Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I was meeting Nishant and Sunita after almost three years, for the first time since we graduated out of college.

We had, of course, kept in touch all this while through the internet and the telephone. It is interesting to observe how these methods of communications ascend and descend in importance as relationships wear on after they’ve lost their purpose. The telephone carries most of the burden for the first few months, while the memories still retain their freshness and one still believes in the immortality of them. Gradually, as memories turn into nostalgias, email takes over.

Our friendship had, in these years, morphed into two phone conversations a year, one for each’s birthday, and the occasional forwarded mail, marked impersonally to a half hundred people, most of whose existences I was unaware of. However, when I learnt I’d be in Delhi this weekend, I decided to catch up with them anyway.

We met on Sunday afternoon in one of the many malls that dot the Delhi landscape. Strangely, these days, it is these crowded public places that are the most preferred for such companionable meets as ours. Nevertheless, the exhilaration I felt and hoped they did too, on meeting old friends was certainly not manufactured.

It was the middle of January and afternoons were the only time when the fog betrayed the existence of a Sun. In these hours, the city basks in a warm laziness; a hazy spectacle whose majesty can never quite be captured by a lens. It also makes multiple layers of warm woolen clothes a necessity; a condition I generally disapprove of since it shows my already bloated self in even poorer light.

And so it was, that the first thing both my friends told me after we’d waved at each other, embraced and smiled warmly and awkwardly, was that I’d pile up a few more kilos. The matter of my weight and general physical appearance has long since ceased to be the cause of anxiety to me, and I responded with a joke I’d repeated and perfected over the years and do not want to reproduce here.

To my eyes, the two of them had remained much the same, barring a marked improvement in the state of Sunita’s bosom; a shortcoming that we had spent many hours ridiculing when we were in college and one that had caused her some heartburn. I thought about sharing my observation with her but the interceding years stopped me from doing so. I satisfied myself by stating that she too appeared to have put on weight and hoped feebly that she’d get the drift. If she did get it, and I personally opine that she did not, she did not show it.

The mischievous glint in Nishant’s eyes was intact.

We’d never planned out an agenda for the reunion and it came back to haunt us now. We stood sheepishly near the entrance to the mall, looking at each other and at the people around us, cracking an odd joke and sharing through our eyes and expressions the common thought that we were making fools of ourselves. Eventually, Nishant suggested we continue doing the same in a cafĂ©, and we agreed gratefully.

Having spent a few minutes discussing and ordering our drinks, we felt the awkwardness slipping away gradually. We caught up on what each of us had been doing in greater detail than the restrictive nature of long distance communication had ever allowed us to. I found that Nishant was planning to marry the girl he’d been going out with for more than a year now within the next one year. And that Sunita’s quest for a long term relationship had remained incomplete and would probably remain so, for her parents had decided to take matters into their own hands. The mandatory digs about my relationship status were made and my college crushes discussed. I bore it with a dignity that, I thought, befitted a more mature person than the one they were discussing about.

It is always difficult to meet past friends who have not, in the eyes of the world and in their own, fared as well as one has oneself. One measures and fumbles with each syllable; fearful that the odd assertion here and there would be perceived as boastfulness. And one cannot quite go back to being what one was all those years ago, simply because one cannot.

Nishant and Sunita told me about some of their capers after we’d left college (being in the same city, they had met every once in a while), which they thought hilarious and which I found little more than faintly amusing. They were the kind of incidents that appeal only to those that are present while it unfolds. I told them about some of mine which, I am sure, they found as uninteresting.

We talked some future. Nishant told me how he planned to move to the US soon after his marriage. I told them what I thought I would probably end up doing. Sunita cribbed for a while about her job and stated that she’d look for a switch in the near future.

By this time, our first coffees were drunk and more ordered. Talk veered to those days. All the good times spent. The drunken fiascos. The uninvited dinners at marriage parties. The professor everybody feared. The professor with the sleepy eyes and deadpan expression who could never figure out how there were only ten people in the room and thirty on the attendance sheet.

Most of it felt distant and filled me with a sense of weariness. It vexed me that it should be thus. I had had such great times recounting these exact episodes to friends I’d made since, that I had assumed it would give me greater joy to do so with those that were part of them. I realized, then, that it was not they who brought warmth to those memories; it was the me that was with them there. And, therefore, I figured memories are savored better in the absence of those that they are built of.

We spent three hours together, at the end of which, I was more relieved than rueful that it had ended. These were people that did not belong anymore. They were of a different time and place and it was wrong to force them into my now. They were better off being in those two phone conversations and forwarded mails.

I’ve been to Delhi many times since, but have not met them.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


The detective puffed thoughtfully at his cigarette.

The body lay, tanned and naked, on its left side, in fetal posture, by the bedside. The skin had turned white, creased and patchy. Some stray foliage and weeds had attached themselves in several places; the body had remained underwater for at least two days.

It had belonged to a fairly tall, well endowed woman of around forty. Her sharp, beautiful features were shrouded in long silken strands of hair that, due to her unusual position, descended on the wrong side of the head, barring her aquiline nose that broke through with tragic defiance. Unmistakable evidences of a valiant struggle were visible all over her body.

The blue-crimson blotches around the neck established the cause of death beyond reasonable doubt, although the official word would have to wait until after the autopsy. No formal forensic investigation had been conducted yet, but the detective knew it wouldn’t lead to anything. There would be no fingerprints or footprints and there had been no contact of a sexual nature. As far as clues to the killer’s identity were concerned, the body was clean.

The body had belonged to the detective’s wife.

The detective felt a strange sense of pride for being able to appraise the scene with his usual professional detachment. He had often thought in the past how he would react if ever he had to investigate the murder of someone so close to him. Would he be able to look at the dead body without emotion, without recognition? Would his investigation be devoid of preconceived notions, of bias? They were questions he hoped he wouldn’t ever need to tackle; nevertheless, they filled him with a curious self doubt that he failed to overcome.

Now he knew the answer to those questions.

He had formulated a theory that explained part of the case; it was the unexplained bit that would make the investigation difficult.

She had left for office four days ago and not returned. She had not answered the detective’s phone calls. He had inquired at the office; he’d been informed that she hadn’t shown up for work at all. He had waited for a day before reporting the matter to the police. They had failed to trace her or her whereabouts.

In all probability, she had been ambushed on her way to work; she traveled on various forms of public transport.

Whether there had been more than one person involved, was difficult to ascertain. In any event, she had been carried to a spot, ostensibly close to a water body, where she had been murdered and dumped. There were several places beside the river on the outskirts of the city where this could have been done.

It was beyond this point that the case became more complicated. Why the body had first been dumped in the river and then taken then brought back to the house was impossible to fathom. The murderer(s) had run enormous risk in doing so and there was surely a purpose for it.

Trying to frame him was one alternative. But that seemed out of question. Nobody could expect to make the police believe that the murder had been committed in the house. The state of the body was a dead giveaway. The foliage on the body ruled out the possibility of the body having being dumped inside the bathtub or any such water container inside the house.

Why was it done then? As a challenge to him? Some old criminal he’d helped convict returned for a revenge?

The detective knew this would be the general direction the investigation should logically take. Except that he knew it was not the right direction. And he knew. After all, it was he who had murdered her.

It had taken two cases, three years apart, the latest a year ago, for him to break. The first time, when they’d told him they couldn’t arrest a man for killing his wife because they had nothing on the man beyond stray circumstantial evidence, heavily dependent on conjecture; he had fought tooth and nail. He had spent countless hours reconstructing the crime and collecting the ‘circumstantial’ evidence. There was no way he could let the case fizzle out, without hope, without closure. Everybody knew the man had done it. How could they let a cold blooded murderer like that go unpunished?

He had failed.

It had happened a second time, when he was called in to investigate the brutal murder of a teenage girl by her fifty year old neighbor for having resisted his sexual advances. This time, he’d said nothing. He had joked around about how easy murder had become. Inside, he had snapped.

He started plotting his revenge six months ago. At first, he had considered choosing a random victim; someone he did not know but had decided against it. It would be too unfair.

The detective loved his wife. Dearly. And that is why he chose her. He knew the police would have to classify him as the prime suspect for there was no other choices, however remote. They would know just how painful it must have been for him to do what he had done. But they would not be able to prove a thing.

They would be at his mercy.

In truth, the body had never been anywhere close to the river. He had killed her inside the house in the middle of the night. With his gloved fingers around her neck, he had dragged her down to the floor from the bed, where she had fallen asleep after they had made love. He had looked at her panic stricken, contorted face and felt nothing. Afterwards, he had carried her body to a dilapidated deserted textile mill, which he had chosen after two months of scouring. There, he had left the body in a huge, moss filled tank which he had filled with water a day before. That is where her body had picked up all the foliage. He had let the body stay there for two days. In the meanwhile, he had reported his wife as missing to the police. The police had arrived at his house for clues to her whereabouts and found nothing. That night, after the police were satisfied that there were no clues to be had and their only option was a massive search operation around the city, he had brought the body back home and let it stay in his bathtub.

He was absolutely certain that the weeds on the body would lead the investigators on a wild goose chase.

He had bought himself a new bathtub, of exactly the same make and color as his present one, three months ago, which he had entrusted to one of the many vendors he was acquainted with; they ran odd jobs for him and were crucial sources of information. He had instructed the man to fill the bathtub with water and drain it every once in a while to ensure it lost the telltale signs of newness. These were men whom he trusted and who trusted him. They would never betray him; not for anything. The vendor was the only link that could possibly connect him with the crime; but he knew the police would never get to him.

The night before, he had again moved the body to where it presently was. He had then dismantled his old bathtub and disposed it off inside the textile mill. He had then driven to where the vendor had stowed the new bathtub and brought it back to his house. He had spent the rest of night fitting, filling and draining it a few times to make it look regularly used.

There was no way they were ever going to convict him. But that was not the point.

The detective looked at his handiwork one last time and stepped out on his way to the police station to turn himself in.