The Burning Crocodiles

“There is this dream that I keep having every night from past ten years. There was a monkey. A cruel, demonic and frightening monkey. He is beating a pup, torturing him in all possible manner. He continues his beating every night after reaching home. Then he would turn towards his own wife, and starts to beat her up as well. But if that was not sufficient enough to satisfy his hunger, he would sell his wife to his crocodile friends, while he would himself enjoy the company of other female monkeys. The pup after all this, would slowly start losing a part of his life and one day, when nothing was left of his conscience, he burns the monkey alive, with no remorse or guilt.”

*

Mahipalpur is a very busy locality of capital city. Known for its numerous known and unknown string of hotels that appeared like local vendors selling cheap vegetables. Had it not been for the international airport in the opposite ends of the NH-8, it would be just another locality. But Mahipalpur is no Las Vegas or Mumbai, so it sleeps in nights…nights that are opened for other lucrative business opportunities, with limited but continuous string of male customers.

But even this business has a limited hours of run time in which they operate. As after the last hour, either the male customers are enjoying their lucrative product, or maybe, the business owners just didn’t care.

It was one such night and it was one such non-working hour. The fog and chilling breeze had spread like a blanket over the entire city. Even in the situation when most of the flights were getting cancelled, some flights would dare and tear the layer of fog to make way for their respective destinations. Their sound was the only sound a human being could hear from the deepest reaches of their blankets, expect for the clock ticking. But that night, an unknown, ghostly sound had taken over the peace and silence of the locality. A strange, cruel far cry that can wake up even the dead.

A figure, swallowed by flames, was running amuck on the national highway.  It struggled for the help, which did not came. The burning lump of flesh tried shouting, but as the flames were making their mark, the yelling became more and more unstructured, until it finally fell on the road with no movement. The shouting had stopped. It was the familiar sound of flights taking off and clocks ticking. As the burning lump of flesh lay on the road, a mysterious figure could be seen approaching it. Covered in a long hooded jacket, it stood by the flames, head steady. The left hand of the figure reached for the mouth and a puff of smoke was released, with the figure now carrying an almost finished cigarette. The figure kept looking at the flames, then threw the bud in the flames. It leaned on the left leg and spoke in a peculiar low pitch tone, “And this…is for both our families and this whole human race.”

Mahipalpur was in a big rush next morning. The sun had refused to show up as usual. The local residents were surrounding the heap of ash while the traffic was moving at its usual tone, not caring about the crowd and cops. A tall constable was trying to cover up the area, while waiting for other policemen to arrive. After some minutes of waiting, another constable joined the scene. “Saini Ji,” he said addressing the tall constable, “I had informed the station in-charge. That idiot!” he gritted his teeth, “Said he was breathing.” “Breathing?” Saini asked. “Yes. But you may not know as you joined only yesterday. He is A DEMON! From the day he took over the station a week back, he has made us all work like ass and then watch cricket with him. That’s what he was doing when I called him. Watching cricket is like breathing for him. Gadhe hain saare afsar Saale! (All officers are like crazy ass!).” The constable was still reminiscing when a police siren interrupted his flow. A police Innova stopped near the crime scene. A man dressed in civil uniform, came out donning aviators glasses and his left hand gently stroking his moustaches. “Here comes the demon.” The constable said with the gritted teeth. He rushed towards the man. “Good morning sir!” he saluted the in-charge. The station in-charge took his aviators and glared at the constable and spoke in a bold and leading voice, “They can’t let me have a day in the pavilion. I just took the captainship and there is already an injury in my area.” ‘Please someone kill me!’ the constable thought. “Rathi Sir…we tried to reach out to the forensics. They are not able to identify the ashes. I have asked the locals around, but they claim to have seen nothing. I think it’s a gone case.”

Rathi, the station in-charge looked at him and smirked, “But I don’t run the way you think Greg Chapel. Try to ask anyone around. You will get any missing cases…maybe someone who went missing in some days or so. Get back to me ASAP.” Constable saluted him and disappeared inside the crowd. Rathi moved towards the heap of ash laying on the NH-8 near the airport road. ‘Sick…people of this city are turning sick day by day.’ He thought. “I think this is the case of revenge or madness, sir.” Rathi turned his head to see constable Rathi standing on his right, in attention position. Rathi stared in his eyes and replied, “And you have any reason to support your thesis, young player?” He asked with an interrogative tone. Saini took aback being referred to as player, but soon remembering Rathi’s taste of cricket, continued in support of his answer, “Sir if we just look at the usual mentality of a criminal, a knife attack, choking the neck or killing with the poison are basic tools of killing. A bit resourceful killer would go for a road accident with any vehicle, or maybe a bullet. But this,” he pointed at the ash, “this requires preparation. It requires knowledge of a person’s isolation, when is alone. And something like this can be done only if someone wants to take out his or her anger on a person. This is what I believe.”

“Hmm…” Rathi said, still penetrating into Saini’s eyes. “Can’t see a reason why your analysis maybe wrong. But we might have to wait for the list of missing people in last few days. Anyways,” he continued, turning his back towards the ash, resting his right hand on Saini’s shoulder, “I am super delighted to see such a young talent in my team. Yu remind me of myself when I was a young recruit. So here is what you are going to do Mr. Saini. Inquire about any rich who has gone missing in the last few weeks.” “Rich, sir?” Saini interrupted. “Yes, rich. Because even I think that a pure act of vengeance could match this degree of killing. But also, a poor or, a middle class would never harm a person to a degree that something like this can happen. Only the rich of this city possess the power to harm or hurt a person to the level that someone might lose his mind. It’s a guess anyways, but is better than anything I guess. Run along now my Virat! Report of your analysis on my desk in the evening.”

“Sure sir!” Saini saluted him and walked towards the crowd. Rathi had maintained a straight face all along. But he was getting worried about the case. All he had was a guess, backed by a constable. He needed a solid proof for his guess. And there is just one person who could help him. He reached for his mobile in his right jeans pocket and took out his new android phone. After unlocking it with a passcode that was like a test match score made by a cricket player, he went into his dial screen and tapped on the first name on his screen. After four rings, a female voice, sweet, yet full with confidence, crackled-

“Hello!”

Rathi smiled at the voice and spoke in a totally different, gentle voice, “Hey there! Listen…its urgent. I want to meet you at lunch,” he looked at his watch, “Its eleven now, how about at two o’clock? Please don’t say no…”

Aree wait yaar! Kitna bolega? (Stop now! How much will you speak?) I just reached my office, opened my laptop. Let me take a deep breath as least! I will ping you the location and final time in a while, so don’t worry, okay?” she was still gentle and sounded happy. “Okay…no issues, but don’t cancel the match please.” Rathi was sounding totally different than he would in front of his subordinates and criminals. “Oi! At least don’t use your cricket semantics on me…please. I beg you.” the female said. “Aye sure. See you then.” Rathi cut the call and returned toward the crime scene.

Constable Saini came out of the crowd and approached Rathi. “Sir! I found a witness. A garbage collector. He claims to have seen the entire incidence very closely. You must see this.” he said excited. Rathi gave a sigh of relief. “Finally a third empire.” he said, “Take me to him.” They walked out of the crime scene, which was still surrounded by the people and police. The forensics had now arrived and were now doing their stuff. Rathi and Saini reached near the police car, where a short heighted man was standing, covering himself in a blanket. As he saw the two policemen approaching him, he stood straight. Rathi came close to him and landed a tight slap on his left cheek. The other constables along with Saini were surprised by the sudden change in Rathi’s attitude. Rathi was glaring at the garbage collector with his dark brown eyes and that was making the garbage collector perspiring.

“Who do you think you are? We are fielding our ass off to just get a clue as to who got bowled and here you are, covered in your blanket, waiting for one of us to finally come to you and then you will give your judgement? Chal… start commentary…and make it exact. Don’t you think of a T-20 with me.” The garbage collector who by this time, was scared and of course, confused, was staring blankly at Rathi. “Re bata na kya dekha tanne? (Bloody tell him what you saw yesterday?” Saini shouted. The garbage collector took a deep breath and began-

“It was around three in the night, Saab. It was very cold. I was coming from a friend’s place. We were supposed to drink together last night. But Saab, his wife threw me out and locked the door. Saab…his wife is very scary…Saab…” “DID I ASK YOU THAT? COME TO THE MATCH DIRECTLY YOU IDIOT.” Rathi shouted. “Ji…Ji Saab… so I carried a bottle of rum with me, when I sat under the flyover. There was some fire, but nobody was there, so I decide to lay down. I had almost gone to sleep, Saab…when I saw a man all covered in fire, burning like a mini sun, Saab. I got very scared. I looked around, there was no body expect me. I had decided to go out and help him, when that man fell on the road. I thought it was too late. I got so scared Saab, that I decided to make a run from it, before anyone else could see me. But another person was slowly came from the same direction the burning man came before. He was all covered in black. It was very foggy, but I could still see that he took out a cigarette from his mouth and threw it on a burning man. He kept sitting there for some time, then walked back in the same direction from where he came. That’s all I saw, Saab.”

Rathi kept giving him his glare and after some seconds, he leaned over the short garbage collector and asked, “How are you sure that the burning body belonged to a man?” “Saab…it was a clear shrilling shout for help. It was very much audible. I am sure those poor in big hotels and houses would also have heard that sound.” the garbage collector said in a sarcastic tone.

“Hmm…” Rathi said. Things were making a bit more sense now. He still needs more. Only if the sun as out, he could have thought of more ways. Fog just seems to clog his thinking. He looked at the garbage collector and said, “Don’t leave the pavilion. Saini,” he turned towards Saini, “Take his statement and start looking more. If he could hear the sound of the man, people in these front houses and buildings might also have heard something.” He said pointing towards the houses and hotels on the national highway. Saini took the garbage collector to a corner and started taking down his details. After taking the statement, he raised his index finger to warn the garbage collector, “Seher mat choriyo tau…dhara gaya na…to kachra bana ke pichwaara laal kar daange (don’t leave the town…if we catch you doing so, we will make you a garbage bag and kick your ass).” Saini then turned towards Rathi and said, “Sir, I am now going to do some inquiries more. The report will be there on your table, along with the missing cases. I think I will focus more on the male missing cases.” “Yes do that. I hope something positive comes out.” Rathi said exhaling.

*

Majnu ka Teela was a romantic place in Hauz Khaas and was surround by forest and old remains of forts. Rathi sat facing a short black haired woman. “Thanks for coming” Rathi said, in his same low and gentle voice, as he was sounding on the phone. “Aree its okay. I am your fiancée after all.” She said in a gentle voice. Rathi started blushing. Only if his staff and that garbage collector were there to see this. “Hey Kapil! Stop doing this. It’s really a shock sometimes. Nobody here can say that you are a cop.” Rathi changed his expression and was sitting with just a smile. “So Bhavyaa, how was your day?”

“Ah…normal…nothing great…usual stuff…clients…as in…patients…nothing much.” She said in a usual carefree tone. “You say…there was something you wanted to talk about?” she asked.

“Oh yes…there is this case I am working on. Wanted your help. So you see…there is this…”

“You want to place any order sir?” a waiter dressed in black interrupted him. Rathi looked at him, “Two glasses of water for now…” he faced Bhavyaa and continued, “So this case…”

“Normal or mineral water Sir? The waiter interrupted again. Rathi looked at him again with a serious note, “Anything you want us to drink…please…thank you!” He waited till the waiter was gone, then continued, “So…the police found a body, burned to ashes…today morning. After inquiry, we found out that the body was actually alive when it was burnt and a figure, man or woman, still not known, not only followed it, but also stood by it and leaned over the body, just to throw a cigarette.

I have my notions of believing that only a person with a deep revenge dream, could do something like this. Also, that the person who is dead, must be very rich to cause such a trauma that he was burnt alive. But we have no other go ahead as of now.” He bent over a bit and continued, “You are a psychiatrist Bhavyaa…and that too a criminal psychiatrist. What do you think can be so deep and disturbing that someone would not only burn a person, but would stand there to watch it?”

“Look, Kapil…First of all, you have to realise the fact that not every person burnt, is due to an act of revenge or is a rich. But, like you said, another person was leaning over it, I will support your argument that the deceased must have done something so  terrible, that watching him burn, gave a sense of fulfilment to the other person, who was watching it. I would say…go for cases where a person, who went missing, had a history of causing troubles. It might be a poor or rich. It cannot be argued for now.” Bhavyaa said, “It happens you know…sometimes…the pain and sufferings cross a limit, where a person feels nothing. In that case, he either becomes a psychopath or a sadist. It is hard to even imagine what human mind is capable of.”

Rathi looked at her and smiled, “I took the right decision by deciding to marry you.” Bhavya laughed. “Yes, Senior Inspector Kapil Rathi. One of your very wise decisions of course.”

“Sir would you like to place any order?” the same waiter stood with his notepad ready. Rathi, who was now getting irritated by this question, looked at him with a grim look, and said, “I asked for two glasses of water. Where are those?”

“Normal or mineral water Sir? The waiter asked again. “Bhai…whatever makes you happy…but please stop acting like Steve Buckner…don’t be this confused…just get us water please!” Rathi pleaded with his hands. The waiter left, confused and embarrassed.

Bhavyaa sighed, “You and you cricket.”

*

Rathi sat on his chair, in his cabin, trying to figure out the next step, when Saini came in with a report file in his hand. “What is the update on match, Saini? Rathi asked. Saini, who was now getting used to the cricket semantics, replied, “Sir, I managed to cover all the families and hotel receptionists, some bluntly refused to have heard or seen nothing, while one or two of them, they claim to have heard some noise, but didn’t bother to check it. Meanwhile, I was also checking for the missing complaints, and strangely, a family is waiting outside, who claim that the dead body belonged to one of their family members.”

“Is that so?” Rathi was amazed by this sudden development. “And what is it that makes them this sure?” he asked. “The lady, who claims it was her husband, said they were receiving some weird warnings.” Saini replied. “Hmm…I think then we have our dead man’s identity.

Rathi and Saini came out of the cabin. The family of four was sitting there. A lady, probably in her middle age, with a well maintained figure and lipstick (Rathi raised his left eyebrow, looking at it), and dressed in a plain saare. A girl, in her late teens, sitting on another chair opposite to and far from her mother’s (the facial similarity between the two was uncanny) a man…an army man, dressed in his full uniform, his left hand gently tapping the woman’s shoulder and a man in his early twenties, strangely standing at the centre of the room, but with autistic behaviour (he was blinking rapidly, clean shaven and his face all confused, with an innocence).

Rathi looked at them all, without them noticing, then cleared his throat. “Excuse me mam. My Virat just told me that you claim that ash on NH-8 belongs to your husband?” he asked. The lady looked at him, her eyes all wet. She stood up and approached him. “Unfortunately, yes. That as belongs to my husband. Sad, as it is, that our family could not see his body. It cannot get worse than this. Only yesterday night, I saw him, then he left for his warehouse in Rajokari. I had asked him to take his security, but he refused, saying that he was going to see a friend.” Saying that, she broke down into tears. The army man, was swiftly came to console her, while the other man, took out his handkerchief and passed it on to her. “Here here…aunty…please don’t cry. You cry…I cry with you.” He spoke in a curious and childish tone of a ten year old kid. Rathi was not used to this kind of television family drama in his station. He passed a glimpse to her daughter who was sitting on the other corner of the station. She was staring at her mother, with all the possible loathing and hatred. It was too much for Rathi to bear. He called the mother into his cabin. As she started walking by, the young man, started following her. “Not you young man.” Rathi pointed him out. “You stay here. Will call you when needed.” “But I want to come with her. She has my ice-cream.” he said, making faces. ‘God this is the worst test match of my life!’ Rathi thought. “Roshan dear!” the lady spoke, “wait here okay? Army uncle will get you your ice-cream. I need to talk to this another uncle…okay dear?” she said, still sobbing in between. Roshan, nodded his head like as child and went to stand with the army man.

Inside the cabin, Rathi had already decided to ask the important questions ever, as he could not tolerate the rich people crying. He sat in his chair and began the inquiry-

“Your husband, you said he worked in a warehouse?

“Yes, but not worked, he owned it. He, along with his partner, they run four warehouses, two of them here in Rajokari and two in Badarpur.”

“What reasons…and I mean solid reasons that you have, on the basis of which you are making this claim that the ash found belonged to your husband?”

“It had been for a year now. My husband and his partner used to get threat messages. First we all thought that it was because of the business. But one day, both of them, received a drawing. That drawing had two crocodiles, being burnt by a pup, and a printed message in the bottom saying, for all our families…yours and mine.”

“Hmm…did you report that?”

“We wanted to. But my husband was too arrogant to pay attention to that. Then every month, such drawings used to come. I secretly reported it to this station. But my husband as he discovered, withdrew the report. His ego was too big to read the signs. And then the first strike happened.”

“And that was…?”

“His partner…he used to handle the two Badarpur warehouses. We got the news that he was burnt alive outside his warehouse. By the time people tried to put off the flames, the damage was done. That was six months back. Even after that incident, my husband never bothered to take a security. He would often take off for night, days sometimes. Then a month back, he received another drawing. And that had just one crocodile, being burnt alive by the pup. And yesterday, he left in his Audi like usual…but who knew that he is not going to come back.” She burst into tears again.

“Did the police ever find out about the man behind the killing of your late husband’s partner’s killer?” Rathi continued ignoring her fresh tears.

“They tried. But nothing fruitful came out. My husband was adamant that it was a corporate rivalry. I kept telling him otherwise.”

“Oh sorry…I just forgot to ask your name.”

“My name is Sunita Sehgal. My husband’s name was Sumit Sehgal. The owner and partner in Sehgal Chemicals and Logistics.”

“And his partner’s name please?”

“Ashutosh Gupta.”

“Thank you Mrs. Sehgal. I will try my level best to solve this case. But I need to ask some questions to your daughter and your nephew.”

“Ohh…he is not my nephew. He works for me…does the house choirs. A bit mentally challenged for his age. But he is very sweet.”

“Oh and do you have smoke? My packet’s empty”

“Oh no…I may look modern, but I never got accustomed to all this.”

“Okay…” he escorted Mrs. Sunita outside his cabin and waved his hand to her daughter who was busy playing her iPod. Rathi never liked the spoilt brats. The girl took off here earplugs after watching Rathi waving at her. Rathi signalled her to come in his cabin. It was time for the round two.

Sunita was already comfortably sitting with the army man, and Roshan, watching them both and having his ice cream.

“You have a name?”

“Sunaina Sehgal.”

‘What is with this S?’ he thought, “Sunaina, I apologise for the loss that you had…I…”

“Don’t bother apologising. I am not a bit sad at what happened.” She said in a low pitch, egoistic and blunt tone, with a straight face.

‘Brats!’ “May I know why that is?”

“Because my father, was a pig. He had no morals, no love. All he cared was his work, his business and the remaining time was given to that whore….that mistress of his. We were just a mistake for that man. Any night, if he would stay back, he would beat my mom first, then would reach for his only daughter. And he has been doing it for past ten years. Easy enough for my lovely mother. She found her so called love in that army man, Major Shankar Katotra. But I was all alone. So why would I even care a BIT in this world for what happened to my so called father or how much does my mother’s bed shake in night. I just want to be free.”

“So you hated your father. You hate you mother too I get that. Can I put it this way then? That you had a great advantage if your father just vanished from your life?”

“Yes. But it’s not just me. Even my mother would be at great advantage. You see…she can enjoy her sex life more freely.” She spoke in a carefree, yet an underlined taunt that was clearly seen.

“And what about Roshan? What would he get out of all this?”

“Roshan? That poor guy could hardly stand a sight of my father. He was very frightened of his sight. Whenever my father would come home, Roshan would just hide under my bed or just leave secretly for his room, that not far from our mansion.”

“How long you all have known him?”

“Not long. It was my father’s partner who introduced this poor chap as a servant as my father’s partner had no family to look after.He is here since last three years. Before that, I have no idea.”

“You never asked him about his birthplace? Where he is from, his parents and all?”

“We didn’t bother. My mother and I were comfortable with him from the start. His innocence was such that we never really cared. He would ask me to read him short tales every day.”

“Thank you Sunaina. Please send the army man in.”

“Oh and do you have smoke? My packet’s empty.”

“I am way past that inspector.”

“Okay…”

The army man –

“I expected a bit respect Senior Inspector Rathi.”

“Well Major Shankar, it’s a respect enough that I am doing it in a much different way than I handle my other cases. Plus, you are not here for an IPL match. So please, don’t focus on my reception manners, just answer my questions. How long have you known the Sehgals?”

“From 10 years.”

“And Mrs. Sunita?”

“…fifteen years.”

“Did you had any verbal or physical fight with Mr. Sumit over anything?”

“No.”

“Were you ever threatened by him?”

“Yes. Plenty of times.”

“For what reasons?”

“I wanted Sunita to divorce her husband. Which was not acceptable by him. So he faced me once, but just threatened me and left every time.”

“Hmm…you have smoke? My packet’s empty.”

“I don’t smoke.”

“Thank You.” Rathi smiled and raised his left hand to point him towards the door. Major Shankar gave him a grim look then left the cabin.

After few minutes, Saini came in with another file. “You got any hint sir?” He asked curiously. Rathi leaned back on his chair, with his hands placed below his head. With his right leg over his left one and the left toe touching the marble floor, Rathi was sitting in his perfect thinking position. He glued his eyes on the ceiling and asked Saini to pick up the white board marker and start working on it as it says.

“So there is a wife, who has a lover, yet she laments over her cruel husband’s death,” Saini drew a woman, “a daughter who is happy that someone killed his father,” Saini drew another figure, “an army man who had every reason to get rid of his lover’s husband…and then there is this Roshan…a very strange and unique player…if Sumit were to be alive, it would hardly matter to him. If Sumit dies, even then it would hardly matter to him. Yet surprisingly, he is the only connection between Sumit and his partner.” Saini had drawn the entire scene on the whiteboard. “The problem is,” Rathi continues, “none of them smoke. And if we were to believe the garbage collector, the other person was smoking. I really can’t get a fix on this match fixer.” “Sir what if all this is just a façade. That woman and her lover wanted to get rid of all this. So they created this whole fake story and planned on murdering this man with the exact plot?” Saini pointed out.

“No Saini, it’s a no ball. See…we were right till now…the murdered is a rich. He had done many cruel things with her family. But doing something like that, it requires more. She mentioned about an old report she filed in this police station some time back. Check the old records and find me that report.” Rathi ordered Saini. “And while you are at it, get me the copy of the Badarpur case and send one constable behind every one of them…let’s see how victimised they really are.”

Saini saluted and left the cabin.

Next morning saw no change in the weather. The dense fog of December was causing hindrance all around. Inside the police station, Rathi was sitting on his chair, eagerly waiting for the reports and his cup of tea. Soon he was joined by Saini, whose eye were all puffed. He did not leave the station last night. “Were you still playing on the opening yesterday night Saini?” Rathi asked looking at him. “Yes sir,” Saini replied, “Yesterday I collected all the information that can be required to give us a way ahead. There are many things that had come up just in last night after you left. You will be surprised once you hear all.” Rathi looked at him and said, “Trust me, junior, nothing in this city surprises me anymore. But anyways, I would want to see the reports. But first I need you to have a cup of tea. You look exhausted.”

Saini, a little charged up by the station in-charge’s compliment and support, kept the files on his table and went out, to return after few minutes, bringing two cup of teas. “And this one is for you, sir.” Saini said, keeping the cup in his right hand on to the table. “Thank you.” Rathi said, “Now start the commentary.”

“Sir, yesterday, I searched through the old records to take out the report. This is the drawing that Mrs. Sunita was talking about,” he took out the drawing and kept it on the table, “To match it with the first murder, I called the Badarpur station. They had faxed me the details. The drawing was exactly as she told. Sumit’s partner received the drawing with two crocodiles, while the one that Sumit received had one.” He handed another piece of drawing to Rathi, “what is strange, that Sumit’s partner got the drawing, in which there are indeed two crocodiles, but only one was being burned by the pup. While in Sumit’s case, there is just one crocodile. But come to look at it, you will find that a burned piece of ash, is kept on the same position where the first crocodile was there. It was a clear indication that the murderer was giving Sumit a warning. I think Mrs. Sunita was telling the truth. These murders are being done by just one person.”

Rathi looked at Saini, impressed, “You just made a half century junior! If this is to be true, then even that Major is out of the suspicion line. You see, Major had only one reason to kill Sumit, that’s because of Sunita. And he had known both of them for long. It would make no sense for him plan this elaborate and kill Sumit’s partner first, then wait another six months to finally get rid of him altogether. Also Sumit’s daughter. A spoilt brat as she is, I don’t think she had the courage to plan such elaborately. So what’s remaining now, are two players, Mrs. Sunita herself and her young servant Roshan.”

“Roshan, Sir?” Saini interrupted, “Isn’t he mentally challenged?”

“Exactly!” Roshan said excited, “A perfect cover. Maybe I am wrong. But there is something about him that makes no sense. He was introduced to Sumit’s family by Sumit’s partner. By the way, did his partner had a family?”

“No sir.”

“Hmm…Sunaina did tell me that… anyways…then he came to live with Sumit’s family. Now what is interesting is this- yesterday, as I came out of the cabin, to see the family, they all were in the two separate sides of the station. But Roshan stood just in the centre, with a t shirt that pointed a thumb down, like he was teasing me as a loser. A ten year old mind, he listens to the stories, but wears a t-shirt that a ten year old would not prefer. Then it was the lips. Did you notice? He was a fair skin person. The only fair skinned among all the four. But his lips were not.  They were blackened, as if he smoked. What is more amusing, is that he was in a police station, his two masters died by burning in flames, while he kept on asking for ice-cream. You remember when I asked Sunita to come inside the cabin, he said she had his ice-cream. Now why would a lady carry an ice-cream in her bag…” he stopped, his eyes went blank. ‘Of course!’ “OF COURSE!” he shouted, Saini was unable to understand what was going on. But Rathi hardly cared. But needed to be absolutely sure before taking an action. He picked up the drawing from his table and gave it a thorough look. His eye gleamed as he looked at the drawing. “Saini, arrange a meeting with Sunaina Sehgal. And make sure no one finds out. Keep it discrete.”

Two Hours Later…

Rathi sat on his chair, facing a frightened looking twenty year old mentally challenged Roshan. He looked around with his mouth half opened, and his eyes rapidly searching for something up on the ceiling. Rathi, looked at him with a teasing smile, his eyes glued on to Roshan’s face. Saini stood behind Roshan, covering the door. Rathi kept looking at Roshan with a teasing smile for some time, then leaned forward, “Roshan! How are you today morning?” he asked. “Huh? I am okay…I want to go to my aunt. She has my ice-cream.” Roshan replied in a childish tone. Saini was still not sure of what was happening. He felt bad for Roshan. “Your aunty had gone to get you an ice-cream.” Rathi continued, “Even I will give you one, if you answer my questions. Will you answer my questions Roshan?”

Roshan looked at him with a curious face and asked, “You will give me my ice-cream? Okay.” He nodded looking at Rathi’s shoulders. “So tell me Roshan, how did Sumit uncle treat you?” “He used to give me sticks every night he saw me. Sticks would make my skin red and it would hurt. So I used to run away in Sunaina didi’s (sister’s) room and would hide there under the bed.” He said in a low voice in one go. “And then what would happen?” “Then didi would come to room and read me the stories.” “What kind of stories did you read?” “I don’t read, she had a big book, from which she would read me the stories and then I would sleep.” “What kind of stories Roshan?” “She would read me all sort of stories…fairy tales, Kutchu, Tom Sawyer.”

“Tom Sawyer! I don’t like Tom Sawyer. He was a bad boy.” Rathi said tauntingly.

“Hmm? No…Tom Sawyer was a good boy. He loved his aunty. He was always taking care of her.”

“No…but he goes off killing his aunty. Don’t you know that? He turns out to be a bad person and runs ways with her money.”

“No…no…Tom Sawyer never did that. He always loved his aunt. He brought the Huck back and his aunt accepted him. He was a good guy. Tom, Sid, Mary and Huck…all were loved by Aunt Polly.” Roshan said in one go.

Rathi gave a widespread smile, the joy of win was clearly visible on his face. “Exactly my point Roshan. How do you know what happened in the end as your Sunaina didi, just read you one chapter only?”

Roshan looked at him helplessly…his eyes still moving around to search something. “You don’t have my ice-cream, do you?” he asked

“Enough of the facade Roshan. Tell me the truth. Show your true self.” Rathi said in his glary look. Roshan stared at him, his face on the verge of crying, his eyebrows raised up in curiosity and his mouth half opened. And then it changed. His eyes became straight, his facial expressions slowly changed into a mature, serious looking face. As he leaned back on his chair, he closed his mouth crossed his right leg to his left and folded his hands on his lap. A mean, winning smile had now taken over, where an innocent gaping mouth was there before. His eyes adjusted and were now matching the glare of Rathi’s eyes.

He spoke in a tone, totally unheard from him before. A deep, complex voice spoke, “Well done Mr. Rathi. I am impressed. What is it you wanna know?”

Rathi, who for some reason was expecting this, was not at all surprised and kept on looking at him with a smile. Saini, who was till that point was sympathising with Roshan, was now awestruck. He was totally taken aback by this sudden development of events. There was a silence…Roshan was looking at Rathi with a smiling face. “Hello there…” Rathi broke the silence, “so who are you? Are you Roshan? Or is it an alter ego?” Rathi said, leaning forward.

“Oh please…!” Roshan laughed, “This is not a movie Rathi Ji, don’t act childish. The child Roshan was just an act…a performance…Kept me off the hook all my life.”  “So I will come straight to the topic,” Rathi said, “Why did you murder Sumit and his partner?” Roshan’s face now turned into a serious one. He kept looking at Rathi’s face. After a moment he spoke, “My mother always told me a story before I went to sleep. It was a story of a monkey, who befriends a crocodile. As the time passes, they become the best of friends. One day, crocodile gets greedy and he decides to bring monkey to his home, only to be cheated and having his heart eaten. That monkey was smart. He understood the game and escaped. Only if my father was that smart.

My father was a very successful businessman. He, along with his two partners, Sumit and Ashutosh used to run four warehouses in Delhi. My father was a noble soul. He used to call them both at our house and treat them like brothers. But both of them had a totally different plan in the mind. Their greed was such, that one night, they came in, like usual, but this time they had something else in mind. I clearly remember, my father had gifted me a goggle. It was a red goggle, I wore it for the whole day and I was very happy. I was wearing it when they came in and attacked my father, while the other one held my mother by the neck. My father begged them to stop and promised to do whatever they wanted. But those two were not willing to listen. Those…crocodiles…they wanted to eat my father’s heart. After torturing him for some time, killed him, while turning to my mother and undressing her.

I stood there, watching my father getting killed and my mother getting raped. I had seen these two crocodiles, betraying my father…a loyal man…like a dog loyal… and raping my mother. But if that was not enough, they burned her alive. My mother…a gentle soul…” tears started flowing down Roshan’s cheek, his eyes all red…but he kept on-

“I had seen the hell that day. It was not nice…it was all red…the two crocodiles ignored me and left…the worst mistake of their demonic life. The police was never able to prove that what went down that night ten years ago. I was taken by my uncle in Lucknow. But little did I knew that it was just another hell I was going in. He would come home every night, drunk…he would rape his wife and beat him. Then when that was not sufficient, he would come after me. Even after all this, my aunt used to treat me like her own son. She would often cry when alone…but she treated me like a son. My uncle…as if the things he did were not sufficient, sold his wife to his friends, while he himself would run after his whores.

Every night, he used to beat both of us. Up till one day, when I lost my soul. That day…I burnt him in his sleep. That was my first awakening. Once again, the cops were never able to prove that how the murder happened. But I knew. We shifted to Delhi after some months. And as the fate would be more kind to me. We came this very same locality. From where it all began. All I needed to do wait. I used to see these two crocodiles every day. They seemed to have forgotten who I was…but I didn’t. As the time passed, my aunt started getting sick. She was the only link I had to the mortal world. But one day, when her condition worsened, I could not take it. So I relieved her of the pain and hell. Now I was all alone. A fifteen year old teenager, I just wanted the liberation…nirvana…from this hell we live in. I left the place to get a work somewhere. I met many people who would use and betray others for their work. I was angry…very angry…until after three years, I met a girl. A local shopkeeper’s daughter, where I used to work. She was very rich…a spoilt brat. One say she came in my room above the shop and wanted me to play with her body. I did…but then…she should not have said that she was already engaged. She was cheating on her fiancé. I could not take it…so I killed her as well.

And finally, I came back. This childish act of innocence that I donned for all my life, was very helpful in getting close to Ashutosh. And after gaining his trust, I moved in with Sumit’s family. After many years, I had finally found a family. A mother like figure and a sister. But this crocodile was same like he was when he raped my mother, like my uncle used to beat my aunt. Had it not been for Shankar, I would have relieved her as well. And when the time came, I started sending them drawings…but they would ignore. So I took Ashutosh down. Finally it was Sumit’s turn. And as planned, one night, when he was returning from his one of the mistress’s house, I drenched him in petrol and burnt him alive.”

Rathi kept looking at him. His face was now a blank one. He was sitting in front of a psychopath, who had murdered five people with no remorse. Yet here he is, claiming that it was all just for the greater good. “What now?” Rathi asked. “All this act…yet I caught you.”

“No Mr. Rathi you did not.” Roshan spoke in a casual tone. “Yesterday I saw you asking the garbage collector. I was standing very close to you. It’s just that you did not pay attention. After killing the last of the crocodiles, I was free. I wanted nothing more from this world. Then as he mentioned that he saw me smoking… that was a lifesaver. I stood in front of you…in your station. A t-shirt saying that you are losing. I revealed that my aunt has my ice-cream. What I meant was that she had my sanity….the solution to the fire burning in my heart for so long. My aunt had that…my mother had that…my father…So I decided to make it a bit difficult for you. But then again, I am done… I am tired…I want to rest now.Your investigation is nonetheless…great.”

“All this…just for revenge?” Rathi questioned. Roshan looked at him with a grim face and said, “If you see you parents raped and burned alive…if you spent the next few years trying to cope up with another hell, while all the demons run free…what you will do Sir? Look around you…why are we living? Every person in this world…just wants to satisfy themselves. They don’t care if anyone is hurt…they don’t care if someone dies…a girl victimises herself and makes use of other man…a man…cheating his family for sex…cheating his partner for wealth….all this hurts me…the betrayal…this selfishness…it makes me sad…vulnerable…angry…very angry…so I decided to take the matters in my own hand. Get this world rid of any such person.”

Rathi looked at him will loathe…he leaned forward and said, “You are no sane…you are sick…you dint need prison…you need a medication.” He looked up to Saini, “Call the Sehgal family…tell them the murderer is found. And call the mental asylum.”

“There won’t be any need with the Sehgal’s. They know…I told them before putting them to rest forever.” Roshan said. Rathi grabbed his collar and pulled him up, “YOU BASTARD! WHAT WAS THE NEED FOR THAT…WEREN’T THEY YOUR SANITY?”

Roshan looked at him and smiled, “And that’s why I did it. You see…if Sunita aunty would have been alive…she would be making my sister unhappy. I needed someone to continue the regime. So I went to her the Major’s place and before they can realise…I relieved them as well. I did tell her the reason though. I hope she would have heard it all. Now it’s just my sister. Happy…she has nothing to worry about now.”

Rathi threw him on the floor and was about to take out his gun, when Saini stopped him. “Take him away right now…JUST LEAVE!” He shouted to Saini.

*

“Relax Kapil…I told you…sometimes…it’s impossible to come back after crossing the line. But how did you know who the killer was?” Bhavyaa asked him, as she served him the rice, in Rathi’s apartment. “I didn’t. Just played a bluff. The drawing that I was looking at, was made on a blank paper, but it had a drawing…a faint drawing of a boy, painting a fence…”

“Tom Sawyer?” Bhavyaa asked.

“Yes…Sunaina had already told me that she used to read stories to Roshan. I discretely arranged for a meeting. When I met her again, I asked her about the Tom Sawyer story. She told me tat she would read just a chapter of one story each day and she clearly remembered that Tom Sawyer story was red to read Roshan a year back as after that, the book had gone missing. It was clear to me that Roshan had taken special interest it and would have read it.

So to check my theory, I called Roshan and presented a false character of Tom, to which he reacted very badly and corrected me. I would still have gone for his lips, which were darker as compared to his skin colour, proving the point that he smoked. And it would bring on the case altogether.”

“Hmm…you are brilliant Kapil…but you just don’t seem happy?”
“How can I be? I tried opening the old file. His parents were indeed murdered. His uncle burnt in sleep. A lady dead where he used to work and now this. Everything matches. This guy has seen a lot…but how can someone go that far? Poor Sunaina will now have to live her life without her parents. Her maasi (mother’s sister) has taken her in.”

“It’s the brain, Kapil. Your mind is very powerful that any other weapon. Plus don’t you see…he matured, thinking that he was in a hell. So no matter what he does, it will just be another act of daily routine. He believed that he was helping them, while he was losing himself in the process.”

“There was no help he was giving. In the end…he was just another man…out for revenge.” Rathi looked at Bhavyaa who gave a supporting smile and they went back to having their dinner.

 

*********

© 2016 by Manish Singh. All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Suitcase

I am standing in a very crowded street…my eyes are searching for a known face…..I have killed time, money and a lot many other things to be here…exactly here….exactly for this point of time…for that man. And he is about to show up…just for one last time…as today is the day when I will be cleansing this earth by his cursed blood…”

*

It was merely seven o’clock next morning of July and Mahipalpur Chowk was surrounded by the crowd. People were looking at an opened suitcase, which had a plastic bag that was bathing in blood. Most of the people were swaying away from the situation as it was soon to be turned into a crime scene and nobody wanted to get involved, just enjoy. In next thirty minutes, police arrived, sealed the place and started the investigation. Within next hour, there were cops all over the place and a forensic team which arrived to finally open the plastic bag. A group of policemen were asking the crowd about the suitcase when another police van arrived at the scene.

Senior Inspector Rathi came out, dressed in civil uniform, like a superstar comes out of his vanity van. He was a well-built man in his early thirties and had a bald patch on the centre of his head. With an attitude of a prince, he took off his aviators with his left hand, while his right hand was adjusting his bushy moustache. As he approached the crime scene, an inspector dressed in uniform approached him to discuss the details. He saluted Rathi, who paid no attention to him, but in return, asked in a deep and penetrating voice, “So who got bowled today?”

Rathi was one of the gems in Delhi Police, with zero corruption charges and a brilliant track record. The only trouble his superiors had with him was his penchant of involving cricket in his questions and replies while on investigation.

“The forensic team is yet to open the plastic bag, sir.” the inspector replied.

“So are they waiting for a toss or third empire’s decision?” he asked, getting irritated. “Sir they were waiting for your arrival. This situation is very delicate.” the inspector replied. “Ah! So they are waiting for the captain…I see…” Rathi said, with a self-complimenting tone.

“Detail me now, inspector.” he ordered.

“Sir, it is still not sure what happened. It was the night watchman who found the suitcase. We got a call in the morning from the night watchman Mohan, who comes on the patrolling duty in the night. He was also the first to arrive on the scene.” the inspector briefed him about the situation. “Hmm… well, will deal with him later, let’s get that plastic bag open.” Rathi said. He and the inspector were given the mouth mask to wear before going further. “Why this?” Rathi asked. “Trust me sir, this may be your first time. What you are about to see or smell, is something you will wish you never have to do it again.” the forensics guy said.

As Rathi and his fellow inspector crossed the ‘do not cross’ tag and approached the bag, they froze on the spot. The fellow inspector covered his mouth and ran to a safe distance from the crime scene to vomit out. Rathi’s eye were still glued to what he was seeing in the plastic bag. It was not a body.  Not even a body cut into pieces and put in the bag. In fact, that would still be counted as human, to what he was seeing. Eye balls, intestines, lungs, brain, liver and every other body organ that is present in a body, was out, filled in a plastic bag. Rathi looked around. He sensed that crowd had no idea what was in the bag. So he signalled the forensic guy to pack it up and take it to the lab.

With that, the crowd started thinning.  He could hear some of the people being disappointed, to not able to see the contents of the bag; while some were not happy as they felt their time was wasted as they saw no action. As furious as he was on their comments, he needed to keep his full focus on the case.  The fellow inspector was still recovering from the sensual trauma, when Rathi patted him from the back, “Glad you didn’t pass out, or else I would have suspended you myself. Take me to the night watchman. And I mean right now.” he ordered his fellow inspector in his deep voice, “And have some water. I don’t want your stinking mouth obstructing my batting with the watchman.” he added.

The watchman was standing near the police van, shivering and afraid. Delhi police was not considered a very ‘friendly inquiry’ kind of police. Watching Rathi approaching him all serious and furious, he lost his calm. Rathi was very well known in the area. Firstly for his cricket obsession and then for his ‘slap first convict later’ approach. He bent on his knees and cried to Rathi, “Saab! I did nothing…I was just patrolling like always…last night I saw the bag, but thought it was a stranded one. It was only in the morning when I saw the stray dogs trying to tear it off, I approached it. There was blood oozing out. It was only then, that I called the cops. Saab! I did nothing….mother promise!”

Rathi kept looking at him, with his face becoming more firm with watchman’s every sentence. He then asked, “What are your duty hours?”

“Saab…All night…from eleven in the night to six in the morning.”

“At what time did you spot the bag?”

“Around one in the night. I take a round of the entire alley. It takes me five minutes on my cycle. It was in that process that when I crossed the chowk, I noticed the bag.”

“Who else comes on the duty with you?”

“I am the only one.” Watchmen replied, now easing out as Rathi has not slapped him.

“So you noticed the bag in the night, lying stranded, and yet, you called in the morning?”

The watchman then realised the grave mistake he made. Before he could come up with an explanation, Rathi slapped him hard on his right cheek. Before the watchman could recover from the shock, Rathi grabbed his collar and spoke in a fierce tone, “You just let a stranded bag kept laying in the middle of the chowk, and your little Sherlock brain deduced that it must be a waste. NOT ONCE did you think that it could easily have been be a BOMB? And what do you think we cops are? A bunch of IDIOTS? To whom you will sell the cheap front row tickets for a test match and in return, show us a T-20? What a perfect timing. One round, and it was not there. The next round it was. Now come on…your game is up. Where is your other batsman? Who are the sponsors of your little 20-twenty? Who is the organiser? TELL ME!” Rathi shouted, shaking the watchman by his collar.

The watchman was now on the verge of breakdown. He stared crying, with tears flowing from his eyes, “Saab…! Mother promise I didn’t do anything. I never miss my duty, neither let any one pass by while on round. I can never be involved in any such kind of activity. Trust me Saab! Ask anyone.”

Rathi let the watchman’s collar loose and ordered a constable to take his statement, as he started walking towards his van. The horrific images of the plastic bag contents were still clear to him. The case was just in the beginning phase and he already felt exhausted. He had to solve it fast. He needed to use his three days guarantee method. Right before the telecast of India vs. Australia Test Match Series, which began in four days, he needed to close the file. This three days guarantee method was something that he invented to use on cases that required all his attention. Till date, he had solved more than ten complicated cases in less than three days, or on the third day, right before the clock would strike twelve in midnight.

He went and stood near his van, thinking about the watchman’s statement when his fellow policeman joined him. “Sir, I don’t think this watchman has the guts or brains to pull off something like…that!” he said, his voice filled with the disgust of what he saw. “Agreed. But we still need to keep an eye on him. Also, look for any CCTV footage that you can find. I am sure, something must be there.” Rathi said, his mind still processing the whole crime scene. He might not have admitted, but it was too much, even for him. His thoughts were interrupted by the fellow inspector. “Err…sir, they don’t have a CCTV for this society.” he said.

Rathi looked at him surprised, “What? No third umpire? Damn’it!” he was quickly running out of the options. No witness, no CCTV footage, he had lost this innings. Just as he would come up with any other thought, his phone rang and his eyes widened like an excited child. “We may have something at least.”

“What happened sir?” the fellow inspector asked. “They have found a letter in the midst of the thing.” Rathi said. ”We know now that who the owner of those organs is after all. We need to move in to the forensic department.”

Meanwhile, somewhere else, a man sat on his arm-chair, reading the morning newspaper. He has not felt this content ever before. Last night’s adventure had finally put his soul at peace. He wanted nothing more in his cursed life. He kept the newspaper on the side, maybe didn’t find the news he was looking for, and stretched his arms. He could not get proper sleep last night after his little trip to Mahipalpur. Whatever little he had, he was fine with it…but he wanted to sleep more…a long and deserving sleep…

Rathi was having a very hard time in the forensic department. He had requested the doctor to remove the bag prior to his arrival. “Highlights only, please” he requested the doctor. “We found the paper in the middle of all the mess. It was laminated, so the contents of the paper were not damaged. I think that’s all we could find, except for one more peculiar fact.” “And that will be?” Rathi asked. “We have recognised all his body organs. There is only one body part missing, his penis.”

Rathi and his fellow inspector looked at each other, confused. But at this time Rathi was open to any kind of bizarre news, as he had already seen the worst. He requested for the paper that came along with the bag. It was a note. Rathi began reading the contents –

 

These body organs belonged to a demon named Nandkishor. He was an auto driver working on the route of Mahipalpur-IGI-NDLS. He was a rapist who could not be convicted due to lack of evidences. Please go through the case file of Mahipalpur gang-rape, which happened six months back. But I cleansed my earth with his blood. And now, I give you one more chance to do what you cops are meant to do. Open the case again and bring the other accomplice to justice. He is currently out of my reach. But BEWARE! If he is not caught by you, then you will have another body’s organs to sort through.

-Kalki

 

The name at the end of the letter was more than sufficient to explain everything to Rathi. Kalki…a name that has struck fear into the hearts of all the rapists and molesters in past two years.

He still remembers the first time when a body was found in the forest of Dhaula Kuan. The eye balls were missing, penis chopped out and his chest cut wide open to show the insides. The body belonged to an MLA’s son, who was accused of multiple rapes and eve teasing. It was an isolated incident back then and was proceeded in the same manner. Things changed when another body was found in the same condition, but with a note that time. Kalki had officially announced his existence and that he will keep punishing any rapist who is out of the law’s hands. In the following months, many bodies were found in the same condition, all belonging to those who were either a rape accused, or too rich to be put in the jail.

Delhi Police was put on the maximum alert, yet somehow murders kept happening. The common people were happy though. Every woman in the city was praising Kalki, calling him the God’s incarnation. There was a significant drop in the rape cases, but an increase in the murder rate. Rathi always dreaded to come across any such case. Yet he stood here today, finally in the middle of all the mess. Kalki was now a central level matter, but since it happened in his area, he could not run from it. He has to solve it, that too, in three days.

He looked at the note once again. There was something off about it. And then it clicked him. A proof that could easily be a turning point in this case. “Sir, should we be informing the commissioner about it? He is directly handling the Kalki matter after all.” the fellow inspector interrupting his thought. But Rathi smiled and said, “No. That will not be needed. As this is not Kalki.” The fellow inspector looked at him in a confused state. Rathi went on explaining, “Look at the letter. Kalki leaves a note with every dead body. But it just mentions the name of the person and the people he raped. He follows the same format with every dead body. He never threatened police or challenged to murder another rapist, if they didn’t take any action. But here, he is not only challenging us, but also telling us that how he did earth a favour by killing him.

Secondly, notice the condition of the body. Kalki has a signature. Such twisted serial killers always do. He followed the same killing style with every rapist, the manner in which the first body was found. In past two years, he never broke his style. Then why make an exception for Nandkishor? Reason is simple. Someone tried to copy Kalki’s style, but failed terribly. It is a pure act of revenge.” Rathi finished. The fellow inspector and the doctors were astonished at this new discovery. “Open the Mahipalpur gang rape file. Get an ID on this Nandkishor and find his fellow auto drivers and family. Although their statements will be nothing more than a match’s commentary, followed by their ‘expert’ review on the possible suspect, still go ahead.” Rathi ordered his fellow inspector.

He needed to visit the crime scene again. He had hopes now. If the killer can do such a mistake, he might had done something reckless, must have left some clue. He was not Kalki after all. Just an imposter. Rathi was the first of the cops to feel good about the decreasing rape cases, but he never supported the road taken to achieve the goal. He got in his police van, wore his aviators and left for the crime scene.

It took him an hour to reach back to the location. The area was back on its normal routine. Rathi got out of his police van in his similar style and stood at the exact spot where the suitcase was found. He closed his eyes, visualising the entire scenario about the previous night. The watchman said it took him five minutes to complete one round of the alley. Which means, the killer would have got a chance to act only in those five minutes. The suitcase was heavy. Which means that he could not have balanced it in a bike. The car would definitely have been impossible as the watchman would have heard something.  That leaves only one medium. The killer walked with the bag in the entire alley. He must have noted down the exact time it takes for the watchman to complete his one round. Plus, if the bag was heavy and the killer was on foot, then he must have run with the bag in his hands. Carrying a bag of that weight would require a good build up body. The killer cannot be a normal guy. He was figuring out all the possible ways and narrowing down the profile of his killer. He opened his eyes. His has something more to gone on with.

But he still had no clues, no solid reason to support his theory. He looked around the chowk area. It was surrounded by two alleys, hotels and houses. It was one of such areas of Delhi, where nobody would look out of the window unnecessarily in night. Thus, there was no use of asking anyone around. He turned his back on the crime scene, ready to wait for any information that his fellow inspector would bring, when his eyes saw a small, little black object, hanging down from the wall of a hotel property and facing at the same spot where he was standing. Rathi moved a bit closer to the wall, and with another look at the black object, he smiled and quickly moved in the hotel Star Palace.

It was a well-lit building, with fresh fragrance of flowers all over. Couples and family were moving around, sitting on the sofas. Some children were running around and jumping all over the place. Rathi quickly moved towards the receptionist area where a man in his late thirties was sitting. Assuming Rathi as a guest, he stood up and welcomed him, but Rathi had no time.

He asked the receptionist, “How long has your CCTV camera been hanging on the side wall, pointing towards the alley?” The receptionist was a bit taken aback with the question. Rathi was getting restless. He took out his ID batch and flashed it on his face. The man behind the reception recognised Rathi as ‘slap first and convict later’ cop. He quickly started answering. “Sir, it was not supposed to be hanging, it just fell down last evening. We tried getting it fixed, but there was no man with us yesterday. Why sir? Anything serious? Is it against the law? I will get it fixed today.” he kept saying. But Rathi was not interested in it.  He went on inquiring, “Was it still in the recording mode?” “Yes sir. It should be.” The man then looked at his screen and went on the playback mode. Rathi asked him to play footage of between 12 midnight to 2 am. The receptionist followed the instructions. Rathi saw each and every second of the video with all his attention. The watchman was indeed telling the truth. His timings were matching exactly the way he told. The camera resolution was high and with any luck, Rathi would see the killer any time now and test his theory. And then, as the time was around one, he showed up.

A man was coming out of a dark alley, moving slowly towards NH-8 crossing. His was dragging a big suitcase, which was exactly of his size, maybe an inch or two shorter. As he was about to reach the main road, it stopped to turn back and look for a sign of any living soul passing by, but there was none. Rathi could clearly see his face in the light of the lamp post. He smiled and wiped his forehead of the sweat. He then kept the luggage down and stretched his arms, while looking around at the building for any signs of light. The entire street was dark, expect for the lamp post’s lights. He opened the suitcase and his face filled with disgust. He then closed the zip and without looking at it further, vanished into the dark alley, from where he came.

Rathi was filled with joy. It’s not even the evening of the day one, and he has found the killer. He asked the receptionist to give him a print out of the picture, after freezing the screen back at the moment when the killer accidently looked at the camera, completely ignoring it. The receptionist did exactly what he was told. Rathi was about the call his fellow inspector, when his phone rang. His fellow inspector had called him to give him an update on the dead’s colleagues’ inquiry.

The fellow inspector had informed him that the victim, Nandkishor was a big pervert. Upon inquiry it was found that he has no family here. His colleagues had no regret that he was found dead in that condition. In fact, they were happy that Kalki finally got him. His one of the colleague was brought along to make the statement.

Inside the Mahipalpur police station, Rathi was inquiring about the deceased Nandkishor. A fellow auto driver started with the same ‘he should have been dead’ stuff when Rathi interrupted, “No test match commentary, everything in 20-twenty format…quick now.” The auto driver began, “Sir, a year back, we remember, we were standing at the Ajmeri Gate metro station, waiting for the passengers to come. Nandu was also there, but was only eyeing for the female passengers. No body used to talk to him as he was very disgusting. A beautiful memsaab then came out of the railway station and approached him. I clearly remember she was wearing a black sleeveless top and shorts. She wanted to go to Mahipalpur. Nandu was very happy to take her. I knew his intentions. So I approached her and requested her to take another auto. But I think she thought I wanted to take her in mine, so she refused. Nandu used to take gaanja and get violent. Even that evening, he fought with me over her. But he finally took her. We all heard the news that she was found gang-raped and dead in the same Mahipalpur Chowk. Nandu was questioned and taken into custody, but he never accepted the charges. The cops had to let him go. But we all knew what he did. It was rumoured that he also had a partner that night.

The strange fact is, that just two days after Nandu was released from the custody, a Saab, he was a fauji, came up and started beating Nandu at the Ajmeri gate side taxi stand. We did our best to stop him, but he was very well built. So police had to come in between.”

“Wait…hang on….” Rathi interrupted, “You said a well-built man…?”

Ji sir…he was the husband of that memsaab. He kept shouting that Nandu killed her and that he will kill him. Saab…after the police stopped him, even then he kept showing himself every day. All he used to do was stand at the Ajmeri gate metro station gate, and stare at Nandu. As if he knew when Nandu would be present there. He kept doing it for next six months. He used to look very scary sometimes. Nandu had to take other spot in IGI. He got too scared of him. After that, even fauji saab stopped coming. Poor soul he was sir…memsaab was pregnant when Nandu did it. I can never forget that incident.”

Rathi’s heart was racing. Just one more question, and if he gets the answer he is looking for…the case will be closed. He took out the print out of the photograph and placed it in front of the auto driver. And with a slow voice, asked, “Is this the same guy you saw?” The auto driver didn’t even take a second to nod his head in affirmation. Rathi looked at his fellow inspector, who got the signal and handed him over the gang rape file, showing the guy and his address. Rathi’s eyes were sparkling with the tears of victory. He ordered, “Get the team, we have our killer. Screw the warrant. And someone drop this great man…” he said pointing towards the auto driver, “…back to Ajmeri Gate. And don’t even think of leaving the pitch without permission. We will need you again.”

Rathi was happy and thrilled beyond measures. They were quickly moving towards Delhi cantonment to capture Major Suyash Chandra. He still had lot of questions that needed answering. Like how was he able to murder Nandkishor and place the body in the middle of the chowk with the perfect timing? He must have some place where he had to cut down the body? He was still grateful to that hanging CCTV camera that Suyash ignored, as it was a mishap that happened on the very same say when he was planning on the murder.

The police van stopped in front of C-214/8, ARMY CANTT. The moment was here. Rathi alerted his team to be ready as the killer is an army officer, and might give a very good fight. Rathi took the initial stairs and was about to knock at the door, when he noticed that the door was slightly opened. Rathi gave a little push to the door and with his gun pointed forwarded, he entered the house. What he saw next was a nothing like a completely twisted suspense scene.

Major Suyash was laying in the floor, his fingers crushed and throat slit. But he was still alive. Rathi shouted to his team outside, “SOMEONE CALL AN AMBULANCE RIGHT FUCKING NOW!” But Suyash just looked at him, trying to laugh, as he spat more blood. Rathi looked at him in utter shock and confusion. His entire case was breaking down into nothingness. But he will not lose hope. He caught hold of Suyash’s head and tries to ask him. “Just admit it. It was you who murdered Nandkishor. I just want a confession damn’it. Don’t you dare die on me before you do that.” But Suyash just tried to laugh. He nodded his head, signalling Rathi to come near his lips. Rathi, being a desperate cop, lent his ears near Suyash’s lips. Suyash tried to speak, in a very low and confused voice, “Ka…lki… rul…s… ru…les…I…bre…k…ka…i pu…ni…sh…” Rathi got up, not able to believe his ears. He wanted more. He shook Suyash and before he could ask another question….he noticed the faint murmuring. He again brought his ears close to Suyash’s lips. But it was not a statement. Suyash was trying to sing some lines of a song. Rathi looked at him. Suyash was trying hard to laugh Rathi. But again, all he managed was a short ‘ha’ and blood. His eyes went full with tears, trickling down to his ears. He was crying…yet, his face had a smile and blood. With some more efforts of laughing, his voice started fading away and his eyes stopped their movements. He was dead.

Rathi looked at him with a mixed reaction. He was not sure whether to curse him, feel sorry for him or both. He did manage to get a ‘kind of’ confession. But with this confession, he had lost the case. It was officially a Kalki case now. His team members were now standing in the house. They all were looking at the dead body of a murderer who himself has slaughtered a human.

*

Rathi was ordered to report in the police headquarters after two days. The report that he presented, clearly stated the facts that Suyash was somehow working for Kalki. He planned on murdering a guy who raped and murdered his pregnant wife. But maybe that was not what Kalki wanted at the moment. So after Suyash used Kalki’s name to do a murder, Kalki decided to punish him and as a result, smashed his fingers and slit his throat so that he could not communicate anything. But this revelation has thrown a light at the case. Kalki, who was supposedly working alone, is now confirmed to be working in team. Its more than one person, who work in the manner Kalki wants them to work. And nobody has the liberty to break the rules he makes.

After half an hour of waiting, Rathi was called in. He entered the cabin and saluted the Commissioner. The Commissioner was a man in his early fifties. Slim, and high density of white hairs on his head and moustache. He was nose deep buried in what appeared to be Rathi’s report. Realising that he has not replied to his salute, Rathi stood there, looking around. He saw the walls covered with boards, all marking the places in Delhi, where Kalki had left his mark. Rathi casually looked at the chair to his right. A man, in his late twenties, with dark black hairs falling in his eyes, kept looking at him, without moving his eyelids. He was very thin, and his white shirt was making him look thinner. His expressions were blank, yet his eyes were straight on Rathi.

“Don’t worry, you are not the first one to look at me like that. Please hold your thoughts of any bad ideas you are having about my diet plan.” he said in a soft voice and blank tone. His eyes were still x-raying Rathi. ‘Huh…Sherlock rip-off version’, Rathi thought.

Commissioner saw Rathi and told him to sit on the chair next to the other guy. “Senior Inspector Rathi, your report is brilliant. The detailing of the crime and the way you figured out the Kalki link was brilliant. I am surprised to say that none of us could figure it out that Kalki was working in team. You have no idea how easy it is for Sharang to plan his next move now.” he said.

Sharang was a genius RAW agent turned detective. When the police was not able to handle Kalki, he was also involved. Rathi had only heard about him, but never met him or saw him. “I called you here to offer you Kalki case.” commissioner continued, “Sharang and I, we both feel that your intellect and problem solving techniques will be a very useful tool to us.” Rathi was not believing his ears. That was the reason, the only reason he never wanted the Kalki case. It’s just too much time consuming. But once again, he was not in a position to say no.

“Yes sir. It will be an honour to work with you and Mr. Sharang. I really wanted to thank him in person for this opportunity.” Rathi said, his mind still fuming over his circumstances. “And I accept your thanks with regards. It will be fun.” a slow voice came from the right chair. Rathi looked at the lean man. ‘This crazy man is the great Sharang! I am soon going to either die or end up in jail murdering him’ Rathi thought.

“Well that will be all Senior Inspector Rathi. See you Next week. You will be reporting directly to me in the police headquarters.” Commissioner said standing up. Rathi stood up along with him, saluted and was about to leave, when Sharang called from behind, “Just a moment Mr. Rathi. Your report mentions the killer’s last words. Will you repeat his last words to me? I could not find it in your report.” Rathi turned back. Sharang was not even looking at him. His anger level was rising high up, yet he managed to keep the calm and said-

We have a greed,
with which we have agreed,
society, you are a crazy breed,
hope you are not lonely without me.”

“It’s a song. My favourite.” Sharang said, “Thank you officer. See you next week.”
Rathi turned his back on Sharang and left the cabin.
*******

 

© 2016 by Manish Singh. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

That Lady At The Tube-well

कभी कभी हमारे जीवन में ऐसी घटनाएं होती हैं, जिनपे हम खुद भी हैरान हो जाते हैं। ये घटनाएं अचानक ही होती हैं। क्यों, कैसे, किसलिए… इनका जवाब न तो हमारे पास होता है, और न ही हम खोज पाते हैं। ये बस हो जाती हैं। और होती भी ऐसे हैं, की सच, वास्तविकता और science के बनाये नियम, दूर दूर तक कहीं नज़र नहीं आते। हम ये सोचने लगते हैं की जो भी हुआ, या जो भी हमने देखा या सुना, उसमे कितना सच है? क्या जो हुआ वो एक छलावा था? आँखों का धोखा या फिर मन का वहम? वास्तविकता क्या है? इसकी परिभाषा क्या है? कौन है जो इसके नियमों को बनाता है? ये सवाल मेरे जेहन में कभी पहले नहीं आये। मैंने हमेशा से rational thinking और scientific approach के साथ अपनी जिंगदी जी.. until an incident changed my perception about life and reality.

आज बीस साल हो गए उस घटना को बीते हुए, पर जब भी सोचता हूँ तो महसूस होता है की कल ही की बात है। मैं उन गन्नों पे बिछी ओस की बूंदों को अभी भी महसूस करता हूँ, हवा में फैली उस भीनी मिट्टी की खुश्बू अभी भी मुझे तरोताज़ा कर देती है। और वो चेहरा… लकड़ी के गट्ठर की जलती आग की रोशनी में एक अलग ही चमक लिए वो चेहरा…

*

बीस साल पहले मैं army में Major की rank पे जोधपुर में posted था। December के महीने की ठण्ड अपना कमाल दिखा रही थी। दिन में मिली धूप, रात को आई ठण्ड के आगे सर झुका के घुटने टेक देती थी। पर हम फौजी थे। गर्मी पड़े या ठण्डी, हम हमेशा अपनी duty पे तैनात रहते थे।

दोपहर के 12:45 बजे थे। सूरज अपने पूरे जोश में था और सैनिक बल पुरे होश में अपनी daily duties कर रहे थे। मैं P.T. oversee कर रहा था जब एक सैनिक नें आकर खबर दी कि मेरे लिए Air Commodor भानू प्रताप का call है। यूँ तो वो मेरे पिताजी थे, but on duty, वो hamesha मेरे senior पहले और dad बाद में थे। तभी मेरे mobile पे call न करके उन्होंने मुझे office के number पे call किया था। मैंने उनका call recieve किया।

“Good afternoon Sir!”

“Major रुद्र… How is your day going?”, एक dominating, yet still caring आवाज़ में मेरे पिताजी नें मुझसे पूछा।

“Very good, Sir!”

“Exellent. Major रुद्र, तुम्हारे दादाजी की तबियत काफी ख़राब है। वो अपनी अंतिम साँसे ले रहे हैं। मैं चाहता हूँ तुम जितनी जल्दी हो सके मध्रुगढ के लिए निकलो। हम आपको वहीं मिलेंगे।”

मैं कुछ seconds के लिए चुप रहा। मुझे कुछ समझ में नहीं आ रहा था। पिताजी कभी on duty personal बातें नहीं करते तो फिर आज? और इन्हें कब से अपने पिताजी की चिंता होने लगी? आज के पहले, बल्कि जब से मुझे याद है, इन्होंने कभी उनका जिक्र नहीं किया। ” Yes Sir!”, पर इतना ही बोल पाया मैं।

“On duty now, मेजर।”, ये बोल कर उन्होंने फ़ोन काट दिया। मैं कुछ देर के लिया वही खड़ा रहा। पिताजी को यूँ अचानक घर जाने की याद कैसे आ गयी? अपनी desk की drawer से मैंने cigarette निकाली और पीने लगा। हर एक कश के साथ मेरे सवाल और भी बढ़ते जा रहे थे। ‘शायद इन्हें जायदाद चाहिए। सुना था मैंने एक बार इनको माँ से बात करते हुए, काफी बड़ी जायदाद है, और पिताजी के siblings भी नहीं हैं…नहीं नहीं….ऐसा नहीं होगा…पिताजी नें मुझे बचपन से ही self reliable and self dependent बनना सिखाया है। शायद कुछ और…aaargh! कुछ नहीं समझ आ रहा। ये दादा कहाँ से आ गया बीच में। मेरी cigarette खत्म हो गयी थी। पर सवाल अभी भी थे। मुझसे रहा नहीं गया। मैंने अपना phone निकाला और पिताजी को call किया। तीसरी ring में फ़ोन उठाकर उन्होंने कहा, “हां बेटा!” इस बार उनकी आवाज़ में प्रेम था। क्योंकि अब वो किसी मेजर से नहीं अपने बेटे से बात कर रहे थे।

“पिताजी, हमें आपसे एक बात पूछनी है।”

“जानते हैं। यही ना, कि आज अचानक से हमें अपने पिताजी की याद कैसे आ गयी?” सब जानते थे वो, कब, क्या और कौन सा सवाल मेरे ज़ेहन में है।

“जी, पिताजी।”

“मरते हुए आदमी से कैसा बैर, रूद्र? हम जानते हैं की वो अब ज्यादा दिन नहीं जिएंगे। उनके आखिरी पलों में अगर उनकी आखिरी इच्छा पूरी नहीं हुई, तो शायद उनकी आत्मा यहीं भटके। और उनके जैसे लोगों की यहाँ जरुरत नहीं। न तो जीते हुए, न मरने के बाद। हम आपको बुलाना चाहते हैं, क्योंकि हम आपको उस आदमी से मिलाना चाहते हैं जिसके लिए कभी किसी के मन में प्यार नहीं होगा।”

“जैसा आप कहें पिताजी।” मैंने और ज्यादा न पूछते हुए फ़ोन रख दिया।

मेरे पिताजी हमेशा अपने पिताजी से नफरत करते रहे। और उनकी इसी नफरत की वजह से, मैंने भी कभी अपने दादा को इज़्ज़त नहीं दी। पिताजी कभी किसी से बैर नहीं रखते थे। हमनें शायद ही कभी उन्हें किसी से लड़ते या किसी के against grudge रखे देखा। कोई अगर कुछ बुरा करता भी था तो वि हमेशा उसे माफ़ कर देते थे। वो हमेशा कहते कि बैर भाव से कभी इंसान खुश नहीं रहता। मुझे याद है मैं काफी छोटा था। शायद इनके office में किसी नें कुछ गलत किया था। पर इन्होंने उसे इनके senior से बचाया था। तब मैंने इनको पहली बार ये कहते कहते सुना था की गलतियां इंसान से ही होती हैं। माँ नें तब पूछा था इनसे, कि ऐसा है तो ये अपने पिताजी को क्यों नहीं माफ़ करते। “इंसान गलतियां करता है, शैतान की तो ये फितरत होती है।” मैं भी ये समझते हुए ही बड़ा हुआ की मेरे दादा जरूर अव्वल दर्जे की कमीने रहे होंगे। शायद यही वजह थी कि मैं भी उनसे नफ़रत करते हुए बड़ा हुआ। अब जाने की तैयारी करनी थी। अपने गाँव, जहाँ मैं आज तक नहीं गया, जिसे मैंने बस पिताजी के मुँह से ही सुना था। ‘एक दो दिन में क्या हो जायेगा। Time-pass भी हो जायेगा।’, ये सोचते हुए मैं office से बहार आकर वापस P.T. oversee करने आ गया। मुझे नहीं पता था, कि ये दो दिन मेरी ज़िन्दगी जीने की मायने बदलने वाले थे।

*
अगली शाम जोधपुर से train पकड़ के मैं मध्रुगढ के लिए रवाना हुआ। हैरानी बस इस बात की थी की मुझे पता भी नहीं था की मध्रुगढ में railway station भी है। चौबीस घंटे की exhausting journey के बाद मैं मध्रुगढ के station पे था। Station किसी abandoned पड़ी सरकारी property की तरह थी। मैंने चारो तरफ देखा। December की ठण्ड और कोहरे नें सब कुछ ढका हुआ था। मुझे उतरे हुए दो minute ही हुए होंगे की ट्रेन नें horn दिया और चल पड़ी। अच्छा ही था। इस घटिया station पे रुकना भी कौन चाहेगा। पीठ पे बस एक backpack लिए मैं पास ही पड़ी एक बेंच पे बैठ गया। पिताजी को फ़ोन करके inform करना था, सो मैंने अपना फ़ोन निकाला, पर कोई signal नहीं आ रहा था। “Amazing…”, मैंने दांत भीजते हुए कहा। अब मुझे अकेले ही दादा के घर पहुचना था। मैं station के बहार आया। सामने ओस की एक चादर बिछी हुई थी। ठंडी हवा मुझे जैसे ये बताने की कोशिश कस्र रही थी कि जहाँ तू आया है, यहाँ सब इसी तरफ ही ठन्डे दिल के हैं, तो तू वापस चला जा परदेसी। I was also an army-man. मैंने एक मुस्कान के साथ बैग से अपना cigarette का डब्बा निकाला और एक cigarette जलायी। और उस पहले काश के धुएं को बहार छोड़ते हुए मैं आगे बढ़ा। थोड़ी ही दूर पे एक टाँगे वाला खड़ा था। मेरी किस्मत अच्छी थी…मैं जीत रहा था।
‘ये टंगे वाला भी किसी horror film के रामू काका की तरह ही है।’, मैंने उसे देखते हुए सोचा। वो एक छोटा सा आदमी था, जिसने अपने से double size की शॉल ओढ़ रही थी और बीड़ी जलाये एक TB के मरीज़ की तरह खांसे जा रहा था। उसकी हालात पे तरस से ज्यादा मुझे गुस्सा आ रहा था। मैं उसके पास गया और थोड़ी ऊँची आवाज़ में कहा, “चाचा… मध्रुगढ चलोगे क्या?” मेरी आवाज़ loud थी, तभी शायद वो चौंक के पलटा और बीड़ी उसके हाथ से गिर गयी। वो मुझे शायद डरा हुआ जान पड़ा। कांपती हुई आवाज़ में उसने मुझसे कहा, ” अरे बाबू साहब! आप तो जान ही ले लेते। ऐसे भी कोई चिल्लाता है क्या बाबूजी? चलेंगे मध्रुगढ। कहाँ जायेंगे बतायें।”
“राम प्रताप की कोठी पर।” मैंने चिढ़ी हुई आवाज़ में कहा।
” राम प्रताप जी कहिये बाबू साहब। करता धर्ता हैं वो यहाँ के।” उसने भी चिढ़ी हुई आवाज़ में वापस कहा।

“अच्छा ठीक है। चलो भी । कितना time लगेगा ?”, मैंने पूछा ।
“ज्यादा नहीं । बैठिये । उसने इशारा करते हुए कहा । मैंने अपनी सिगरेट बुझाई और उसके तांगे पे बैठ गया ।
“वैसे बाबू साहब आपको पहले कभी देखा नहीं । नए हो क्या ?”
“हाँ… पहली बार आया हूँ । उनका पोता हूँ ।” ये सुनते ही को झटके से पीछे पलटा और ख़ुशी से बोला, “अरे! भैया आप भानू जी के बेटे हो? अरे वाह! धन्य हो गया मैं तो आज। कब से यहीं से सवारी उठाता आया हूँ, पर कंही नहीं सोचे की आप भी बैठेंगे मेरे टाँगे पे। आप के पिताजी को बहुत घुमाए हैं हम उनके बचपन में । आज आप भी बैठ गए । कमाल हो गया ! आज जीवन धन्य हो गया ।” फिर क्या था। उसने ख़ुशी ख़ुशी घोड़े हांकते हुए टांगा आगे बढ़ाया ।

मेरी दूसरी सिगरेट मेरे मुह में थी। और वो मुह से गिर गयी because मैं सड़क के झटकों से उबार नहीं पा रहा था । सड़क पे घुप्प अँधेरा था पर उस आदमी को जैसे अँधेरे में देकने की आदत थी । वो बड़ी ही कुशलता से तांगा हांकते हुए वो आगे बढ़ रहा था।
“वैसे भैया आपके दादाजी बहुत बड़े आदमी हैं । काफी कुछ किये हैं वो मध्रुगढ़ के लिए।”, उसने एक salesman की तरह मेरे दादा की तारीफ करनी शुरू कर दी । “बिजली, पानी, सड़कें… बहुत कुछ… ”

“वो तो दिख रहा है । बिजली का खम्बा तक तो है नहीं, और इसे आप सड़क कहते हैं ? अगर कुम्भकर्ण को इसी सड़क पे आपके तांगे पे बैठा के घुमाया होता तो रावण को काफी आसानी होती । ” मैंने अपनी sarcastic tone में reply किया ।

“हा हा हा ! “, वो हंसा, फिर कहा, “भैया… ये तो कुछ भी नहीं है ! इतना तो हर जगह होता है।” मैंने cigarette का धुंआ उड़ाते हुए उसकी बात को ignore किया । धुंध अभी भी गहरी थी और रात के 9 बज चुके थे । फ़ोन में अभी भी कोई signal नहीं आ रहे थे । कुछ देर और झटके खाते हुए जब मुझसे और नहीं हुआ तो मैंने उससे पूछा, “और कितनी दूर है ?” “बस भैया पहुंच ही गए । आगे से बस दायें मुड़ के आ गए बस ।” मुझसे न हुआ। मैंने उसे वही रुकने को कहा औए वहां से उतर गया । उससे घर तक का रास्ता पूछ के मैंने उसे पैसे दिए, पर उसने शाप लगेगा कहके मन कर दिया और उलटी दिशा में चल दिया।

मैंने राहत की सांस ली । अब बस थोड़ी ही देर और थी । मैंने उसके बताये हुए रास्ते पे चलने लगा और पहले turn से right मुड़ गया । पर थोड़ी ही दूर चलके मुझे लगा की मैं गलत आ गया हूँ । आगे बस घाना कोहरा और जंगल था । “Shit !” मैंने कहा । लेकिन एक army-man होने के नाते ये भी अच्छा था । मैं अब खुद रास्ता ढूंढ़ते हुए आगे बढ़ गया । वैसे भी मुझे उस बुड्ढे से मिलने का कोई शौक नहीं था । ये जंगल मुझे ज्यादा अपने लग रहे थे । मैंने अपनी torch निकाली और घने कोहरे को चीरता हुआ मैं आगे बढ़ा । कुछ कदम ही चला था जब मैंने देखा की थोड़ी ही दूर पे एक आदमी आग जलाये मेरी तरफ पीठ करके बैठा था । मैंने थोड़ी रहत की सांस ली । ‘ये आदमी मुझे रास्ता बता सकता है ।’ सोचते हुए मैंने उसे आवाज़ लगायी, “सुनिए, भैया ?” उसने शायद सुना नहीं था । वो अभी अभी जंगलों की तरफ मुह करके बैठा था । “भैया जी!?!” मैंने फिर से उसे आवाज़ लगायी । इस बार वो मुड़ा और उसने बड़े ही surprised होकर मुझे देखा । वो कुछ 23 का रहा होगा । उसके चेरे पे अलग ही तेज था। कुछ देर के लोए वो मुझे देखता रहा फिर उसने एक हल्की सी smile दी । मैंने भी return में smile देकर उससे पूछा, “राम प्रताप का घर कहाँ पड़ेगा ?” वो अभी भी मुझे देखकर मुस्कुरा रहा था। फिर अपने left hand से पीछे की तरफ इशारा करते हुए कहा, “यहाँ से सीधा चलते जाइये।” मैंने उसके दिखाए हुए रास्ते पे चलना शुरू कर दिया। “अजीब हैं यार यहाँ के लोग।” मैं अपने आप से बातें करता हुआ आगे बढ़ गया। आगे फिर वही अँधेरा और छायी हुई धुंध मेरे साथ हो गयी। मैं गन्नो के खेत से होता हुआ , कच्ची पगडण्डी के सहारे आगे चलता जा रहा था। मैंने अपनी watch में time check किया। रात के 9:30 हो रहे थे। मैंने आगे नज़र डाली। उस घने अंदर और ऊपर से धुंध की उस परत के आगे एक झोपड़ी जैसी आकृति दिखी। उसकी बायीं तरफ bonfire किये एक और आकृति मुझे दिखी। मैंने अभी भी ठीक से देख नहीं पा रहा था। मैंने और आगे बढ़ा।
मैंने चारो तरफ नज़र डाली। जहाँ भी देखा, बस गन्ने के ही खेत दिखे। मिटटी की

भीनी महक अब मेरे नाक में दम कर रही थी। ‘बस अब और भटकना नहीं। अगर bonfire के पास बैठे इस आदमी ने मुझे ये बताया कि बुढ़ऊ की हवेली और दूर है, तो मैं यहीं बैठ जाऊंगा, वो भी पूरी रात के लिए।’, मैंने मन ही मन decide किया। उस बैठी हुई आकृति के पास मैंने कुछ कदम बढ़ाये, पर जो दिखा वो कुछ और ही था। वो एक औरत थी। इतनी रात को भी अकेले इतने घने खेतों के बीच आग जल के बैठी थी। India में तब भी villages में इतनी छूट नहीं थी कि रातों को अकेले निकला करें। मैंने काफी करीब आ चूका था आग के। वो एकटक आग की तरफ देखे जा रही थी। मैं थोड़ा हिचकिचाया चूंकि किसी इस गाँव की किसी लड़की से पहली बार टकराया था और मुझे नहीं पता था की वो कैसे जवाब देगी। देगी भी या शायद एक शहरी आदमी को देख के भाग ही जाए, क्या पता! मेरी cigarette खत्म हो चुकी थी। मैंने अपने फ़ोन में signal चेक किया। अभी भी कोई सिग्नल नहीं थे। मैंने उस झोपड़ी की तरफ नज़र डाली। एक उजड़ा हुआ tub-well था वो। Bonfire और मेरी torch की रौशनी में भी ये साफ़ दिख रहा था की वो कम से कम तीस साल पुराना था। इसके पहले की मैं उस वीरान पड़े tub-well से अपनी नज़र हटा के उस औरत की तरफ मुड़ता, एक आवाज़ मेरे पीछे से आई, “इतने जाड़े में वहां मत खड़े रहिये, यहाँ आग के पास आ जाएं, थोड़ी रहत मिलेगी।” मैं पीछे मुड़ा। वो लड़की अभी भी आग की ही तरफ देख रही थी। शायद मुझसे नज़र नहीं मिलाना चाहती थी। गाँव की लड़कियों में ये शर्म और बात का लहजा सहज ही बचपन से होता है। पर अब मेरे लिए काम आसान हो गया था। मैं अब आराम से आगे का रास्ता पूछ सकता था। मैंने अपना backpack नीचे रख और आग के पास नीचे बैठ गया। नीचे जमीन ठंडी थी, तो उसने चारपाई पे पड़ी एक बोरी मुझे दे दी, पर इशारा किया की मैं आग की दूसरी तरफ बैठूं। मैंने वैसे ही किया।

मैंने अपने cigarette के डब्बे से एक और सिगरेट निकाली और लाइटर से जल के पीने लगा। पहला कश छोड़ते ही जैसे मैंने उससे आगे का रास्ता पूछने के लिए मुंह खोल ही, कि उसपे नज़र पड़ी। उसकी उम्र शायद बीस साल की रही होगी। आग की रौशनी में अब शायद ध्यान से देखा। उसने शायद चुनरी लेहेंगा पहना हुआ था। पर हैरानी की बात ये थी की इतनी ठण्ड में भी उसने न कोई शाल या न कोई pullover पहना हुआ था। उसने चेहरे पे एक अजीब सी ही चमक थी। मैंने शायद ही इतनी सुन्दर लड़की गाँव में कहीं देखी थी। आग की रौशनी में उसकी आँख और भी चमक रही थी। उसे देख कर यकीन हो गया की जरूर इसका पति या पिता यहीं कहीं आस पास ही होंगे, वर्ना ऐसी सुन्दर लड़की को ऐसे रात में अकेले कौन छोड़ता है? उसे देख के एक अजीब सी ही feeling आ रही थी, जैसे की शायद कोई अपना घर का ही बैठा हुआ है। ये शायद इसलिए भी था, की मुझे कोई ढंग से sensible human की तरह बात करने वाल मिला था इस गाँव में। मैंने पूछा, “आप इतनी रात में अकेले यहाँ क्या कर रही हैं? आपको डर नहीं लगता?” वो अभी भी आग की ही तरफ देखे जा रही थी। “नहीं, हमारे मंगेतर यही पास में ही हैं। और हम अपने पिताजी का इंतज़ार कर रहे हैं। उनकी काफी समय से तबियत खराब थी, अपर अब वो सारी परेशानियों से दूर होने वाले हैं, फिर हम आज ये गांव छोड़ के जा रहे हैं।”, उसने बिना मुझे देखे जवाब दिया। मुझे अपने ऊपर थोड़ी शर्म आई। मैं गाँव में था, मुझे ऐसे सवाल गलती से भी नहीं पूछने चाहिए थे , क्या पता किसे क्या बुरा लग जाये। “चलिए ये तो काफी अच्छी बात है।”, मैंने अपनी गलती सुधरते हुए कहा। “अच्छा सुनिए मुझे जल्दी है। यहाँ आग के पास थोड़ी गर्मी देने के लिए शुक्रिया पर मैं और नहीं बैठ सकता। मुझे ठाकुर साब की हवेली जाना है। क्या आप मुझे यहाँ से रास्ता बता सकती है?” अब उसने पहली बार मुझे देखा। उसके चेहरे पर एक हलकी सी मुस्कान छा गयी और उसने अपना दाहिना हाथ उठा के मुझे उसकी दाहिनी हाथ की सीध पे जाने के लिए इशारा किया। मैंने अपना bag-pack उठाया, cigarette फेंकी और उसे thanks बोल के आगे ही बढ़ा था की उसने पीछे से आवाज़ लगायी, “सुनिए…. ” मैं पीछे मुड़ा। वो अभी भी मुस्कुरा रही थी। “जी कहिये?” मैंने पूछा। बिना हिचकिचाते हुए उसने कहा, ” आपको ये सब यही पीना चाहिए, इससे आपकी सेहत ख़राब होगी। मेरे पिताजी की भी काफी ख़राब रहती है। अभी आपकी काफी जिंदगी बाकी है, तो सेहत के साथ रहिये… नमस्ते !” अपने हाथ जोड़कर उसने कहा। ‘What the hell! एक मदद कर दी तो क्या मतलब कोई भी यहाँ ज्ञान बाँट देता है यार।’ मुझे गुस्सा तो बहुत आ रही थी पर तब भी मुस्कुरा के मैंने अपना सर हिल दिया।

अब उसके बताये हुए रास्ते पे चलता हुआ मैं आगे बढ़ा। बस थोड़ी ही दूर पे मुझे घरों में जलती हुई रोशनियाँ दिखाई देने लगी। मैंने वहां एक आदमी को रोक कर हवेली का रास्ता पूछा तो उसने बताया की वो हवेली से ही आ रहा था। मेरे पिताजी ने उसे भेज था railway station पे जाके ये पता करने के लिए की मैं कहाँ तक पहोचा हूँ। मैंने रहत की सांस ली। उसने पूछा की मैं कहा से आ रहा हुँ, मैंने कहा की मैं जंगल के रास्ते से आया क्यूंकि मैं रास्ता भूल गया था। उसने मुझे थोड़ी देर के लिए घूरा और फिर आगे देखने लगा। ‘इस गांव में सब पागल है।’ मैंने सोचा। अपर यहाँ चमक थी। बिजली थी। सड़क थी और अभी भी थोड़ी चहल पहल थी। ‘तो बुढ़ऊ ने काफी काम करवाया है। ‘ मैंने मन ही मन कहा।

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हवेली मेरे सामने थी। और मैंने शायद ही ऐसी हवेली ऐसे किसी भी गांव में, अपनी पूरी life में नहीं देखी थी। ‘पिताजी सच में तो कहीं इसी के लिए नहीं आये यहाँ?’ मेरे मन में फिर से वही सवाल उमड़ा। हवेली को अभी भी दिवाली की तरह सजाया गया था। बाहर भी काफी भीड़ थी। सब शायद बुढऊ को देखने आये हुए थे। मेरे साथ वाला आदमी मुझे अंदर ले गया। मेरे पिताजी बहार ही खड़े थे। मुझे आता देख वो मेरी तरफ बढे। इसके पहले ही मैं कुछ बताता, उन्होंने कहा, “He is dead. And we are leaving tomorrow as soon as possible.” इतना कहके वो अंदर चले गए। I was still trying to take in what all he said जब पीछे से एक आवाज़ आई, “अरे! तुम तो भानू के बेटे हो न!” मैंने पीछे मुड़के देखा। एक बूढ़ी सी औरत मेरी तरफ बढ़ रही थी। ये शायद मेरे पिताजी को जानती थी। मेरे blank expressions को completely ignore करते हुए वो मुझे एकटक देखने लगी। उसकी मोतिया होती हुई आँखों में आँसू थे और चेहरे पे मुस्कान। “बिलकुल भानु पे गए हो। तुम्हारी उम्र में बिलकुल तुम्हारी तरह ही दीखता था। पहली बार आये हो हवेली में, वो भी ऐसे अशुभ मौके पे। भानु तो अब आता भी नहीं। पता नहीं अब क्या होगा!” इतना कहकर वो रोने लगीं। मुझे अभी भी समझ में नहीं आ रहा था की मै करू तो क्या? तभी मेरे पीछे से वही आदमी जिसके साथ मैं हवेली आया, बोल, “ये इस हवेली में बरसो से हैं, आपके पिताजी को इन्होने ही पाल पोसकर बड़ा किया है।” पर मेरा ध्यान अब बस कल की train पे था। ‘What a waste of my leaves.’ मैंने मन ही मन सोचा। बस अब कल यहाँ से निकलना था। मैंने उस बूढी औरत को एक fake sympathetic look देते हुए अंडर की तरफ बढ़ा उसने फिर कहा, ” बस अगर तुम्हारी बुआ आज होती तो तुम्हारे दादाजी को इतनी पीड़ा न होती मरते वक़्त। काफी तड़पे हैं वो अपनी दोंनो संतानो के लिए। भगवान् ऐसी मौत किसी को भी न दे।” मेरे कदम वही के वही रुक गए। मेरे सुना था वो मेरा दिल और दिमाग यकीन करने की पूरी कोशिोश कर रहा था पर उसे यकीन नहीं हो रहा था। मेरी कोई बुआ भी थी या हैं, और ये बात मेरे पिताजी ने मुझे कभी नहीं बताई। तो क्या पिताजी के साथ वो अपनी बहन से भी नफरत करते थे? या फिर मेरी बुआ उनसे नफरत करती थी क्यूंकि मेरे पिताजी ने उनके पिताजी को कंही नहीं अपनाया? उस औरत से इस नए angle के बारे में और information लेने के purpose से मैं पीछे मुड़ा। वो हवेली की छत को support करते हुए एक विशाल pillar के नीचे बैठी हुई, अभी भी रो रही थी। मैंने अपना बैकपैक साइड में रखा और और उनसे उनके सामने बैठकर, एक बच्चे की तरह पूछा, “मेरी बुआ कौन थी?” उस औरत ने मुझे हैरानी वाली नज़र से देखा और कहा, “हे भगवान्! भानू ने तुम्हे तुम्हारी बुआ के बारे में कुछ नहीं बताया। उस बेचारे ने अपने पिताजी से लड़ाई में अपना दिल इतना कठोर बना लिया कि जिस बहन से वो इतना प्यार करता था… ये सब….. हे राम….! ” वो और कुछ न कह पायी। पर उसने अभी भी कुछ नहीं बताया था मुझे। मेरे मन में सवालों ने बवंडर मच रख था। मैं अभी रुक नहीं सकता था। मैंने उस औरत को फिर से झकझोरा, “काकी…” मैंने बोला, “मुझे बताईये। Please बताईये।” पर उसके मुंह से शब्द नहीं निकल रहे थे। अब बस एक ही रास्ता था। मैं तेज़ी से पीछे मुड़ा और अपने पिताजी को ढूंढने लगा. किसी ने बताया की accountants और वकीलों के साथ बिजी थे। But मैं अब और इंतज़ार नहीं कर सकता था। मैं पिताजी के room में गया। Had it been a different situation, मैं उन्हें कभी disturb नहीं करता। पर इस बार बात कुछ और थी। मैं सीधा अंदर गया और उन्हें बहार आने को कहा। मेरी serious tone को वो पहचान गए थे और बहार आये। मैंने एक ही सांस में सवाल पूछा, “आपके पिताजी का समझ में आता है, पर मेरी बुआ भी है, ये बात आपने क्यों कभी नहीं बताई मुझे?” उनका चेहरा blank हो जायेगा ये मुझे पता था। For the first time in my life, he was struggling for words. पर army-man थे वो, अपने आप को सँभालते हुए बोले, “क्या जानना चाहते हो? क्या समझना चाहते हो? हां, थी हमारी एक बहन…भानुमती .. ” वो थोड़ा हिचकिचाए, अपना गाला साफ़ किया और फिर बोले, “पर हमारे बाप ने वो भी छीन ली हमसे। बस इतना काफी है तुम्हारे लिए रूद्र। बस ऐसा समझ लो कि ये जो नफरत है हमारी अपने बाप के लिए, बस इसी लिए की उस आदमी ने मेरी बहन मुझसे छीनी है। एक पूरी ज़िन्दगी…रूद्र… हमने एक पूरी ज़िन्दगी उस दर्द और खालीपन को जिया है। Now if you propose that I have to walk the same path again, then sorry, that is not going to happen. Take rest now, will see you in the morning.” और वो फिर अंदर चले गए। मुझे पता था की अब मैं चाहे कितना भी बोलूं, ये अब मुझे कुछ भी नहीं बताने वाले। पर अब तो मुझे ये जाने बिना चैन नहीं मिल रहा था कि आखिर ऐसा हुआ क्या था।

अब एक ही था। वो औरत। मैं दोबारा उस औरत के पास गया। वो उसी pillar के सहारे बैठी हुई थी। उन्होंने मुझे आते हुए देख लिया था। मेरे चेहरे पे सवालों के जाल शायद उन्हें दिख गए थे। या शायद वो समझ गईं की मैं क्या पूछना चाहता हूँ। समझती भी कैसे नहीं, मेरे पिताजी को जो बडा किया है उन्होंने। उन्होंने मुझे अपने नज़दीक बैठने कहा। मैंने बैठते ही पूछा, “पिताजी से कुछ पूछ के उनके पुराने घाव नहीं खुदेरना चाहता, आप ही कुछ बताये दादी-काकी।” मैंने कहा। उन्होंने मुझे बड़े ही दयनीय और उदास भाव से देखा। एक लम्बी सांस ली और अपने धीरे और वृद्ध स्वर में कहा, ” भानू नने ने गलत ही क्या कहा रूद्र। उस बेचारे ने तो अपने जीवन की सबसे कीमती चीज़ खोयी थी। पर ऐसा नहीं है सिर्फ उसी ने कुछ खोया था। एक बाप ने अपनी संतानें खोयी थीं, एक बहन ने अपना भाई, और एक लड़की ने अपना प्यार।” “प्यार?, मैंने बीच टोकते हुए पूछा। “हाँ बेटे। पर पहले तुम्हे तुम्हारी बुआ के बारे में बताते हैं। तुम्हारी बुआ पूरी तरह से तुम्हारी दादी की तरह दिखती थीं। वो तुम्हारी बुआ को जन्म देते ही स्वर्ग सिधार गईं। तुम्हारे दादाजी ने दोनों का नाम भानू और भानुमति रख था। पर तुम्हारे दादाजी उसे प्यार से डब्बी बुलाते थे। और तुम्हारे पिताजी को डब्बू। कभी ये देख के लगा नहीं की भाई बहनों में तीन साल का फर्क था। धीरे धीरे मद्रगढ के हर घर में इन्ही दोनों का जिक्र होने लगा। सब इन भाई बहन के प्यार की मिसालें देते थे। वो समय ही कुछ और था। भानू अपने पिताजी पे जान छिड़कता था। ऐसा कोई भी कहना नहीं जो तुम्हारे पिताजी ने तुम्हारे दादाजी का टाला हो। पूरा परिवार ख़ुशी से रहता था। भानुमति तो सबकी आँखों का तारा थी। औार हर बाप भानू जैसा ही बेटा चाहता था। फिर समय बदला। तुम्हारे दादाजी चाहते थे की भानू गाँव की बागडोर सम्भल ले, और खेती करे। पर तुम्हारे पिताजी फ़ौज में जाना चाहते थे। तब शायद पहली बार तुम्हारे पिताजी और दादाजी में किसी बात को लेके अनबन हुई थी। ऐसा नहीं था की भानू तब भी तुम्हारे दादाजी से प्यार नहीं करते थे। पर भानू का मानना था की जिंदगी में किसी को क्या करना है ये फैसला उसका खुद का होना चाहिए। तुम्हारे दादाजी को लगा की अगर भानू फौज में चला गया तो वो अपना एकलौता बीटा खो देंगे। और उसी डर को उन्होंने गुस्से में बदल कर अपने भानू को परिवार या ज़िन्दगी चुनने के लिए कहा। पर तुम्हारे पिताजी भी काम अड़ियल नहीं थे। स्वाभिमान और गुस्से में वो पूरे अपने पिता पे गए थे। वो गए तो घर छोड़ कर, पर भानुमति के लाख मनाने पर दोनों के बीच में सुलह हो गयी थी। पर उसके बाद जो हुआ, वो न तो हमने सोचा था, न ही गांव में तब किसी ने।” “ऐसा क्या हुआ था दादी -काकी?” मैंने पूछा। “कन्हैयां। तुम्हारे दादाजी के लिए मुनीमगिरी करता था। बड़ा ही भला इंसान था वो। तुम्हारे पिताजी का बचपन का दोस्त, और तुम्हारे दादाजी की भरोसे की परिभाषा। ये बात तब की है जब तुम्हारे पिताजी की शादी होने वाली थी। तुम्हारे दादाजी ने पास ही लखनऊ के एक बड़े ही घराने में भानू की शादी पक्की की थी। तुम्हारे दादाजी भानुमति की भी शादी करवाना चाहते थे। जब तुम्हारे पिताजी की शादी हो गयी, एक दिन, तुम्हारी बुआ की शादी की बात चली। पर तुम्हारी बुआ को कन्हैया से प्यार था, शायद बचपन से। और तुम्हारे पिताजी ये बात अच्छे से जानते थे। उन्हें इस बात से कोई तकलीफ नहीं थी क्यूंकि कन्हैया उनका बचपन का दोस्त था और तीनो साथ ही बड़े हुए थे। भानू को लगा की वो तुम्हारे दादाजी को समझा लेंगे, पर तुम्हारे दादाजी ने पहले ही कहीं उनका रिश्ता पक्का कर दिया था, वो खैरना गांव के ठाकुर के बेटे से। और तुम्हारे दादाजी अपने वचन के पक्के थे। हुआ वही जिसका डर था। भानू को जब ये पता चला तो उसने अपने पिताजी से इस बात पे काफी बहस की। वो इस बात से गुस्सा था की तुम्हारे दादाजी ने बिना भानुमति की मर्ज़ी जाने उसकी शादी कही और पक्की करा दी। तुम्हारे पिताजी ने कहा की जब उनकी मर्ज़ी पूछी गयी थी उनकी शादी के लिए तो फिर उनकी बहन की क्यों नहीं? पर तुम्हारे दादाजी तस से मस नहीं हुए। मामला और गम्भीर हो गया जब तुम्हारे दादाजी को कन्हैया और भानुमति के बारे में पता चला। उस दिन इस गाँव ने तुम्हारे दादाजी और तुम्हारे पिताजी, दोनों को इतने गुस्से में देखा था की अगर शंकर भी आ जाते तो शायद उनके गुस्से की बरकरी न कर पाते। पर हुआ वही जो तुम्हारे दादाजी चाहते थे। और ये हुआ तुम्हारी बुआ के कारण। जब तुम्हारे पिताजी ने अपनी बहन और कन्हैया को साथ ले जाने की बात की, तो भानुमति खुद बीच में आकर अपने भाई को ऐसा करने से मन कर दिया। वो किसी भी हालात के अपने पिताजी की मर्ज़ी के खिलाफ नहीं जाना चाहती थी। वही पल था जब भानू वो लड़ाई हार चूका था। उसने गुस्से में अपने पिताजी से ये कहकर सम्बन्ध तोड़ लिए की वो इंसान नहीं एक हैवान है जो अपने रुतबे और झूटी शान के लिए अपने बच्चों का भी घर बर्बाद कर दिया। वो शायद आखिरी बार था, जब तीनों साथ में दिखे थे।

बात उसके अगले दिन की है। पिछले दिन की हुई घटनाओं ने तुम्हारे दादाजी को काफी परेशान कर दिया था। उनका एकलौता बेटा आज उनसे नफरत करने लगा था। उनकी एक ही बेटी थी, जो निचले दर्जे के एक लड़के से प्यार करती थी।
मुझे अच्छे से याद है, तुम्हारे दादाजी ने गुस्से में आकर कन्हैया को गोली मारने का मन बन लिया था। पर तुम्हारी बुआ ने उन्हें कसम दी की वो कभी कन्हैया को देखेगी भी नहीं और जब तक तुम्हारे दादाजी ज़िंदा हैं, वो कन्हैया का नाम तक नहीं लेगी। तुम्हारे दादाजी जैसे भी थे, पर अपनी बेटी से बहुत प्यार करते थे। उन्होंने कन्हैया को हवेली में बुलाया और कसम दी की दोबारा मध्रुगरह में न दिखे। कन्हैया था तो निचली जात का, पर एक बहुत ही अच्छा इंसान था। इतना कुछ होने के बाद भी तुम्हारे दादाजी के लिए वफादार था। उसने तुम्हारे दादाजी को कसम दी की जब तक तुम्हारे दादाजी ज़िंदा हैं, वो कभी लौट के इस गांव में नहीं आएगा। तुम्हारे दादाजी ने कन्हैया को तुरंत गांव छोड़ने के लिए कहा। भानुमती चाहती थी की आखिरी बार वो कन्हैया को गाँव के बहार छोड़ के आये। तुम्हारे दादाजी ने सिर्फ अपनी बेटी के लिए ऐसा करने दिया। बस वो आखिरी बार था जब भानुमती और कन्हैया को किसी ने देखा था।”
“Ohh ! तो क्या वो भाग गए?” बीच में ही रोक कर पूछा। ‘यही हुआ होगा। बुआ कहनैय के साथ कहीं भाग गयी होंगी और पिताजी को ये लगता है ऐसा बुढऊ के वजह से हुआ है, तभी वो उनसे नाराज़ हैं।’, मैंने सोचा। पर मेरा ये guess गलत निकला।

“नहीं। भानुमति और कन्हैया, ये दोनों ही तुम्हारे दादाजी की काफी इज़्ज़त करते थे। वो भागे नहीं।”
“तो फिर क्या बुआ वापस आई?” मैंने curious हो के पूछा।
उन्होंने मुझे कुछ seconds देखा और फिर एक पीड़ा भरी आवाज़ में कहा, ” शिवेंद्र प्रताप, जिस लड़के से तुम्हारी बुआ की शादी पक्की हुई थी, वो भानुमति के जाने के एक घंटे बाद अपने साथियों के साथ आया और तुम्हारे दादाजी को ये खबर दी की भानुमति कन्हैया के साथं भाग गयी। ये खबर सुन कर तुम्हारे दादाजी को काफी झटका मिला। पहले ही एक लड़का उन्हें छोड़ के जा जुका था और अब ये…पर जब ये खबर तुम्हारे पिताजी को पता चली, वो वापस आये। उन्हें शिवेंद्र बिलकुल,भी पसंद नहीं था। और न ही उन्हें उसकी बाटों पे यकीन था। तुम्हारे पिताजी ने कहा की अगर उन्हें भागना ही होता तो वो उन्ही के साथ चले आते। तुम्हारे दादाजी कोई भी प्रतिक्रिया देने की हालत में नहीं थे। भानू ने साडई ज़िम्मेदारी अपने ऊपर लेली। उसने अपना पूरा समय अपनी बहन को ढूंढने में लगा दिया। हफ़्तों की म्हणत के बाद, शिवेंद्र के ही एक आदमी तुम्हारे पिताजी के पास आया। वो बदहवासी की हालत में था और काफी बहकी बातें कह रहा था। उसने तुम्हारे पिताजी को बताया की उसे रातों में नीड नहीं आती। उसे पछतावा था, पर जो हुआ उसमे उसका कोई हाथ नहीं था। तुम्हारे पिताजी ने जब उसे अच्छे से झकझोरा तब खबर सामने आई की उस दिन, शिवेंद्र ने बहनुमति और कन्हैया को साथ में गांव के किनारे पर देख लिया था। शिवेंद्र काफी गरम दिमाग का था। उसकी लगा की भानुमति कन्हैया के साथ भागने का सोच रही है। उसने उन दोनों को वही मार दिया। पर उसके तुरंत बाद जब उसका दिमाग शांत हुआ तो उसे अपनी करनी का दृश्य दिखा। अपनी जान बचने के लिए उसने कन्हैया को गंगा के तेज़ बहाव में फेंक दिया और भानुमति के शरीर को हमारे ही tub-well में दफना दिया। पर उसे भी सजा मिली। कुछ समय बाद वो मर मिले, अपने दोस्त के घर में। ”

मैंने सुन रहा था। एक एक चीज़ सुन रहा था। पर मैं वहां था नहीं। मेरा दिमाग कल्पना की दुनिया में ये सब imagine करता हुआ देख रहा था। एक बेटे को सब कुछ हारते हुए देख रहा था। एक लड़की को अपने प्यार से दूर जाते हुए देख रहा था। अब मैं, अपने पिताजी के दर्द को और महसूस कर रहा था। मैं अपने पिताजी की ककि को देखे जा रहा था, ये सोचे बिना की कब मेरी आँखों में आंसू भी आ गए। इतना सब कुछ देखा है मेरे पिताजी ने इस घर में।
काकी ने आगे कहा, “बस रूद्र। तुम्हारे पिताजी ने जब वो tub-well खुदवाया तो एक पूरा पहर, अपनी प्यारी सी, मृत भानुमति के आधे गले शरीर को अपने सीने से लगा के रट रहे। तुम्हारे दादाजी को तो जैसे लकवा मार गया था। पर उस दिन जो इस गांव ने भानू प्रताप को बदलते देखा, वैसे बदलाव फिर कभी नहीं आया। उनसे अपने पिता को, जिनके लिए वो अपने प्राण तक दे सकता था कभी, अपनी ही बेटी की लाश देखनी तक नहीं नसीब की। भानुमति का डाह संस्कार तुम्हारे पिताजी ने खुद लिया, और उसमे भी, तुम्हारे दादाजी को सम्मिलित नहीं होने दिया। मुझे अच्छे से याद है, तुम्हारे पिताजी ने जाने से पहले अपने पिता से कहा था की उनकी दोनों संतानें मर चुकी हैं, की वो उन्हें खुद कमलोिए माफ़ कर सकते हैं, पर अपनी बहन के लिए नहीं कर सकते। उनकी झूटी शान और इज़्ज़त की बधाई देते हुए, वो ये कसम खा के गए थे की अब उनके मरने की बाद ही इस घर में कदम रखेंगे, वो भी बस उनके अंतिम संस्कार के लिए।” अंगने एक लमि सांस ली, “बस रूद्र बेटे… यही है दुःख भरी कहानी। बहुत गलत हुआ…. एक परिवार जो पुरे गांव की मिसाल बन गया था, आज ऐसे होगा…. ” इतना कह के वो रोने लगी। पर इस बार कुछ अलग था। इस बार मैंने उसे झूटी sympathy नहीं दी। इस बार मेरे दिल में दर्द हुआ था। इस बार मेरा गला रुंधा हुआ है। मैं शोक में तो था, पर बुढऊ के लिए नहीं, अपनी बुआ के लिए, उनके बलिदान के लिए, अपने पिताजी के दर्द के लिए। तभी मैंने फैसला किया। मैंने काकी से पूछा , “दादी-काकी… मुझे अपनी बुआ को देखना है… अभी।”
उन्होंने मुझे मुस्कुराते हुए देखा, अपने आंसूं पोछे और मुझे अपने साथ हवेली में ले गयी। २ आँगन पार करके वो मुझे एक बड़े से hall में ले गईं। हाल के घुसते ही सामने एक काफी बड़ा family portrait टेंगा हुआ था। काकी ने hall की lights जलाई और अब मैं देख सकता था। ये मेरे पिताजी का घर, उनका बचपन, उनका दर्द…
“रूद्र बेटे, ये देखो, तुम्हारी बुआ…. ” काकी ने आवाज़ लगायी। मैंने उनकी दिखाई हुई तर्जनी उंगलि पे अपनी नज़र डाली।
मैं अपनी ज़िन्दगी के बस दो बार डरा किसी सचीज को देख कर एक डर और goosebumps का अनुभव किया है। पहली बार , जब मैं करगिल में था, और दूसरी बार अब, जब मैंने एक एक ऐसी लड़की की फोटो देखी जो, मेरी बुआ है, जो बहुत खूबसूरत हैं, और जिनसे मैं अभी थोड़ी देर पहले उस उजड़े tubwell पे face to face मिल चूका हूँ। मेरी एक खासियत है, मैंने चेहरे कभी नहीं भूलता। और ऐसा चेहरा मैं कभी नहीं भूल सकता था। इतनी ठण्ड में शायद पहली बार मेरे माथे पे इतना पसीना था। My mind went numb. काकी कुछ कह रही थी, पर मेरे कान भी सुन्न हो गए थे। उस portrait में चार चेहरों में से एक और चेहरा था जो मैंने कहीं देखा हुआ था। मैंने काकी को आवाज़ लगायी और कुछ न समझा पाने से, अपनी index finger से उस चेहरे की तरफ इशारा किया। काकी ने उस चेहरे को देख के कहा, “अरे! यही तो है कन्हैया!”
My mind was officially going tsunami. ‘How can that be possible?’, मैंने सोचा,’ दो लोग जो मेरे पैदा होने के पहले ही मर चुके है, मैंने उन्हें न सिफर ज़िंदा देखा है, बल्कि उनसे बात भी की है।’ Suddenly, everything started making sense. मेरी बुआ ने अपने पिता को कसम दी थी जब तक वो ज़िंदा हैं, बुआ कभी भी कन्हैया से मिलेगी और कन्हैया ने कसम खायी थी की जब तक उसके मालिक जिन्दा हैं, वो गांव में कदम नहीं रखेगा। ‘Such things really happens , or its just my tiredness?’, मैंने सोचा। एक ही तरीका था।

मैंने अपना बैग वही पटका और पूरी फ़ुर्ति के साथ वापस उसी पगडण्डी के सहारे तुबवेल्ल के पास गया। मैं समझ गया था की ये वही न्तुब्वेल्ल है, जिसमे बुआ को दफनाया था। अब ये धुंध और अँधेरा मेरा कुछ नहीं बिगाड़ सकते थे। धुंध को चीरता हुआ, मैं चाहता था, पहली बार दिल से चाहता था की कोई और लड़की वहां बैठी हो, पर वहां कोई नहीं था। न कोई आग और न आग की कोई निशानी। न कोई चारपाई और ना ही कोई बोरी। ठंडी हवा मेरी नाक में घुस रही थी, पर मुझे परवाह नहीं थी। मुझे अभी और आगे जाना था। मैं फिर बिना रुके, अपनी टोर्च की रौशनी से सहारे, वापस उसी रास्ते की तरफ दौड़ा, जहाँ से मैं अंदर आया था। पर अंत में पहुंचने पर भी कुछ नहीं था। सिर्फ घुप्प अँधेरा और धुंध। मैंने आप पास आग के निशान देखे पर ऐसा लगा जैसे इस जगह पे पिछले कई दिनों नहीं जल होगा।
हताश और निराश मैं वापस जंगल की तरफ मुड़ा। मेरे हाथ कुछ नहीं लगा। मैंने अपनी सिगरेट निकाली और मुंह में डाली ही थी की then it clicked. उस लड़की ने कहा था की उसके मंगेतर गांव के बहार उसका इंतज़ार कर रहे हैं, और उसके पिता काफी समय से बीमार थे, पर अब ठीक होक उसके साथ गांव से दूर जा रहे थे। ठीक होने से उसके मतलब था की सभी दुःख से निवारण, और वो तभी possible है agar आदमी अपना शरीर त्याग दे। मैं रुका, मुस्कुराया, सिगरेट अभी भी जली नहीं थी। मैंने सिगरेट मुंह से निकल के फेक दी। अब कभी इसकी जरूरत नहीं पड़ने वाली थी। वैसे भी मैं अपनी बुआ की एक मात्र request मन कैसे कर सकता हूँ।
अब मुझे डर नहीं लग रहा था। मिटटी की भीनी खुशबू, और ओस अब मुझे एक अजीब सा सुख दे रहे थे। मैं खुश था। I crossed that tube well again. एक second के लिए मैं रुक। पर अगले ही पल मैं वापस अपने रासए हवेली की तरफ चलने लगा। ‘She is free now . They all are.’ मैंने सोचा हवेली में जब मैंने अपने पिताजी को देखा तो tempt हुआ उन्हें ये सब बताने के लिए। पर ऐसा करके मैं उन्हें यादों के ऐसे दलदल में ले जाता, जिससे निकलने के लिए उनकी पूरी एक ज़िन्दगी चली गयी। वे अपने पिताजी को कभी माफ़ तो नहीं करेंगे, और ये अपनी जगह पे सही भी हैं। मैं अपने दादाजी को माफ़ करूँगा… वैसे देखा जाये तो I am not in a position to decide. मै तो उन्हें जानता भी नहीं था। बस एक विरासत में मिली हुई उनके लिए नफरत ही थी जो बहार आ रही थी।

मैं वापस hall में गया। मैंने उस फोटो को एक बार फिर ढयतां देखा, मुस्कुराते हुए। अब कोई दुःख नहीं था। एक बरसो पुरानी नफरत का हर तरीके से अंत हुआ था आज। मैंने राहत जी शान की,
*
इतने साले बाद भी अगर इसपे डफर से बात की जाये तोह शायद जो मैंने देखा उसे एक co-incidence भी बता सकते हैं। या फिर ये की मैंने hallucinate किया था as was tired, पर मुझे अपनी आँखों देखि पे ही भरोसा है। क्यूंकि मैं ये मानना चाहता हूँ की एक लड़की ने अपने पिता के मान के लिए अपना प्यार कुर्बान किया। एक नौकर ने अपने मालिक के लिए अपना घर और गाँव छोड़ा। यहाँ तक की मरने के बाद भी एक दूसरे का सालों तक अपने वचन की मर्यादा में रखकर, इंतज़ार करते रहे। मैं मानना चाहता हूँ की मेरे दादाजी के वर्षों के पश्चाताप ने finally उन्हें अपनी बेटी, और मेरे through अपने बेटे से दोबारा मिलवा दिया था। Yes ….this is what I want to believe…that lady I met at tube well…changed my life.

Always in Your Dreams

‘Hey…can you hear me? It is said that if the connection between the two people is strong, they can exchange thoughts by just the eye contact. Tell me then, can you read my mind? I can see you burying your nose in that geography notebook. You are always like that. Come on now…just one look please. Try to read my thoughts. You will come to know how deeply I am in love with you.

*

I had to catch the 3:45pm train. It would take me six hours to reach her town. The train was at the right time. I took my seat and messaged her.

On board…cu very soon!”

Pretty soon her reply came back- “Can’t wait babu! ❤

She would always call me babu. I like it whenever she called me by that name. My life had been nothing but a very beautiful dream after meeting her.  And I have been living this dream for long. I was about to see her after long time. Another dream, which was coming true. She would have changed. But her smile will be the same when I last saw her three years ago – pious and innocent.

Within ten minutes, the train departed the station.

Six more hours! I was excited beyond measures to finally be able to see her. And I knew that she would be exited too. I knew she would play a very important role in my life the moment I saw her. Alright…not exactly the moment I saw her, but the moment when I actually saw her. We met for the first time when we were in 11th grade. I was new in school, the highest scorer among all. Maybe that was the reason why our geography teacher made me the team leader for geography assignments. I can’t say that I didn’t liked the attention, but it was an unusual feeling. A girl used to take my assignments from me. I never used to pay attention to her.

One fine morning, I arrived earlier than usual in class. The classroom as empty except for a girl who was sitting with her head down in the other corner of the class. I paid no attention to her and sat at my allotted seat. I was minding my own business, when she called my name. I turned back. She was the same girl who always took assignments from me. But…something was wrong. It was like I was seeing her for the first time. She was looking at me. Right into my eyes, like she was x-raying me. It was unusual for any girl of this school to do it. I was moved. Such confidence in her eyes! She was not a normal girl. She was something different. I replied back, “Yes?” She said nothing. Just kept looking at me and all of a sudden gave me a disgusting look. “Haven’t finished my assignment for today. I need more time. Will give it to you tomorrow.”

“Why? Everyone else has already submitted me their assignments. Are you some special?” I did not like her tone. But it was soothing for some reason. But why was I not able to get her name? It had been just two weeks that I joined this school, yet I was not able to guess her name. I had to find it out. I was desperate to know. “Well, tell me your name, I will note it down. I need to give it to our teacher.” I said. But she was taken aback by the question. “Are you are telling me, that you don’t know my name? You have some memory problem?” Her question was straight. If it would had been any other girl, I would have replied back the worst way possible. But something was stopping me. Her taunt was soothing to my ears. What was it? I had never felt like it. “Find out the name by yourself. I am not telling you. And if you want to complain, go ahead.” she said with no change in her tone.

‘That was a wash!’ I thought. Insult! But why was I feeling good about it? Considering it an isolated incident, I got busy with my work. I avoided encountering her for rest of the day. She would definitely have gone and told her friends about it and would have had a crazy laugh. But it was okay. That whole day, I was wondering how to find out her name.

*

I checked my watch, it was five o’clock. I checked my phone. There were no signal. Till now the train was running as per its schedule. Four more hours. They will pass soon. I looked outside the window, the sun about to set in the horizon. I was curious that what she would be doing. Maybe preparing to meet me. At the same time, I was worried that her father might not allow her to come out in cold winters of December. She was never the kind of girl who would be outside her home after certain hours.

*

I couldn’t find her name that day back then. So I decided to wait till next morning until our class teacher would take class attendance. Next morning I again came early. As usual, she was sitting with her head down. Today I decided not to talk to her till I guess her name. After the assembly, I was concentrating on the attendance. One by one, everyone was raising their hands up whoever their name was called. “Ananya!” our teacher called.

And there she was. Ananya…unique name. But she was unique, like her name. What started as a confrontation, would soon become a one sided liking. I made it my habit of reaching of early so that I could see her sitting with her head down. I never understood what was it that made me respect her to the extent that I could make her shout at me sometimes so that she could at least look at me and say something.

As it turned out, she was the one with whom my performances in the class would be compared. But I was happy again. Even if my marks would be less than hers, it would make me happy, to see her happy. But I was conscious. She was a career oriented student. I could never approach her to express my friendship, let alone express my love. She became the second influencing woman in my life, after my mother, whom I respected, with deep heart. The two years of my life were in peace. But it was gone, like every spring season. My mother was posted in New Delhi. I had to accompany her, where I would peruse my further studies. It was now the time to leave the city, and her as well.

*

There was a jolt and I woke up. The train had halted in the middle of nowhere. I checked my watch. It was six thirty by the watch. Thinking of it as a temporary halt, I sat peacefully. I again checked my mobile for signal. Nothing. Even after twenty minutes, the train was standing still. I was getting worried. This train was never late, something must have happened. Soon, there was an announcement in the train. The track ahead was damaged due to an accident. My heart sank. It was not good. Ananya would definitely not wait that long at the station. I had just one chance to see her, which was now in danger. I could imagine her waiting at the platform, helpless and hopeless, leaving without meeting me. It was the same feeling, like three years back.

*

It was decided that my mother and I would leave for Delhi as soon as the results would announce. That day of result, I visited my school. I was eager to meet Ananya. I knew she would be there. After all, I knew she would have scored more than me. But to my disappointment, she was not there. I inquired about her to my fellow friends, to her friends, but they had no idea as to where she was. I didn’t had her number. I was desperate to talk to her. I wanted to express her my feelings.’ But it was no use. I had to let her go. I found out later that her marks were not that good. I was taken aback. All the happiness that I had for my marks vanished and I was taken over by the sheer pain of losing her. I wanted to talk to her just once. But it was too late.

*

The train finally started moving after one and a half hours of waiting. I knew I was late. But I still had hope. A hope to see her face after these long years. Well…you must be wondering that how we caught up if I didn’t see her that day three years back? I will tell you.

I was caught up with my college work. Busy living my college life. One day, my mobile rang, and I saw a message from an unknown number. The message didn’t amuse me, but did the name in the end-Ananya.

It was again a moment of joy. I was happy. ‘She remembered me! After all these years.’ I thought. I was jumping that whole night. My mother had to practically gag me on my bed. We chatted over the phone. That started a series of conversations. I was still scared to tell her my feelings. I thought maybe she would react and not talk to me. It was good enough for her to at least talk to me. Her voice…was like honey, sweet and elixir to the body. How can one have so polite voice? I used to wonder.

A year later we were chatting over Facebook. When she wrote-

I like you

It was like nothing else I would have loved to see coming from her end. I wrote back-

I like you too

I really like you’ she wrote back.

I knew it…knew it at that very moment that she had the same feelings as mine. Our love story started. A very unique and strange love story. A girl, falling in love with a boy she never liked back in the school days. But then, the problem was, how we would meet.

One day after three years of long distance relationship, while we were chatting, I couldn’t control myself and expressed my desire to meet her. She was confused that how will I make it. I had no choice, I had to visit her in her city, by any way possible.

We made the plan for 18th December. I would tell my mom that I am going on a college trip. It would take me five hours to reach. I would stay there for some time, and come back the next day. Finally, the day was here.

*

I again checked my watch. The time was quarter to nine. Anytime now. Fifteen minutes later, the train arrived at the station. I got off. It was ten by my watch. I was late…super late. She would have left. My phone stared buzzing and her messages started coming.

Where have you reached?

How far more?”

Just heard the announcement. Your train will reach at ten. L”

My heart skipped a beat. Her last message was at 9 pm. It was cold out here. She would have left for sure. For a moment, I was tempted to call her and tell her that I arrived. But it was too late. I had missed the only chance to see her. This was not good. I entered the waiting room. It was empty. Empty…except for a lady how was sleeping in one seat, and a guy staring at her sleeping. I sat next to him. Exhausted, I took out my phone and typed a message-

Hey…reached…sorry…u must be at ur home…I am sorry to trouble you babu…take care…I will be leaving tomorrow morning…always love you….

With a heavy heart, I pressed the send button and closed my eyes. It was all over. A second late, the lady sleeping in front row woke up. She took out her phone. I could make out her actions since her back was facing me. ‘No use’ I thought. I stood up, ready to leave and sit on the platform… to punish myself for missing her. The lady got up simultaneously and turned her face at me.

I was there…standing…looking at her…like looking at her for the first time. There she was…wearing a jacket, her hair falling on her face…her beautiful eyes…gazing at me…but…something had changed…there was no hate, it was a longing, a feeling of love. She was Ananya. She was waiting…all this time! I could have cried out of joy!

She smiled. It was her first smile for me. With slow and steady steps, she was coming towards me. I was happy. I was content. I was blessed.

We stood facing each other…looking at each other and not speaking one single word. She then spoke, “Come…lets go.” She held my hand, and I felt like my heart was beating for the first time. “Where to?” I asked. “My home…no one is there…and I am definitely not going to let you die here out of cold.”

“Your home? But your parents?” I was confused. She gave me the same loving gaze and smiled. “They left today evening to meet my brother in Allahabad. They will return tomorrow afternoon. I had told them that I am going to meet my friend for group study. So they didn’t take me.” I was amazed by what she had become. A mature and intelligent Ananya was someone else now, she was a loving and caring partner. “Then why were you waiting here out in cold? You could have stayed back? I could have come to your home?” I asked.

She stopped, turned back at me with a serious look, and said, “You are probably the only boy who came this close to my heart. You are my first love. Every moment from the time you de-boarded the train, I wanted to be with you. I don’t know…when will I see you again…so why miss the only chance that I have?” Her eyes were x-raying me again. I was touched beyond measures to see her love for me.

We took an auto to her home, which was not quite far. It was a chilling night. The roads were silent. She opened the gates and we went inside. It was warm there. She took me to her room. We sat there, holding hands and looking at each other’s eyes. There was so much I wanted to say to her. But I was not able to find any word to begin with. It was her that broke the silence. “I made something for you. Wait here, let me bring it.” She left the room and I laid down on her bed. I was wondering about the upcoming events, things to say, when she came in and gave me the cookies and a dish she made. It was very tasty. I broke one piece of that cookie and gave it to her. We sat for another then minutes…looking at each other and talking.

Once we finished the supper, we climbed on her bed and laid down side by side. She kissed me on my forehead and I replied back, by kissing on her cheeks. That was the moment when we forgot who we were. Every part of her body that I touched, felt like a holy temple. I had to control. We had to control. But we didn’t wanted to. We were outside our clothes, and in her blanket, just hugging each other and doing nothing else. I just wanted us to be like that. I just wanted her to keep her head on my chest. All she wanted was to hug me and breathe heavily. I could just feel her heartbeat against mine. We were just looking at each other. I was blessed, to touch her, feel her…the girl I loved from long time. She was finally here with me. We stayed awake the whole night…talking, kissing, touching and gazing at each other.

Next morning, she accompanied me to the station. We were quite. She handed me over a box of cookie she had made for me.

My train was about to arrive. While we were sitting at the platform, she spoke, “I have to break a news to you.” “Hmm…” I said. She looked at me and smiled, “I will join you next year! I am coming for my masters there. So we will be together for long, this time.”

I was surprised. “Why didn’t you tell me that before? That’s excellent! My mother might have to move back to other city. But I will be staying back. We will have most of our times together.”

We looked at each other and smiled. “Six months of waiting. They will pass.” She said, “I will live my next six months…with the wonderful night I spent with you.” “So will I.” I said.

My train had arrived on the platform. We stood up. I boarded the train. She was still holding my hand. I looked at her. She was gazing at me…x-raying my heart. She spoke, “It is said that if the connection between the two people is strong, they can exchange thoughts by just the eye contact. Tell me then, can you read my mind? You will realise how deeply I am in love with you.”

Exactly my thoughts!…so long back. Yes…how could I not read your thought my precious! You are the sole thing I think of in my loneliness. I spoke, “You never have to prove it to me babu…I know…!”

“I will see you soon. Don’t forget to call me when you reach…do eat my cookies…don’t share it. And don’t look at other girls…I will come there soon babu…just you wait” she spoke in one breath. I made my hold stronger. “Ananya…never forget me…you are the only girl I ever think of. And no matter where I am, I will always be in your dreams…I will always love you.”

The train was leaving the station. She let my hands go. I was looking at her and she was looking at me. Then she smiled. Her eyes filled with tears. My eyes were wet too. I smiled her back. I kept standing at the door, till it took a turn…and I could no longer see her still standing there.

@@@@@

 

© 2016 by Manish Singh. All Rights Reserved.