By Bakul Gala
Partner, Ketchum Sampark Pvt Ltd
My younger son, who is barely nine, sent the entire family and neighbourhood into a tizzy a fortnight ago. My wife got a whiff of it from ‘Deep Throat’ -- none other than my older son, who is 15. The intel worked and she caught the young one red-handed, stealing money.
The culprit went from complete denial to a blamegame to accepting the crime finally. And then came the reason, which in itself is quite interesting. The amount in question was a princely Rs 80 that had been flicked from my wife’s purse, carelessly thrown about the house after shopping.
Within minutes, my chartered accountant wife had metamorphosed into a fiery lawyer – “Why did you steal? What prompted you to do such a thing? Is there anything that we do not provide you that you think of stealing? What did you do with the money? No wonder you are not concentrating on your studies…”
It transpired that my lad had developed a strong liking for vada pav. So he would just pick up money lying around the house and treat himself to vada pav. While he was at it one day, his friends asked for a bite. Thus the stakes grew higher and higher and soon there were vada pav parties that could put kitty parties to shame. There were treats-byturn without the knowledge of parents, and my boy had to eye the lowest denomination of currency notes that could buy happiness for a group of hungry friends. The spoiler was my older son noticing this, and dutifully informing my wife.
Narrating this incident to colleagues, I got a brainwave. Across two floors of the office, I asked people whether they had ever stolen anything in their lives. Some sheepishly admitted to stealing chocolates, money, music albums, pens, handkerchiefs, caps, make-up and what not… One even confessed to stealing a whole compass box. There were some like me, who thought it legitimate to steal office stationery. (No matter what anyone says, I believe that a letter should be written on the company letterhead and sealed in a companybranded envelope. The virtue of branded stationery in all walks of life!)
We just have to look around to find people flicking curios from the office. Staplers, pins, pens, pencils, highlighters, erasers, scissors, pen drives, printing paper, ink, stationery -- these are items that have unusually short replenishment cycles. I have often wondered where my favourite pen had disappeared. Or where had the stapler gone? Was there a black hole, right under my table, eating up binders, tape-dispensers and even paper clips? New York’s famous lawyer directory firm LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell’s conducted a survey that had startling findings: employees don’t mind taking plants, paintings and office furniture to their homes! Now, I am tempted to pack my wife off to the office and make her ask everybody the same questions: “Why did you steal? Is there anything that the company does not provide you that you thought of stealing? What did you do with the bounty? No wonder you are not concentrating on your work…”
Perhaps, the answers are in our minds and hearts. All of us - including my nine-year old – believe that what is lying around is ours, no questions asked. Most of us believe that we have a right to things that belong to our family, relatives, colleagues or organization. There is also a notion that we can’t be paying for everything that we lay our hands on. In pursuit of a free lunch, all of us turn to a virtue called stealing.