The gift

Updated: Dec 25, 2019, 12:53 IST | | Mumbai

It was an old lock designed by an unknown Renaissance artist and brought here by the Portuguese, when they started to build this church in 1640

Nikita Yawalkar. Picture courtesy: @nikita_yawalkar, Instagram
Nikita Yawalkar. Picture courtesy: @nikita_yawalkar, Instagram

Mahendra Jakhar

The carol singing was at its height inside Mount Mary's Basilica, Bandra, on Christmas eve. The exterior of the church was decked up in colourful lights and hundreds of families were there to celebrate and participate in the midnight mass. Meanwhile, Pinto was trying to open the vault two hundred feet below the church in one of its secret underground rooms. Pinto, 55, had been working on the lock for past six hours. He was filled with sweat and his fingers had become raw and his hands had started to shake. It was an old lock designed by an unknown Renaissance artist and brought here by the Portuguese, when they started to build this church in 1640. The church was attacked and destroyed by Arab invaders in 1740. It was later rebuilt in 1761.

Pinto, the master safe cracker, had heard many tales about the Portuguese hiding gold and precious stones in a secret vault here to save it from the Arab invaders. No one had ever found it. He often visited the church and would go around the whole building looking for some secret underground passageway. It was after seven months that he found an old well covered with a rusted iron mesh. He stepped down below the water, he found a passageway that led him into a tunnel and into a secret room with the vault.

It took him another hour to open the vault which was huge, almost like a small room. He stepped inside and saw a wooden box kept on a wooden table. He picked up the box and opened it to find a metal cup that had turned black over the years. There were no diamonds or precious stones or gold. Pinto, exhausted by hours of hard work and frustrated with his find sat against the wall, and closed his eyes.

Outside in the church compound, kids ran around playing, the families bonded and laughed sharing wine and pastries. Pinto saw a man walking with a heavy raincoat into the compound. The man with the rain coat walked right into the centre amidst hundreds of families. He opened it to show explosives wrapped around him and with a cry he pressed the trigger.


Pinto opened his eyes to see he was sitting inside the vault dreaming. He walked out with the metal cup in the wooden box through a secret passageway that connected to the library and out into the church compound. He saw Archbishop Oswald Cardinal Gracias surrounded by children. He went up to the Archbishop and taking his hand, wished him, "Merry Christmas, Father," and handed him the wooden box, "Here's a gift for you."

As Pinto was walking out, he saw a man in a heavy raincoat walk inside. Pinto was stunned. He walked close to the man. Meanwhile Archbishop Oswald looked at the wooden box. It looked a few hundred years old. He opened it and saw the cup. It was made of metal and was dark. There was a parchment inside. He opened to see a letter written in Latin.

Pinto followed the man with the raincoat into the centre. The man started to open his raincoat. Pinto saw the explosives. He pounced on the man and pushed him away. With another push, both fell into a deep darkness, into the well. As they touched the water, they blew up and water gushed out like a fountain. The children clapped and cheered.


Archbishop Oswald still holding the cup read the first words on the parchment: "Holy Chalise". The Archbishop sank to his knees.

A former crime reporter, Mahendra Jakhar is best known for his crime thrillers, The Swastika Killer and The Butcher of Benaras. His latest novel, Chakra Warriors is set in Mumbai

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