My friend Chubby was one of the two siblings born to a senior army officer and an extremely rich mother. Her house was filled with antiques, her folks had picked up from their various world tours abroad. Her room which she shared with her sister Rekha was cramped with an array of stuff adolescents would die to have! Cupboards spilling with good clothes-branded and expensive which smelt of style, tables spilling with scrapbooks of kinds unimaginable, photo albums, CDs, stickers, colours and watches, dressing table jam-packed with cosmetics and hairbrushes. What held my interest were the books and comics though. Chubby was the ultimate collector of things rare and unique. In that sense I admired her.
Afternoons we would spend lazily lying down on the double bed reading books and making our scrapbooks. Sometimes make up and dresses would enthral us. At times we’d face the ceiling as we lay together and sing our hearts together.
Chubby and I got along like house on fire. We were only 14.
One Sunday, we caught the local bus with another friend of ours, Namrata to Fancy Bazar (the heart of Guwahati) and got down on the banks of the Brahmaputra. And then we walked all the way to our favourite shop by the name ‘Modhut’, an Archie’s gallery which used to be the ultimate stop for any teenager back then. When we walked into that tiny cramped shop it was always like we were walking into a different world. Red heart-shaped balloons, cards, trinklets, badges, hair-bands, wrist-bands, bangles, earrings and pouches! Like always we were lost.
We three went our separate ways. While I was picking up a new scrapbook, Namrata showed me what caught her fancy – a clay mould which was carved as humpty-dumpty. We were just mentally working out what we would buy when there was a scuffle and I saw Chubby being ushered to the counter of the shop to where the manager sat. In no time, we found ourselves standing facing each other totally perplexed why we had been brought to the owner of the shop. Suddenly, I wasn’t comfortable.
“What are you three carrying in your bags?”, the shop owner asked in a tone which wasn’t polite. I heard Namrata saying, “Just books” and I added, “We are children of respectable people”, hoping this would appease his suspicion. Did we look like shop-lifters? My cheeks were burning from some strange emotion I would identify later. Chubby was the only one who remained quiet. I felt protective of her thinking she was the most affected by this embarrassing situation. To make matters worse, we were frisked by two women and our bags were inspected. Nothing was found in my bag and I could see Namrata’s bag also yield nothing. Much to our surprise when it was Chubby’s turn, she resisted. It was then, to our utter horror, we saw earrings, batches, cards, stickers, bandana and all sort of trinklets come out of our dear friend’s bag! Obviously, she had picked them up from the racks and not intended to pay for them! How had she managed with so many people watching over?
We were literally thrown out of the shop and told never to step in again! Oh what a humiliation! Drenched in shame and pity we didn’t speak to each other all the way home.
It was not as if I never knew about this. There were signs all through the 2 years I knew Chubby. My blue hand-knit sweater, my silver finger ring and my stamp collection all went missing without any explanation and mother thought it was the maid!
Now when I think about it, I realise how Chubby my friend had the most beautiful and the rarest of things cramped in her room and her life. She must have been a kleptomaniac! Kleptomanias is a disorder of stealing things though the person is fully capable of paying for it. Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder characterised by a recurrent failure to resist stealing. Some call it ‘shoplifting’. The person suffering from it gets a high from carrying this off!
Years have gone by and I don’t know where she is. I just know that life has changed for us and we have a bigger circle of influence as an adult, in our personal as well as professional lives. I just hope that the disorder doesn’t continue to embarrass her and her near and dear ones till today.
The writer works in a British Multi National Company in Bangalore