It was the year 1990 and I was just nine years old when this horrifying incident occurred. Yet it remains etched in my memory even today.
I was living with my parents in Chennai in an apartment situated on the second floor. It was a hot summer night and usually we switch on the air conditioner to get some respite from the sultry weather. Since I had a slight cold, we chose to leave the windows open. However, the window above the air conditioner remained closed for some reason.
I had retired to bed early that night and ended up sleeping in my parent’s room. I was sleeping quite soundly when a sudden noise woke me up at midnight. I sat up in my bed and scanned the darkness of the room, wondering if it had been a dream. I heard that noise again. I strained my ears and listened closely. A mob was making a commotion and it initially sounded distant. Gradually the noise grew louder and it appeared as though they were right below my apartment.
My parents had woken up by then and I clutched my mother in fright. “What’s going on?” I asked trembling while she tried to calm me down. Alarm was written clearly on their faces as they were trying to find out the cause of this commotion. Just then my dad spotted a dark silhouette outlined against the closed window above our air conditioner. Noise of pelting stones began to pound on the windows. A thief was seated on it. In a fit of fury, my dad smashed his hand through the glass of the closed window to punch the thief. When he withdrew his hand, blood was dripping from his hand. It was a such gory sight that Mom and I shrieked. Meanwhile, the thief had jumped from the window onto the branch of a tree nearby. It made us gape and wonder for a moment if he was a thief or a monkey.
Switching on the lights, we rushed to the refrigerator to get some ice for my dad. I ran to the hall, half expecting to find a gang of thieves there. Giving my dad some ice and a towel, my mom rushed to the telephone to call the police. It was an era which was devoid of mobile phones or technology. The landlines were the only mode of communication. She dialed the number and waited for someone to answer on the other end.
Meanwhile my dad got dressed to go downstairs and find out what was happening. The mob was still making a commotion. I was petrified at the thought of a criminal lurking in our compound and neighborhood. I pleaded with my dad to stay at home, scared that the thief would pounce on him from the back and harm him. Just like how it happened in those movies that I constantly watched. He reassured me saying that nothing would happen and opened the front door. My mom was on the phone lodging a complaint with the police. “Mom please ask dad not to go,” I sobbed. Mom explained that the police would be here soon.
Meanwhile the doors of the other two apartments on our floor were open. My neighbors were standing outside bewildered on what the commotion was all about. One of the neighbors who happened to be my friend’s father decided to accompany my dad. I was a little comforted that my dad wouldn’t be alone. Unable to stay at home, I rushed to my friend’s house in a state of panic. She was wide awake. It appeared as though the commotion had disrupted the sleep of the entire apartment complex. My mom and my friend’s mom got into a conversation while my friend was trying to comfort me.
The noise of the mob continued. My friend looked out of her hall window. Most of the residents had assembled downstairs wondering what was going on. Someone shouted from below saying that the police had arrived. All of us immediately rushed downstairs.
I scanned the crowd and was relieved to see that my dad was fine. The cops had nabbed the thief. He was a tall and lanky fellow who looked half drunk. How he managed to climb 2 floors and find a place on our window sill, still remains a mystery to me. The thief got a sound thrashing from my dad and a few others. Apparently, his bleeding hand was least of his concern, reminding me of a film actor trashing the villain with his blood-stained hand. The entire scenario was something that would occur in movies. Yet it was playing right before my eyes.
The thief did not look like those dangerous psychopathic criminals who would come back for revenge. Just some sheepish looking petty thief probably looking for something small to steal.
The crowd had dispersed and everyone got back to their apartments. I couldn’t sleep that night and for many following nights after that incident. That noise of the mob commotion still echoed in my ears. My dad’s hand was fine and the broken glass on the window had been fixed the next day. Yet I knew it would never be the same again. Every time I looked at it, I’d imagine the silhouette of the thief outlined against the stillness of the dark night….