x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

From corrupt cricketers to pen bandits, stealing India's soul

I ask all detained cricketers: Why did you sell us, for a handful of silver? Why did you break the hearts of your families and fans? Why did you lose so much for so little?

The shrill whistle of the train guard pierced through the cabin at dawn, as the train resumed its journey from Godhra in western India. I had been sleeping soundly, but the whistle woke me up for a few seconds. I tried to get back to sleep, but something was nagging me.

Then I realised that my necktie was lying on my bed. I had folded it neatly, placed it in my suitcase and pushed the suitcase below my seat the previous night.

I got up quickly and pulled out my bag. The locks had been forced open. My purse, cash, pens, clothes and some gifts I was carrying had all vanished. I woke up the passenger on the other lower berth and told him what had happened. He checked his belongings. Fortunately, he had not been robbed.

A young lad had boarded the train at Bombay (now Mumbai) the previous night along with us. He was evasive, not very communicative. He climbed onto the upper berth to sleep as the train started. The young man could have ransacked my bag and got off at Godhra, the station we just passed. Our cabin was locked by us for the night; nobody could have entered it.

I pulled the alarm chain in the compartment. The train ground to a halt. The conductor came to my cabin and I briefed him about the theft. He said that we would have to wait until the next major station, Ratlam, to lodge the complaint.

It was February 1965, and I was on an official tour from Bombay to Delhi. At Ratlam the police recorded a complaint about the theft. I specifically told them that my stolen pen was a gift from my company and had the company name engraved on it.

Months flew. Then, one rainy day in July I got a call from the police inspector in Ratlam. "Are you the person who had his baggage stolen in February this year whilst travelling from Bombay?" he queried. "Yes," I replied hoping that they had recovered my goods. "Will you be able to visit us in Ratlam?" he asked me. He would not divulge more details.

Days later I presented myself at the police station. The inspector explained: "We have taken into custody a person who was trying to steal a suitcase from another passenger travelling by first class. We recovered a pen from him, with your company's name engraved on it. We suspect that he may be the person who stole your goods. However, we cannot be certain until you identify him."

It was now five months since the theft had taken place. I had had only a fleeting glimpse of the man who occupied the upper berth. However, I agreed to try to identify him.

Two police inspectors accompanied me to the identification room. About 10 men stood in a row. I glanced across the line from one end to the other. Then I carefully looked from right to left at the faces. Again, I observed them from left to right.

Then, I signalled to the inspectors that we could leave. "Do not be in a rush. Take your time," counselled one of them. "The third man from the left is your man," I said. They looked at me in disbelief. "Yes, he is the man we had detained. You took less than a minute!" he exclaimed.

Later over tea, the inspectors asked me how I identified the culprit so quickly. "I did remember the face. However, I ran my eyes over that parade three times. All those times, the other men looked me in the eye. However, this person lowered his eyes each time I gazed on his face. He could not look me in the eye. That confirmed my identification."

I also learnt that the culprit was a postgraduate and hailed from a good family. His father taught in a college. Apparently, he committed thefts on trains for thrills. I thought what a waste of a fine life and education by a young man. I also pondered how pained his parents must be.

Recently some cricketers were detained in India for accepting cash for "fixing" some overs, in IPL matches. I wondered again, 48 years later, why did these promising, talented youngsters throw away their future? Why did they break the faith of a nation of cricket lovers? Will we ever be able to cheer for a sixer in a match without wondering whether it was "fixed"?

Sure, quick windfalls motivated these youngsters. A gratuity of $120,000 for bowling six loose balls is enticing. But surely, these youngsters have heard, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

Therefore, I ask all detained cricketers: "Why did you sell us, for a handful of silver? Why did you break the hearts of your families and fans? Why did you lose so much for so little?"


Hari Chand Aneja is a 91-year-old former corporate executive who now keeps busy with charity work