Friday, February 28, 2020

The portentous giggle

(An old unfinished story edited and presented here)
Kesava Marar dabbled in a small way in stock market. He did not have much resources to invest big. He used to spend some time on most days in a broking firm and make a few hundred buying and selling the same day. Some days he would lose also. One day when he decided to invest a tidy sum on what everyone thought was a blue chip stock that was expected to zoom, he felt he heard a wisp of laughter behind his back. He turned round to see none. A fortnight later the stock crashed when there was wide exposure in media about fudging of accounts of the company and the cases filed against management.
There was a long standing dispute in the court on an ancestral property and he had spent considerable money towards lawyer and court fee. Marar was told by his lawyer his case was very strong and that judgment was to be delivered that day. He left early morning for the district court in another town. As he entered the court precincts he felt he heard again the same old giggle behind his back. Startled he turned back to see none behind. There was a lump in his throat with a tinge of fear. He hurried inside as his name was called only to get the shock of his life when the court decided against him with costs to be paid to the other party. Even as the memory of the mild laughter came sharply in his mind, a rationalist he was, he chided himself for being superstitious.
He was already 28 and his aged mom pressurized him to marry. He had a permanent job and there was no reason to put it off. When he expressed his willingness, his mother went into raptures. Soon she found a good match for him. The bride Smita was good looking, more qualified than him and had a better job. Both liked each other and agreed to marry.
It was the wedding day and there was a huge crowd of relatives and friends. The auspicious time for tying the knot had arrived and the purohit started chanting the mantra in loud voice. Even as Marar with the mangal sutra in his hands neared the bride  to tie the knots, the nadaswara vidwan (piper) played the music briskly and loudly accompanied by melam(drum). The noise was ear shattering. As Marar bent to tie the knot amidst the smiling faces that surrounded him, the poor chap felt again that he distinctly heard twice the very same mild laughter despite the noise all around. His face became pale, he started perspiring heavily and his knees seemed to go limp with fear. Urged by the purohit, he tied the thread hastily with three knots amidst the cacophony of congratulations and greetings from those around. To the bewilderment of many, the smile had faded from his face and he looked ashen as if struck by a ghost. The bride looked at him with concern. Someone brought a Pepsi.
That night when they were together in the bedroom, the young wife asked him “Can I ask you one question?”
When he nodded, Smita asked “Why did your face turn pale and you started perspiring heavily when you bent to  tie the knot. Your face was grim with no smile at that happy moment? Are you not happy with me?”
He smiled at her with effort and said “It is nothing.”
When she prodded him further, he narrated the earlier two incidents and said “I thought I heard again today the vicious laughter not once but twice behind my back just as I bent to tie the knots. That put me off.”
Smita broke into laughter and teased him saying, “How naïve and superstitious you are? I know that case of that famous company and how in collusion with promoters the accounts were fudged to present a bright picture. Not only you, I had lost quite an amount along with my dad and many of my friends. Banish such superstitious thoughts of the giggle warning only you and not thousands of others.”
“What about the dismissal of my property case?” he asked
 “The judges go by the facts of the case and concrete evidence. Where does the giggle you heard come to adversely change the case? I do not want a credulous and irrational village bumpkin for my husband. Promise me you will be a sensible and rational guy,” she remonstrated even as she embraced him running her hand on his head.
It was exactly a year later when he was anxiously waiting in the lounge, one nurse opened the door beckoning him inside. As he waited anxiously outside the delivery theatre, a glum looking nurse peeped out calling Marar.With no clue of what awaited him and with racing heart, he went in to see a smiling Smita with two babies, a girl and a boy.
 Pleasantly surprised he went near the two babies to have a look when Smita teased him by telling, “Now I know why there were two giggles instead of the usual one behind your back as you bent to tie the knot.”

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The case of a scared rabbit

It was a Sunday. When I returned after a walk at 8am, I saw many cars parked on the road and inside our complex. Something wrong, I wondered. People were seen standing in small clusters talking in hushed tone.
Dhonu, our security, on seeing me approached quickly and whispered in Hindi,” Tanwar Saheb died last night.”
“How come? I saw him last evening and he was looking very fine,” I said.
“Don’t know. His daughter came about one hour ago and the door was broken open when there was no response. They were looking for you for the duplicate key. He was on the bed but dead. They are all there,” he was telling just when an ambulance followed by a police vehicle entered the compound. As Tanwar was my friend and the resident of the opposite flat, I hastened inside.
 Tanwar's daughter Malti on seeing me rushed towards me wailing,” Rajesh uncle, my dad is dead in sleep. I rang him up three times around 10 pm last night and there was no response. I was worried. As my husband Sudesh was away, I could not come here to check. Thinking he might be asleep I did not call him again till morning. When there was no response again today, I lost no time in coming here. The doorbell was not answered. I could not find my key in the hurry.
 Since you were not there and I was very anxious to get in, I got the door broken open only to find him inert and dead on the bed. Meanwhile it seems someone had informed the police,” she said just as a man in uniform entered along with a colleague. He introduced himself as Sunil, an inspector of police.
The other guy felt Tanwar’s nostrils for breath, flashed the torch at his eyes, shook him a bit and lifted his banian and pajama to see for any injury mark. Not finding any, he muttered, “Could be a peaceful end in sleep. Was he a heart or sleep apnea patient? “he asked no one in particular.
“No, he had no heart or respiratory issue except for some sugar. He did not complain of any problem when I rang him last evening and he talked cheerfully. This is utterly shocking,” Malti said crying inconsolably.
“Was he staying here alone? Who took care of him? He must be in his seventies, “asked the inspector.
“Yes, he insisted on staying alone as long as he was fit. My mom passed away two years back. As he was in good health and only 72, we respected his wishes. He made his food, sometimes got from caterers or bought from outside. Besides Rajesh uncle was there to keep an eye on his well being. They were very close,” she clarified.
The inspector took notice of me for the first time and asked in a brusque manner, “Did you meet him yesterday?”
“Yes, I saw him in the evening around 5 pm and exchanged pleasantries. He was in his usual chirpy mood. There was no clue even faintly that his end was so close. It is devastating,” I replied.
“Where were you last night?”
“I was in my flat. I had a severe head ache and retired early to bed,” I replied.
“Mr. Rajesh, please remain in your house. I wish to get more details about the deceased man, his acquaintances etc.”
The inspector quickly had the body removed to a hospital, had the house closed with temporary lock and posted a constable outside the flat. Around 4 PM he came back with some men followed by Malti and her husband. When I came out on hearing the voices, I was also asked to join by the inspector.
With none except the family members, myself and the police men, the inspector sat with us in the living room while one man was seen dusting various places for finger prints and another guy was going round each room microscopically examining and looking for some evidence.
Malti broke the silence asking the inspector, “Do you suspect any foul play? Why the dusting and a detective scrutinizing closely?”
“Tell me first whether your dad suffered from insomnia and whether he took sleeping or sedative tablets? Did he drink?” he asked 
“No, he had no sleeping problem whatsoever. He was a sound sleeper. He took beer occasionally though he had a bottle or two in the flat. Why all these questions?” Malti asked
“Your dad died of over dosage of Lorazepam along with alcohol, a fatal combination. We are examining to see how it had happened unless your dad wished to end his life. Rajesh had seen him last at 5 pm in happy frame of mind ruling out suicide. This must have happened much later. He must have had a visitor with this stuff.  I checked with security and as far as he knows no outsider had come to visit your dad. Rajesh says he went to bed early as he was indisposed. We are in a quandary and looking for clues,” explained the inspector patiently.
When Malti started sobbing, the inspector turned towards me and said, “Can you please give her a glass of water? I will call you later when needed. You may rest at your place.” I complied with the request and patted her to remain composed before returning to my flat.
It was evident he did not want my presence making me uneasy and wondering whether he was suspecting me as I had access to the flat. 
When Malti, her husband Sudesh, inspector and the detective were alone, they took tea brought by a constable. 
“All of you listen to me carefully and correct me if my reasoning is wrong. Before that can you tell me whether your mom was taller than your dad and by how many inches,” he asked Malti.
Surprised she asked, “How do you know? Yes, she was taller than him  slightly by more than two inches.”
-“Good, we are making progress. Let me explain now in proper sequence. The common reason for sudden death in bed could be cardiac arrest or over dosage of sleeping tablets. Since he had no heart related ailment, I turned my attention to the possibility of your dad putting an end to his life. But you ruled out that possibility when you said he was cheerful last evening. Rajesh had also mentioned similarly. So I ruled out suicide for now.
-There are only three keys, one with dad, another with you and the third with Rajesh.  Security said there was no stranger who came for this flat and there was a peephole through which your dad can see unknown visitors before deciding to open.  Rajesh had slept early and you did not come. Who was the person who came in to administer the drug is the question tormenting me?
-The top shelf over the fridge is beyond reach of your short father. When we checked, we found two beer mugs that were taken out last evening from the top shelf were left there after drinking session foolishly without proper cleaning as both had very minute remnants of the drink. The rest of mugs were dusty. Someone must have come and mixed the sleeping tablets along with beer given to dad while the suspect took only beer. The beer bottle found in fridge had very small quantity left indicating it had been used. The contents of the mugs corroborated our suspicion. The other tests also confirmed the findings.
“Why would anyone kill an old man without motive.? Rajesh said he last saw him around 5 pm and had only pleasantries. Rajesh had also said that he slept early due to head ache. We questioned the security intensely and confidentially. They tell that lights were on only in your dad's flat up to 11pm. Who was the person in your dad's flat who stayed up to 11 pm? He must be obviously known to him
-From the glass of water given to Malti we could get finger prints of Rajesh. From the finger prints on the two mugs, we could connect the one with the drug to your dad while those from the mug that was used  only for  beer belongs to a stranger. We are yet to identify him.
You must tell me whether there was any possible motive that you were aware of like financial dealings, women or shady deals that went foul and posed a threat to him? If there is one, we can look into that direction."
"I am not aware of any such " said Malti and added, "My dad was a very straight forward person without any blemish. He had told me once that he is financially sound and did not need any support from daughters."
It was then inspector's colleague took him aside to another room and whispered something. There was a sudden spring in the walk of inspector back to hall. He found Malti sitting with fingers of both hands pressing her temples and Sudesh  morose and glum.
Inspector asked very casually, “You said your husband was not at the house last evening and hence you could not come here. When did he return? “  Sudesh immediately turned apprehensively to Malti's side.
" I think around midnight," she said innocently.
"Where were you, Sudesh, till that hour?" asked Inspector.
"I was at the mall playing games and in coffee shop doing nothing in particular," 
"I have irrefutable information that you were here at your father-in-law's flat using the key given to Malti," Inspector said accusingly.
"No, this is utter nonsense,” he exploded
“Could be unless the finger prints on the mugs and the tea cup lie. We have made some discreet enquiries since morning about your financial position, “ he said and turned to Malti to add, “I am sorry for you. You are like my sister. Sudesh is in deep financial trouble with recovery agents of unscrupulous financiers after him with bodily and other threats and he needs money badly. Only your dad’s end may bring some money.There are only two tall persons and Rajesh is on the clear. We are taking Sudesh into custody for interrogation. We hope to get the truth soon. You can nevertheless engage a lawyer to help you. I commiserate with you."
Meanwhile one constable came running up the steps to tell,” Inspector sahib, Rajesh babu sped away in his car even when the security tried to stop him and our constables are in hot pursuit in motor bikes."
"Foolish fellow, he is so scared like a rabbit that he does not know that flight is proof of guilt, though he has nothing to worry at all," he said with a smile.


Friday, February 14, 2020

A sign of Valentine

“Siva, can you give me your English notebook? I will return it tomorrow,” said Jaya.
Jaya was the most sought-after girl in his class. Tall and slim, with long hair that fell up to her hip, and attractive hazel eyes, she was as talented as she was beautiful. She was a topper in studies, sang both classical and film songs and participated in all the cultural events. A natural leader with self-confidence, she had a domineering streak about her. All the boys deemed it a favour if she spoke to them.
Sivakumar had a silent crush on her but had not mustered the courage to speak to her. So, he was pleasantly surprised when Jaya reached out to him. Siva immediately gave her the notebook without uttering a word.
“Thanks a lot. I was absent yesterday. Won’t you ask me why I chose you for this help?” she asked with a giggle.
“You are a class topper and highly popular in the school. How would I know what runs in your mind and why you chose me?” said Siva rather shyly.
“Hooray, you have summoned the courage to talk to me at last. You are my closest competitor in studies in our class and I wanted to unravel your secrets by looking at your book,” she said and laughed.
It was clear that Siva was bowled over by her easy familiarity and charming ways. There was a spring in Siva’s walk back home that day and her smiling face lingered all the time.
The next day, he was at school earlier than usual and was disappointed not to see Jaya. When she entered the class a little later, Siva saw her turning her head towards him and discerned a faint smile. Or was it not there, he wondered. He could not pay attention to what the teacher was explaining with his mind full of her.
At lunch time, someone tapped his shoulder from behind. When Siva turned, he saw Jaya standing before him with a large smile. His heart raced.
“Here is your notebook. Thank you very much.” She said. “I simply love your handwriting. Give me your math book today. I have decided to turn to you every time I need the lessons.” Jaya spoke looking straight in his eyes that made Siva lower his eyes.
Siva was thrilled. “Okay, I will give it in class,” he said. Six words of conversation was a big improvement for him.
In class, as Siva put the notebook he had lent to Jaya in his bag, he found a fresh rose petal inside. “Surely this is a sign,” he thought. He placed a curry leaf from his lunch in his maths notebook that he gave Jaya. Siva was not yet adept in the language of flora and fauna!
More books got borrowed, more playful exchanges shared and they became good friends. Siva started accompanying Jaya during her evening walk to her home at Mahalingapuram. His home was close by. He could see from the huge house and the parked cars that she belonged to a rich family.
Siva soon became the envy of his classmates. He was feeling on top of the world. Little did he foresee the unfortunate tide of events in his life.
When Siva completed his 10th class at the end of the year, his father was transferred to Delhi. Siva and Jaya were disappointed but promised to stay in touch over the phone. As it often happens, with distance their communication ebbed and soon they lost touch completely.
The years rolled by. Siva studied at Delhi School of Economics, acquired a doctorate from London School of Economics and migrated to the US, working for the World Bank.
One day his father telephoned him and said, “Listen Sivakumar, I have found a good match for your elder brother. Sivamani is coming next month, from Germany to Chennai to see the girl. If everything goes well, we will conduct the wedding within a week.  Please plan your trip too.”
Sivamani was elder to Sivakumar by a couple of years.
“What is the girl doing? Her background?” asked Siva.
“Her name is Jaya. AII I know is that she is highly qualified and works in Europe. I do not remember the complete details. The girl’s family is also from Mahalingapuram.”
Siva’s heart went aflutter. “Appa, is this Jaya tall, with hazel eyes?”
“Why, do you know her or what? I have not seen the girl. Anyway, we are all going along with Sivamani to meet her,” his dad said.
Siva became moody. In their childhood, there had been an intense rivalry between the two brothers and Sivamani always had his way, be it the ownership of toys, the seat in the dining table or the choice of food they ordered. And now, Siva was convinced that his brother had beaten him even in the choice of a life partner. Siva even toyed with the idea of skipping the trip. He told himself that his feelings towards Jaya were only an infatuation, a childish fancy. Nothing serious. He made the trip to Chennai.
But Siva remained restless. Not knowing the mental turmoil Siva was passing through, Sivamani put his arms around his brother as they walked into the sprawling hall of the bride’s house. Siva remembered the house distinctly, sinking his mood further.
Accustomed as he was since his young days, he prepared himself to forego his love for his brother. After the pleasantries among the elders, the bride Jaya was led by her mother to the hall.
Siva wishing, he were not here, raised his head when his brother nudged him. She was tall, with long hair. Siva’s heart was beating fast. He looked at her eyes and they were brown! Did not his Jaya have hazel eyes? The bride didn’t quite look like his Jaya too. But Siva was not sure.
Sivamani was happily talking to her and asked her about her job and the place she lived in Munich. Suddenly, the bride’s father shouted, “Kannamma, bring me my glasses. I have left them on the dining table.”
Another girl entered the hall with specs in hand. Tall and with long hair. Siva looked up and saw her hazel eyes. His heart soared with relief and joy to discover his friend Jaya before him. He thought her face brightened up a fleeting second when their eyes met, but he was not sure.
Siva asked her, “Are you not a student of KV in Mehta Nagar? Do you recognize me?”
“Of course, Siva! How can I forget the notebooks I borrowed from you? And the curry leaf you gave me,” she asked with a mischievous grin.
Siva’s father did not miss the exchange. “Siva, I think you have found your hazel eyed girl. Glad things are happening as ordained.”
He then turned to the bride’s father and said, “This is my second son, Sivakumar working at the World Bank at Washington. Ever since he heard about a Jaya from Mahalingapuram, he has been worried.”
The bride’s father laughed. “All this confusion is because we named our children similarly. The elder is Jayapriya and younger is Jayasri. Like your sons, Sivamani and Sivakumar.”
Things moved rapidly in the next minute.
Jaya’s father said, “We are fortunate to get the brothers for our daughters. We can have the wedding same day. I think Siva and Jayasri would like to exchange a few words in private in the opposite room.”
When they all turned their heads to see Jaya, the younger sister, she was seen with her head bent and hands twirling her long hair in shyness.
“This is the first time I am seeing her shy. In schooldays none dared to oppose her,” said Siva, and everyone burst into laughter.
As they entered the room, they found to their immense delight the large daily calendar showing the date February 14. Their hearts were suffused with joy at the sign of Valentine!