The long winter evenings are a blessing in disguise as they offer limitless prospects for nostalgic memories and introspection. It was one such evening when sitting in my study with a freezing howler blowing outside the window that my eye fell on a digital video disk titled ‘To Catch a Thief’. I reached out for the Alfred Hitchcock classic and sat looking at the cover as the scene around me dissolved into a balmy spring evening of the early fifties.

Our home in Lahore was a colonial style place with a spacious compound, connected to the main road by a long drive. The city was abuzz with news of a blockbuster movie, starring Dilip Kumar and Nadira that was running at a local cinema on Abbot Road and drawing huge crowds. My aunts had seen the film and had given ecstatic reviews to my mother, who decided that the family must spend an evening at the subject movie house.

Although Nadira’s goggle eyed performance and Dilip’s suave dialogues made little impression on me at that age, it was the promise of a sumptuous meal in the Casino (with a reminder that the restaurant’s roof top was out of bounds on account of its daily floor show) that was enough to keep me and my siblings happily occupied during the three cramped hours at the theater.

We reached home rather late and began making preparations to go to bed, when my mother noticed that one of the two skylights in the high ceilinged room was open. At this point my father went down on his knees to look under the bed and uttered a shout, for there staring out at him from the darkness was the face of a man. The intruder was immediately dragged out and handed over to the police. It turned out that the unfortunate wretch had lowered himself through the skylight and had just begun to look around when we arrived. Since going back through the way he had entered would have taken time, the ‘under the bed’ was the quickest hiding place that had appealed to him.

The second attempt to burgle our premises was made many years later. Now let me clarify that our house had been built years before independence on what had once been a graveyard. It was often there, that digging produced human skulls and bones hundreds of years old. The house and its compound was also the scene of strange happenings, sounds and apparitions, none of which had ever been harmful to us. On the contrary, we had begun to believe that whatever was coexisting on the premises had become protective towards us.

In was on a cold winter morning that one of our domestics found a man lying unconscious below the windows of an outhouse that was being used for storage. The partially cut wire gauze and the tools of the man’s trade was enough to convince us that he was a burglar. On revival, the individual began blabbering something about being forgiven and having made a mistake. He soon began shivering and then developed a high temperature. The police soon arrived and after having seen the scene of the crime carted the would-be thief to the lockup, where he unfolded an amazing confession.

He had attempted to break into the outhouse with the intent of theft. As he began to cut the protective wire gauze covering the window, he felt a freezing chill and then a voice telling him that he was intruding into protected premises and must be punished. The last thing the terrified man remembered was being bodily lifted by an unseen entity.

We lived in that house for many years after this incident and then moved away after selling the property on account of commercialization and loss of privacy. Both encounters however, provided enough grist for me to do a bit of interesting story telling to my grandchildren on how to ‘Catch a Thief’.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.