Monday, July 17, 2023

The cryptic letter

 As she turned the car into the driveway, she found an envelope projecting from the mail box,  She found her name Menaka Rajadurai written clearly with proper address in long hand. It was a printed envelope with the address of a building, Shoba Villa, on the bottom left and from a city about 150 miles away. Wondering from whom this could be, she pulled the white sheet from inside.

"Dear Menaka,

Your presence is urgently required at 4pm tomorrow at Shoba Villa adjacent to the popular stores ‘Rajas’ at the main bus stand. You will realize the extreme necessity of your visit when you come. You will not feel sorry for having come. Please do not fail to come.


Menaka was wondering who the writer could be, for what purpose and why this cryptic letter. She missed her granny now. She always had an answer for all her doubts and questions. She passed away three months ago. It was her granny who brought her up ever since Menaka’s mother Shobana passed away when Menaka was hardly five years. The relationship between her dad and granny soured when he married someone else within three months of her mom's demise. There was some heated exchange of words and he stopped coming and even got in touch with his daughter. There was no contact thereafter and his whereabouts were not even known.

Menaka was brought up single handedly by her wealthy granny in great comfort. After her Master's degree, she is working as a mid-level officer in a bank. Her granny's only grouse was that though 27 years, Menaka had not found the right man for herself. The old woman wanted her well settled in life before her end. But that was not happening.

Menaka was now alone with a reliable maid working from granny’s days and her thoughts went back to her dad when she saw the letter. There is a hazy memory of a tall man from the photograph of her mom and dad taken soon after their wedding. She could never see the picture again. She suspected her granny must have hidden it away. On only one occasion, her dad had come to her school and asked her teacher's permission to take her out for one hour. That was refused as he had come without her guardian's approval. He gave her a silver locket with Jesus’ picture and said he loved her a lot. Menaka said she missed him too and wanted him to come frequently. Granny was furious when she heard about it and she did not know what had happened but he stopped visiting her thereafter.

She reached the indicated house by 3.45 pm. It was a very large bungalow with a number of cars parked all over the driveway. There was curiously an ambulance too. She saw there were lot of people looking grim in the long verandah and the adjacent hall. She saw some of them go around the wooden box kept at one side of the hall placing wreaths. She was in panic as fear enveloped her whether it could be her dear dad. Tears flowed from her eyes and his last visit at the school came to her mind. She started sobbing standing on the verandah when many turned towards her. Was it for seeing her dad for the last time, Chelladurai had called her, she wondered? Summoning courage she started moving towards the hall, when she felt an arm touch her shoulder. She turned to see a well-dressed person in his late fifties looking at her with concern.

“Menaka, I assume. I was waiting for you in my office. When you did not turn up, I thought you might have strayed here. Come with me" he said

She followed him meekly to a large drawing room. “I can understand you are in shock and confusion. I am sorry to break the news that your dear dad passed away last night.”

"Oh, no, it cannot be,” she shrieked and started crying. Recovering composure in a while, she asked, “How did it happen? Was he ailing?”

"I have no idea. But he was found dead on his bed early in the morning. He usually gets up very early. Probably he died in sleep. He was suffering from sleep Apnea since a few years,” he said

“May I know who you are? Are you related to my dad? How did you know my address?” she asked.

“Sorry, I should have properly introduced myself. I am Chelladurai, his close confidant and his junior partner. You can call me Uncle. After he lost his second wife, he requested me to reside with him. I assist him in managing the household and his business activities. though I keep myself in low profile. He had a great trust in me and confided all his personal details, how he greatly loved you but had to keep away because of your granny,” he explained.

She looked around the large hall and saw on the wall two photographs, one of which was of her mother and the other possibly stepmother. She was silent, lost in the thoughts of her mom.

He broke the silence saying,” I am sure you recognize your mom; I will take you to the hall in a while after you freshen yourself. Do you love your dad so much? You have hardly seen him except once when very young. Do you remember the occasion when a silver locket was given by him?" he asked.

“How do you know” she asked. I have it always in my hand bag. Yes, I love him deeply no matter what my granny felt about him. He is my daddy and no one can take that away from me."

“Come on. Let us go to the hall. Be brave and do not buckle under pressure. There will be many of his friends and customers there,” he advised as he led her.

With mixed feelings of sadness and confusion, she looked at the dead person in the long box from head to foot several times trying to recollect in vain the face of her dad she had seen at school two decades back. Many of those present there commiserated with her telling her their connections with him and sharing some anecdotes of his good nature.

It was then a posse of police constables entered and ordered the ambulance men to carry the box with the body to certain hospital.

The inspector who had accompanied the constables apologized to the assembled people for carrying the body for post mortem as a regular procedure when someone in good health died mysteriously. You can disperse and will hear from the household members in due course. We have some routine work to do here.

After the people left, the Inspector and Menaka retired to the living room along with Chelladurai. The inspector turned abruptly to Menaka and asked her, Who are you? How are you related to the person who has passed away? What are you and where do you live? Tell me truthfully.”

“Surely, I will tell you all. I am the dead man’s only daughter by his first wife. In the meantime, please tell me why police are involved and whether there are any suspicious circumstances around his death,” she asked.

“Yes, very much. I shall take you into confidence after I have heard you.”

 I am Menaka and I work in XYZ bank as a senior executive. I live in the adjacent town and was with my grandmother till three months back when she passed away. My mother passed away when I was about five years and my dad married someone else within months and left us. The relations between him and grandma were strained. I did not meet my father till he came one day to the school to see me and take me out for one hour. The school refused permission and he gave me a silver locket with Jesus’ picture. That was the last I saw him,” and paused.

“Interesting, please proceed,” prompted the inspector.

She explained,” I got this cryptic letter from Chelladurai uncle and came hurriedly hoping to hear some news about my dad. It was then he told me to my great shock the dead man is my dad. He said that my dad was his close friend and junior partner and residing with him at his request after his wife passed away. He offered me a box of some jewels of my stepmother. It is with him”

“Did he say anything more about the dead man?”

“He mentioned that my dad was suffering from sleep apnea and passed away in his sleep last night He mentioned that my dad trusted him much and confided all personal and business details including about me.”

When the uncle interrupted to say something, the inspector gave him a hard slap asking him to keep quiet and directed the constables to take him away and hold him securely.

The inspector turned to her and said,” Let me clarify matters. I learn this fellow Chelladurai who about a year back inveigled himself to your dad is an evil man. We are checking his antecedents. I do not know about his being a junior partner and am having it checked. He started living here ostensibly to assist him in the chores at home and possibly the store but had an ulterior motive. I learn your trusting dad while grieving the demise of his second wife permitted him to stay with him and was even naïve to reveal to him about his past and all details about you, your wealthy grandma and even his visit to your school etc.”

“My God, I now get the hang of it. How did my dad die? Was it in his sleep as the uncle said?” she asked.

“Brace yourself, Menaka, to hear the bad news. I got an anonymous call early this morning from a public booth informing that your father’s death was not natural but was poisoned by someone living with him. He also revealed how this evil man had ferreted out all personal and business information from your guileless and trusting dad. The wily man’s intention is perhaps to befriend you and rob you of the wealth your father and grandmother left behind. I have already sent the samples of blood for tests and the results are awaited. I have got the funeral arrangements postponed and sent the body for post mortem. I am also taking this man into custody for suspected murder of your dad,” said the inspector softly.

When asked who the informant could be, the inspector said, “We know him and he is honest and reliable. He has been with your dad for decades and works as his Man Friday in the house. He had strong reservations about the credibility of Chelladurai and even broached about it to your dad. Unfortunately, your dad did not heed the caution and reprimanded his servant,” and added after a pause “I learn a hotel room has been booked for you. You can safely stay there.  We will finalize the matter in a couple of days. Contact me on this number in the card in case of need.”

When he stood up and patted her, a sub inspector entered the room and handed over a paper. He glanced at it and said, “Menaka, my worst fears are confirmed. He has been poisoned with a heavy dosage of sleeping tablet in his post prandial drink. We had through the informant secured the glass and the bottle of drink in our possession. There were no visitors from last evening till morning according to security. I am very sorry for you. Do you have any friend or relative in this city to be with you?”

“None, I can manage myself and wish to be left alone in the hotel,” and started crying inconsolably.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Visaka's birthday party (1017)

Visaka felt honestly that her husband should have remained a bachelor and not married her at all. A good man, no doubt, Vignesh was not cut for married life. Wedded to the office and a workaholic, he spent long hours in the office and with the mobile, whenever at home talking office matters.

In these fifteen years of married life, she could remember only three occasions when Vignesh took leave from office to take her out. One was immediately after the wedding, taking her to the various temples that passed for a honeymoon and the other two, when her parents had passed away. But he gave her a lot of freedom to do what pleased her, ample money for running the household and for buying dresses and jewelry that she desired. But he never accompanied her nor did he insist she accompany him to office parties.

It is not that Visaka was not good looking or not highly educated. She was a tall and very beautiful woman with an all-India rank in professional accountancy examination teaching in a college. The problem was his world was very small and revolved around his office. Unfortunately, they had no children to provide occasions for them to be together. It is not that he did not love her. He had a warm affection and high regard for her. But he lacked the finer sensibilities of pleasing the woman and had to be reminded even about their wedding day or birthdays.

 She diverted her mind to literary pursuits and had a couple of novels to her credit. She wrote for all leading magazines and was widely read. She, however, nursed a deep hurt in her heart at the wooden nature of Vignesh despite the mechanical conjugal life they led devoid of demonstrated love.

It was 2 pm on a Saturday when the phone rang at Vignesh’s office. It was Visaka reminding him that it was her birthday and that he had promised to come earlier than usual. He looked at his watch and the note-sheets before him. With a frown on the face and affected tone of warmth he said “Visaka, I am on the verge of finalizing the report to go to the Board tomorrow. I will surely come early but maybe held up a little. Get dressed and be ready. We will have our dinner outside. Thanks, darling, for reminding me.” He took two hours to finish it and meanwhile ignored the calls from his residence. By the time he left, it was 7.30 p.m. and it was drizzling rather heavily outside.

The large parking lot in the basement was deserted as most of the people had left. It was dark when he reached his car. He fumbled for the car keys and found to his dismay that the door would not open. He tried several times and jabbed the door when he heard a voice behind him, “Hey, excuse me, you seem to have a problem.”

Startled Vignesh turned to look at the slightly aged man, big built, in a white shirt that was large for him and with three days’ bristle smiling at him in a twisted manner revealing his yellow teeth. He looked a bit unusual and a chill ran through Vignesh’s spine.

He said “Yes, the door lock is jammed. I am in a hurry to go home now as it is my wife's birthday. But I haven’t seen you here all these years”.

The man came closer and said “I have been here for a very long time. You have not seen me but I see you daily as I see others. I make myself visible only when everybody has left. You should not have stayed   this long especially on this rainy day”

Struck by fear by the uncomprehending words and his unnatural demeanour, Vignesh stood immobilized when the old man said “Move away a little. Let me open the door. Keep the keys with you.” Vignesh immediately moved away looking at this strange man placing his strong hand on the door.  He looked around and observed the parking lot was empty without a soul.

There was a sudden noise of the door ripping away from the car. He looked at the car with its front door missing and could see neither the old man nor the missing door. He had just vanished with the door in a jiffy even as he heard the sound of eerie laughter a little away. He quickly jumped into the car, started the ignition and sped away to the safety of the road. He was sweating profusely when a cold hand touched him on his shoulder.

Vignesh blabbered in fear, “Please do not harm me. My wife would be waiting for me. I have never taken her out for long. After a very long time, I have promised to take her out and make the day a memorable one. Please, I beg you to leave me unharmed.” 

As the cold hand pressed him further and shook him violently, he started howling till he heard Visaka, “Vignesh, what are you blabbering about in sleep? You have been sleeping from 3 p.m. ever since you came home. It is getting late for dinner at the hotel. Get ready soon”

He opened his eyes and saw her beautifully dressed standing before him. There was no sight of the fearful strange man or the car park. He pulled her towards him to embrace her tightly and kissed her till she pulled herself away telling her that the maid was there in the house. “Visaka, I have been a fool all along. I thought my life would be over today even before celebrating your birthday. I realize what I have missed all these days. I promise to give you lot of my time and make our lives a very happy one from this moment.”

She threw her arms over him forgetting her caution about the presence of maid and sobbed “I am so happy today. I was afraid we were moving apart. I thank your scary dream for opening your eyes at last.