It was on one of those missions that he stole Sofia Maria’s heart. It was at once a burglary and a wrestling match. Also an erotic episode to some extent. Could the thief be accused if the milestones in his life happened to have a touch of eroticism? That night, Sofia Maria had gone to sleep after reading the Holy Bible that said: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. She was a widow, childless and lonely.
During the day, the thief went scouting around Sofia Maria’s house. He could not detect any human presence then. The front door remained closed. Those days, he hadn’t even heard about the technique of opening locks just by looking at them. So he had to enter through the roof by removing some of its tiles. Since this spelt possibilities of physical harm, he attempted the break-in in a slimy way – by oiling his whole body. He wore only his underwear, the official uniform used by thieves on such missions. In fact, this oil-and-underwear arrangement was an absolute necessity.
But he was wrong in his assumption that the house was empty. What he jumped into was the pitch dark of the drawing room. His calculations about the depth was off, and he fell from the roof into the room in a sitting position. No matter the precaution he had taken, the sound of his drop was loud enough to be heard. The first thing a thief should do when in the soup like that is to open an escape route.
While he was trying to do just that, he heard the questioning voice: ‘”Who’s that?”
Hearing the voice in the darkness, he lost half of his life in panic. He could attempt to swing up and away with the remaining half, but all that was visible was a patch of sky through the gap in the roof; that too seemed far, far away.
Before he could bring himself to act, light shone into the room, and a lady shouted, “Ayyo, thief!” Bewildered, he sprang upwards and somehow caught hold of one of the rafters in the roof.
The lady was Sofia Maria.
The Sofia Maria who was not afraid of thieves.
If the occasion arose, she would even wrestle a thief to the ground. In her lonely existence, she always expected a thief to break in; and in her imagination, she wrestled with them repeatedly. She was in the middle of such an encounter, destroying all traces of an imaginary thief by hitting, kicking and punching, when she encountered this real thief dangling from her roof, mostly naked, defying her preparedness.
Sofia Maria did not panic. She rushed in and caught hold of his feet. But his oiled feet gave her presence of mind the slip. Not only that, the thief shook himself vigorously and pushed her away. Losing her balance, she fell, nearly banging into the wall.
But he hadn’t escaped from Sofia Maria just yet. A tactical error had occurred; he had not wiped dry his oiled palms. He could not tighten their grasp enough around the rafter to heave himself upwards. Moreover, by the time he tried again to somehow lift himself up, Sofia Maria had stood up. Shaking off the effects of the fall, with renewed valour, she grabbed the thief’s feet once again, but the grease failed her yet again.
The sequence that followed demonstrated how the habit of reading newspapers could help a simple country woman in alarming circumstances. The event could even be used in self-defence workshops as an example if needed. Long ago, she had laughed on reading a news story, and had continued to laugh for months upon recalling it again and again.
It had been a story about a courageous housewife. She had bested an intruding, well-oiled thief. Though that marmavidya had sounded hilarious then, as it unfolded itself as an opportunity right in front of her eyes now, it began to seem like no laughing matter.
And she did exactly what the heroic woman in the paper had done. As her grip around the malposition tightened, the thief let out a sharp cry, calling out to all the thieves in his ancestry. He hung helplessly, both his hands holding onto the rafters, feet dangling, his sensitive organ in Sofia Maria’s iron-gripped fist. An awkward and painful situation altogether.
The thief knew nothing about this marmaprayogam – neither from his reading, nor from hearsay. Had he known, he would have thought to have a safety guard, like the one cricket batsmen used.
Now, his fate lay in the hands of a woman. He could not move even a hair on his own body without her consent. But Sofia Maria, though she had done what she had to by instinct, was also in a quandary. Holding an unwanted thing in her hand, she was confused whether to let go or not.
If she let it go, the thief would swing upwards. If she did not, he would wriggle. The dilemma presented itself to her several times. The thief, lustful as he was, made up his mind not to make any more attempts to lift himself upwards and outside. Even when Sofia Maria loosened her grip, he did not try to escape. Instead, he dropped down, leaving the rafters.
That night, Sofia Maria – who had “caught the thief “ – boiled two eggs, sprinkled salt and pepper on them, and fed and rejuvenated him.
Her body had already soaked most of the oil on his. Now she cleaned him, wiping off the remnants. It was like purifying a nation through religious rites. Sofia Maria had sanctified him and made him a part of her own beliefs. That night, the thief did not return to his she-thief and child-thieves. Throughout the next day, he lay in Sofia Maria’s bed, taking in her smell of spiced oil.
Before leaving, he looked up and down at the ecosystem of her home and said, “I entered through the roof assuming the house was vacant.”
“Good you did that.”
“I could catch a thief!”
“Leave the tile loose like that – for me to jump through the next time.”
“But don’t forget to dry your palms after you oil yourself.”
Only after getting him a two-by-two shirt and a malmal dhoti did Sofia Maria let leave the one who had invaded both her house and body.
But neither the thief nor Sofia Maria knew that he was headed into a man-made trap. It was a professor, one who taught history at a famous college in the city, and it was he who caught the thief in a cage, like an animal to experiment on.
Excerpted with permission from Chorashastra: The Subtle Science Of Thievery, VJ James, translated from the Malayalam by Morley J Nair.