Cheats, con men & clever crooks

Cheats, con men & clever crooks

KK Paul

About 50-60 years ago, there used to be a lot of emphasis on teaching English grammar in schools. In fact, in the exams, there used to be an English paper B mostly covering grammar, translation, etc. While teaching grammar, our English teacher also taught us the three degrees of comparison. The chart consisting of good, better and best, etc., had to be memorised by heart. Sometimes, those who did not answer the teacher correctly were, out of sheer exasperation, shouted at, as idiots. It was only after much debate and painstaking research that it was found that idiocy also had three degrees of comparison. ‘Morons’ were the best of the lot, followed by ‘imbeciles’. The ‘idiots’ were placed at the bottom of the ladder. Though the dictionary would perhaps give the same meaning to all three categories, in their IQ levels, there is a marked differentiation.

Similar is the case with crooks, cheats and those of their ilk. At the police academy, one learnt the legal aspects of various crimes and the modus operandi adopted by the criminals. Somehow, cases of cheating always aroused a lot of interest. It was understood that the ingenuity of a clever mind had virtually no limits, as also the abundance of gullible people in this world. It was just a matter of opportunity and timing for the evil to strike, but the answer to the question as to who was the biggest cheat ever would remain elusive.

There is a famous story of Count Victor Lustig, who, during the financial constraints faced by France after World War I, sensed an opportunity and sold the Eiffel Tower. Rightly gauging the sense of embarrassment of the buyer that he would not reveal to the public his expensive purchase and the fact that he had been cheated, Lustig found yet another millionaire and sold the tower a second time.

Almost a hundred years later, we had our own Lustig. It was in January 2013 that this case of cheating and forgery was reported from Geeta Colony area of Delhi. During the 2010 Commonwealth Games, in order to facilitate the flow of cyclists and pedestrians away from the main bridges, some pontoon bridges over the Yamuna had been raised. In our system, it is not unusual to observe government stores and properties lying around and deteriorating after their utilisation. Two years later, a clever con man sensed an opportunity and forged papers in the shape of an NOC from the UP irrigation department for the auction of the pontoons as scrap, which had significantly deteriorated by then. It is understood that the officers concerned on the strength of the NOC released the pontoons as scrap which weighed a few tonnes.

Transportation of such heavy material was not easy and that is where the alertness of the beat constables of the area came in handy to unearth what could have been a case of stigmatic embarrassment. One doesn’t know whether those who purchased the pontoon bridge as scrap were inspired by the sale of the Eiffel Tower, but one thing is definite that the ingenuity of the human mind is beyond limits.

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