INSIDE AZAD LANE, there is a barber shop called Once Again. Next to it is a vegetable/general store owned and run by Pattu Raja, a heavy-set, dark-skinned south Indian man. There is also a tailor who sits on the pavement, and his motorcycle led a stupid thief to his fate. Almost everyone in the lane noticed at around the same time that a man was unsuccessfully trying to control an old motorcycle which wasn’t moving. He appeared to be drunk, and since he didn’t have the keys to the bike he decided he’d take it anyway. He was on it and trying to move it forward, but was swaying his head off and anyone looking at him would’ve known he was very drunk. Five or six people moved towards him from different positions and I too wanted to be a part of whatever was about to happen. The tallest man put his hand on the drunk guy’s shoulder, asked him what he was trying to do, and pulled him off the bike and threw him on the footpath right next to it.
At that point, the tailor got up and realized it was his bike the guy was trying to take off with. More people gathered, and this time the curiosity was higher and the pace faster. Everyone likes a tamasha. I was one of the four people standing next to the drunk thief (he was sitting on the ground, still reeling from being pulled off the bike and flung away). The tall man slapped the thief when he revealed his name. “Behenchod, it’s people like you who spoil the name of our community.” The thief received slaps from two other people before the tall Muslim man spoke again. “I was going home after imbibing and you had to come along and spoil the fun! Mood banaya tha, saale tune vaat laga di.” In the next minute the rogue received kicks and punches from all around.
The thief first claimed it was his brother’s bike, then couldn’t remember his brother’s name, and then got fed up and admitted he was a thief who got drunk silly and messed up. “I know I’m fucked,” he said. This was mistaken for drunk arrogance and he got punched a few times by Pattu Raja, who had joined in as he was done for the day and not wanting to waste a chance to clobber someone. It turned out this scoundrel had nicked a vegetable cart and left it on the side of the road upon spotting the motorcycle. The thief had thought selling the bike would fetch him more money than a cart full of vegetables. There was a huge commotion near the cart and by this time a police van showed up, and the drunk idiot looked on as he was lifted up and put inside.
A crowd had gathered around the building where billionaires dwell, where the cart had been stranded. People had stepped out of their homes and vehicles to find out what was happening. And they were picking whatever they wanted off the vegetable cart. I walked up and saw the cart also had fruits. Carrots, cauliflower, ladyfinger, gherkins…it was all flying off. A senior police officer pondered over things as he bit into a tomato while a fat lady tossed a brinjal into her bag. The tailor’s bike was safe, the thief had been whisked away to a place where a hangover would really bother him the next day as he tried to recollect scenes from the night before. The vendor the cart rightfully belonged to was never to get back the fruits and vegetables or the cart. He’d correctly blame either stupidity or mistiming for his loss till it made him richer and wiser. I picked up a bunch of green grapes, the most attractive thing on the fruit and vegetable cart.
Written by Aditya Mehta in 2009