Friday, August 06, 2010

On biscuit bandits

A recent news item in The Hindu carried a report on an initiative taken by the Railway Police to warn passengers against ‘biscuit bandits’ and to refrain from accepting food and drink from strangers.

Times have changed, we muse. Confidence tricksters come up with new tricks every day. We have to be constantly vigilant. The days where we could trust and hobnob freely with fellow passengers are gone, we tell ourselves.

But, if you thought that ‘biscuit banditry’ was a fairly recent phenomenon , you would be mistaken.

An account presented, to the Secretary of State for India in Council on Railways in India for the year 1859, by the Secretary, Railway Department, India Office, (equivalent of our modern-day Railway Budget), has this short report, in page 9:

In the report of Captain Portman, Superintendent of Police for the Bombay, Police cases. Baroda, and Central India Railway, illustrations are given of the various offences committed on railways in India. Two cases of dacoity are mentioned, consistingof night attacks upon stations for the sake of plunder. There is a case of robbery by a female, who administered to a fellow passenger a powerful narcotic, which she described as a " pussad," or sacred sweet, and was taken as such by her victim. She was found asleep in the carriage, deprived of her ornaments and money. Thefts and embezzlement under false declaration of goods are sometimes practised. Bags of gunpowder are despatched as groceries, and opium is smuggled in oil jars, the drug being packed between narrow receptacles for oil one passing through the middle of the jar and another just inside the covering. Opium is also sent in bags, described as containing gum, glue, &c.

So, the trick is, at least, 150 years old. The only difference is that in 1859, prasadams were used to administer drugs, while the modern-day robbers use biscuits. But, it is amazing that we still need to be warned against this modus operandi, as though this is a newly-invented trick.


Ranjit.V.S said...

That's information. A similar anecdote, it seems we are mistaken to assume that not doing the mandated daily "Sandhi" by the ones who have been initiated into Brahmopadesam is a recent phenomena. My maternal grandfather way back in the 1910's was a regular, on the banks of the Cauvery at Mayavaram, for his daily Sandhi was seen and invited by the very young Sage of Kanchi passing that way and presented with a one rupee Coin (which he preserved with much devotion and was terribly upset when it was lost just before his death) to the young boy saying that he was happy to note a boy performing his daily ablutions "even in these days".

So it seems that what we think is of recent origin is often wrong!

Sathish Mayil said...

I am really surprised at how you pick up news and article these old. Is that you read so much and remember it or you get a spark and try to do some research on similar events happened years before.

Raj said...

Sathish, I go to Google Books and read books published in the period 1750-1850 and mainly pertaining to India. The British were meticulous with their notings and records. To be able to access these from the comfort of my home, without the need to rummage through the archives of a dusty library ( not that there are many in Chennai), I find quite fascinating.