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A curious excerpt from curious tales of the desert

Deserts hold so many stories inside of them and the Gahilote sisters (Prarthana and Shaguna) decided to bring folk tales from the dunes of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Multan and Sindh to you in the form of this beautiful book, Curious Tales from the Desert. 

Here is an exclusive excerpt, a thrilling story from the book for you to read and enjoy!


Four Friends and a Thief


A little after Lala Gulab Bagri shut his shop in the main market, Badru came running after him. ‘Lalaji, Lalaji, please stop,’ said Badru between quick laboured breaths.

Surprised to see his assistant chasing him, Lalaji stopped. Badru was panting as he had run after Lalaji from the far end of the market. Tonight was the first time in years that Badru had asked Lalaji permission to leave the  shop  before  it  was  shut  for  the  day.  Usually,  Lalaji  left  for  home  late  in  the  evening  while  Badru  stayed  on to wind up the day’s affairs. Today, Badru had to meet a relative passing by, an old uncle who had finally retired as a soldier from the army and was going back to his native place to spend his old years resting.

‘What are you doing here?’ a bewildered Lalaji asked.

‘I have the most devastating news. I  had to share it with you, so I came running,’ blurted Badru.

‘Is  your  uncle  all  right?’  inquired  Lalaji,  fearing the old  man  may  have  had  an  episode  given  the  long  travel from the city to the village.

‘Oh, yes. He’s fine. It’s something about us that I had to share with you,’ pressed Badru.

Looking at Badru’s ashen face, Lalaji could tell that Badru’s cause for worry was Lalaji’s safety and fortunes. Badru had started working with Lalaji in the prime of his youth and  had been dedicated and loyal to him since. The morning he came to him seeking work  was  a quarter of a century ago. The market in Lalaji’s village, Amli Ka Khera, a little more than three hours away from Chittorgarh, was then just a cluster of huts. It neither had permanent structures nor enough customers to attend to. Lalaji’s ancestors were traditional  thewa  jewellery  makers.  Over  the  years,  their  exquisite  designs  of  thewa  jewellery  involving  merging intricately worked sheet gold on molten glass had  found  a  large  clientele  not  just  in  Amli  Ka  Khera  but even beyond Chittorgarh district and Rajasthan. As Lalaji’s  business  grew,  so  did  his  coffers.  Besides  his  jewellery business, Lalaji’s wealth came from ancestral landholdings and moneylending, which he did at high interest rates.

‘They have arrived. I just heard a group of travellers discuss their arrival with the daroga sahib,’ Badru said.

‘Whose arrival?’ asked Lalaji, a tad irritated.

Badru  lowered  his  voice,  almost  whispering  now,  ‘Arre,  theyare  here.  Our  biggest  worry.  Don’t  you remember?’ Badru insisted.

By  now,  Lalaji  had  lost  his  cool.  With  a  long  day  at  work behind him, he was in no mood for guessing games. He raised his walking stick to hit Badru and thundered,

‘You play games with me and I will hit you. Tell me clearly who you are talking about.’

Badru closed his eyes and screamed, ‘The thieves, the thieves!’

‘Thieves?   The   same   thieves,’   Lala   Gulab   Bagri   squealed as Badru nodded frantically.

Suddenly,  Lalaji  understood  why  Badru  had  come  running  to  him.  Badru  knew  what  no  one  else  in  the  village did. Lalaji had wound up important deals during the course of the week and had collected a large sum of money and gold. He was supposed to leave for Chittorgarh the next day and would be keeping all of his collection at home in the night. Despite his riches, Lalaji had always kept a low profile with no guards or full-time assistants working  for  him  at  home.  His  modest  dwelling  housed  him and his wife, Fullara, while his two sons, Neth Ram and Dhuni Ram, lived in Chittorgarh managing the retail shops there.

For the last few days, villagers in Amli Ka Khera had had  restless  nights  over  the  news  of  a  group  of  thieves  operating  in  nearby  areas.  The  thieves  were  known  to  be  extremely  skilled,  shrewd  and  showed  no  mercy  or  fear  when  robbing.  Tales  of  the  robberies  they  had  carried  out  in  wealthy  homes  in  adjoining  villages  had  filled their hearts with trepidation and several well-to-do businessmen  had  petitioned  the  local  police  to  increase  the  security  drills  in  their  area.  Everyone  knew  it  was  only a matter of time before the robbers would come to their village and target their homes.

Today,  Badru  had  heard  the  local  daroga  talk  to  travellers about how they had received reports about one of the robbers being seen at a tea shop on the outskirts of the village in the wee hours. The travellers suspected the thieves would target Amli Ka Khera that night and were checking with the daroga if it was safe to stay the night in  the  village.  Badru  had  overheard  the  conversation  and found it urgent enough to share it with his employer right then.

Lalaji listened to Badru and signalled for him to keep quiet. He didn’t want Badru to reveal anything about his latest financial acquisitions. Badru got the hint and so, he asked Lalaji, ‘Would you want me to stay with you at the house tonight?’

‘Of  course,  and  get  everyone  suspicious  about  the  goings-on in the house. Right?’ Lalaji said sarcastically.

He told Badru to go home and not talk to anyone about the  thieves.  He  wanted  Badru  to  behave  normally  to  avoid drawing any undue attention to him or his house. At home, every evening by sundown, Fullara would keep  a  bucket  of  warm  water  ready  for  Lalaji’s  bath.  Once  Lalaji  walked  into  the  central  courtyard  of  the  house,  she  would  brew  tea,  add  a  generous  amount  of  milk and sugar to it and set it out with some snacks and hookah in the veranda. The  husband  and  wife  would  then  sit  together  and  tell each other the details of their day. Lalaji liked telling Fullara about all the customers he had met at the shop. She  had  the  uncanny  sense  to  sieve  the  good  from  the  bad  and  Lalaji  had  often  benefited  from  her  inputs,  especially when it came to borrowers of money. Fullara had not been formally educated but knew enough about business  from  experience.  It  was  wisdom  borne  out  of  this experience that Lalaji counted on.As  night  drew  close,  Lalaji  told  Fullara  about  the  possibility  of  thieves  being  in  the  village.  Fullara  was  alarmed, considering Lalaji had handed her a big bag of money  and  gold  ornaments  when  he  got  back  from  the  shop. She had hidden the bag in the attic in the kitchen with other containers filled with grains, but wasn’t sure if it was a good enough hiding place.

‘What will we do if the robbers come here?’ she asked Lalaji.

‘Don’t  bring  bad  omens  home.  Don’t  talk  about  a  robbery at our place,’ Lalaji responded in anger.

Fullara  bit  her  tongue  and  started  cleaning  up  the  kitchen, the last job she did before sleeping. While Fullara worked  inside,  Lalaji  would  step  out  to  go  to  the  paan shop across his house. This was a daily ritual. Lalaji did not sleep without eating a juicy paan, which also worked as  an  excuse  to  meet  his  old  friends  and  neighbours  of  several  years,  Eesa,  Khameesa,  Kaazi  and  Mullah.  At  the paan shop, Lalaji’s friends would talk about various things. Together, they discussed politics, business, family problems  and  more  importantly,  the  goings-on  in  Amli  Ka Khera. Tonight was an important night. Lalaji wanted to  speak  to  his  friends  about  the  heightened  fear  of  the  robbers,  who  were  now  possibly  closer  than  before.  To  his surprise, his friends had heard the same and wanted to hash over what they would do in case of an emergency.

The  promises  from  the  police  department  were  yet  to  be  fulfilled,  and  many  like  Lalaji  and  his  friends  were  gathering groups to defend themselves in case the robbers struck them. ‘So it’s a deal. If anyone of us is in trouble, the others will rush to help him. Stay alert,’ said Eesa. ‘Call out loud so that you can be heard,’ added Khameesa.

‘And keep your sticks and rods ready at hand so that you  can  grab  them  as  you  run  out  to  help,’  Kaazi  was  prompt to assert.

Lalaji had told his friends that he was due to travel to Chittorgarh the next morning and would only return after two days. He was tense that his wife would be in danger in case the robbers broke into his house in his absence.Mullah  sensed  his  panic  and  reassured  him,  ‘Don’t  worry, Lala. We will all sleep lightly. If bhabhi saagrees, one  of  us  could  also  sleep  as  a  guard  in  the  courtyard  outside your house when you are away. We won’t let any harm come her way.’Comforted  by  the  promises  of  his  friends,  Lalaji  got  back home to find Fullara packing his bag for his journey.When  Lalaji  and  Fullara  retired  for  the  day,  he  started updating Fullara on his conversation with Eesa, Khameesa, Kaazi and Mullah.

‘I had a long chat with them. It has been agreed that when I leave for Chittorgarh tomorrow, one of them will sleep outside in the courtyard to protect you.’

‘Oh, who knows if that would be needed. I am good enough to defend myself,’ Fullara protested.

‘But  what  if  the  robbers  are  armed  and  large  in  number? What will you do?’ urged Lalaji.

‘God  will  protect  me.  I’ll  think  of  something,  don’t  worry. You sleep well and travel safely tomorrow morning without a worry.’

A  few  hours  after  the  husband  and  wife  had  fallen  asleep, a deep pounding woke Fullara up. For a minute, she  thought  she  was  imagining  things.  She  lay  still  and  quiet  in  her  bed,  listening  hard.  There  was  a  distinct  thump.  Fullara  held  her  breath  and  looked  at  Lalaji  from  the  corner  of  her  eyes.  Lalaji  lay  right  next  to  her  deep  in  sleep.  Fullara  wanted  to  nudge  him  awake,  but  was  afraid  he  might  be  startled  and  make  a  noise  while  waking  up.  Fullara  couldn’t  exactly  place  the  origin  of  the  sound,  but  thought  it  was  close.  She  had  to  quickly  think  of  ways  of  stirring  Lalaji  and  even  alerting  their  friends in the neighbourhood. Fullara trained her ears and was certain that someone was raining blows on the wall of the adjoining room.

Suddenly,  Fullara  started  talking  aloud.  ‘Oh,  Lalaji.  How am I supposed to do this? How do I keep all these children engaged?’ she said. ‘This is not fair. Here I am all  by  myself  and  so  many  children  to  look  after.  You  have to help me,’ she added, this time raising her voice a little.

Adding soon after, ‘Lalaji, if you don’t agree to assist me, I am telling you I will go out and dump these children outside  the  house.’  By  now,  Fullara’s  voice  was  loud  enough to be heard beyond the courtyard and outside. The  sound  of  the  loud  blows  stopped  as  though  someone  was  trying  to  listen  in.  Fullara  heard  a  scuffle  outside  as  Lalaji  began  to  turn  and  get  up.  He  looked  puzzled  and  kept  staring  at  Fullara.  She  pressed  her  finger to her lips and asked him to keep quiet. Outside, she could hear whispers. Like two men were talking to each other. Fullara couldn’t tell one voice from another, but she heard someone say, ‘Looks like someone inside the house is awake.’ Fullara could tell her loud conversation with herself had  alerted  the  robbers  outside.  She  felt  encouraged  to  carry on.

Maybe they’ll run away, she thought. Looking at Lalaji,  she  pointed  towards  the  outside  wall  and  asked him to listen. Slowly,  the  pounding  on  the  wall  began  again.  This  time, Lalaji could hear it too. He was wide awake. Fullara started  waving  her  hands  frantically.  Telling  Lalaji  to  play-act with her. At first, Lalaji was confused, but when Fullara started talking, he understood.‘Tell me, will you help me? Look at these four babies creating a ruckus. See, see how Eesa just jumped on the bed, and Khameesa dropped the flower vase,’ Fullara said louder  this  time.  Almost  like  she  wanted  the  robbers  to  hear. And they did. The blows on the wall stopped again. Those  outside  were  listening  in.  The  minute  Fullara  talked about Eesa jumping on the bed, someone outside remarked, ‘Seems like she’s dreaming. I know they don’t have small children in the house.’

‘What if they do and you don’t know?’ asked another voice.

‘I have checked. There are no children in the house. Besides,  this  woman  is  talking  about  children  doing  things  right  now.  Did  you  even  hear  a  sound  of  that?’  pronounced another.

Convinced   with   that   argument,   one   man   with   a  deep  voice  said,  ‘Let’s  carry  on  breaking  the  wall.  There’s just very little to go. I am already inside. Once we are done with these last few bricks, all of you will be inside.’ Fullara  and  Lalaji  froze  when  they  heard  that.  One  robber  was  inside  already  while  the  others  were  just  a  few bricks away! Lalaji started to get up from the bed to go to the room where the robbers were, but Fullara held his  hand.  The  robbers  were  known  to  be  merciless  and  Fullara did not want Lalaji to confront them on his own. Lalaji  stepped  back  and  let  out  in  exasperation,  ‘What  are  you  saying,  Fullara?  What  do  you  want  me  to  do?’  Lalaji  could  tell  Fullara  was  feeling  just  as  helpless  as  he  was  at  the  moment.  While  their  friends  living  close  by  had  been  alerted  in  the  evening,  the  danger  was  too  close at hand to risk shouting out to them to help. What if the robber inside the house had a weapon and attacked them? What if the remaining bricks were easy to remove and all the thieves broke into the house all at once if they heard the couple screaming for help.Even  as  Lalaji  thought  hard  about  what  should  be  done,  Fullara  continued  talking.  She  said,  ‘Lalaji,  you  listen  to  me.  You  look  at  our  four  grandchildren  here,  they  are  a  handful.  I  can’t  deal  with  Eesa,  Khameesa,  Kaazi and Mullah on my own. So, I am going to device a  hide-and-seek  game  for  them  where  the  children  will  play the police while you will play the thief.’

Lalaji wasn’t amused. He thought Fullara was actually out  of  her  mind  to  be  thinking  of  games  and  imaginary  grandchildren  right  now  but  didn’t  bother  to  shake  her  out  of  it.  The  thieves  too  didn’t  think  much  of  Fullara’s  banter and went about breaking what was left of the wall.With  every  new  thump,  Lala  Gulab  Bagri’s  heart  sank a little more. ‘So when you hide and the children go looking for you, I will be helping them by looking for you in the house. And when I will find you, I will be bellowing Eesa, Khameesa, Kaazi, Mullah . . . here is the thief.’ Lalaji promptly understood what Fullara was trying to do. She was trying to alert his friends about the intrusion in their house. As if on cue, he asked her, ‘What will you say to the children, Fullara? Say that again, louder.’

Encouraged,   Fullara   howled,   ‘Eesa,   Khameesa,   Kaazi, Mullah . . . Chor, chor, chor!’

‘Say it again, Fullara,’ yelled Lalaji.

This time, Fullara bellowed with all the power in her lungs, ‘Eesa, Khameesa, Kaazi, Mullah . . . Chor! Eesa, Khameesa,  Kaazi,  Mullah  .  .  .  Chor!  Eesa,  Khameesa,  Kaazi, Mullah . . . Chor! Chor! Chor!’

Fullara was so loud this last time that her voice carried through  the  courtyard  to  the  homes  of  her  neighbours.  Startled,  they  jumped  out  of  their  beds,  racing  towards  Lalaji’s  house.  The  thieves  heard  Fullara  too  and  were  now  in  a  dilemma.  Should  they  run  or  hide  inside  the  house?  The  last  of  the  bricks  had  finally  fallen.  Just  as  the thieves were approaching Lalaji’s bedroom, his friends rushed into the house with sticks and rods. On their way to  the  house,  the  four  friends  had  raised  an  alarm  loud  enough for the rest of the neighbours to come out of their homes and surround Lalaji’s house.Once  inside,  the  four  friends  marched  into  Lalaji’s  bedroom  only  to  see  Lalaji  dashing  into  the  adjoining  room  where  the  thieves  stood.  Eesa,  Khameesa,  Kaazi  and Mullah bolted after Lalaji and found four well-built men  standing  by  the  broken  wall.  They  lunged  at  them  and brought the four thieves down with a thud. Fullara raced in with a bundle of ropes as the men overpowered the thieves with all their strength. Hearing   the   commotion   inside,   some   neighbours   climbed   into   the   house   where   the   wall   had   been   brought down by the thieves. The thieves had now been outnumbered  and  didn’t  move  an  inch,  fearing  for  their  lives. Together, the men secured the hands and legs of the thieves with the rope they had been given.

Throughout  the  night,  Lalaji  and  his  friends  sat  in  the  courtyard  watching  over  the  thieves  who  had  been  locked  in  Lalaji’s  store.  The  thieves  were  to  be  handed  over to the daroga in the morning. The men couldn’t stop gushing  about  Fullara’s  presence  of  mind  and  how  she  had  managed  to  save  the  situation.  Lalaji  felt  extremely  proud  of  Fullara.  He  had  always  depended  on  her  for  advice,   much   to   the   annoyance   of   his  conservative   relatives,  but  tonight  he  felt  validated  for  respecting  Fullara’s intelligence.The  next  morning,  the  thieves  were  brought  before  the  daroga,  who  was  stunned  to  hear  how  Fullara  had  got  the  thieves  nabbed  without  risking  her  husband’s  and her own life. He was all praise for Fullara’s courage. While taking charge of the thieves that he and his team had been on the lookout for, he made sure he applauded Fullara in front of the villagers.

The way back home was nothing short of a celebratory procession.  Eesa,  Khameesa,  Kaazi  and  Mullah  had  brought  garlands  for  Fullara  and  Lalaji.  They  danced through  the  village  bylanes  all  the  way  from  the  police  chowki  to  Lalaji’s  house  in  jubilation.  Years  later,  when  Lalaji’s  four  friends  and  Fullara  had  greyed,  tales  of  Fullara’s wit and aptitude were told to the village children. A night of endurance in the face of a crisis had turned her into a local hero and legend.


Enjoyed reading this folk tale?

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