Author Ruskin Bond wrote ‘The Thief Story’ in the 1950s. Ruskin Bond is considered ‘the Writer on the Hill’ and is India’s most beloved writer. The story is one of Ruskin Bond’s earliest works in short fiction. It chronicles the story of an unnamed narrator who calls himself a very good thief. Ruskin Bond has a penchant for writing in the first person. He likes to do most of his intriguing, highly entertaining, and adventurous stories in the first-person narrative. The thief who calls himself new names every month to keep away from the authorities wants to be employed in the home of a single twenty-five-year-old individual called Romi. Romi is a writer and a struggling one at that. He has not yet made it big in the writing world and is still eking out a living by writing to the Delhi and Bombay magazines. The thief or narrator wishes to be employed as a housekeeper and probably cook for Romi. In this way, he can get a chance to rob Romi and can then run away with his loot. Unfortunately, the thief grows so fond of the gentleman that he decides to return the money that he has robbed and change his life by learning the written English language more fluently with Romi’s help. The story is parallel to the life of Ruskin Bond, centering on Bond’s affections and friendship with a young boy of his youth named ironically Somi, which is very close to the name ‘Romi’. Also, this story is about turning a new leaf, value for an honest person, and true friendship. The thief returns the money he has robbed from Romi and decides to continue to stay with Romi and educate himself.
The story titled ‘The Thief’s Story’ is the narration of a person who we presume at first does small thefts. We keep trying to guess what precisely the thief does at the story’s start. We even try to guess his name and are ultimately not told the thief’s name at all other than that when Romi employed him, he called himself Hari Singh. We then realize that Hari thieves use the relationships he cultivates with his employers to gain their trust and then rob them of money he can enjoy for a couple of weeks. We presume that he has otherwise never really robbed too much of money from his employers. Hari is fifteen years old, the same age Ruskin Bond was when he met his Somi for the first time. This is all mentioned in Ruskin Bond’s first award-winning novel The Room on the Roof. Also, Romi and Bond apparently in the story titled ‘The Thief’s Story’ change roles a bit. Instead of Bond being the writer, it is Romi who is the writer. More parallels to Bond’s real-life in ‘The Thief’s Story’ are shown by how Romi earns his living by writing to magazines in India in the 1950s just the way Ruskin Bond also made his living. Romi, like Bond, also gets occasional cheques. At the same time, he struggles to earn a living as a writer. In the name of friendship, he lavishly celebrates his earnings with his friends and most of the time not responsibly. Bond seems to take a dig at himself here in this story and his way of life along with his friendship with Somi. Hari cannot understand the eccentricities of Romi just the way Somi could not understand the eccentricities of Bond. Also, Bond and Romi were paid a good amount when a publisher accepted their first novel. Romi got seven hundred rupees in fifty notes. In contrast, Ruskin Bond got enough money from his first publisher to buy the boat fare from England back to India and the hills. Therefore, it is certain that where this story is concerned, there are, like all Ruskin Bond stories, a lot of parallels to the author’s life and past.
Coming to the bond between Romi and Hari, their friendship started with a lie but ended on a note of genuine love and respect for each other. Hari genuinely smiles at Romi for his kindness and forgiving nature at the end of the story. In the beginning, we notice that even Romi is not too sure about the character of Hari. Hari lies to Romi to gain his confidence by telling him that he could cook when he could not. We notice Hari’s charm in this story, which helps him a lot as a thief when he plays with people’s feelings and trust. Yet another parallel is how Somi had a fascination for Bond, which is mentioned in the book The Room on the Roof and the memoirs and essays of the author. Ruskin Bond was attracted to Somi because of Somi’s charm and pleasant manner. Hari had a pleasing personality with a decent look about him. Hari could make people feel very comfortable, and so too Somi in Ruskin Bond’s youth. Hari finds Romi a very odd man but is growing fond of him. Yet, the day comes when Romi comes home after getting a sum of seven hundred rupees for his book, and that is the moment when their friendship is sorely tested.
Hari takes advantage of Romi’s trust. While he is asleep with the money under his mattress in an envelope, Hari flicks the large sum and heads to the railway station to get away to Lucknow. However, he does not get on the train because conscience pricks him. He does not feel comfortable having stolen money from Romi. He wishes to return the money and learn how to construct English sentences from Romi. Notice the significance of the reflection of Hari in the latter part of the text, where he compromises his freedom as a thief to adhere to the abysmal paying job, which is a white-collar job in India. He does this not to become a ‘big educated man’ but to gain Romi’s respect and friendship again. For the sake of Romi, the thief Hari is willing to forgo a significant part of his past and who he was as a person. That is a real sacrifice and a true change from the depths of one’s heart.
One would presume that Hari would return the money and be caught. But this is not like R.K. Narayan’s story titled ‘Trail of the Green Blazer’, where the thief gets caught and is punished. Instead, the thief is found out because of the wet currency notes but is forgiven and given a second chance by Romi. Hari thought that Romi would only give him five rupees to watch a movie as his pay. But instead, Romi pays Hari his salary of fifty rupees for his month’s services and humbly states that he was now in a position to pay Hari on a monthly and regular basis. Romi knows about Hari’s betrayal of the previous night but is willing to forgive, forget, and start the friendship on a new leaf.
Hari and Romi have mutual respect for one another. They both are decent with each other and don’t interfere in each other’s business. Romi is an honest and easy-going man who can even forgive a thief who almost stole his first novel’s earnings. We, as readers, must recognize the powerful statement made here by Ruskin Bond. It is undoubtedly not the purest thing to be a robber of a writer’s very first earnings. Writers are paid sporadically and need to be prudent and cautious in their investments. Romi invested himself in his friends, including Hari, and his investment proved fruitful. It was challenging to rob Romi and so Hari reformed himself for the sake of Romi.
While he was asleep, Romi may not have realized that he was being robbed. However, probably, the following circumstances may have taken place for Romi to have known about the theft:
- He must have awakened when the money was stolen but was testing Hari to see whether the fifteen-year-old thief would come back despite his betrayal. This would be akin to testing moral codes of conduct because writers can be highly unpredictable and artistic in their acts.
- Romi must have found out the moment Hari was out of the house that the money was gone but would only go to the police when the day dawned.
- Romi purposefully put the cash there to test Hari’s fidelity because he wanted Hari to get the thieving habit out of his mind.
- Romi must have only found out the money was returned when the envelope was placed under his pillow or when he woke up in excitement early in the morning to make tea.
Romi does not scold Hari or abuse him. He seems to take a thrill to ‘kill’ Hari’s need to rob with kindness, and that truly wins Hari over. There is a vague indication in the text that Hari would probably become the author who was writing these lines. Hari would one day be a writer like Romi is indicated or hinted at. This is left open because Ruskin Bond cleverly does not convey to the reader what ultimately happened to Hari. Another point to dwell upon is the title and the introduction to the story. Hari was a good thief, but he was more good at stealing another person’s heart through his wit and charm. He very convincingly steals the affections of Romi and vice versa.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing Ruskin Bond’s short story titled ‘The Thief’s Story’. If you wish to read my review of The Song of India by Ruskin Bond, you can check it here. In this book meant for younger readers, Bond summarizes his life in India before leaving for England and his friendship with Somi. If you are interested in reading a good collection of LGBTQIA award-winning short stories, you can check out my book titled The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name here. I hope to read, review and analyze more works by Ruskin Bond soon.
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