सारे दिन के काम के बाद
एक कविता पढ़ना
गर्म तेल से निकली जलेबी
चाशनी में पड़े
An easy, peasy 2 hour read with nothing deep to offer. His writing is, as usual, interesting and keeps one absorbed. There is the usual dose of the erotic, and the usual humour and wit.
If you have read other novels by Khushwant Singh, this is pretty much similar. A good, one time read if you enjoy his style.
तुम्हारे आने जाने के
मौसम नहीं होते
तुम्हारे आने जाने से
मौसम होते हैं
There aren't seasons
of your comings and goings.
There are seasons
because of your
comings and goings
It was a dawn like any other. Inspector Subhash Talpade woke up before the sun, completed his ablutions (you can look that up), and then, as the sun came up, performed the Surya Namaskar, the salutary Yoga posture for the Sun God, best performed at dawn.
Then, he went in, checked his son’s school bag against his timetable, ensuring that all the right books and notebooks are in there. Putting the kettle on the stove, he woke up his family. As usual, the child was somnolent, the wife was reluctant, and the sister was glad to get her bed tea. Sonali, Inspector Talpade’s wife, washed up and got Chintu (his son) ready for school, while Geeta (Inspector Talpade’s sister) prepared breakfast for everyone.
The call was disconnected.
When Talpade arrived, the house had a police cordon, but outside that ring, there was an assorted collection of humanity, which included motley staff from neighbouring houses, some journalists, and some completely unrelated bikers who had heard and were now coming in from the main road just to watch the fun. There were no neighbours.
On the first floor, right next to the stairs, was the lift. Next to the lift was the door that Barve and Talpade entered. The room was large, opulent, and impersonal. It had no pictures of any family member. Only one man’s large pictures, at least 4-5 of them, some from at least a decade ago, if the more recent pictures were any indication. The man was handsome and had innocence in his eyes. In the center of the bed was a body covered with a sheet. Barve took off a part of the sheet to show the face and neck region to Talpade. There were ligature marks on the neck, as expected. “Definitely hanging.” Said Talpade. Barve nodded and said, “But hanging while conscious or unconscious, that is the question.”
When he did not come down even by 8:30, his mother came up to his room to call him for breakfast. She knocked, and there was no response. After about 5-6 minutes of knocking, she called the house manager. He has a master key. He opened the room with that key. They came in and found him hanging from the ceiling. There was a hook there, no fan, because DG hated fans. DG used that hook.”
Before you ask, there was no fight last night, or the last week. No one said anything to anyone. No strange phone calls. No one suspected anything. It was a bolt from the blue.”
“Hmm…” Talpade walked slowly around the room. He put on his gloves and examined the dupatta used by DG.
“What happened after they heard?”
When they came to DG’s father, he said, ‘No need. She has killed my son. It is better if she dies in her unconscious state.’ “
“Have you taken initial statements?” Talpade asked.
“Very brief. Just what I told you. I was with the scene team only. They are ready for you now. But, ST, what do you think?”
Talpade took a deep breath, “This one is going to take a lot of time and effort. Some real sleuthing here.”
Barve nodded as they made their way to the family’s large living room.
The 3 of them took statements – first from the family members, and then from the staff members. No one had seen anything amiss, no fights or surprises within the last few days or even months. No business issues for DG. Nothing.
“It is almost noon, madam. You have been unconscious a long time. Would you like some tea?”
“I have to go to pick up Ayan. I must leave latest by 1:15. Do tell the driver to get the car ready, please.”
“Do you want some tea, madam?”
“No. You are here to take a statement?” the voice was kindly, even if it was clear in its assertion.
“Yes. Do you mind?”
“Not at all. What happened to Duggu?”
“He was found hanging, mam. That’s all we know. Why did you faint?”
“I see.” Talpade said, “What are the security measures you have, sir?”
When they reached Sapna’s room, a maid was sitting with lunch and orange juice in a tray. Sapna was staring straight ahead. She had had a glass of water but hadn’t touched food. The maid also refused to leave her alone and go.
“Madam, you have not eaten anything all day. Please eat something.” Talpade said gently.
Sapna did not move, but her voice came, “My parents will be here soon. I ate breakfast. I am not hungry.”
“Didi, do you want to faint again? You have Ayan baba to think of.” The maid spoke up.
“My mother will take care of him, Bela. You don’t worry.” The maid, whose eyes were already red, started sobbing all over again. “Don’t kill yourself, didi. No one will grieve you. But even your own mother will not raise Ayan baba like you do. You have to fight.”
“What time did he hang himself?” Sapna asked.
The only way to reach this floor even after 6:30 am is mainly through the staircase and lift that you just saw.
There is a staircase from the kitchen and backyard that comes to the first floor and ends here, and there is a fire escape on the back side. The Fire escape is kept open at all times, but no one uses it. The staircase from the kitchen to the first floor reaches Duggus’ room. His mother got it made specially. So, how would someone come to his room, and how would they leave? Duggu’s room was locked from the inside, as usual.”
“The only misfortune of my daughter was that she married your philandering, spineless son who was a begar ka naukar for his parents his whole life. Call her murderess one more time if you dare, and you will live to repent it.” Said Sapna’s father, turning on the video recording on his mobile phone.
That seemed to shut DG senior up for the moment.
Without exchanging another word, Ayan’s nani took Ayan into her arms and carried him upstairs to the first floor.
As soon as she saw her parents, it was as if some dam broke inside Sapna. She started wailing and screaming. Ayan’s nana took him to another room, while her mother worked with the maids to console her daughter.
Downstairs, the constable noticed the mother-in-law make a face and sniggered at the universality of human emotions.
Talpade asked for a cup of tea. Tea was made and served to all of them. Sapna and her parents came to the living room and asked the question that Talpade had already answered – when may we perform the final rites.
The room itself was floor to floor carpeted with lush, expensive carpets. Near the bed, there were 2 things that he had missed earlier – one, a pair of bathroom slippers. The kind that are slip-ons but cover one’s feet. The second was a pair of shorts. Night wear or intimate wear.
“What have you done about booking the wife?” the leader came straight to the point.
“Sir, the wife has parents too. So, we need to be very careful. Right now, the evidence is only pointing to suicide. Postmortem report tells us that he was alive and breathing when he got into that noose, so it was death by hanging only. He may have been drugged, I don’t know, but it would take a lot of strength for a woman to haul a man that big to the hook, then hang him. Even with drugging. I will have to build a case, sir. This will take time. If things move too soon, people will be on their guard.”
“OK” and the call was disconnected.
The next morning, Barve and Talpade finished their routine cases follow up and got back to the case at hand. “Why does the MLA want the wife to hang so badly, Barve?” Talpade came to the point.
There was an instant change in the demeanour of Gupta Sr. “No, no, take all the time you want. Do all the tests you have to. We are in no hurry. But please see to it that whoever did this is punished. I want to know. I really want to know the truth.”
“Why do you dislike your daughter in law so much?”
“I should not have. That was my mistake. Now Duggu is gone, and she is all we have. But we treated her so badly throughout. It was not nice.
When Duggu and Sapna were planning to get married, there were some misunderstandings. Because of that, our relations soured with her and her parents. That small issue just kept getting bigger in our heads until we just would not speak to her. Duggu also lost interest in her after 2-3 years of marriage. He would not go out with her. He would not spend too much time alone with her. So, we thought she is living on only because of Ayan, otherwise our son is not happy with her anymore.
So stupid it appears now. So…. Utterly … Stupid. I should have spoken to my son about having a happy married life. Instead, I used to be so happy when he ignored her and sat with us. I didn’t realise that my own son was also unhappy that way. I was so blind.”
On Day three, there was a lot of new information. But no progress.
Also, surprisingly, there were some soil particles on the underside of the slippers. Not visible to the naked eye, but they were in the grooves of the shoe. That was strange, because home slippers would usually be worn only indoors, which was carpeted. At most, DG may have worn them to the tiled areas of the house. In that case, they would have dust particulate matter, not soil particles. This was fresh soil particulate matter.
She heard him out, and then asked a question.
“Oh!” a light bulb went on in his head.
Even though the hour was late, Talpade and team entered the Gupta house once again and asked for the staff members to be present.
Back in the control room, Talpade, Barve, and a bunch of police officers played the tapes. 40 minutes ago, all of them had been wearing high-definition pinhole cameras at various angles. It was now time to go through the long tapes recorded by all 16 cameras while Talpade was talking to DG Sr.
The police team made its way back to the Gupta house. The pinholes were back in action.
Barve was the one to speak. “I am going to tell you a story, Radha. There was once a girl called Siddi. She was 12 when she saw her sister being married to a man much older than her. Siddi’s sister died in childbirth 2 years later. Siddi was 14 at the time. As the next step, her parents tried to marry Siddi off to the same man.
Siddi ran away from home.
She came to Indore, where an NGO took her in. She was trained in vocational skills and also got a good job in a house. But 9 months later, her employer committed suicide by cutting his arms. Siddi had come to the police station 5 months before this incident. She had reported that her employer had made passes at her and then had abused her when she refused. The two incidents were not connected at the time. After her employer’s death, Siddi took care of his widow for almost 6 months and left her service only when the widow was well-settled.
Nothing was heard of Siddi for the next 3 years. She was not in our system as an offender, but as a citizen who had made a report. Then, as a witness in the suicide case.
3 years later, there was another suicide. In Guwahati – almost 2000 kms away. This time, the man had jumped to his death from his high rise flat. Siddi was not involved. But, she was one of the domestic staff members in the house. So, she was a witness. That’s all.
4 years later, we have this hanging in a posh colony in Mumbai. No one called Siddi works here. So, this cannot be connected to the other 2 suicides, can it?
Except, that police find a question that is unanswered. What they are thinking is hard, but for it to be possible, the laser system would have to be turned off by someone other than DG Sr. And no one knew that anyone other than DG Sr. can turn off the system. When DG Sr. admitted that even if someone turns off the laser system, there will be no record, there was a collective gasp of surprise among the family members and the staff. Only one face did not register surprise. The 16 pinhole cameras were to capture that one face. Because you already knew.
“I don’t understand. What is going on here?” Sapna asked.
“Yes sir, I am.” Radha spoke in perfect English this time. “All I wanted to do was to run away from lecherous men and earn a decent salary. I thought that domestic work is with all women, so I can live peacefully. But at the very first house, my hopes were dashed. I went to the police and realised that no one listens to a maid. That’s when I took matters in my own hands. I have no regret. I hope that some young girl hears this story and learns that even if no one can help you, you can help yourself. Just because you are poor does not mean that you are a prey.”
“Because madam, then he would have preyed upon someone else. I was going to get caught some day. It wasn’t about me. It was about protecting the girls who would come after me.”
“How did you do it, Radha? How did you do this?” DG’s mother spoke this time.
I pretended to be glad at being so special. Promised to tell no one.
I did a practice. That night, he turned off the laser for the time that I was here. It was turned on after I left the room and the 10-foot perimeter.
Then, on THAT night, I wore his slip-ons from my room to his. He turned off the laser. I came. We played that game where he showed me how things like this are done. After he was gone, I turned on the lasers. Then, I went down the kitchen staircase. That door of his room has a latch that can be closed from the outside but only opened from the inside. I waited in the pantry next to the kitchen. In the dark. At exactly 6:40, I entered the kitchen as if I had just walked from the quarter. Morning tea was my duty that week.
“You carried him into the noose? Alone?” this was DG Sr.
“And you have lived with us, eaten our food, and consoled us, you, you….. devil, after snatching the light from our lives!? You had no right! He did not force himself upon you. He was so much more than your stupid pursuer. He was my child’s father! He was my husband!” Sapna was screaming on top of her lungs, but there was a lady constable nearby to ensure that no physical harm came to her.
“Those slip-on shoes – you wore them from the staff quarters to the house, right? That’s why they had soil in the grooves?” Talpade asked.
Radha was taken to the police car by the lady constable. Talpade turned to the Gupta family, “You were right to insist that this was not suicide. We would have made a mistake otherwise. I am sorry.”
Back at the station, Barve and Talpade worked well into the night, filing paperwork and completing the formalities. When all was done, Barve turned to Talpade, “Bhai, you told me that you solved this case because of a question that Bhabhi asked you. I have to know. What did she ask?”