp knife to appear anytime from the dark, slitting her throat.

Suddenly something metallic, perhaps an empty tin can fell and made a lot of noise. Almost on an impulse, Radha lunged forward, bolted the door and dashed towards the stairs. As she ran over the stairs, she stepped over her own saree, tripped and fell with a soft thud on the stairs. But without a moment’s delay she got up and ran out of the basement: blood oozing from her forehead, near her right eyebrow; shouting chor chor (thief - thief), puffing large amounts of dust – she still ran, out of her house in the streets: still crying chor chor...

Then, in the afternoon...

It was exasperatingly hot, but nevertheless almost the entire nearby village had gathered in, or near the house of Marwas by 12:30 PM, only half an hour after Radha went off crying chor chor and collapsed in the street. At the start, her neighbors thought it was a result of some interesting (and big, and bloody) fight between Radha and her mother-in-law, but when they heard that there was a thief, bolted in the basement of the house of Marwas: they became even more excited.

The news spread even faster than the usual: with eager kids running in the streets, shouting ‘Marwa ka ghar pe chor karma mein band – Radha ne chor pakdiyo’ (Radha locks a thief in the house of Marwas) and so on. And soon, around 50 men, bearing thick and strong bamboo sticks lined up in the house of Marwas: those who were near in relation to Marwas were allowed in the basement while other waited up on the large veranda on the ground floor. Some men were tensed as if the entire thing could result in their premature death, while some were excited hoping that it would be some rewarded thief they would catch, while some were clearly enjoying the get together talking to others, exchanging the news of the village, and sipping tea. Women and children lined up in the balconies of the three storied house of Marwas, or on the houses overlooking the house of Marwas. In all there were nearly 100 men, women and children gathered to catch the cornered thief.

A few men cautiously approached the door and tried to listen. There was absolutely no noise. They called the thief to come out. No answer. They told him that he was cornered and that there was no escape. No answer. They rechecked with Radha, but she was absolutely sure that there was a thief inside the room. Now that she had told everyone how she single handedly wrestled the knife-bearing thief and pushed the strong and hefty man inside the room, and had won accolades for it – there was no going back. And of course there was a thief inside.

The men banged the gates for one last time. Still - no answer. 30 minutes of inaction had made the whole scene soporific. Some men even dozed off while standing – taking rest on their sticks. Thus the gate was slowly unbolted. All the torches and lanterns blazed their light onto the gate. Murmurs arose among the crowd. And then the door was pushed open. The lights poured in – but there was nothing to be seen. Yet.

Just as the men were preparing to peep inside the room - Out he ran, jumping over the stooping crowd gathered in the basement, up the stairs and towards the front gate, between the legs of the stick wielding villagers leaving them frozen in their spots, their mouths wide open, amidst the laughter of children who had lined up on the balconies of houses that overlooked Marwas house.

When people inside the house of Marwas came to terms with what had happened, the grimness of the previous moment turned into an uncontrollable state of laugher, with 100 men, women and children laughing their lungs out – till their stomach started twisting and tears flew thick out of their eyes. They would stop for a moment, only to resume laughing again – taking hold of whatever was near to them: bed, wall, a person. Infact, most of the people sat down because they could not bear laughing so much while standing up.

Amidst all this Radha fainted.

Even today, 20 years after the actual incident – you can go to the Khajaria village, 30 km to the west of Sirohi in Rajasthan, India, and ask for the story of the so-called Thief that ran out of the house of Marwas, and expect a laughing delight shared over a cup of tea...

Ghana saal pehle, marwa ke ghar mein
Radha ne pakdiyo chor
ikhatta kiya aakha gaon ne
Ne Nikloyo ek akela kutto, navra kaam ko atro shor...

Years ago, in the house of Marwas
Radha caught hold of a thief
Shouted she, and along came the entire village
Only to see, running out, a hapless dog...

It was much ado about nothing...


  1. True story?
    btw, using a 'He' for the 'kutto' actually kept the interest alive.

  2. You indeed had a nice time in Rajasthan, visiting villages and listening these stories.

    Nice narration. :)

  3. kahani badi chokhi che re bhaya