the four thieves

The four thieves surrounded us as soon as we stepped out of the auto.

Each thief was carrying a metal bucket to disguise himself as a beggar. (You see bucket-bearing beggars on Saturday, soliciting coins as an offering to the god Shani to wash away your sins in the mustard oil each bucket contains.) But it was instantly clear that these four weren’t looking for a handout.

“Money!” they screamed, scrambling around us, keeping up their pretense of charity as they expertly separated Jenny from me. “Please, sir! Money! Chapati!” One of the thieves backed into Jenny with his arms spread wide, forcing her backwards as the remaining three danced around me, screaming and swiping at my pockets.

“Watch your bag, Jenny!” I hollered, jamming my hands into my pockets, wrapping my left hand around my phone and my right hand around my wallet. “Let’s go!”

It’s hard enough to cross the street without getting killed even when you’re not dodging the sticky fingers of four bandits trying to work their way through your defenses. We avoided the speeding autos long enough to make it to the median, an island of concrete two feet high and four feet wide. The thugs followed us. Traffic raced by on both sides of the street.

We were trapped.

The bandits had discovered that there was SOMETHING  in my unguarded back pocket, which meant my left hand had to alternate between covering my phone and swatting at their grasping hands. It was just my moleskin notebook — hardly worth stealing, but how could I explain that to them? They were to my right, but traffic was coming from my left; my head jerked back and forth, searching for a break in the cars while keeping an eye on my assailants, unable to concentrate successfully on either one. Across the road, I glimpsed salvation: crowds, open space, and security guards whose dominion of protection didn’t seem to extend across the street. They weren’t paying any attention to us.

Hut!!” I shouted in my most commanding voice. “Away!” All four of the thieves jumped. I shoved the nearest one in his chest. He began flailing wildly at me, screaming, his fists pumping. I held my hand on his chest. Fortunately I was much taller than him; I kept  him at arm’s length, his fists landing on my arms but causing no damage.

The traffic finally cleared and we dashed across the street. Our attackers shouted after us from the median, but came no closer. Our belongings were accounted for. We were safe.

Those were four scary six-year-olds.


13 responses to “the four thieves

  1. Nice one.

    So I guess you are a strong contender for the Purple Heart (or civilian equivalent)? 🙂


    Quirky Indian

  2. 6 year olds were trying this on you? wierd.

  3. My uncle is British. You should see the trouble I’ve faced escorting him and my aunt anywhere across Delhi! Whether it’s kids like these or tour guides or hawkers, they all assume we’re tourists and chase us.
    One even boldly asked me why I was escorting him around!!

  4. Btw – Shani is the Sanskrit name given to Saturn- he is supposed to give good and ill luck in strong measure, which is why people propitiate him to get on his good side.

  5. Scary to read.. it must have been more to experience it. 6 yr olds.. hmm.

  6. Oh my goodness. I hope you recovered ok. 6 yrs old – so hard to comprehend. I guess their need is great.

  7. Heh, you know thats precisely their tactics, they know that if they pester you enough, you will yield (especially if you are white) and give them money. The trick is to act as if you are unaffected, and ignore them completely (takes a bit of practice) . I taught this to my manager (white) and it worked!!!

    Anyway as a rule of thumb never give money to kid beggars in India, its a racket, a lot of them are trafficked children from poorer areas, they are stolen/bought from their poor parents just to beg . I can give money to an old or infirm beggar but never to a kid.

  8. I first saw this TV with Diane Sawyer in Paris..

    Then it really happened to us in Rome…

    When we tell this story to friends, it always ended — you know people in India pick pockets but they don’t ambush you..

    Well now that is not true anymore….

  9. Why is it always the children. I had a problem with children in Jaipur myself. I was smart having have left most of my valuables at the hotel and having a strong zipper on my shoulder bag. But the kids were so bold and attempted to get in my pockets. Good thing my pockets were filled with candy. I gave them that, even though they still wanted money. Which I gave no one in India other then someone who had provided a service.

  10. Damn! That reminds me of those kids in the horror movie, Hostel.

  11. The punchline got me laughing for some time. The article was well written.

    But I feel sad for these children that they have to resort to this. I wish I could do more for them.

  12. The same kids were outside the mall this weekend. One of them halfheartedly reached into my autorickshaw and tried to snatch my bag.

    He didn’t get it.

  13. Pingback: is Delhi actually that dangerous? « Our Delhi Struggle

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