Keeping up with kleptomaniacs

Keeping up with kleptomaniacs

My late grandfather, who had worked as a village officer for a couple of years, was often required to visit Kannur, then taluka headquarters, apropos of matters pertaining to land revenue, tax collection and so on. During one such visit, while footing it to the taluka office from the railway station, he ran into a distant nephew of his, a boy in his mid-teens living in a suburb of Kannur. Since grandfather wanted to have a cup of tea, he asked the boy to join him.

The boy was verily game for a restaurant visit and, without hesitation, accompanied him rather gleefully. After settling the tea and snack bill, grandfather came out and started walking, with the boy close on his heels. As they were about to part their ways, the elder noticed that the bag in the boy's hand was filled with an assortment of crockery.

"How come this bag, which was empty, folded and kept under your arm as you entered the hotel, is now full?" he asked, astonishment writ large on his face. The boy was quite blunt in his reply. "You know, uncle, I've never come out of a restaurant or grocery shop without pinching something from there because these establishments fleece their customers by overcharging with little justification. For instance, the medu vada I have just eaten. Earlier, it was quite big. Now its hole has become substantially dilated while the vada itself has become smaller."

"Suppose they catch you?" queried the elder. "They won't," responded the other with an air of self-assurance, far from being cowed. Grandfather then recalled that while he was settling the bill at the cashier's desk, the boy had stayed put in his seat. He had been magically transferring things into his bag, noticed by none. It was a neat, flawless job. However, for a moment, grandfather feared the prospect of steeling himself in case the hotel staff accosted him regarding the missing the crockery before the duo reached far.

In a Wodehouse novel, an eminent New York lawyer's sister is a kleptomaniac. She tries to purloin goods from a department store and is caught in the act - not as ingenious as the boy! The lawyer appeals earnestly with the manager of the store not to charge her but the latter is relentless until it transpires during their conversation that both the lawyer and the manager share an abiding passion for writing poems and they both have managed to publish a few in small-time magazines. Their interest in literature leads to the sprouting of a beautiful friendship between them, thus saving the lawyer's kleptomaniac sibling.

But why pick on ordinary mortals and fictitious characters alone? The lobby manager of a five-star hotel, an acquaintance, once confided in me that company executives, even the top brass and some political bigwigs often succumb to the vice of pinching things from the room that catch their fancy. He added rather helplessly that when some of these appropriators check out, nothing but the four walls of the room remain!