“There Runs the Thief!”




A village was plagued by thievery. Things would disappear from houses in the night, and though careful guard was kept and the alarm was raised whenever something went missing, the thief always managed to escape detection.

At last the village headman called in all those who’d been burgled and interviewed each in confidence. He discovered that in each case, as soon as the alarm was raised, a certain fellow was always nearby who joined very eagerly in the hunt for the thief.

Suspicious of this coincidence, the headman advised the night watchman to keep this person under special surveillance. One night the watchman spied the suspect sneaking out of his house at about 2:00 AM with a tool in his hand. Following him surreptitiously, the watchman saw this man use the tool to pry open the bamboo wall of a neighbor’s house and then enter it. After some moments there was shouting from in the house: “Thief! Thief!” The suspect hurried out through the broken wall carrying booty and entered the jungle.

Meanwhile a crowd of outraged villagers gathered in front of the house to listen to the burgled householder’s tale of woe. The watchman observed how the suspect stealthily came out of the jungle and entered the crowd to join in the general hue and cry for the capture and punishment of the thief. The crowd began milling about in an effort to find the culprit.

Just then the watchman stepped forward and seized the man he’d been spying upon. “This is the thief!” he announced loudly.

Many in the crowd protested the arrest. “You fool!” they shouted at the watchman, “He’s no thief! He’s been with us the whole time!” But the village headman appeared on the scene and quieted them.

Receiving the watchman’s report, the headman led the crowd to the jungle via the trail shown by the observant watchman. The suspect became visibly nervous as they entered the woods.

“Why do you bring us all into this dangerous jungle at night?” he demanded of the headman. “No burglar is hiding here. This is highly irresponsible. What if some citizen is bitten by a snake?”

Many of the villagers now saw the suspect’s nervous chatter as an indication of his guilt. But some still were swayed by his words and began to grumble: “Yes, while we thrash about out here the real thief is probably plundering our houses at this very moment.”

But soon the watchman found the ornament box he’d seen the suspect carry from the burgled house. He held it up in triumph for all to see. Just as everyone’s attention was fixed on the stolen property, the suspect broke free and ran back into the village on his way to the main road out of town. The furious crown surged after him.

“Stop him! There runs the thief!” they cried out to the late arrivals at the scene of the crime and pointed to the suspect as he ran.

But the cunning suspect also pointed to some innocent passersby ahead of himself and shouted, “Yes! Catch the thief! There he goes!” Confusing the entire village in this way, the burglar managed to escape in the night.


Tulsidas, the famous Hindi poet, has sung: corko chode sadhko bandhe pathikko lagaoe phansi– dhanya kalijug teri tamasa duhkh lage aor hasi “The real thief is set free, and the sadhu is handcuffed, while the passerby is hanged–all glories to Kali Yuga! Such is your great joke that it generates both pity and laughter at the same time.”

In this age of confusion, rascals disguise themselves as saints and plunder the foolish populace, while at the same time accusing the real sadhus of being cheaters. These rascals use the wealth turned over to them by fools for their personal sense gratification, but they cleverly convince others that their sense gratification is divine and for everyone’s benefit. They ridicule the devotees use of money in the service of Krsna (especially for the building of temples and the worship of the Deity) as being a criminal waste.

Such rascal leaders of religions and welfare organizations are like the thief who escapes in the night by accusing the innocent.


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