The Thief’s Story By Ruskin Bond

I was still a thief when I met Anil. And though only 15, I was an experienced and fairly successful hand. Anil was watching a wrestling match when I approached him.  He was about 25 – a tall, lean fellow – and he looked easy going, kind and simple enough for my purpose. I hadn’t had much luck of late and though I might be able to get into the young man’s confidence.

“You look a bit of wrestler yourself, I said” and a little flattery helps in making friends.

“So do you,” he replied, which put me off for a moment because at that time, I was rather thin.

“Well,” I said modestly,” “I do wrestle a bit.”

“What’s your name?”

“Hari Singh, I lied.” I took a name every month. That kept me ahead of the police and my former employers.

After this introduction, Anil talked about the well-oiled wrestlers who were grunting, lifting and throwing each other. I didn’t have much to say. Anil walked away. I followed casually.

“Hello again,” he said.

I gave him my most appealing smile. “I want to work for you,” I said “But I can’t pay you.”

I thought that over for a minute. Perhaps, I misjudged my man. I asked, “Can you feed me?”

“Can you cook?”

“I can cook, ” I lied again.

“If you can cook, then may be I can feed you.”

He took me over the Jumna Sweet Shop and told me I could sleep on the balcony.  But the meal I cooked that night must have been terrible because Anil gave it to a stray dog and told me to be off. But I just hung around, smiling in my most appealing way, and he couldn’t help laughing.

Later, he patted me on the head and said never mind, he’d teach me to cook. He also taught me to write my name and said he would soon teach me to write whole sentences and add numbers. I was grateful.  I knew that once I could write like an educated man there would be no limit to what I could achieve.

It was quite pleasant working for Anil. I made the tea in the morning and would take my time buying the day’s supplies, usually making a profit of about a rupee a day. I think he knew I made a little money this way but he didn’t seem to mind.

Anil made money by fits and starts. He would borrow one week, lend the next day. He kept worrying about his next cheque, but as soon as it arrived, he would go out and celebrate. It seems he wrote for magazines – a queer way to make a living.

One evening he came with a small bundle of notes, saying he had just sold a book to a publisher. At night, I saw him tuck the money under the mattress.

I had been working for Anil for almost a month and, apart from cheating on the shopping, had not done anything in my line of work. I had every opportunity for doing so. Anil had given me a key to the door, and I could come and go as I pleased. He was the most trusting person I ever met.

And that is why it was so difficult to rob him.  It’s easy to a rob a greedy man, because he can afford to be robbed, but it is difficult to rob a careless man  – sometimes he doesn’t even notice he’s been robbed and that takes all the pleasure out of the work.

Well, it’s time I did some real work. I told myself; I’m out of practice. And if I don’t take the money, he’ll only waste it on his friends. After all, he doesn’t even pay me.

Anil was asleep. A beam of moonlight stepped over the balcony and fell on the bed. I sat up on the floor, considering the situation. I could take the money I could catch the 10:30 Express to Lucknow. Slipping out of the blanket, I crept up to the bed. Anil was sleeping peacefully. His face was clear and unlined; even I had more marks on my face, though mine were mostly scars.

My hand slid under the mattress, searching for the notes. When I found them, I drew them out without a sound. Anil sighed in his sleep and turned his side towards me.  I was startled and quickly crawled out of the room.

When I was on the road, I began to run. I had the notes at my waists, held there by the string of my pyjamas. I slowed down to a walk and counted the notes; 600 rupees in fifties! I could live like an oil-rich Arab for a week or two.

When I reached the station I did not stop at the ticket office (I never bought a ticket in my life) but dashed straight to the platform. The Lucknow Express was just moving out. The train had still to pick up speed and I should have been able to jump into one of the carriages, but I hesitated – for some reason I can’t explain and I lost the chance to get away.

When the train had gone, I found myself alone on the deserted platform. I had not idea where to spend the night. I had no friends, believing that friends were more trouble than help. And I didn’t want to make anyone curious by staying at one of the small hotels near the station.  The only person I knew really well was the man I had robbed. Leaving the station, I walked slowly through bazaar.

In my short career as a thief, I had made a study of men’s faces when they had lost their goods. The greedy showed fear; the rich man showed anger; the poor man showed acceptance. But I knew that Anil’s face, when he discovered the thief  would show only a touch of sadness. Not for the loss of money, but for the loss of trust.

I found myself in the maidan and sat down on a bench. The night was chilly – it was early November – and a light drizzle added to my discomfort. Soon it was raining quite heavily. My shirt and pyjamas  stuck to my skin, and a cold wind blew the rain across my face.

I went back to the bazaar. I sat down in the shelter of the clock tower. The clock showed midnight. I felt for the notes. They were damp from the rain.

Anil’s money. In the morning he would probably have given me two or three rupees to go to the cinema, but now I had it all. I couldn’t cook his meals, run to the bazaar or learn to write whole sentences any more.

I had forgotten about them in the excitement of the theft. Whole sentences, I knew, could one day bring me more than a few hundred rupees. It was simple matter to steal – and sometimes just as simple to be caught. But to be really big man, a clever and respected man, was something else. I should go back to Anil. I told myself, if only to learn to read and write.

I hurried back to the room feeling very nervous, for it is much easier to steal something than to return it undetected. I opened the door quietly and then stood in the doorway, in clouded moonlight.  Anil was still asleep. I crept to the head of the bed, and my hand came up with the notes. I felt his breath on my hand. I remained still for a minute. Then my hand found the edge of the mattress and slipped under it with the notes.

I awoke late next morning to find that Anil had already made the tea. He stretched out his hand towards me. There was a fifty-rupee note between his fingers. My head sank. I thought I had been discovered.

“I made some money yesterday,” he explained. “Now, you’ll be paid regularly.”

My spirit rose. But when I took the note, I saw it was still wet from the night’s rain.

“Today, we’ll start writing sentences,” he said.

He knew. But neither his lips nor his eyes showed anything. I smiled at Anil in my most appealing way.  And the smile came by itself, without any effort.

The Thief’s Story Summary

Hari Singh Approaches Anil

Hari Singh approached Anil while he was watching a wrestling match, as he seemed to be an easy target to him. Hari used some flattering words to gain Anil’s confidence and soon they started conversing. After a while, when Anil started to walk off, Hari followed him with his most appealing smile. He expressed his wish to work for Anil. But Anil bluntly expressed his inability to pay Hari. Hari questioned Anil if he could feed him.  Anil agreed to feed Hari only if he knew how to cook. Hari said that he knew how to cook but this was a lie.

Anil Brings Hari to his Room

Anil took Hari to his room over Jumna Sweet Shop and let him occupy the balcony to sleep. Anil gave that night’s meal to a stray dog because the meal cooked by Hari was terrible. Anil had realised that Hari didn’t know how to cook. He asked Hari to go off to sleep, but Hari hung around, giving his most appealing smile. Anil patted Hari’s head and told him that he would teach him how to cook.

Anil teach Hari to read and write

Anil taught Hari to write his name and promised to teach him how to write whole sentences and to add numbers eventually. Hari was happy and grateful for this as he knew that he could achieve anything he wanted once he knew how to read and write like an educated man. He liked working for Anil. He started making tea in the morning and buying the day’s supplies later. He used to make a profit of about a rupee on buying the day’s supplies but knew that Anil didn’t mind.

Hari had gained Anil’s Trust

One evening Anil came back with a bundle of currency notes he had got from selling a book he had written to a publisher. He kept the money under the mattress and slept peacefully. Hari had been working for Anil for almost a month and he had gained Anil’s trust. Hari saw the opportunity to rob Anil. It was not an easy task as he knew that Anil will be sad about the loss of money. He brushed away his thought and decided to execute the robbery the same night, as Anil would’ve otherwise wasted the money on his friends.

Hari Robbed Anil

Hari considered the situation and crawled up to the bed when Anil was asleep. He slid his hand under the mattress and drew the money out quietly. He rushed out of the room and began to run on the road. He had secured the money with the string of his pyjama. He was heading towards the railway station to catch 10:30 express to Lucknow as planned. He was elated when he counted the money on his way.

Hari didn’t Board the Train

Hari reached the station just when the train was about to pick up speed. He could have managed to get into one of the carriages but something unexplainable stopped him. He was left behind on the station. He decided to leave the station and thought while walking through the bazaar about how would Anil feel when he would come to know about the theft. Hari had realised by then that he could not only cook the meals or go to the market to buy daily supplies, but he had also lost the chance to learn how to read and write. Due to these thoughts and his feeling of guilt, he decided to go back to Anil, if only for the sake of learning how to read and write.

Hari Kept The Money Back

Hari hurried towards the room. He opened the door cautiously so as not to wake Anil up. He quickly took out the currency notes which were damp because of the rain. He crept up to the bed and placed the notes under the mattress. After that, he went off to sleep in the balcony.

Anil Reacted Normally in the Morning

Hari woke up late in the morning. He found that Anil had already prepared tea. Anil gave a fifty rupee note to Hari, telling him that he had earned some money by selling a book to a publisher and now he would pay him regularly. Hari was motivated but he could make out that Anil knew everything though he didn’t say anything to him about it.

Chapter Sketch

‘The Thief Story’ is about a 15-year-old boy, Hari Singh, whose life changes when he meets Anil, a 25-year-old writer. Anil’s unspoken words and kind gestures leaves a very positive impact on Hari Singh’s life.

About the Characters

Hari Singh : He is a 15-year-old, fair handed thief. He is keen on learning how to read and write. He is so experienced robber that he knows how different people will react when they are robbed.

Anil : He is a 25-year-old, tall and lean man. He earns his living by writing. He is a kind, simple and an easy-going person.

Chapter Highlights

1. A small-time 15-year-old thief, who calls himself Hari Singh, befriends a struggling writer, Anil. Hari’s purpose is to steal Anil’s money.

2. Anil is a good fellow who wants to teach Hari Singh how to read and write.

3. Gradually, Anil develops trust in Hari Singh. But Hari Singh has been waiting for the right moment to make a killing by doing what he is best at, i.e. stealing.

4. After stealing the money which Anil had earned by selling a book to a publisher, Hari Singh tries to run away forever.

5. But some inner voice stops him from doing so. He returns to Anil because he realises that he wants to live a life of respect.

6. Anil does not show that he knows about the theft and accepts Hari Singh with open arms.

7. Thus, a well intentioned person tries to reform a teenager who has strayed from the correct path.

Word Meanings

fairly successful hand: reasonably successful in my work

easy-going: relaxed and open-minded

of late: recently

get into…confidence: will trust

flattery: insincere praise

put me off: distracted me

modestly: without boasting, humbly

ahead of: undetected by

grunting: making a low guttural sound

appealing: attractive

be off: go away

hung around: did not leave

supplies: rations/food items

by fits and starts: irregularly

cheque: payment for work done

unlined: showing no signs of worry or anxiety

fifties: 50 rupee notes

deserted: empty of people

clouded moonlight: light from the moon partly covered by cloud

spirits rose: mood became happy

Questions and Answers

NCERT Solutions

Read and Find Out

Question 1: Who does ‘I’ refer to in this story?

Answer: ‘I’ refers to Hari Singh, the narrator of the story who is a 15-year-old experienced thief.

Question 2: What is he “a fairly successful hand” at?

Answer: He is a fairly successful hand at stealing. He is an experienced thief. He is so clean and swift in his work that he robs people without being caught.

Question 3: What does he get from Anil in return for his work?

Answer:  In return of Hari Singh’s work, Anil gives him food and a place to live in.

Question 4: How does the thief think Anil will react to the theft?

Answer: According to Hari, Anil would be sad not because of the loss of money but because of the trust he had in Hari.

Question 5: What does he say about the different reactions of people when they are robbed?

Answer: Hari’s experience at theft had made him aware of differences in reaction of people when they’re robbed. According to him, a greedy man shows fear; the rich, anger and a poor man, acceptance.

Question 6: Does Anil realise that he has been robbed?

Answer: Yes, Anil realised that he had been robbed, as he gave a fifty rupee note to Hari which was still damp due to the night’s rain.

Think About It

Question 1. What are Hari Singh’s reactions at the prospect of receiving as education? Do they change overtime?

(Hint compare, for example, the thought: ‘I knew that once I could write like an educated man there would be no limit to what I could achieve’ with these later thought: ‘Whole sentences, I knew, could one day bring me more than a few hundred rupees. It was a simple matter to steal and sometimes just as simple to be caught. But to be a really big man, a clever and respected man, was something else.’) What makes him return to Anil?

Answer: Hari was very happy and grateful when he learned to write his name.  He was very excited when Anil promised to teach him to write whole sentences as well. He knew that being an educated man, will add to his abilities and he could achieve anything.

But when he left Anil’s house, he realised that stealing was simply a crime  to indulge himself but being educated was an entirely different thing. He knew the respect, reputation  and possibilities that would come to him once he was educated. So his urge to receive education compelled him to return to Anil.

Question 2: Why does Anil not hand over the thief to the police? Do you think most people would have done so? In what ways is Anil different from such employers?

Answer: Unlike others, Anil does not hand over Hari to the police on theft charges. He knew about the theft but he did not thrash him nor even mentioned it in front of Hari. He was glad that Hari had realised his mistake and the importance of education in life. Anil wanted Hari to become a literate man and lead a respectful life.

He is different from other such employers because he is very understanding. Hari’s return gave him the hope of a change in him.

Talk About It

Question 1:  Do you think people like Anil and Hari Singh are found only in fiction, or are there such people in real life?

Answer: People like Anil and Hari Singh are found only in fiction. Though exceptions might be there, these people are rarely found. Anil was a kind and considerate person who was concerned about Hari’s education and future while Hari was a thief whose heart changes after realising the importance of education for his future. People like these are imaginary in today’s world.

Question 2: Do you think it is a significant detail in the story that Anil is a struggling writer? Does this explain his behaviour in any way?

Answer: Yes, it is a significant detail that Anil is a struggling writer. His lifestyle was simple and he used to spend according to his pocket at all times. His struggle sometime gave him a lot of income while at other times he used to worry about the next payment. Hari’s observation about the discontinuation in his work justifies his behaviour regarding money.

Question 3: Have you met anyone like Hari Singh? Can you think and imagine the circumstances that turn a fifteen year old boy into a thief?

Answer: No, I haven’t met anyone like Hari Singh but the existence of such people is certain. A fifteen year old boy can be forced by circumstances to become a thief. It may be the need to feed the stomach, to satisfy illegal addiction, to maintain health, to fulfil luxurious demands etc.

Question 4: Where is the story set? (You can get clues from the names of the persons and places mentioned in it). Which language or languages spoken in these places?  Do you think the characters in the story spoke to each other in English?

Answer: The story is set somewhere in Uttar Pradesh near Lucknow. We can say so because the story mentions that there is a railway station for Express train to Lucknow. The presence of sweet shops and bazaars also indicate it to be a decent-sized town. No, the characters in the story do not speak to each other in English but probably in Hindi.

Extra Questions

Extract Based Questions

Question 1: “You look a bit of a wrestler yourself.” I said.  A little flattery helps in making friends.

(i) Who was the speaker?

(a) Hari Singh

(b) Anil

(c) Suresh

(d) Someone in the crowd

(ii) Why did the speaker want to be friends with the listener?

(a) Because he wanted a favour from him

(b) Because he wanted to teach him a lesson

(c) Because he wanted to rob the listener

(d) Because he was impressed by the qualities of the listener

(iii) Which word from the extract is the opposite of ‘criticism’?

(a) Flattery

(b) Bit

(c) Making

(d) Friends

(iv) Which part of speech is the word ‘yourself’ in the extract?

(a) Noun

(b) Pronoun

(c) Adverb

(d) Adjective

Answer: (i) (a) Hari Singh

(ii) (c) Because he wanted to rob the listener

(iii) (a) Flattery

(iv) (b) Pronoun

Question 2: Well, It’s time I did some real work. I told myself ; I’m out of practice.

(i) The ‘real work’ in the extract refer to?

(a) Stealing

(b) Fishing

(c) Sleeping

(d) making friends

(ii) Why does the speaker say ‘I’m out of practice

(a) Because he had not gone to fishing recently

(b) Because he had not robbed anyone recently

(c) Because he was injured

(d) Because he was on leave

(iii) Select the synonyms of the word ‘practice’ as used in the extract

(a) Habit

(b) Enthusiasm

(c) Perceive

(d) Solace

(iv) The word ‘real’ in the extract is a/an

(a) Noun

(b) Adjective

(c) Verb

(d) Adverb

Answer: (i) (a) Stealing

(ii) (b) Because he had not robbed anyone recently

(iii) (a) Habit

(iv) (b) Adjective

Question 3: When the train had gone,, I found myself standing alone on the deserted platform. I had no idea where to spend the night. I had no friends.

(i) The speaker was standing alone on the platform because

(a) he wanted to be left alone

(b) he has reached the wrong station

(c) the train had just left

(d) the train had got cancelled

(ii) Why did the speaker not have any friend?

(a) Because nobody liked him

(b) Because he was a thief

(c) Because he was old

(d) Because he though that friends were more trouble than help

(iii) Which word in the extract is the opposite of ‘crowded’?

(a) Alone

(b) Deserted

(c) Idea

(d) Real

(iv) The word ‘myself’ in the extract is a

(a) Pronoun

(b) Verb

(c) Noun

(d) Adverb

Answer: (i) (c) the train had just left

(ii) (d) Because he though that friends were more trouble than help

(iii) (b) Deserted

(iv) (a) Pronoun

Question 4: He knew. But neither his lip nor his eyes showed anything.

(i) Who is ‘he’ in the extract?

(a) Anil

(b) Hari Singh

(c) Sunil

(d) Bharat

(ii) What did ‘he’ know?

(a) He knew about the train timings

(b) He knew that he had to work hard

(c) He knew that his money had been stolen

(d) He knew that life is tough

(iii) Which word in the extract means the same as ‘reveal’?

(a) Knew

(b) Showed

(c) Trace

(d) Neither

(iv) The word ‘but’ in the extract is a

(a) Conjunction

(b) Preposition

(c) Adverb

(d) Noun

Answer: (i) (a) Anil

(ii) (c) He knew that his money had been stolen

(iii) (b) Showed

(iv) (a) Conjunction

Short Questions and Answers

Question 1:  Why did Hari Singh approach Anil?

Answer: Hari Singh was a thief who had not much luck in his work recently. So he approached Anil with the intention of robing him, as he seemed to be an easy-going and simple man. According to Hari, winning Anil’s confidence was an easy task.

Question 2:  ‘Anil walked away. I followed casually.’ Why do you think the narrator followed Anil?

Answer: The narrator’s purpose of robbing Anil had not yet been served. He followed Anil to gain his trust and to look for an opportunity that may help him give shape to his plans. Though he was a thief so he wanted to be educated like him.

Question 3:  Was Hari Singh successful in robbing Anil ? Was Anil the only one who was robbed or did Hari also rob himself of something?

Answer: Yes, Hari Singh was successful in robbing Anil. But Anil was not the only one who was robbed at that time. Hari had robbed himself as well. He had lost the chance of receiving education and being literate.

He had robbed Anil monetarily but he had robbed himself of the chance  for a better and brighter future, which was much more valuable.

Question 4:  What did Anil and Hari agree upon to be the mode of payment?

Answer: When Anil started his inability to pay Hari, Anil questioned Hari if he could feed Hari. Hari realised that he had misjudged his target and moulded the situation for his benefit. Anil then agreed to feed him if he knew how to cook.

Question 5:  What made Hari Singh go back to Anil’s house?

Answer: Hari Singh realised the importance of education he was receiving from Anil. He knew that learning how to  read and write and being a literate person would open doors to many opportunities. He was sure that he would the be able to earn more than a few hundred rupees he had in had at that time. This made him go back to Anil.

Question 6:  Did Hari like working for Anil? Give reasons in support of your answers.

Answer: Yes, Hari liked working for Anil. He was happy to carry on the chores for him and was grateful for the education he was receiving. He used to make profit of about a rupee a day as well, which was a decent amount besides being fed.

Question 7:  Why was it difficult for Hari to rob Anil?

Answer: It was difficult for Hari to rob Anil because Anil was the most trusting person Hari had ever met. He was really simple and kind. Hari knew that loss of money will not affect Anil but the loss of trust will make him sad.

Question 8:  State the events that took place on the night of the theft?

Answer: After stealing Anil’s money and leaving Anil’s house, Hari went to the railway station but didn’t board the train to Lucknow. He walked slowly through the bazaar as he did not know anyone who would provide him shelter except Anil, for he didn’t have any friends. He was forced to take shelter under the clock tower later when it started raining heavily.

Question 9:  How was the morning after the theft?

Answer: The morning after the the night of the theft was just like a normal one. Hari woke up late and  Anil had made tea by then. Anil gave a fifty rupee note to Hari and told him that he will now be paid regularly. Hari was aware that Anil knew about the theft but he didn’t show anything.

Question 10:  How you do think Anil may have come to know about the theft?

Answer: Anil may have come to know  about the theft because of the dampness of the notes because of rain. He was a kind but wise man. It wouldn’t have been difficult for Anil to make out the series of events that would have taken place in the night.

Question 11:  Had Anil really forgiven Hari Singh? Support your answer with evidence

Answer: Yes, Anil had forgiven Hari Singh. It is evident because Anil handed over to Hari a fifty rupee note as soon as Hari woke up. Though he knew Hari had robbed the money at first but his subsequent action gave him hope of change in Hari’s character.

Question 12:  In which queer way did Anil make a living?

Answer: Anil made a living by writing for magazines which seemed queer for Hari, because the money was earned by fits and starts and not on a regular basis.

Long Questions and Answers

Question 1:  Money can’t make a man as much as education can. Elucidate the statement.

Answer: The statement stands true in almost all the aspects of life. Money may but us all the luxuries and fulfil our needs but it cannot buy us knowledge, civilised thinking, skill and abilities to achieve our dreams. Education lays the platform for all to act upon our goals according to our abilities. Education enables us to keep up with the fast moving world. It opens the door to opportunities we do not know even exist. Money, on the other hand, can assist us to a certain level. It can buy us a plan but education gives us the knowledge of its execution. Just as in the story ‘A Thief’s Story’.

Hari Singh befriends the struggling author ‘Anil’, in the plans of making a steal. Anil, the author is a good fellow and wants to teach Hari Singh how to read and write. Gradually, he develops trust in Hari Singh. But Hari Singh has been waiting for the right moment to steal the valuables of Anil. After stealing money from Anil, Hari Singh tries to go away forever. But some inner voice stops him from doing so. He returned to Anil because he wants to live a life of respect. This shows that Hari Singh prioritised the chance of being literate over a few hundred rupees; we must understand that education can help us to achieve whatever we desire.

Question 2:  Hari Singh didn’t board the express and returned to Anil.  Why did he return? On what values does this incidence put light on?

Answer: Hari Singh was a thief and he had stolen Anil’s money. After the theft, he realised that he had robbed not only Anil but also himself of the chance of being literate and having a bright future. His conscience pricked him to think what all he could have got had he not done this. It was difficult for him to rob Anil but it was tougher for him not to back. He realised that he could not make tea, buy daily supplies and learn how to read and write then. His inner self did not agree to bypass  this and forced him to return.

Hari’s return to Anil shows that despite indulging in criminal acts, he still had a practical and positive attitude towards life. It is the awakening of Hari’s conscience and Anil’s love and care that reformed (changed) Hari’s character. It teaches us that love alone can change a person. Anil’s understanding  nature and care changed Hari’s thinking to mend his ways for good.

The whole incident clearly shows that it might be difficult to choose a path of honour and respect but the inner satisfaction and peace are the most valuable assets, we need in our life. When we realise the value of love, care and affection than the easy way of stealing money, we would prefer to choose the path of hard  work and dedication. Here, in the story, we see that Hari Singh preferred the love and affection of Anil to the money he stole from him. As he realised that trust and care are more powerful than any other thing in life.