By Nury Vittachi IANS | 12 months ago

BREATHLESS, MY FRIEND shared her shock news on the phone. "You're never going to believe this, but someone stole MY HOUSE." I thought for a few seconds before deciding she was right


Consider this. Your humble narrator wrote a newspaper item about a Norwegian woman who shoplifted a 42-inch TV by slipping it up her skirt and walking out of the shop with it clamped between her thighs. The feat was so impressive the shop should let her keep it, I wrote.

A reader one-upped me with a report of a church which was stolen in central Russia. Imagine the conversation the thief had with the local receiver of stolen property. FENCE: "What you got for me today, Vlad?" VLAD: "A purse, two credit cards and a small orthodox cathedral."

The ante was upped further by a reader from China who told me about the theft of the Fengxian Bridge, a stone structure in Shanghai. Police eventually found people selling big old rocks at some sort of nearby Big Old Rock Store, and confiscated the bridge. Not sure where they kept it. "We have recovered a large item, sergeant. Clear your desk drawers."

Any higher bids? Yes. A journalist offered the tale of Somali pirates hijacking a 300,000-tonne ship, bigger than a church or a bridge. It made me wonder what the people who pilot ships are thinking: "Hmm, let's take this valuable ship with its priceless cargo along the scenic Somali coast; what could possibly go wrong?"

An off-beat bid for top spot came from a reader who shared the tale of a man stealing a deity. "God is bigger than a house or a ship," he said. A 162-year-old stone deity was stolen from the Wuhu Temple in Taipei, Taiwan. Temple managers spurned the ransom note, preferring to pay a stone mason to make a new god. Now there's a HUGE east-west difference right there. If something old, like Stonehenge, was stolen, Westerners would be deeply upset. But my parents would say: "That old thing? Better they make a new one and this time they can build in a shopping mall."

Several readers sent in tales about the theft of beaches, the most prominent being a vanished white-sand beach in Jamaica, later found scattered on shorefronts nearby. How did the detectives trace ownership? "Look closely, Watson, and you can see a possible bit of thumbprint on this grain of sand. All we have to do is find 490 matching grains."

Still, none of the cases matched the "stolen mountain" I once wrote about in India. The peak, called Humta Pahad, used to dominate Humta village in Jharkhand, eastern India, before people chipped much of it away to sell as bricks to a property developer.

My scatter-brained friend called back a few minutes later to tell me that she had found her house. Despite the wave of thefts of big items, no one had taken it. With that happy ending, it's time to finish this column and head to my home. Assuming it's still there.

(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveler. Send ideas and comments via www.mrjam.org)

(Posted on 13-12-2013)