Thursday 24 November 2022

Basavaraj Naikar, Short Story 2022 Shortlist

 Adventures of a Village Thief

There lived a famous thief called Malla in a village called Nagarahalli situated thirty-five miles away from Dharwad. If you go there you can easily see the leonine figure of the hill of Naragund to the north, the Kappata hill of Gadag to the south, the short and circular hill of Navalagund to the west. Nagarahalli is skirted by two brooks: one, Bennihalla (literally meaning the brook of butter), the other, Kurubanahalla (literally meaning the brook of the shepherd). Whereas the Bennihalla flows from south to north and is situated to the west of the village, the Kurubanahalla, situated to the south of the village, flows from east to west and joins the Bennihalla. A common feature of these two brooks is that none of them has water in it throughout the year. Even in the rainy season, the two brooks create a lot of trouble to the villagers. Whereas the water of Kurubanahalla is sweet but muddy, that of Bennihalla is very salty and, therefore, cannot be used for drinking. It is famous for its torrential flow of water however short may be the time and for the toll of a few human beings and animals every year.

Malla stayed at the house of the village leader called Marigowda known for his shrewdness and dynamism. Malla was an unmarried fellow and had no intention of getting married either. Having lost his parents at the early age of ten, he had been struggling to make a livelihood for himself. He had tried his hand at ploughing, carpentry and masonry and had felt utterly disappointed. That was because those jobs did not thrill him. Far from thrilling him, they deadened his sensibility. Once he even tried his best to become a Swami at Ranebennur, but found that it did not suit his bent of mind. At last he was tempted to take to thieving and found it after his heart. He practiced that art for a couple of years and made a name for himself. He was so clever in his art that no policeman could lay hands on him even once in his entire thieving career. It was a sheer accident that Malla had come to Nagarahalli, where he happened to meet the leader called Marigowda who, on listening to his miserable story, condescended to look after him. It was thus that Malla came to be a loyal servant at Marigowda's residence. Since Malla was a bachelor, many myths about him were rumored in the village. Whereas some people guessed he had married but divorced his wife, others imagined that he was unmarried and logically extended the principle to declare that he had even kept countrywomen. Yet some others of romantic temperament secretly visualized Malla's illicit relationship with the Gouda's wife and daughters. The saintly villagers declared him to be a pious man. The men of the world had come to the conclusion that Malla was impotent. The diverse myths built around him speak of his extreme popularity, indeed his notoriety in all the surrounding villages.

Malta was known as a great thief in the neighbouring villages. The image of Malla clad in dhoti up to his knees and a half-shirt, a turban around his head, was well known to everyone in the villages. The only piece of property Malla had in the world was his agile pony, which he loved as intensely as he would have loved his wife. Malla had become a full-time thief supported by his patron called Marigowda. It was common practice for Malla to go in search of rich men of the neighbouring cities and villages and rob their wealth including golden ornaments and utensils in the cleverest possible manner and come back uncaught. After the robbing was over, Malla would give half of the booty to his patron Marigowda. That was how Marigowda could go on purchasing lands every year and become a rich man of the village. Though people knew that open secret, nobody dared open his or her mouth about it. Thus Malla and Marigowda had become terrors in the village.

One day, Malla was brushing his teeth with a neem stick. Hardly had be entered his room than a boy of the priestly caste came from Morab and broke an interesting piece of news to him. Among other things, Malla learnt that an old woman had died at Morab and that the dead body of the old woman belonging to the rich family of the village chief had been decorated with a number of golden ornaments. He also learnt about the enormous sadness of the sepulchral atmosphere at the house of the dead. The only detail that gripped the imagination of Malta was the golden ornaments on the dead body of the old woman. Malla hurriedly stepped into his room. He was secretly planning the way in which he could possess that gold. He therefore, requested Marigowda's wife Parvatamma to feed him with whatever was available at that time. Since Parvatamma had not completed her cooking, she served him a couple of stale rottis, fresh brinjal curry, sesame powder and curds. She also gave him a big red onion. Malla devoured everything with such rapidity that Parvatamma began to wonder what the reason might be. Malla appeared as though he was eating with total absorption.

When Malla came out he saw his patron Marigowda smoking his hookah in the verandah. "What's the matter, Malla, today you appear to be in a great hurry?" asked the Gouda. Malla went near and almost whispered, "Yes, master, today I am going to Morab. I learnt that there is a dead body decorated with countless golden ornaments. My mouth has begun to water at that news. I am going to rob all that. Bless me, master." Marigowda could not help laughing loudly at Malla's foolhardiness. "My dear fool," said he, "how can you rob a dead body which is surrounded by kith and kin? Your attempt seems to be really absurd." Having said these words Marigowda burst into guffaws of laughter. Malla felt secretly irritated and insulted. But without betraying his inmost feelings he said to his patron, "Dear sir, you may laugh at my attempt. But you will see them heaped before you by this time tomorrow morning." Malla's throat seemed to be relaxed now. He wound his turban around his head hurriedly and saluted his master, who wished him best of luck. Inspired by a sense of challenge, Malla went to the cattle-shed and unloosed the pony, jumped on it and began to trot his way towards Morab.

While he travelled on his pony, the children of the roadside villages used to whistle at him and run away from him. The men-folk working on the fields used to stare and wonder at him and be dumbfounded. The women who were cotton-picking would duck their heads lest he should take a fancy to them. Malla reached Navalagund and then crossed the brook called Bennihalla there. The sky was growing gray when he reached the village of Morab. The crows were cawing a loud chorus in the big Banyan tree at the outskirts of the village. All through the way Malla's sharp imagination was making ingenious plans for the most intelligent robbery that he was going to accomplish. Malla waited near the Hanuman temple for nearly half an hour. He ate a couple of stale rottis he had brought with him and leant against the wall of the temple. But his mind was all-alert. In order to control his growing excitement, he began to take deep breaths. He remembered his master's taunts and took a firm decision to convince the master of his own efficiency. Malla tethered his pony to the trunk of the neem tree behind the Hanuman temple.

Malla slowly walked towards the house where the dead body was supposed to be. He went in that direction. Sometimes he would ask the children about the house. As he crossed the temple of Goddess Dyamavva, he stood still for a couple of minutes. He could distinctly hear the wailing and crying in the corner. He could see the villagers moving to and fro near that house. He could also hear the philosophical songs of Sharifsaheb of Shishunala sung by the chorus of singers to the accompaniment of a harmonium, tabla and cymbals. Hearing these sounds and voices Malla was overwhelmed by the sepulchral sadness without his knowing it. But suddenly something awakened him, as it were. He remembered his own duty. He clarified to himself that he had come there to rob and not to sob. He once again hardened his heart and walked towards the house. There he was really impressed by the huge wooden doors with beautiful carvings. He could see them even in the dim light of oil lamps. He could easily guess the richness of the Gouda by seeing the huge cattle-shed with twenty oxen, the big verandah and the piles of bags of jowar and wheat erected at every comer of the house. He nestled himself into the crowd and stood staring at the dead body of the old woman. When he saw it, his eyes began to dazzle even in the faint light of lamps kept before the corpse. The corpse arranged in a sitting posture was fixed to the wall. The dead body was almost burdened with diverse golden ornaments like armbands, wristbands, waistbands, necklaces, earrings, toe-rings, and chains. It appeared as if it was a family deity like Lord Hanuman or Lord Virabhadra. Malla stood there amidst the crowd of men and silently studied the structure of the house. He discovered that the wall against which the dead body was propped was adjacent to the open space outside the house. He made his plans to accomplish his task. His attention was drawn towards the chimes of bell coming from the old wall-clock hung there. Malla waited for the crowd to decrease. He came out of the house and studied the construction of the house from outside.

An hour passed. Then two hours passed. Now the hustle-bustle in the verandah began to subside. The friends and neighbours started returning to their own houses as it was growing late. Now only close relatives like daughters, grandchildren, loyal servants and relatives from other villages were seated before the decorated dead body and were half-crying and half-dozing. Many of them were exhausted by constant crying. The sari ends of the womenfolk were wet with the ceaseless flow of tears gushing out of their lachrymose eyes. Whereas the men-folk were seated with their pale faces bent on their knees or arms. Malla was deliberately resisting the saddening atmosphere. Now he decided to execute his ingenious plan. He slid out of the crowd secretly and came into the darkness. Then he managed to steal a small iron rod from the cattle-shed window. The stars in the dark sky were twinkling. The thickness of nocturnal darkness enheartened Malla to indulge in his venture. He groped his way along the wall and at last came to the spot he had marked mentally. The spot was exactly behind the wall against which the corpse of the old woman was seated. Malla looked this way and that and confirmed that nobody was noticing him. With the help of his masterly knowledge of his task, he set to work. He held the rod and began to scrape the wall, which was built of mud bricks. Instead of striking the wall with the rod, he went on scraping the wall with it. At last he succeeded in unloosening one mud-brick. Then his job was easy. The hole he was going to burrow was exactly behind the dead body of the old woman. He went on unloosening the side bricks until he could easily see the head and the trunk of the corpse against the dim light of the lamps kept before it. Through that hole Malla could see the half-sobbing and half-dozing kith and kin leaning against the walls and pillars. There were no lamps in the hall except the two wick-lamps kept before the dead body. Malla waited and saw that nobody inside the hall had noticed the hole he had made into the wall. All of a sudden, a brilliant idea flashed across his mind. He instantly inserted his hands into the hole in the wall and clapped the forearms of the dead woman and made the dead body clap twice. Hullabaloo in the hall! The young girl who sat nearest to the dead body saw it clap twice and consequently the two wick-lamps were put off. Darkness enveloped everywhere. The people grew terrified and guessed that the corpse's ghost had returned to the body and clapped. Everybody grew nervous and began to grope in the dark. They went on searching for the main door to escape from there. Since their imagination was very fertile, they went on seeing terrifying apparitions before them. While groping in the darkness they kept dashing against one another. They dashed against the walls and pillars; tumbled down the stairs and against the thresholds. Their foreheads, knees and noses were badly bruised. Ultimately everybody escaped from the haunted hall and kept gasping for breath and trembling. A couple of women touched their saris, which were completely wet. They discovered that they had involuntarily urinated in their fit of terror. Resultant upon this chaos the hall was completely vacated. Malla was giggling to himself. He felt he was in the seventh heaven as it were. He hurriedly divested the dead woman of all the golden ornaments. He removed the necklace, then the armband, and the waistband. He went on taking them one after the other and tied them in his turban. He began running towards the Hanuman Temple at the outskirts of the village. He whistled for his pony, which was neighing restlessly. Without a second thought, Malla jumped on the back of the pony and galloped away. Every minute he would look back in fear and spur his pony. He was in a triumphant mood then. The growing darkness of the night had provided a very congenial atmosphere for his adventure. He crossed the Bennihalla at night and hurried to Nagarahalli. He reached his patron's house, tied the pony in the backyard, hid the ornaments in the haystack and went to bed. He was so eager to tell his master about his triumph that he could not sleep well until the break of dawn.

As the stars disappeared in the sky, Malla woke up and waited for his patron also to get up. Hardly had Marigowda woken up and brushed his teeth when Malla ran to him and showed him the golden ornaments he had stolen. Marigowda was excited to see them. Both of them went to the inner room and fed their eyes on the valuable items repeatedly. Malla sat at a distance of three feet from his master and narrated the entire thrilling story. Marigowda listened to it with rapt attention. His eyes were becoming rounder and bigger as he heard of the exciting adventure. Malla's eyes were gleaming with a sense of triumph. Marigowda, overwhelmed with admiration for his loyal servant, stood up, came near Malla, hugged him up and patted his back.

Ever since Malla had started thieving, he had never experienced failure in his profession. His ego was bloating up along with his confidence without his knowing. He had been leading a life of relaxation for a few months. He had made it a principle of his life not to indulge in petty thievery. His intention was to succeed in the most challenging and risky ventures. He used to spend the intervals between the grand thefts in woodcutting or house building or repairing the bullock-cart for his patron.

Once during the month of Aswiz, Malla had begun to feel bored with his woodcutting and repairing business. One Monday, the entire village seemed to be in a mood of relaxation. Monday was a holiday for them because it was the day of rest for oxen. According to the folk mythology the ox is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vrisabha, the mount of Lord Siva. That is the reason why the villagers wash their oxen, worship them and feed them amply on Mondays. While Malla was washing the two oxen, which were recently bought, from beyond the river Tungabhadra, he heard the other farmers chatting about a Desai. Immediately Malla cocked his ears and began to listen to it attentively. A boy called Sivaputra was describing what he had witnessed in the household of a Desai at Annagiri: "Yesterday, I saw a wonderful sight at the Desai's house. I happened to glance at the god's room. My eyes began to dazzle at the sight of a copper pitcher filled with golden ornaments. I was dumbfounded to see that." Then Sivaputra, brushing the flanks of the calf, narrated all the details of the Navaratri Festival he had seen at the Desai's household. The pitcher with golden ornaments seemed to dance before Malla's mental eye. His mouth began to water at the very thought of that pitcher. The other details of the villagers' gossip were irrelevant to Malla so he turned a deaf ear to them. He washed his oxen hurriedly and rushed back to the cattle shed and tied them there.

In the evening Malla gave a hint of it to his patron and started riding his pony towards Annagiri in the hot sun. For he could not control himself until the midday sun had declined a little in the west. After he had travelled for an hour in the hot sun, he felt hungry and his mouth was parched. He stopped his pony near a tank and tied it to a mango tree. Hungry as he was, he went to a field where the green gram creepers had spread in clusters. He plucked a few bunches of green-grams and ate them. Then he searched for a cucumber creeper and walked a few steps ahead. And he found one. He saw two big-size ripe cucumbers and plucked and devoured them in no time. He went to a nearby tank and drank water with his cupped palms. Now he felt a soothing sensation in his belly. He mounted his pony and began to ride towards Annagiri.

The sun had just touched the western horizon. Malla dismounted his pony and tied it to a tree outside the village. Propelled by hunger he went to the sweet-vendors in the vegetable market. The houses and shops were decorated with jowar stalks, hawthorn twigs and mango leaves. Malla bought two seers of laddus, burfis and khardani. Then he went to the corner where there were no people. He sat there and satisfied his hunger. As night descended on the village, Malla slowly walked towards the residence of the Desai. As usual he pretended to be a passerby and went around the house and studied the position. There was a hustle-bustle going on in the Desai's household. Malla planned his strategy. He was thinking of how to enter the house. His imagination grew alert and a new idea flashed across his mind. He overheard the conversation of the servants and came to know that the oxen tethered near the haystacks were to be led to the cattle-shed in the house. He, therefore, hid himself near the haystack. He knew that the oxen were tall and hefty. After half an hour or so, servants came and unloosed the oxen and started driving them towards the house. Malla hid himself behind the dewlap of a big ox so as not to be detected by the servant. The twelve oxen formed a big group and so he could not be seen by anyone. He succeeded in entering the cattle-shed in the darkness. The servants tied the oxen to their respective pillars and went back. Malla secretly nestled against the wall, hid himself in the leftover jowar paddy and sat there silently. The sparrow-lamp hung near the cattle-shed was exuding a dim light around it. From inside the jowar-paddy Malla could see the kitchen door, the goods-room door and the sleeping-hall door. He waited for two hours or so. The members of the Desai's household entered the kitchen and began to dine together. The sound of the pans and basins and tumblers whetted his appetite. The flavour of holiges and the gravy made his nostrils dilate. The sound of their munching the happalas and sendiges made his mouth water. After a patient wait for an hour or so, he saw the men, women and children come out of the kitchen. The Desai, his mother and his wife chewed betel and pan and chatted for a while. Then they went into the central hall to sleep. Malla heard the occasional yawning of the members. After everybody retired to the hall, an old lady, probably the mother of the Desai, sat near the god's room for watching. A lamp was hung from the ceiling.

Malla thought it the proper time for him to accomplish his task. He rose from the mass of paddy, which made a rustling sound. He walked slowly towards the old lady. Alarmed by the sound of steps at the dead of night, she looked around and saw the shape coming towards her. She wanted to shout, but before she could do that, Malla's knife was staring at her. Showing the knife by his left hand, he signalled to her by his right hand to keep quiet. The old lady grew dumb with fear. She could not open her mouth. Nor could she move an inch because she felt paralyzed. She considered her life to be more valuable than anything else. She decided to allow the thief to take whatever he liked. Malla thought that the old lady was more than silenced. He left her there and entered the kitchen. He examined every bowl and pan on the shelf and ate the holiges, rice, gravy, happalas and sendiges until his belly was full. Malla then came out of the kitchen and saw the old lady blinking at him blankly. Fear was writ large on her face. Malla stepped into the god's room and stared at the copper pitcher filled with golden ornaments and surrounded by necklaces and chains. The jewels and stones studded in them glittered in the light of two oil-lamps placed before them. Malla felt ecstatic. He experienced a horripilation of joy and a thrill went through his spine. He felt as if he had had a vision of Goddess Lakshmi. Before he knew what he was doing, his hands had involuntarily lifted the pitcher containing all that gold. He lost no time there. He placed it on his shoulder and came out and saw the old lady still blinking at him. Malla felt pity for the frightened look on her pale face. He spread his turban wide, placed the pitcher on it and tied it. Then he carried the pitcher covered with the turban on his shoulder and started walking out. But he remembered something. He wanted to tease the Desai. He went to the door of the sleeping room and called out "Desai, Desai!" The Desai, who was snoring deeply felt disturbed and groaned, "Who's that? What do you want at this odd time?" Malla said in a firm voice, "Dear Desai, I am Malla of Nagarahalli. I have come to tell you that I am taking your pitcher full of gold. You can take it back from me if you have the guts." Having shouted these words, Malla took to his heels and reached the outskirts of the village, where his pony was tethered. He jumped upon its back and started riding towards Nagarahalli.

Hardly had he covered half a mile when he heard the clop-clop of horses behind him. He turned back and saw a posse following him. He spurred his pony and began to gallop. There were five or six fellows chasing him. In order to mislead them he deviated into the fields. As they followed him in the fields, he came back to the road. Now he went along the road, now along the bank; now along the bridge, now along the brook. He teased and irritated his followers. At last when the stars slowly disappeared from the sky, Malla came near the brook called Kurubanahalla, which was a furlong away from Nagarahalli. Malla disappeared into the thickets of Kurubanahalla. The servants of the Desai lost track of the thief. By that time Malla had quickly devised and executed his plan. He had found a dry pit of three feet depth in the brook. He sat in that pit and drew a couple of hawthorn branches over himself. His enemies were hectically searching for him in the thickets of the brook. They were abusing him in the foulest possible language. They came near the branches under which Malla had hid himself. But the enemies could not imagine that he might be there. They abused him, "That whoreson disappeared somewhere here." Malla could hear them and even see them through the twigs. He was giggling at his own trick. The enemies encircled the branches and cursed the wretched thief. At last they gave up the hope of finding him and went back. The sound of the hooves of their horses faded into silence. Malla was sure that his enemies had gone far away from him. He removed the hawthorn twigs from above him and walked towards Nagarahalli. As expected, his pony had already reached home instinctively.

Having desperately searched for the great thief, the followers went back shamefaced to their master and narrated the story of their failure to catch the thief. But directed again by their master, they rode to Nagarahalli once again to complain to the patron of the great thief. "They tapped at the door, which was opened by the bonded labourer, Durgya. "We have come to meet your Gouda. Please take us to him," they said. They dismounted from their horses and sat on the black woolen bedspread on the platform. Durgya went inside and told the wife of the Gouda to wake her husband. After a couple of minutes Marigowda came out of the room rubbing his eyes. He stared at the visitors and asked, "What's the matter, gentlemen?" They stood up and said together, "Our Desai has sent us, sir. Your Malla has stolen our Desai's pitcher filled with golden ornaments. We request you on our Desai's behalf to arrange for that to be given back." Marigowda knit his eyebrows and appeared to be annoyed. But trying to hide his sense of embarrassment, he said to them that he would ask Malla about it, and went to the backyard. To his surprise, he saw Malla sleeping soundly. Nevertheless he touched Malta's shoulders and awakened him. Malla woke up and pretending complete ignorance of everything he had done the previous night, asked Marigowda, "What's the matter, master?" Marigowda said in a low tone, "The Desai of Annagiri has sent his men to complain against you. They say you have stolen their pitcher of gold." Malla felt confused at the moment, but having decided to stick to his original plan said to his patron, "Master, how can they accuse me of this? Don't you see me sleeping here? I haven't stirred out of my bed throughout the night. How can I steal it? I do not know anything about it." Marigowda took Malla's words to be true. He appeared to have gained some moral courage to face the visitors. He came out and said to them, "Our Malla was sound asleep. I woke him up and asked him about it. He says he knows nothing about it. Go and tell your Desai that he is confused about the thief. Our Malla has not stirred out of his bed. Your pitcher must have been stolen by someone else." The visitors were confounded and did not know what to say. They rode back to Annagiri not knowing how to face their master.

Malla of Nagarahalli was known to everyone in the villages of Dharwad taluka. Malla's name was proverbially associated with success. He had thus become the object of public respect and fear. Crying children were silenced by being threatened to be handed over to the Malla of Nagarahalli. He haunted the imagination of the rich Desais, Patils, Deshpandes and Jahagirdars, who spent sleepless nights in contemplation on him. He inspired a heroic spirit in the hearts of young men. He kindled amorous sentiments in the minds of young girls. Thus "success" had become another name for Malla. He had taken an oath that he would stop his thieving profession the day he met with failure in his ventures.

Nearly six months had elapsed. Malla's researching mind was always hankering for interesting news. One day he learnt that there was a golden bowl in the god's room of a landlord of lmrapur. Malla journeyed to lmrapur. He took rest in the temple of Lord Kalmeswara to the west of the village and killed time till midnight. Since he had put on a soiled dhoti and shirt, nobody could identify him. As he felt that the entire village had retired, he thought he could execute his plan. He, therefore, went towards the house of the landlord. He climbed to the roof of the house. He walked gently lest the insiders should hear his steps. As he had not studied the inside structure of the house, he devised a new plan. He opened the lids of the ceiling-windows and peeped inside the house. He could easily identify the kitchen, the sleeping room and the god's room. Malla made haste to accomplish his task. He opened the ceiling-window of the god's room and using his entire energy, clutched the iron bars of the window and bent them apart so that he could easily slip through them. Hardly had five minutes passed when he descended into the god's room. The wick-lamp was flickering because of the wind blowing through the window. Malla scanned each and everything kept on the wooden shrine. The first thing that captured his attention was the golden bowl placed at the centre of the shrine. As usual Malla experienced a thrill in his veins. But when he saw the idol of Lord Virabhadra embossed on the silver plate, he felt terrified, because he knew how fiery a god Lord Virabhadra was. Malla clutched the golden bowl and mounting on the pegs of the wall, came out of the ceiling-window. He did not have the patience to wait even for a second there. He ran to his pony and galloped towards Nagarahalli via Annagiri. He reached Annagiri before sunrise and spent much of his time in eating burfi and mirchis and drinking coffee in the newly opened stalls there.

At the time of sunrise, the old father of the landlord of lmrapur went to the god's room to perform the morning puja and discovered that the golden bowl was missing from the central spot of the wooden shrine. Surprised, he looked towards the ceiling-window and saw the iron bars being bent wide apart. The old man forgot to apply vibhuti on his forehead, but ran out of the room and told his landlord's son what he had seen. The landlord, his wife and children rushed to the god's room and easily concluded that the thief could be none other than Malla of Nagarahalli. They could not prove it though. The landlord went to Annagiri along with his three servants and lodged a complaint at the Police Station there. Malla had become a famous figure for the officers of that Station. The Police Inspector, who knew the extraordinary cleverness of the great thief, not only sent half a dozen constables in search of the fellow, but even took it upon himself to trace him out. The Constables mounted their horses and began their search in likely spots. The Police Inspector, who was riding his horse at the outskirts of Annagiri, felt that he should go to Nagarahalli. Two or three miles later, he could descry a human figure riding on an animal in the distance. The Police Inspector whipped his horse to a gallop. When Malla heard the trot of a horse behind him, he could not help identifying the Police Inspector. He thought it unwise to run away from him. The bowl glittered in the sun for a second and fell on the earth with a metallic ring. The Police Inspector called out to Malla and stood before him. Though inwardly afraid of the extraordinary thief, the Police Inspector put on an authoritative dignity and said to him, "Malla, you are accused of stealing the golden bowl of the landlord of lmrapur. I have come to recover it from you." Malla's forehead grew wrinkled and his face became contorted. "Malla, don't you court danger. We have to take you to the dungeon. I say, give it to me without any delay." The Inspector's voice was trembling. Malla flatly denied having stolen it. The Inspector had seen Malla throwing it on the ground, but he could not say it to the thief's face He cleverly went a few steps ahead and pointing out the golden bowl to Malla, asked him who brought it there. Malla said, "I don't know anything about it, sir." The smart Inspector wanted to test the thief. So he asked him to pick it up and go home. But the thief, who was smarter than the Inspector said, "Since it is not mine, why should I take it?" This answer disarmed the Inspector, who was at a loss to do next. Malla, pretending to be indifferent to the golden bowl and the Inspector, rode away until he was no longer visible to the Inspector. The clever thief had not really gone away from there. He had hidden himself behind the bank of a field and was watching the behaviour of the Inspector. The Inspector lingered near the golden bowl lying on the field for nearly ten minutes. He felt tempted to pick it up. But his conscience seemed to warn him against it. He thought of the possible torture that he might have to undergo at the hands of the British authorities in case his crime was detected. His instinct being animadverted by his reason, the Police Inspector thought it wise to leave the golden bowl to the care of the winds. He rode back to his office.

Malla was glad when the Police Inspector went away without taking the golden bowl. After he disappeared from there, Malla got up, went up to the spot and picked up the bowl. He was feeling ecstatic about his successful adventure. He went to the west of Nagarahalli and thought of hiding it somewhere. He did not want to take it to his patron's house during the daytime. He tied his pony to the Banyan tree at the edge of the country graveyard. He looked around him and confirmed that none was watching him. Unfortunately he had not noticed the village carpenter Manappa, who was easing his bowels behind the shrubs. Malla dug a pit in the graveyard, hid the bowl there and covered it with mud. He heaved a sigh of relief and went towards the village. Hardly had he gone a few steps when he saw the carpenter Manappa relieving himself nearby. Malla was shocked but decided to be prepared for everything. He went home and chatted with his patron for a couple of hours. The drumbeats of the village shepherds were heard in the distance. Malla thought it proper to bring home the golden bowl from the graveyard. He rushed to the cemetery and heard the rustle of eagles fluttering their wings. He walked to the spot and scratched the earth. He dug up the foot-length of earth but could not feel any utensil. He grew angry and disappointed and instantly guessed the likely thief. He suspected that the carpenter must have stolen it. Malla got up and went home with a pale face. He decided to tackle the thief the next morning.

As soon as the sparrows began to twitter in the morning, Malla got up, put on his dhoti and shirt and went to carpenter Manappa's house. Manappa asked him to be seated and wanted to know what the matter was. Malla came directly to the subject and said, "You have stolen my golden bowl yesterday evening." Manappa knew the popularity of Malla, but did not want to confess his crime. He, therefore, asked, "How can you say that I have stolen it?" To this Malla reported, "I know for certain it's you. I saw you relieving yourself when I was returning home." Manappa could not help saying yes through his silence. He asked Malla, "Have you come to ask it back from me now?" "No," said Malla, "I have not come to do that. I only wanted to tell you that I will steal it from you with your knowledge." These words touched Manappa to the quick. He wanted to meet challenge with challenge and said, "All right, Malla, I will see how you steal it from me. I have accepted your challenge. Please go ahead with your venture." Malla thought it below his dignity to take the bowl from the rival by force. It would be an insult to his profession, he thought. He accepted the challenge and returned home.

The next night, Malla went to Manappa's house about midnight. Before Malla could jump into the compound, Manappa said from his bed, "I am still awake, Malla." Malla felt insulted and went back. The next night Malla thought Manappa would be asleep after midnight and therefore he went to his house about 2 o'clock and jumped into the compound. Manappa knew that the thief had arrived and said, "Malla, please know that I am awake." Malla felt insulted once again and went back. Both of them were adamant and wished to win their bets. The third night, Malla went to Manappa's house about 3:30 A.M. Even then Manappa was quite alert and said, "I am awake, Malla." Malla frequented Manappa's house every night for nearly a month. He went there at different hours of the night. After continuously trying for thirty nights, Malla felt tired and bored with his venture. At the same time he grew to appreciate Manappa's alertness. Malla had never known defeat in his life. He was intoxicated with perpetual success. Now he had to experience defeat for the first time in his life. He was really humiliated to know that there was a rival who could easily outsmart him. He wanted to leave the golden bowl with Manappa as a reward for the latter's efficiency and alertness. He went to Manappa and said, "Dear friend, you have won the bet and I accept my defeat." He saluted Manappa with joined palms and took his leave.

That was the end of his thieving profession. The next day, Malla was missing from Nagarahalli and nobody knew where he had gone and what had happened to him.

The author, Basavaraj Naikar is a Professor Emeritus of English, at, Karnatak University in Dharwad.

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