As we walked back towards the clinic
Seven said, “He doesn’t look anything
like a monster, Maya. But did you see how thin
he is? Maybe he’s very poor and can’t afford
“He can’t be poor if he’s a crook on the run," I
told him. “He’s probably got millions of rupees
stashed away somewhere in that room."
“Do you really think he’s a criminal, Maya? He
doesn’t look like one," Nishad looked doubtful.
“Of course he’s one, Seven," I said, “and
he certainly isn’t starving. Mr Mehta told us
that Ramesh brings his meals up from the
But Maya, Mr Mehta told us he doesn’t work
anywhere, so how can he possibly have money to
pay for food?" Nishad said.
“Exactly!" I exclaimed. “He must have lots of
money hidden somewhere, maybe in that trunk
in his room. It’s probably full of silver and gold
and jewels and..."
“What rubbish," Nishad interrupted.
“I know I’m right, stupid," I told him. “By the
way, Seven, did you see his scars? I couldn’t, it
was too dark, but I bet he got them during a shootout
with the police or something."
“Mummy told us quite clearly they were burn
scars," Nishad said firmly.
“Perhaps the police had to set his house
on fire to force him out," I suggested. Seven
On the Monday following Mamma’s birthday,
Seven went alone with her to the clinic at Girgaum
as I was spending the evening with a schoolfriend.
When they returned, Nishad told me he’d been to
see Mr Nath and I felt most annoyed that I hadn’t
Seven had been quite upset about Mr Nath’s
gaunt appearance and was sure that he was
starving. He told me that he had knocked loudly
on Mr Nath’s door that evening and said, “Open
the door quickly, Mr Nath."
The man had opened it and asked him, “Lost
He had obviously recognised my brother.
“No," said Nishad. He had taken the man’s
hand in his own, and thrust a bar of chocolate
“Did you get a chance to peek into the trunk,
Seven?" I asked.
Nishad looked disappointed. “He didn’t even
ask me in," he said. Then he smiled. “But I did
find out something, Maya. I went down to
the restaurant where Ramesh works and talked
“Good for you, Mr Detective," I said, patting
him on the back, “I hope you questioned him
Seven looked pleased. “Ramesh told me that
he takes two meals for Mr Nath every morning
and evening, and two cups of tea, one in the
morning and one in the afternoon. Ramesh says
he’s not very particular about what he eats, it’s
always the same food — two chapattis, some dal
and a vegetable. Mr Nath pays cash and tips well.
“Ramesh told me something very strange, Maya,"
Seven added. “Almost every Sunday, he carries two
lunches to Mr Nath’s room and the same man is
with him each time. He’s tall, fair, stout and wears
spectacles. Ramesh says his visitor talks a lot, unlike
Mr Nath who hardly speaks."
“Well done, Nishad," I told him. “Now that we’ve
made some progress with our inquiries, we’ll have
to sort out all the facts like expert detectives so
that we can trap the crook."
“How you do go on, Maya," Seven sighed. “How
can you possibly imagine he’s a crook? He looks
“Criminals can look quite ordinary, smarty," I
retorted. “Did you see the picture of the Hyderabadi
housebreaker in the papers yesterday? He
looked like any man on the street." Nishad
The monsoons broke the next day. Dark clouds
accompanied by blinding flashes of lightning
and roaring rolls of thunder burst with all
their fury, flooding the streets with a heavy
downpour. School was to have reopened after the
summer holidays, but no traffic could move
through the flooded roads and there was an
I thought I’d spend the time usefully. I sat at
my desk in our bedroom with a sheet of paper
I wrote in large block letters:
CATCHING A CROOK
Expert Detectives: Nishad and Maya Pandit
By Appointment to the Whole World
Then I began writing. About half an hour later,
I turned towards Seven who was lying on his
tummy, chin cupped in his palms, reading
comics. “Want to hear what I’ve written?" I asked.
He looked up questioningly. “I’ve listed all the
facts we know about Mr Nath which might help
us to trap him," I said. “Want to hear?"
“Fact Number1," I read, “his name is Mr Nath.
We must discover his first name."
“Do you think that’s his real name, Maya?"
“Probably not," I said. “Most crooks have an
alias." I added a big question mark after Nath.
“Fact Number 2," I read on, “the tenants at
Shankar House say he’s mad, strange and
“Number 3, he doesn’t talk to anyone and is
“But he did talk to us, Maya, and Mamma says
he’s very polite," Nishad interrupted.
“He only talked to us because he had to," I
said, “and since he was under Mamma’s medical
treatment, he had to be polite.
“Fact number 4, he doesn’t receive any letters."
“Number 5, he’s been living in Room 10 of
Shankar House for more than a year," I continued.
“Number 6, he doesn’t work and sits in his
room all day.
“Number 7, the kids in Shankar House and
even some of the grown-ups are scared of him.
“Number 8, he has no visitors except for a
spectacled, fair, fat man who visits him on
Sundays for lunch.
“Number 9, food and tea are taken to his room
by Ramesh from the restaurant downstairs. He
doesn’t care what he eats, pays his bill immediately
and tips well. That ends my list. Have I forgotten
Nishad had obviously not been paying too
much attention to my list of facts. All he could
say was, “Poor man, Maya, he must be so lonely
if he doesn’t have any friends."
“How can a crook have friends, idiot?" I
“At least he has one friend, the one who meets
him on Sundays," said Nishad.
A brilliant thought occurred to me just then.
“That man must be Mr Nath’s accomplice in
crime," I said. “Maybe he keeps all the loot and he
comes now and then to give part of it to his partner,
Mr Nath, for expenses. That’s it! I’m sure I’m right."
“If you insist on calling him a criminal, I don’t
think I want to discuss anything with you, Maya,"
said Nishad angrily. “He can’t be such a bad man
if he gives Ramesh such generous tips."
“Ramesh probably knows something about his
past, so Mr Nath must be bribing him to keep
quiet," I said.
Nishad glared at me with his arms tightly
crossed across his chest. I was beginning to get
fed up with him.
“How can we make any progress with our
investigations if you take that attitude, Seven?"
“I’ll cooperate only if you give up this idea
about him being an escaped crook," said Seven.
“You really make me angry."
I almost hit him. “I make you angry, you stupid
oaf," I shouted. “You make me mad! What is the
point of all these
enquiries if he’s not a
crook? If you think he’s
a nobody, what’s the
idea of bothering about
him, please tell me?"
thoughtful. “I’d like to
find out why he’s so thin
and why he’s so lonely. I want to
know why he doesn’t have any
friends and lives alone."
“Try to understand, Seven," 1 told
him, “if he’s lived in Shankar House
for a year and hasn’t made a single
friend, there’s something wrong.
He’s obviously scared that someone
will recognise him and give him up to the cops."
“Maybe no one’s tried to make friends with him,"
“Why should anyone bother? You’ve seen what
a nasty bear he is," 1 said.
“1 don’t care," said Nishad stubbornly, “1 like
him and I’m going to try and be his friend."
“Friends with a crook! Ha! You’re crazy,
Seven,"1 said. “The cops will take you to jail with
him. Do you want that to happen, you idiot?"
Nishad merely glared at me and quietly walked
out of the room. My theories seemed to have made
no impression on him at all.