“Heyyy…where’s my wallet???!!!” I exclaimed in a high decibel
voice as I suddenly felt my left front pocket to be much lighter than usual. I
realized that my wallet was missing. We had just entered the noisy and crowded
Metro train at the Rome Termini station. It was a hot and humid Friday evening
in the month of July, and the train was packed with peak hour commuting traffic.
In a wild movement filled with panic I spun around slapping my hands on my
pockets. But there was no wallet to be found. The wallet had cash, credit cards,
keys and ID. Oh Gawd. This couldn’t be happening to me.
In my delirious state of mind, I did notice two people step off
the train as the automatic doors closed. Two innocent looking young people who
could not board the train due to the traffic. Or so it seemed. But most probably
they were two pickpockets working in tandem, who had just targeted a weird
looking tourist. Should I try to stop the train? Should I inform the police?
I had experienced a different kind of pick pocketing earlier
that week, when I received a very rude email from the Rome hotel reservation
while we were still in Florence. It said that our hotel reservation was
cancelled due to some credit card issues, and that I needed to rebook the rooms
at the current rates, which were 30% higher than the rate that I had originally
purchased them for. And if I did not rebook the rooms, they would still keep
the non-refundable deposit anyway. I had no option but to rebook the rooms at
the same hotel as it was very late to find another comparable hotel. Before I
could let myself analyze the situation any further – I said to myself in a
funny voice: Hello! They already have our non-refundable deposit!
While giving my new credit card details on the phone, I had
shared a piece of my mind with the manager at the desk. Without mincing any
words I told her that I thought this whole thing was nothing but daylight
robbery. And that I was so upset that I was going to make sure this was known in
all possible internet chat forums and travel websites. This was even worse than
pick pocketing I had said.
At least the pick pocketeers know they are stealing and they run
away from the scene. They do not stand there brazenly to tell you on your face
that you are a tourist and by the time you bring a case against them, you would
leave the country, and the case would be dismissed.
Well guess what – when we checked into the hotel, there was a 3
page letter of apology and we were informed that the earlier rate was going to
be applied. Hah!
In Greek mythology the Gods have many different roles. Hermes is
not only the Thief, but also the Merchant, the Shepherd and the Athlete to name
a few of his varied roles. Since Hermes stole the cattle belonging to his elder
brother Apollo, myth has it that he is the God of the thieves. However there is
a lot of debate as to whether Hermes was really adept in trickery and that the
stealing part was only a manifestation of his cunningness! In “Hermes the Thief”
Norman Brown argues that Hermes has mental prowess as opposed to physical
strength, he is a cunning trickster, and a “hero” of stealthy appropriation.
Oh well – if stealthy appropriation is heroic then stealing
doesn’t seem to be that bad then, or is it? Can certain special circumstances
justify the act of stealing? Ah, this is so confusing.
In the movie “Mission Impossible” Ethan Hunt (played by Tom
Cruise) is an agent working on a mission. When things go wrong, he has to
"steal" confidential material from the headquarters of the CIA. Remember the
catchy music when he is in the midst of stealing, while suspended from the roof
into a heavily guarded CIA fortress?! Well, that is acceptable one might say due
to the circumstances.
I am reminded of the speech I heard from a glorified ex-thief at
a corporate event. It was given by Nick Leeson, the Rogue Trader who caused the
biggest financial scandal of the 20th century. He caused the collapse of Barings
Bank while trading in Singapore with an un-monitored slush fund that nobody in
the bank knew or cared about. Nick was sentenced to six and half years in a
Singapore jail. Nick’s story triggered a movie “Rogue Trader” written and
directed by James Dearden, starring Ewan McGregor and Anna Friel. It was
released one month prior to Nick's release from prison.
Nick has not only survived this episode in his life, he has
thrived based on this experience. People need his advice more than ever. As the
recent Financial Crisis showed, and as Enron and WorldCom have shown, the
business world is full of loopholes that are the target of rogue traders. And an
ex-rogue trader could be the best advisor to try and help close these loopholes.
Nick now lives happily in Ireland with a second wife and three
children. His experience was so valuable that he was appointed CEO of a company.
He stepped down after 5 years and now he is a speaker at conferences advising
organizations on governance, risk-management and compliance!
Moral of the story – Rogues can redeem themselves, and can make
a ton of money while doing so.
What the pick pocketeers can physically steal is perhaps just a
rounding error compared to what white collar criminals steal through rogue
trading in financial markets. Compared to these white collar crimes, pick
pocketing is perhaps just the “icing on the take”!
“Look...that is your wallet!” said someone next to me. The train
had just stopped at a station and many people had disembarked. With less people
around I now looked clearly at the floor of the train, and sure as ever, my
wallet was lying there on the side. It was lying half open with one of the
credit cards loosely falling out of it.
I swooped down like an angry bird and recovered my prized wallet
from the floor, dusting it, caressing it, comforting it. All was intact – as I
looked inside the wallet to my utmost relief. Apparently the pick pocketeer had
panicked and thrown the wallet on the floor before stepping off the train,
especially when I had clapped my pockets wildly, and started creating a hue and