While in Delhi for more than forty years of my married life, I always enjoyed the winter months - though we did not then have most of the modern gadgets like washing machine and grinders, or running hot water. The reason being one never felt tired however much housework one did. And sitting in the sun, knitting or reading was the ultimate luxury for me.
Come November, it would be time to take out the woollens and inspect them, whether the children’s school sweaters and coats could be managed for one more winter or new ones had to be ordered or knitted, and sending my husband’s suits to be dry-cleaned. Then all our cottons had to be aired and packed up till the next summer. That was the time for all our cotton\summer clothes also to have their annual rest.
Come the month of March, it was time to pack up all the winter clothes and get ready for the summer. This time a lot of physical work was to be put in. All the sweaters had to be hand-washed (all pure-wool knitted—as acrylic was not on the scene yet) one by one for fear of running colours that might spoil the knitteds, and then dried flat on a Turkish towel in the shade. It used to at least take two days for the sweaters to dry - so just imagine how many days it would take for the sweaters of two or three adults and three or four children’s to be washed, dried and have them packed in boxes till the next winter. It was the same routine for all housewives.
There was a break in this routine one March in 1974. My husband’s and my children’s sweaters were washed and ready to be boxed. That day it was my sweaters turn. There were about five or six new cardigans, all acrylic and gifts from my daughter on her return from Manchester after a two year stay there. They were drying in the back yard and as usual I was babysitting them . I was alone in the house, so when the phone rang I went inside to answer. It was a wrong number. It took about five minutes for me to return to the backyard. What I saw there I could not believe; the old couple of sweaters were there alright – the new ones had disappeared. I was lost for a few minutes. I did not know what to do. Then I rallied myself and got in touch with my husband and told him what had happened with tears running down my cheeks.
Can you imagine what he told me? “Forget the whole thing”. I got so wild that I asked him to use his position and report to the police about the theft .He flatly refused. I knew he was right in a way so I did not force him also. When our children back from school, I told them about the incident, and they were annoyed about the whole thing. Our second daughter was the one who was most affected —I still remember how she ran all over the lanes and by lanes in our colony to find out if some body was hiding somewhere with the loot, but it was of no use. For a week she was always on the lookout for any suspicious characters wandering about inside our colony.
Well, as days passed, I gradually learnt to accept the fact that I had lost my new sweaters for ever.
One evening in late May there was somebody at the door wanting to see the man of the house. My husband was not at home so I went to the veranda to greet him and to find out the reason for his wanting to meet my husband. He introduced himself as police Inspector X and wanted to know whether any theft had taken place at our place a few months back. Honestly, I had forgotten the loss of my sweaters, and having answered him in the negative wanted to know the reason for his asking that question, and why he was interested.
“This boy here tells me that he had stolen a few sweaters from this house two months back,” and pointed to a teenager, poor, and dressed in shabby clothes standing by his side, carrying a small tattered suitcase in his hand. I remembered like a flash how my sweaters suddenly disappeared from the backyard. I told the policeman that in fact we lost a few sweaters round about that time and we had no hope of ever getting them back. Mr. X ordered the boy to open the suitcase .Inside were a few sweaters - some of them my given-up-for-lost ones. There were about eight or nine sweaters. Having looked through them I pointed out which were mine and told him that two of mine were not there. I was told that the boy had sold one of them for a mere Rs 2 to buy a cinema ticket and another for a meal. After confirming the theft the police Inspector asked me whether we had reported the theft to the police. “ No, my husband did not want to do that”
“Why?” was his next question and he wanted to know where my husband was working.
When told he was a government servant he started saying how the people working in the ministries have a very poor impression and opinion of the police, whereas they think too much of themselves and so on. He went on in this strain for a few minutes which really raised my hackles. I stopped him in mid-sentence and said, “Please get out of my house if this is the way you talk about my husband and you take those sweaters also with you. I don’t want them back”
That shut him up .He was at a loss and did not know what to say. He never expected that from me. After a few seconds he asked me in a timid voice, “In which ministry is sahib working?” Home ministry was my answer in a clipped tone.
“What is his designation?”
How I wished I had a camera in my hand to capture all the expressions and emotions that passed through his face on hearing my answer. Gulping and stammering he said, “Sorry Sir, I mean, Madam, please never tell sahib what I said. I am sorry I said that, Sir, I mean Madam, please. Madam, you may come to the S.N Police Station tomorrow, put your signature on the identification paper (or some such paper—I don’t remember now) and collect your sweaters, Madam.” I simply waved him off from my home after a very curt thank you. Also I told him there was no question of my going to any police station or anywhere to get back those sweaters
Every single word was repeated to my husband later that night after dinner. He was equally shocked to hear that I had asked the policeman to get out of my house.
I did not know what happened the next day in his office - like who met him or talked to him about the policeman’s visit to our house. All I was told by my husband was there was a note of apology from the police Inspector. The sweaters were sent home later the same evening. I was reluctant to touch them at first. Any way we had them dry cleaned and those sweaters served me well for a long time.