India 1976

Lanata hai! Damn, damn, damn. I had prepared so carefully but I had messed up.

I spotted the bearded stranger and a foreign woman as soon as they entered the ticket hall, laden down with backpacks and bags. Agra is a popular place for foreigners, which is why pickpockets and thieves like me congregate at the railway station. Things looked good. They separated and the stranger carried the woman’s backpack towards the platforms. I followed him: it would be best to get him just as he got on a train and had less room to manoeuvre. It looked like his wallet was in his trouser pocket, on the right side. I’d never reach the real prize with such travellers: the belt he would have tied around his waist under his clothes.

He found a platform and looked at his ticket. I looked over his shoulder and entered his carriage before him. As he struggled to climb on board, his pack on his back and the woman’s still in his right hand, I pushed past him roughly so he’d feel contact in lots of places. I got his wallet and climbed down onto the platform. Damn. He’d felt it. I heard a clatter as the woman’s pack was thrown down, and a shouted ‘Stop him’ in English. I ran along the platform dodging through the crowds. ‘Stop him!’; he was running after me. I turned round and saw him, red-faced and with his pack bouncing on his back – but determined. No-one stopped me but the crowds were very tight ahead and up the stairs. A policeman, half-way down the stairs, with his lathi – his wooden stick – in his hand, was looking at the stranger. I dodged behind a pillar, stopped running, dropped the wallet and melted into the crowd. Damn, damn, damn. Missed opportunities. I hadn’t been able to get my fingers into the wallet to pull out any money as I ran: it had a zip. If I’d thought more carefully I’d have teamed up with another thief and tasked him to steal the woman’s backpack, abandoned in the carriage during the chase.