In ancient Talakad, there was a school to train the local police force. Students came from many kingdoms, far and near.
“It is important to understand the mind of a thief. Once you understand how a thief thinks, it is easy to catch him,” Guru Dandapani would say. “You must become a thief to catch a thief,” he would add. One of his students, Kushala, took these words seriously. He became an expert in the art of catching thieves by becoming a thief, mentally. The Guru was pleased with him.
“Is there anything more I have to master, Gurudev?” asked Kushala.
“You still have something more to learn. Only Kala Yama, the Kotwal of Mysuru, can teach you that,” said Guru Dandapani.
Kushala decided to leave for Mysuru the very next day. “Remember, Kala Yama will not teach you if you simply ask him to teach,” said the guru. “Steal something from his home and hide it somewhere. Then watch how the Master thief-catcher goes about finding the treasure you hide.”
Kushala reached Mysuru in the evening. He went straight to Kala Yama’s house. He was received with honour due to a guest. The host invited him to have dinner with him and stay for the night. He was served food on a large golden plate. Kushala expressed his admiration for the golden plate.
“If I had two of them, I would have gifted one to you,” said his host. “With my meager earnings, I could manage to have only one such plate, which I use for special guests, like you.”
Kala Yama then asked his young guest how far he had progressed in his studies. “I want to be a great thief catcher like you, Sir,” said Kushala. Kala Yama laughed. “Let me see whether you are a good thief first,” he said as he got up to wash hands.
Kushala was determined to show his host how good he was. He decided to steal the golden plate in which he was served dinner. In the dead of night, when everyone was asleep, Kushala got up and started looking for the golden plate.
He looked for it in the kitchen, then in all the rooms, one by one. Nowhere could he see the plate. Finally, he entered Kala Yama’s bedroom. He found his host snoring away. Hanging above him was the golden plate he was looking for. He could easily reach for the plate, but there was a catch. The plate was filled with water to the brim. If he removed the plate, water would spill on Kala Yama, who would then wake up. He had to remove the plate without waking up the host. Kushala smiled. He liked challenges.
He thought of a plan. In no time the plate was in his hand. Now, he had to hide it in a place where it could not be found by Kala Yama, the Master thief-catcher. Again, Kushala thought of a plan. He hid the plate in a safe place, and went back to his room to sleep.
In the morning, Kushala got up, and had his bath. His host greeted him with a smile and invited him to have breakfast. When the breakfast was served, Kushala turned pale. He was served in the same golden plate! “You said you have only one golden plate …” he blurted. “Yes, only one. But why do you ask?”
Kushala gave some excuse, finished the breakfast in a hurry. As he prepared to leave, his host escorted him to the door. Kushala stopped “Don’t you offer a gift to your guests?” he asked.
“Oh, yes. What would you like to have?” asked Kala Yama. “Don’t ask for my golden plate,” he said as he broke into laughter.
“No. You can keep it yourself. Only tell me, how did you trace it?”
“How did I trace it? You mean it was stolen?”
Kushala simply nodded his head.
“All right. I’ll tell you, if you first tell me how you stole it,” said Kala Yama. “No thief had ever stolen a thing from my home. You are the first one.”
Kushala started his side of the story, “When I found the plate was filled with water to its brim, I knew I could not touch it without spilling it. So, first I had to get rid of the water.”
Kala Yama waited patiently.
“So, I drank up the water,” said Kushala with a triumphant look.
“How?” asked Kala yama.
“I went out of the house and found a bamboo straw. Using the straw, I sucked up all the water,” Kushala said. “The rest was easy. I removed the plate and hid it in a safe place. I mean what I then thought was a safe place,” Kushala said. “Now tell me how did you find out the hiding place,” asked Kushala.
Kala Yama smiled. “I woke up early in the morning and was quite shocked to see only ropes dangling above. The plate gone,” he said. “I immediately knew it was your work. But where was the proof? I had to find the stolen plate.”
“How?” asked Kuhala eagerly.
“I came to your room where you were sleeping peacefully. I noticed your feet were somewhat wet. I sat next to you and examined you closely. I could see you were wet right up to your waist. I knew in a flash where you had hidden the plate. I went straight to the lake close to our home and started wading into the water. I kept wading in the water till it came to my waist. I walked a little further, as I’m slightly shorter than you. Then I dipped into the water. And there it was — the golden plate. I brought it back home.”
“Thank you,” said Kushala, “I’ve learnt from you, how to ‘read’ a thief.”
“So have I, from you,” said Kala Yama. “Now tell me what is your plan? To become a Mahachor — a great thief?” asked Kala Yama.
“No. I want to be a great thief catcher, like you,” said Kushala, as he took leave of his host.