Chamak Bazaar was living up to its reputation, hustling and slithering with a shimmering daze. It was rush hour at
Rownak street as
shop keepers were in full bustle, yelling at the top of their voices, wooing
customers with an intensity that would put modern day Romeo to shame and
wandering into la-la-land for a split second as they heard the cash register ring
as they closed yet another deal. Mr. Sloppy Pants was seriously not in sync
with the festive mood out there. He almost toppled an apple cart, banged into a
flower woman narrowly missing her hand print on his face, kicked a poor dog
with a broken leg and haggled over a pumpkin with the vegetable vendor who got
so irritated that he gave it for free to the lucky bystander.
Dhanraj was watching all this with amusement and curiosity in equal measure. He was particularly interested in Mr. Sloppy Pants who was wreaking havoc in the market place. Dhanraj was a master at the art of shadowing. He knew exactly how much distance to keep, how to be a nobody in a crowd and how to watch his prey from different strategic locations before moving in for the kill. But most importantly he had an eye for detail and he was adept at picking his moment. He was the smoothest operator around and was known as “Makhan Chikna” in elite circles. His eyes never missed a fat catch and the moment he saw Mr. Sloppy Pants, he knew he was in for a feast.
He didn’t have to wait long for the stars and planets to align in euphoric symphony to present the opportune moment. At exactly 6:00 PM, the church gong reverberated, birds and pigeons went helter skelter, Girdharilal pawn broker brought his shutter down with a menacing thud, Bansi whose white shirt had turned designer thanks to Mr. Sloppy Pants’ Banarasi paan was ready to land a knock out punch while Dhanraj effortlessly snitched Sloppy's fancy pocket as the poor dog barked in celebration of a poetic justice of some sort. Dhanraj was off in a flash and while Mr. Sloppy Pants was still negotiating the furious Bansi, he had gotten off
hopped 4 narrow lanes and had casually settled near the small pond beside the
Dhanraj never went home immediately after the act. He was a pro and he knew better. He always stopped at a vantage point, surveyed his loot, pocketed the valuables and then dumped the rest into a well, garbage can or the pond. And then many a time he would walk back to the same place in search of a new target. This time though, he was rather disappointed to find only 15 rupees in the wallet. He was cursing his luck and was about to fling it into the pond when he noticed a sparkle in the wallet’s front pouch. He ripped it open and for a moment his mind was in a transfixed daze. There was a small golden ring shimmering in shy radiance. His heart was beating so fast he had to clasp it from popping out. But then something strange happened and he was struck by an emotion that was hitherto alien to him. It was an engagement ring and at that damn moment he had managed to think of Ratna. Something changed inside him!
It was past 10 o’clock in the night and Ratna was starting to get panicky. Dhanraj was never this late and she could not wait anymore to tell him the good news. But she soon realized she had bad news coming her way through Munna. She ran to the Rownak Nagar police station as fast as she could. After an hour long conversation with the inspector interspersed with constant buttering and persuasion, Ratna was ushered into Dhanraj’s cell.
“What in the name of God happened to you?” she was clasping her hands in utter disbelief. “Is this the Makhan Chikna who had never been caught in the act since he stole butter at the age of 7!”
“It is all your fault! You messed up my upper compartment.” His smile came back as he saw her and he told the entire story. She burst out into a fit of laughter that woke up the hawaldar who was dreaming of his Chammak Challo. “You actually went to put the wallet back into his pocket. You were the one who told me we should isolate every feeling of ours when we are on the job.”
He scratched his head in embarrassment. “I know. But it was an engagement ring and I don’t know what possessed me for a moment and I thought of you and the wedding ring I was never able to give you.”
There was a moment of silence as they looked at each other. Tears rolled down her eyes. “Shut up! Have I ever complained about that? You deserved those punches on your face from Mr. Sloppy Pants!” He laughed and held her hand softly.
She slapped him gently. “You idiot! That fellow is not getting engaged or married. I have never seen such a low and mean person like your Sloppy Pants.”
“What! How the hell do you know him?” Dhanraj looked baffled.
“Because I had seen that duffer in Kinara Ganj where I have been fishing for the last 2 months. He first came to the lady’s house and they had a big spat. Apparently he is a rich Seth who has been loafing around with quite a few women. In the end he slapped her and he took out the ring he had given her, spat on her house door and walked off mouthing obscenities by the dozen. I had been shadowing him for a while but I could never get too close to him and he left in a hurry!”
Dhanraj felt like an idiot. “Oh God.. All this for nothing! Damn my luck!” He banged his head on the wall.
“Okay.. now don’t put up an act here. The story doesn’t end there. I was walking back home today at about 8 when I saw Mr. Sloppy Pants sipping his coconut water at Ramu kaka’s shop. And this time I seized my moment. I went close to the shop and then slipped and went down with my basket. Mr. Sloppy Pants rushed to help in a flash and I managed to whisk his wallet with precision even you would be proud off.” Ratna was standing there with a broad smile on her face and the glimmering ring in her hand. Dhanraj jumped in the air and hoisted her above his head. Hawaldar woke up again even more irritated as it was Chikni Chameli in his dreams this time.
“You are a genius Ratna. You see.. All that training has to come to fruition after all. Wait till I get out. I am sure we will get shit loads of money for this one. If only I can get out soon enough…” Dhanraj paced around with excitement and despair.
Ratna was unperturbed. “That’s been arranged for as well. The inspector’s house falls in Kinara Ganj and he has seen me a few times. You see he has a thing for me and that was all I needed to work your release. And of course a fat commission too which we can quite easily afford. Now you will have to wait until tomorrow evening and I will get you out of here.” He was mighty impressed.
“You see I have a few Aces up my sleeve.” She chuckled.
“That I can see. I hope I am your only King!” He gave a wry and jealous smile!
She gave a sly laugh back. “Are you kidding me? You are a jack(ass)!”
“And one more thing! You are good at picking pockets, not the other way around. So you better stick to it.” She patted him lovingly on his head as she messed up his hair playfully.
- A SHORT STORY BY RAJ