Guess who came for breakfast?

By Zubeida Mustafa

64-26-05-1992  A few weeks ago we had some jninvited guests for breakfast. They were masked and armed and the breakfast they took was most unhealthy — gulab jamuns and Coca Cola. They also took away whatever cash they could lay their hands on and some valuables — to use the crime reporter’s terminology. But the most precious thing they stole was my peace of mind.

If there is one word to describe my experience of this armed robbery, it is “bizarre”. Of course I also felt terrified, but that came much later.

It all happened early in the morning, which is the worst time for such unwholesome intrusions — not that other times are better. In the morning your senses are not fully awake — apart from the fact that one is not even properly dressed to receive visitors, including the unwanted ones.

All of this in a way proved to be a blessing in disguise. For when I opened the door of the TV lounge and stepped out into the garden at 6.30 a.m. to fetch the morning paper, I was hardly alert. Right then a man with a chadar tied round his face and a revolver in his hand appeared from the side of the house where apparently he had been lying in wait after scaling the compound wall.

Had it not been for the revolver which he pointed at my head, I would have been more confused than shocked. And had it not been for the fact that my mind was not so alert, I might have screamed. As he firmly told me not to raise an alarm, I had an eerie feeling as though I was someone else witnessing the unfolding drama. “So it is my turn now”. I clearly remember this thought came to my mind. As I turned round in slow motion I saw four more masked and armed men who had by then made their appearance as though out of thin air.

Once I was seated in the lounge with one of them making himself comfortable on the settee opposite me, the others went round waking up the family. Once we were all assembled together, I felt more calm and collected. Next began the ransacking of the house. I really didn’t care. I just wanted them to finish their job quickly and go away.

But that was not to be. They took their time — one and a quarter hour — because as I later guessed they were amateurs. Besides, when they met with no resistance from us, they relaxed somewhat — initially they were as keyed up as we were, and admitted it. As three of them went about the task of collecting the “valuables” (most of it junk jewellery so fondly collected by my daughters) one gave us company and the fifth kept watch at the front door.

Then began a long political and social discourse in which the others would pipe in as they passed by. Our visitors insisted that they were “shareef” people who respected women. One of them admonished me for being without a dopatta. That was the only time I felt really furious — you have the cheek to invade the privacy of my home at daybreak and then tell me how to dress! In any case, Mr Moraliser went and brought an unstitched shirt piece lying in the bedroom for me to cover myself with.

There followed a hearty monologue on how unjust our system was. “We went to college only to be forced to join various parties. We were tortured. Now, we have no jobs. We are helpless and forced to do what we are doing. We assure you we are robbing you very unwillingly.” What a paradox!

When we protested that we did not make the system they were blaming, they warned that they would not spare the leaders who are responsible for the poverty and inequity in our society. Probably, ordinary and unarmed mortals like us are good training ground!

Gradually, a rapport developed between us and the dacoits. Unwelcome doorbells — the milkman, the driver — upset us as much as them. They had to figure out excuses and ask one of us to tell the caller to go away. As the minutes ticked by, I began to feel worried for their safety — and indirectly for our own. This was clear that any attempt by the police to capture them could lead to a shoot-out which could be fatal for us.

Paradoxical though it may seem, but our dacoits had a human dimension. When they picked up the VCR and kept it with the booty they were collecting, one of the children requested them to leave it because it was a favourite source of entertainment. Without much ado, they meticulously put it back from where they had taken it. They also displayed good taste — they took our music cassettes, but only the choicest Jagjit-Chitra and Mahdi Hassan ones, my perfumes (but only Christian Dior and Revlon) and all of my husband’s handkerchiefs (probably they had a runny nose, someone observed later).

Finally, having packed the loot in a briefcase, they demanded the key of the car for a ride home. They promised to abandon the car in a day or two as they were not interested in it — though in monetary terms its value was more than what they had collected. The car was found by the police two days later.

As we were herded into the bedroom with the warning not to come out until our visitors had departed, the leader of the gang came and shook hands with my husband, embraced and left after a warm farewell.

Now that I think of trie whole episode it seems to be so unreal. But the sense of terror and insecurity I now feel is very real. Friends have been a source of great moral support. Moreover I never realised that there are so many many people who have been through the same experience, or even worse. Where are we heading for, I wonder. Logic tells me that all the precautions we took and have taken now really will not help, given the massive proliferation of arms. Irrespective of what the authorities say, it is all a game of luck. The rising crime graph and the police’s failure to nab the criminals, makes it such an unequal contest for the unarmed citizen.

The only factor which helped us was that we didn’t resist the dacoits at all. In fact we showed no antagonism towards them whatsoever. Witnessing their nervousness, for a moment I felt sorry for them that they should adopt such a profession which could hardly give them any job satisfaction. But their panic was also unnerving for us. They could have harmed us out of sheer fright. That is one reason I kept my fingers crossed that the police would not attempt to storm in. Though I do not see any reason why in such cases the police, when it has been informed, should not wait on the sidelines for an ambush operation to thwart the robbers’ escape. But then the police are known to have their own ways.

Two tailpieces for you:

  • One of our neighbours, who was reluctant to even put in a phone call to the police immediately when requested by our driver (who had become suspicious), had the cheek to ask me later, “Why didn’t you scream for help?”
  • The male chauvinists (the MCP variety) who insist that women’s avarice prompts male corruption would be pleased to know that our dacoits scribbled this verse on the wall:                                                                         Na khuda dil banata na kissey say piyar hota.                                                     So, there was a woman behind it after all!                                               Source: Dawn 26-05-1992