As a teenager, Robin Singh was a big fan of Robin Hood probably because like his namesake, he too had suffered at the hands of authority. The boarding school in south India where he was studying, was ruled with an iron hand by Christian missionaries who firmly believed in not sparing the rod. This was usually a flexible, yellowish green bamboo stick with a smooth bark, about four feet in length. It made an audible swish when swung, and stung like mad on contacting flesh. Reading about Robin Hood taking the fight to such daunting figures of authority made Robin feel there was justice in the world.
South India, where Robin lived, has a tropical climate which is hot and humid most of the year, apart from the rainy season when it pours. There is no real winter as such, with December being a bit less hot than May. So one of the preferred locations for school excursions has always been the cool hill stations, where kids can marvel at their breath steaming in the cold air. It was also the only place where teenagers like Robin could strut around in cool ‘winter wear’ without drowning in sweat.
It was in search of such winter wear that Robin and a group of his friends got off their school excursion bus at a hill station in south India. To their delight, they stumbled upon the town’s only mall and found a retailer there who had just received a fresh stock of factory rejects of a batch of export quality tops. The shirts came in three colours (blue, green and white) and were made of thick yet soft cloth. They also had two designer pockets and epaulettes on the shoulder. The retailer was giving the shirts away for a throwaway price of ₹100 ($1.50) each. It was still a lot of money as Robin’s weekly pocket money was just ₹50. But he had hoarded up a bit and shelled out ₹200 for two of the shirts, the green, and the blue.
Ongoing back to the bus, the rest of the group complimented Robin on his choice. He decided to go back to pick up the white shirt to complete his collection. Soon a large group of bargain hunters including Robin left the bus on a second expedition to the shirt store.
Just as they were leaving, Robin noticed Gopal sitting silently with a fixed smile on his face as the rest of the students discussed their purchases. Gopal was from a poor family, and on a scholarship. He didn’t have any pocket money, and could not afford the shirt.
As we walked towards the store, Robin mulled over the unfairness of life. Here was a wealthy shop owner getting a lot of business from them, and yet poor Gopal could not afford a shirt. If Robin Hood had been alive, he would have nicked a shirt from the merchant and given it to Gopal.
That’s when Robin had a brainwave. What Robin Hood would do, Robin Singh could do. It would be easy to escape with his loot in the pandemonium of his large group of friends gatecrashing the store. In any case, it wasn’t really stealing, but more like playing a prank just for the thrill of it. Robin could already feel the surge of adrenaline as his heart began to race.
Robin kept quiet about his plan as he entered the store. He picked up the white shirt he wanted, looked around to see if the shop staff was watching, and quickly popped a second blue shirt down his shirt front. He then queued up behind a few of his friends at the billing counter. When his turn came up, he calmly paid up for the single shirt and strolled out as casually as he could.
Just as he reached the store exit, Robin felt someone grasp his arm firmly. He turned around to find a mountain of a man, with a thick bushy mustache, and in security guard’s uniform. The man pointed at the bump on Robin’s tummy questioningly, then reached into his shirt front, and pulled out the stolen blue shirt as Robin’s friends stared aghast. Without a word, the guard marched Robin back into the store, and towards the manager’s room.
As they made the long walk across the store with the guard proudly waving the evidence, Robin’s lower lip began to tremble as he struggled to avoid crying. He could picture the school principal, asking him to bend over a chair, and the cane swishing and landing loudly on his backside, repeatedly.
He could also see an even worse scenario with his parents being summoned by the cops and informed that their son was a thief. No one would even believe that he was getting it for Gopal. Robin began praying like never before, promising God he would never ever steal if only he saved him this one time.
The manager looked up as they entered his office, and listened as the security guard presented the facts. He turned to Robin and quietly asked for the payment receipt. Robin couldn’t have spoken even if he wanted to as he was biting hard on his lower lip which was trembling like it was alive. He just pulled out the receipt from his pocket, and wordlessly gave it to the manager.
The manager looked at the bill, turned to the security guard, and said, “This is a bill for two shirts.”
The guard was taken aback and began to stutter.
Somehow Robin’s paralysed brain began working. He realised that he had been carrying in his pocket the receipt for his original purchase of two shirts, as well as the second receipt for the single shirt. And by a pure stroke of luck, he had given the wrong receipt (the one for two shirts) to the manager.
The manager turned back to Robin, and asked, “Why did you hide the shirt you bought under your shirt?”
Robin said the first thing that came to his mind, “I didn’t want to use a plastic shopping bag. It’s bad for the environment.”
The manager gave Robin an exasperated look, handed back the stolen shirt, and said, “Never ever hide stuff inside your shirt while you are inside any shop. Clear?”
He waved dismissively at Robin, and turned back to his PC.
As the security guard escorted Robin out of the mall, Robin felt his knees beginning to tremble uncontrollably, and he sat down on the stairs. Gopal who was waiting outside, eagerly grabbed his shirt, gave him a big hug, and said, “You are some Robin Hood, aren’t you?”
Robin looked up at Gopal, and replied shakily, “The only thing Robin Hood and I have in common is a quiver.”
Gopal looked puzzled, “Duh?”
Robin smiled faintly, “He has a quiver full of arrows. I have a lip that quivers. Can we go now?”
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