Five persons are in the custody of the Kollam city police for trying to sell an East India Company Petromax (pressurised paraffin lamp) for Rs.25 crore through a broker to a British national camping in Bangalore. The brass Petromax is in the custody of the police.

Three of those in custody are natives of Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu and two from Kollam. The claim is that the Petromax is a rice puller (it attracts rice). Antique metal wares with rice pulling properties are in great demand. Some attribute it to magical powers that can bring good fortune and others say that it is a much sought-after rare alloy for space applications.

This is based on a belief that some antique metal wares with traces of iridium, especially those finished in copper, develop this property in time. Those taken into custody said the National Aeronautical and Space Agency would pay even Rs.500 crore for the Petromax.

The State police had received information that a Kollam-based racket dealing in such rice pullers were active in the State. The State police headquarters intimated this to City Police Commissioner Debesh Kumar Behara who constituted a special team headed by Assistant Commissioner of Police K. Lalji.

The field operation was carried out by a team led by sub inspector G. Gopakumar. The police got information that a gang was camping at a hotel in Kollam city with the Petromax brought from Tirunelveli. The gang was expecting the broker for the British national at the hotel.

In the interim, the police team led by Mr. Gopakumar feigned as another group interested in purchasing the Petromax and started negotiations. It was then that the five said that the deal had been fixed for Rs.25 crore. The police then disclosed their identity and took the Petromax and the five persons into custody.

In custody, the five gave a demonstration of the rice pulling powers of the Petromax. When the police tried it themselves, the Petromax failed as a rice puller. Feigning as a gang member, the police contacted the broker.

He asked for some markings on the Petromax — whether the Petromax had nine stars marked on it with two scorpions embossed on both sides and whether the figure 286 was engraved on it. The nine stars denote the nine planets.

The Petromax had these markings and when told about it, the broker said it was a genuine rice puller and that the British national would be pleased to finalise the deal. But till Sunday evening, the broker did not turn up in Kollam.

There are some study reports which claim that metal wares with traces of iridium develop rice pulling power when hit by lightning. There are also some studies which show that the East India Company had minted coins and made other metal ware with traces of iridium in 1616 with the advice of some Indian sages to keep the inauspicious effects of a solar eclipse that year at bay.

The gang claims that the Petromax is one of those metal wares created by the East India Company. The police said there appeared to be a big market for rice pullers. There are indications that the arrest of the five will be recorded on Monday and together with the Petromax produced before a court here.

Their identities were given as Prince and Salim from Kollam and Jayaraj, Jose Jackson, and Senkuthavan from Tirunelveli.

More In: Kerala | National | Kochi