21 July, 2004

Businessman’s house burgled…

The press was pouring in to cover the news and were eager to see the plight of those living at my home in Anna Nagar. What they fail to understand, as always, is to understand that the affected are still under trauma. It is no joke to have seven dacoits enter a home in the middle of the night, isn’t it?

Here goes the story!

It was around 2am.

I was fast asleep when I heard someone knocking my door. It was my father saying: “Banu, open the door!”

I jumped out of the bed and opened it by default. I saw him standing in front of my room handcuffed along with four hefty men wearing masks. One of them jumped ahead and pointed a knife towards me. I was startled and when I saw my father, he too had a knife pointed at him. Shakti was still sleeping, and when he got out of his bed, one of four men, pointed a knife at him too.

When I raised an alarm, the headman, said: “if you shout, I will kill your father! I am like your brother; you are like my Sister. If you behave well, I will not harm you.”
Is this some kind of a joke? I did not know how to react and went blank.

Dad: “They are good men and will not harm us.”

I was petrified even more, as I started to worry about my mother and Surya who is nowhere in the scene until now.

Me: “Where is mom and Surya?

Dad: “They are in the room and safe. Don’t worry…”

I asked the headman: “What do you want from us?”

He asked me sit along with my Dad and Shakti on my bed. He tore the pillow cover and tied our hands. He took my mobile phone and dismantled it. The four men who were with him helped him in this.

I peeped to see what was happening in my mother’s room (that was opposite), and I saw two men guard that door.

The headman told me to give him the cupboard keys. He thoroughly examined it for over half-an-hour and said: “Why is there is no money or no jewels? You have only cosmetics! Where have you kept the money? Is it beneath the tiles?”

By now, I got completely aware of what was happening around me and it was my responsibility to safeguard the lives of my parents and children.

I replied: “I do not have any jewels or cash at home. Everything is in the bank. You see, these days, no one keep them at home as it is not safe. Moreover, I work for Oxfam and work for the disaster victims. I don’t have much money too!”

The headman instantly asked “Oxfam? Charitable trust?”

I was impressed that he knew about Oxfam India!

Conversing with the headman made me realize that his intention was only the wealth and not our lives. I had a gut feel that, as he knows Oxfam, he will not harm us.

I requested the headman to bring my mother and Surya who were in another room and keep them in mine, as I want to ensure that they are safe.

He obliged.

Surya and mom walked in. They joined our row.

The headman asked me to give the keys of the cupboards that were kept in another room and accompany him there. While two men were guarding my door, I went along with the headman and four of his men.

I opened the cupboards, one after one, and waited for his next order.

It was at this point in time the headman asked one of his men to open the tap in the attached bathroom.

I said: “Please don’t waste water. There is acute water problem this season and I have to wait for the water tanker before I leave for work each day.”

Headman: “CHUP!! (Shut up!) Do you realise what is more important now?”

I noticed my mother’s 28-soverign chain around his neck, and did realise what I should be worried about now.

I kept quite, while he ransacked the three cupboards, taking away the jewels and my mother’s savings, which was hidden between the stacks of sarees.

I was brought back to my room, and I saw my parents and children seated as was before.

Surya, on seeing me, said: “I want to watch Cartoon.”

My mother tried to tell him that there is an electricity failure and that the men (dacoits) were from the Electricity Board to repair.

But, on seeing the night lamp switched on, he argued saying: “But, there’s electricity now. See the night lamp is on!”

He called one of the dacoits who were guarding our door and said, “Uncle, Can I watch Cartoon?”

I could not help but laugh!

The man guarding my door was a six-footer and signaled us to keep quiet.

Surya told him: “I want to go to the toilet.”

When my mother got up, the man said that he would take Surya to the loo.

Surya went along, not worrying about the knife pointed at him. He returned with a pack of biscuits, which was kept in his room.

By now, Surya had made friends with this six-footer who appeared to be kinder than the rest. He kept asking us if we needed water to drink. He conveyed that his leader is a bad man and has a pistol. He would kill all of us if we call the police. It is therefore best to remain quiet.

Until then, the fear of death did not cross our mind.

It was 5 am.

My father, signaled me to close the door, as the headman would come back after taking the valuables and shoot all of us.

In a spur of a moment, I got up and went towards the door with an intent to lock it, but did not succeed at that.

The headman pushed the door and entered forcefully. This time, his face was not masked. He wore a red shirt! He gave me a tight slap and said “you lady, if you try to act smart, I will kill you!” He pointed the knife at my neck again.

Shakti said, “My mother is a diabetic. She got up to drink water.”

I apologized and pretended to faint.

I told the headman, “Our maid will come now. It is best that all of you leave.”

Noticing me staring at him, he realised that we have all seen him without the mask. He asked his men to tie our feet and mouth as well. He said that we should not get up until all his men leave the premise and went away.

Every five minutes, we heard the main door open and close. We counted till it was closed the seventh time, and started releasing the knots.

As my second mobile was intact, I called my tenant to rescue us.

We informed the police control room and we had several police officials visiting us. . Our dining table became their conference table. What a sight!

Police officer: “So, how did the headman look? You say that you can recognize him.”

Me: “Yes, I can. He is very fair handsome. Like a Malayalam movie hero! He spoke good English.”

The police officer grinned.

He asked me to go back to my room and clear up the mess that was left behind. I saw one large knife on my computer table and screamed!

This knife, the clue that he knew Oxfam, the headman’s appearance helped the police in narrowing down the suspect. The headman was identified as Maharaja – a sociology graduate drop out in Andhra Pradesh belonging to a tribal community.

Only the police has identified five of the seven dacoits so far. Two of them were brought by the cops to do a demo of how they entered the home. We learnt that a smaller frame man was let into the window air conditioner vent to open the back door to let the other men in.

The headman is still at large.

So, what is important in life? Jewels? Money?

Not at all! It is the family! It is in such times, we realize this value.

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