The Confessions of Shoplifters

What prompts young, well-to-do people to steal what they can afford to buy?

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A few years ago, on a quiet November afternoon, three boys strolled into a supermarket. They walked around pretending to look for something specific and split into three different aisles; each comprising of expensive chocolates, perfumes and imported snacks. With a quick sweep around the place with their eyes, the boys grab the first object in their reach and slipped them into their shirts and walked out of the supermarket as casually as they walked in. “By the time we met at our usual spot a few meters away from the supermarket in Bandra, we had each got a packet of M ‘n’ Ms, an Antonio Banderas body mist for men and a large bag of Cajun spiced potato chips that looked and tasted expensive which roughly amounted to an odd two thousand rupees,” laughs Jason D’souza, as he talks about the first time he shoplifted from a high-end supermarket. Jason, has since then, shoplifted eight times. He was 14 when he shoplifted for the first time and continued doing it as and when he felt he wanted a break from his monotonous life.

At a time when CCTV cameras didn’t spy your every move in malls, restaurants, pubs and supermarkets, a bunch of young ‘uns , purely with the intention of living the “thug life” as they would like to call it roamed the streets of Bombay scouting for places from where they could get a taste of the good life. Meera Dwivedi, then a 16-year-old fresh out of school, was absolutely gung-ho about the idea of wearing trendy clothes from high-end brands. Hailing from a fairly well-off family, she was no stranger to adorning herself in Forever New, Zara, Levis and the likes. She described her adventures as the need to ‘not repeat the clothes I wore to college’ and constantly evolve her style, with a twist of course! “I had a friend, Chandni, who would accompany me to these shoplifting excursions. We would visit malls in Bombay Central, Malad and Lower Parel and just walk in and out of stores. Once we decided that we liked clothes in a particular place, we’d shortlist the best and head to the changing rooms,” she says with a twisted smile. Dwivedi further goes on to divulge that Chandni twisted the burglar tags attached to clothes and yanked them out of the piece of clothing without damaging the fabric. They would then wear them underneath the clothes they were already wearing and walk out the store like nothing happened. Dwivedi and Chandni, she grins, shoplifted crop tops, pants, summer dresses, fancy shirts over a span of 7 months that amounted to a sum total of close to 40, 000 Rupees without getting caught even once.

In another incident at a pub in Juhu, Devin Patkar and his group of three friends walked into the packed place on a Friday evening, only to find themselves sitting without a drink for almost 20 minutes after they placed themselves at the bar. One of his friends, who he didn’t wish to name, was annoyed post his 20 minutes ordeal and still sitting empty-handed. The annoyed lad then crept behind the bar as the bartender turned around for a split second to fetch a bucket of ice and quickly grabbed the first bottle of whiskey he could lay his hands on. The friends then made a dash for the door while the boy who grabbed the bottle stuffed it in the waistband of his pants and drank the entire bottle of Jack Daniels in a matter of 15 minutes. Devin goes on to say that he doesn’t remember what happened once the alcohol hit him that night, but he woke up sleeping comfortably in his bed the next morning.

“The only risk of shoplifting is the risk of getting caught and reprimanded,” Jason explains. While the thrill of successfully getting away with it is something that is fun for a while, guilt takes over and eventually the idea of freebies wear off, he sighs. Two years and numerous moments of anxiety later, he decided to give up his ‘second job’ for good. However, Dwivedi had a different story to spin over her risky business. Although she laughs about it now, she goes on to talk about the day her mother discovered her stash of new clothes which she didn’t remember buying for Dwivedi. A few slaps and long hours of condemning later, she was let off with the condition that she must donate what she stole and ask her friend to do the same. “Now when I think about it, I thank my stars that we weren’t caught in the act by someone who worked in those stores. My mom even reasoned with me saying that I was disrupting the staff at these stores from earning their livelihood which I felt really bad about,” she says, a little embarrassed. Post the advent of CCTV cameras, the chances of getting away with shoplifting have reduced to almost nothing but these young adults went on to describe those times as something of an experience that they can call ‘vintage’.

While there is no solution per se for shoplifters to stop what they do, Dwivedi insists that no thrill in life is worth the trouble that ensues when you are caught in the act. “The need to stop what you’re doing must arise from within or else you just live with the guilt of not doing the right thing for the rest of your life,” says Jason.

Jason went on to shoplift from supermarkets and food stores and even a liquor shop once. His treasure was worth almost 10,000 Rupees and the only memory he has of those goods are how fat he got after bingeing on them. “It is a very juvenile thing to do, really. It sounds fun, was fun and was too much of an adventure that goes down my secret memory lane,” he winks. While the three thugs eventually went on to stop their antics, it is best advised that you don’t try these stunts in public places!

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