Given the lives they live, scamsters are never short of anecdotes. Here’s one about Rajendra Sethia, a Marwari businessman who walked free last year, after a 34-year long protracted legal battle. He was accused of defrauding the government-owned Punjab National Bank of several millions of dollars in the ’80s. That the bank continues to be defrauded even today is a different story.
Though he was to be released much earlier, Sethia was rearrested in 1986 for allegedly helping the notorious Charles Sobhraj escape from Tihar jail. Now 72, Sethia has lost nearly everything over four decades — a property in London, three Rolls-Royce, two Mercedes and even a Boeing 707. But his notoriety only earned him respect!
At Tihar, Sethia was the only one among the 8,000-odd inmates to have earned the sobriquet of Saheb, and he got to know why pretty soon. One day, during a break, a fellow convict walked up to him saying: “Sethia saheb, Madan bhaiya [a notorious convicted politician from the heartland of UP] ne bulaya hain.” A nervous Sethia followed, not knowing what was in store. He had heard about an unwritten code followed at jails, wherein rapists are subjected to abuse by other convicts as rape is viewed as a serious violation of the ‘principles of crime.’ Though financial embezzlement is not considered as serious, Sethia feared the worst. But he was surprised when he came across Madan, a stout man smoking a hookah as he lay on a charpai, with a telephone close to his cot, and a frail inmate doubling as a masseur. On seeing Sethia, Madan got up and welcomed him saying, “Aaiye Sethia saheb.” That first pleasantry eventually blossomed into bonhomie between the two. Once, Sethia asked Madan, whose writ ran large behind the prison walls, why he was called Saheb. With a mischievous grin, Madan replied: “We are all here as we got screwed by the government, but you are the only one here who screwed the government. Hence, the respect!”
Recounting the episode for Outlook Business was the founder of a hospitality chain, who once worked for the Taj where Sethia, during a brief stay out on bail, had narrated the episode over a glass of scotch. The anecdote cropped up when we were talking about how 72 economic offenders had managed to fl