It was an essay on the biography of a thief many veteran of today in their school days have read. The thief narrates how once he was caught red-handed and being meted out merciless physical punishment by the assembled crowd. Right at that time he heard a girl child was insisting that she would see the thief. When her father made his way through the thick crowd with the girl on her shoulder closer to the scene, she saw the man receiving the battering. What the girl then uttered was perhaps more than prophetic: 'where's the thief, that's a man (human being)'. The beating did not bring tears to the thief's eyes but now tears welled up.
If this leaves an indelible impression on the mind of a student for the rest of his life and makes him incorrigibly soft towards a thief, in fact all thieves, the student now a sexagenarian cannot be blamed. The first time he saw a thief at close quarters was in his childhood too. He went to a big market with his father. This wholesale as well as retail market located on the bank of a river was and still is famous for trade in almost everything people need. A child then, he was asked to wait before a shop while his father went to buy something. Right then a thief was caught at a distance and a crowd started beating him. Then someone brought a rope and tied his hands behind him. Another man brought a whole piece of bamboo and started beating him on the thief's legs. When one leg was hit, the thief lifted it but then the other leg was hit. All the while the thief was crying for mercy.
The child witness was yet to read that essay but he too had the same feeling then ---it was a man, how can a man be a thief? His second encounter with a thief, also at close quarters, took place when he was a resident of a Dhaka University dormitory. This time also the man was caught red-handed at the time of stealing shirts and pants left for drying on the grassy lawn. The way he was being mauled by students beggars description. A few of his friends also took part in the frenzy. Just one look at the man in distress as he was lifted and hurled on the concrete floor was enough. Now no more a child, but a young man, the witness could not tolerate the sight. He left the scene.
No, this is no advocacy for tolerating thievery. What actually makes the man in his late 60's to recollect such encounters is the feat of a thief of exceptional ability. Caught by the law enforcement agency, the thief in his late 20's or early 30's narrated how he, the ringleader, and his gang members have been stealing valuables from apartments in the city, not excluding in the posh areas, for several years. It is his exceptional skill to scale high-rise building (up to 10-storey) walls without aid that helped him commit burglary.
A television channel showed a video clip taken perhaps from close-circuit camera how the man was scaling a high-rise building in Gulshan. The gang's method was simple. This wall climber first went up to saw iron grills of toilet/bathroom or kitchen so that he could enter other rooms including bedrooms of an apartment. Others waiting on the ground only helped him remove the valuables he could lay his hands on.
One wonders if a man can perform such a feat, does he need to take thievery as a profession? French tightrope walker Nathan Paulin who completed a 2,198-foot slackline walk 200 feet above ground on the annual Heritage Day of France does his trick to entertain people. The highline was between the Eiffel Tower and the Theatre National de Challiot across the Seine River. If Paulin's is the longest such walk a human has performed, the wall climber's feat may not be one of equal daredevilry. But still it is an amazing feat that could be used for far better purposes. In circus or maybe, regular demonstrations for crowd entertainment could have helped him avoid the disreputable profession.
Indeed, instances of talents gone wasted on illegal and criminal acts are many in this country. Society can recognize such talents for better uses. Perhaps a separate department, if created to spot and nurture such exceptional gifts, would have been able to positively use their talents and skills.