And so it will come to pass

The Mother

It is a cold morning in January . I came back about a week ago from my hometown because my son has his examination this week. I hate this place, this city , this life . What happened to me , I had potential , I was the university topper . I am suddenly 31 years old with two young children that I will have to raise to adulthood . Is this what my potential was meant for ?  My life was meant for something far greater than that. My husband went to work as usual at 6:45 AM . I had to get my children ready for school and they were actually out and ready by 7:30 AM. The maid who would walk them to school , came by at 7:20 and the kids left with her . I watched in the window as my children went out of sight . As was customary with my son, at a certain spot he would turn around and look for me in the window and keep my face in sight as he passed out of sight. It was inexplicable , my daughter does not act like that . He is older but he is more sensitive and vulnerable . He acts like that around his father too . It was almost as if he does not like to let either of us out of his sight , like a annoying pet!!!  The devotion and neediness only goes so far,  after a point it is annoying but today I am not annoyed by that. I keep him in sight until he walks away because I will never see that face again . I watch my daughter too , her attention is on her brother and she wants to do what her brother does  but distractions tear her attention away .

I have made up my mind , I am exhausted . I really do not wish to continue living like this  . The futility of living with no purpose leaves me drained and actually astounded that anybody would want to continue in this mindless fashion

I have played this in my head as to how this plays out , my previous two attempts have been failures . But I have read in the newspapers on all these dowry deaths where women are burnt and seems as though that is the ticket for me . I had made up my mind that today was the day to go through with my plans , in the privacy of my own house unlike the previous time. I eyed the kerosene can in the corner . We used Kerosene stoves as a backup when the gas stoves were occupied and it has come in handy finally . I hate the smell of kerosene but I dont have to put up with it for much longer . That smell or anything else for that matter . Ironically as the flames consume me , all that I can think of is my son

 

The Son

We had to come back from my mother’s hometown because I have my exams . I love living at my mom’s ancestral place which is a 1000 miles away and I enjoy hanging around with my cousins and uncles and aunts . This time , it has been a nightmare. My mother has always been extremely religious but this time her father has found her a religious teacher who lives 2 hours away so my mother stays gone the whole time and so does the entire family with the exception of my step grandmother and me. It is extremely boring and after two weeks, I started complaining but I did not want to seem too whiny so I tell everybody that I am worried about my exams . About a week prior to the exams , my mother reluctantly decides to head back but my grandfather makes arrangements for the religious teacher to visit us . I hate that idea but I keep mum .

My father picked us up at the station and I was happy and relieved .I was actually glad to get back home this one time , I would finally have my mother all to myself.

We got into the routine of studying for the two exams each day. I was actually happy to be back even though I disliked the stress of exams.

Today is Tuesday , the second day of my exams , I had reading and history exams today . As always I practiced the previous day with my mother . We left for school before 7:30 AM . School started at 8:00 AM . It was a 15-20 minute walk , our maid walked me and my sister to school and end of school , she would be back there to pick us up . If it was not her then it would be one of our neighbors or one of her daughters . On a rare lucky day, it would be my mother . Today the maid came to pick us up as usual at 7:20 and my mother helped me put on my shoes as well as my sister’s shoes and we went down the two flights of stairs and finally out on the street where I could see my mother in the window. Ever since her prior two attempts to leave us , I feel an incessant need to convey affection but the only way that I know how is to convey neediness . I imagine that mothers like to be needed . I see her face in the window and I wave to her and she waves back . Memory is a funny thing , for decades I would be tortured with guilt since I am the last person to see her alive and I imagine that somehow I had seen a sign of things to come and could have prevented what was to come if I had raised the alarm. But I am afraid my memory plays tricks on me .

School was uneventful and I finished my first exam when I look up and see my mother’s best friend whom I called aunty , talking to my teacher . I see my teacher crying and then aunty comes over to me  and takes me away ignoring my protests that I have one more exam . We go over to my sister’s classroom when I see a repeat performance of my sister’s teacher bursting into tears . I was still clueless as to what was going on and then aunty takes me and my sister to my paternal grandmother’s house . That is where my paternal  uncles and aunts live along with my grandmother . But today it is overfilled with people that I dont recognize , the women in the household come and take me and my sister inside . I am getting claustrophobic , I have never been an extrovert and this just makes things worse for me .

At this point my father comes in to the house along with his friends and brothers and cousins . He comes in and he only talks to my grandmother . He tells her “She is at the hospital but she is completely burnt” and he leaves without ever seeing me even though I was standing in front of him .

Comprehension is a funny beast and I heard the facts but I refused to comprehend them . I found religion that day and prayed long and hard that ‘completely burnt’ might mean just a completely burnt finger or toe .

At one point I insisted on going to my house which was about 3 kilometres away and my aunts and grandmother were vehemently opposed to it. I did not see my dad again until it was almost 6 PM when he came in with my maternal grandfather , step grandmother and one of my uncles. I was really surprised to see them . The journey by train takes over 24 hours . Listening to everybody talking , I found out that my grandfather had to fly to the Financial capital which was 4 hours away by train and then come over .

My grandfather seemed to ignore me and wailed loudly that he could not believe what she had done . He also added that had it not been for my exams , she would be ok. I am still not certain what possible relation , my exams had to do with my mother or what she had done but I was too timid to interrupt and protest.

I was happy to see them but still worried sick about my mother and nobody would tell me anything except deny whatever it was that I asked for which was mostly wanting to go back to my house . That night I slept along with my step grandmother and grandfather and uncle. I had always been closer to my mother’s people .

As was customary for me , I woke up early in the morning but I did not get get up . I stayed in the warm bed and it was then that I heard the conversation that made my blood run cold

“She was so young, why did she do it? Especially when she had such young kids” , said my grandmother’s voice

“Had it not been for his exams , she would still be here today” said my grandfather’s voice

“I hope that she does not turn into an evil spirit” replied my grandmother’s voice.

With a sinking feeling , I realized that my mother was gone . I would never see her again . I did not quite realize which was worse , the fact that she was gone or the fact that I would be blamed for it by the people who loved her who were incidentally also the people that I loved

In retrospect I have often wondered if I have behaved like the man who slaughters the golden goose to get all the eggs , I resented being left alone when she was trying to get the help that she needed but I was annoyed at being left alone and had demanded to be go back and now I suddenly found myself all alone

The Father

It was an uneventful day , a Tuesday . That meant two days until I was off . My work was almost an hour away so I had to leave early , catch the company bus at 6:50 AM and I would get to work by 8:30 AM.

It was a normal day and we started by drinking our morning tea . That was my second cup of tea . I smoked my first cigarette of the day with my tea . I love my cigarettes and my tea . My friend who has some relatives in England tells me that they drink tea with Lemon and even black tea . I cannot imagine how godawful tea would taste without milk and sugar .,the cardamom and ginger makes the tea delicious. I like my cigarettes strong and unfiltered . It is a perfect start for a day , strong syrupy milky tea and unfiltered cigarettes . After I finished , I went into the storehouse to procure parts that were supposedly faulty in the last batch of gears that had come from the machine shop . They had installed new lathes in the machine shop. I got the call when I was in the machine shop inspecting the lathe . It was my landlord . He called me to tell me that my wife had set herself on fire and they had called the hospital but the hospital insisted that they call the police first. I was stunned , she had been back for less than a week. I sat down in a chair in a daze , my friend had already talked to the neighbour and had started making arrangements with the boss to get a cab back to the city. The ride back was a blur , my co workers were trying to manage everything . I am overwhelmed with emotions , anger , hurt , shame, bafflement . Anger at my wife for doing this, anger at her parents , anger at my kids . I am in a predicament that I cannot see any way out . Who is going to help raise these kids ? If I stay at home taking care of them , how could I hold a job trying to play mommy . Who is going to take care of these kids?  The hurt is overwhelming too , she essentially proved to me that me and my children were not worthy enough for her to stick around. I am going to have to live with the shame for the rest of my life .

I called up my wife’s best friend after we reached the city and told her to get the kids from school and get them to my mother’s house . I called up my mother and told her what had happened  , after that I called up my brothers .

I had to go to the hospital first . They took me straight to the morgue . I had to identify her half charred remains . The upper part of her body was unidentifiable . The only identifiable item left was the necklace and the bangles . After identification of her body , I had to go to the police station along with the constable for their investigation . I come from a good family , we have never interacted with police . That was something that was exclusively reserved for low life and scumbags and I cannot believe that she had put me in this situation . Every moment stretched out to eternity and eternity poked back at me with worry and terror. The police asked me questions , they wanted to know if she was being tortured by me. My friends and neighbours had to vouch for me. They wanted to talk to her parents . I told them that they were in their hometown a 1000 miles away and gave them the phone number for my in laws . They promptly dialed my father in law and they were on the phone for a whole 3 minutes before hanging up . They told me that I could go and they will let me know if they needed me. They told me not to go out of town until I cleared it with them . My landlord who had called me on the phone , told me that what had alerted him was my wife screaming my son’s name . They had to break down the door to get inside . I would find out later that the Good Samaritan had also cleaned out the gold jewellery that was in the house.

My brother in law who lived a hundred miles away in the financial capital had come down to join me along with his brothers and cousins . I was later joined by my brothers . I called up my father in law and talked to him briefly , the man was sobbing uncontrollably . I hung up after he told me that he was on his way down . There was no direct flight, he would have to fly to the Financial capital and then take a train down . He would be here late in the afternoon . My brothers and brother in law started insisting that I needed to cremate the body . The son is supposed to be cremate the remains but he is too young and besides I could not bring myself to tell him that his mother was gone. I have no idea how to break the news to them , let alone tell my son that he had to cremate his mother.

Again it seemed as though my social circle took care of everything . One called up the crematorium to reserve the spots, the others started calling around relatives and before I knew it , I had already lit the funeral pyre of my dead wife . That evening , her parents and one of her brothers came down. My father in law was distraught and kept blaming my son’s exams for what happened . While it annoyed me , I also understand the reason , I am a believer in fate , I believe that whatever was ordained by destiny will come to pass but I also believe that if one can escape the god of death at the ordained hour then one is safe . The thing that struck me was that my wife had 9 siblings and only one of them had actually bothered to come down . But I had too many things to worry about so the apathy of my sibling in laws took a back seat , I had little idea that it would come back to haunt me as the years passed but right now my most pressing engagements , the death rites took up all my bandwidth .

I dont want to live with my mother and my siblings but I dont see a choice ahead , all I see is a bleak future ahead of me . A once joyous and happy family reduced to shades of ashen pallor by the one person who was meant to be my friend, my fellow traveler . My children’s life forever scarred by the vacuum left behind by their mother.

The only lesson that I have learnt from this is that suicide  defies all the laws of the known universe , the guilt of the survivors explodes and multiplies as it touches more and more people .

 

 

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West Side .. Market

The West Side Story is an American staple , a innovative take on Romeo and Juliet with the gorgeous city of New York as the backdrop . A musical which is a feast for the eyes and ears and indeed the the beating heart of any human being . I believe that even the English language is not a necessity for enjoying the movie or the play . But today , we are going to visit the West Side Market , Cleveland’s open air market on W25 street , not too far from the Cleveland Hopkins airport and yet close enough to the vibrant western suburbs of Cleveland.Supposedly the market dates back to 1840 . Astonishing considering that the city of Cleveland came into existence in the late 1700s .

Like most kids , growing up I looked up to my dad , anything that he said was gospel and sacrosanct . Proving my loyalty to him seemed more important to me as compared to my friends . I have wondered about it as time has passed by , I hypothesize that it was because he was a single parent or perhaps that is the prerogative of the elder child . His tastes were faithfully mimicked , his love of Shakespeare and Milton and Dryden has invoked the same in me,  his favorite foods seemed to become my favorite food irrespective of what my tastes told me. I had always had a sweet tooth but he loved fiery spicy food and I faithfully followed the dictum that spicy food is for real men and sweets are for wimps . I even adopted his favorite music , music that he had listened to as a teenager , music tastes that I defended against my contemporaries to the point where we would come to blows  . When he was diagnosed with diabetes , he was forced to stop taking sugar in his tea . Being deprived of the simple pleasure of sugar in tea was probably the worst punishment that providence could have inflicted on him . Tea in India is served with sugar and milk , sweet and syrupy , a delicious concoction of caffeine and sugar; the killer combination that the Coca Cola company has leveraged for the last 100+ years. So when he stopped taking sugar in his tea , I stopped as well . Part of me was stricken by his plight, the tea that he loved so much , that he could not do without was suddenly something that he seemed to hate and I wanted to experience his pain. Looking back at my experience, it is perhaps a tad bit ironical that I have completely switched to black tea and black coffee for no other reason other than realizing that to truly enjoy the taste of coffee and tea, one has to avoid the trappings of sugar and milky fats . Coming back to my father, everything that he said was gospel to me. Whilst growing up , he would tell me stories of his youth , when I was younger , I used to find it entertaining , now I realize that he was reliving the days of his youth. I also understand now that my mother’s death was harder on him that I realized at the time and I was his only channel at semi adult conversations or the only one who would listen to him reciting Shakespeare sonnets or verses from Milton or Dryden or reliving his childhood in Chennai. My sister has no recollection of any of that , but she likes to remind me that she is a whole 5 years younger than me so she has been deprived of all the wonderful memories bequeathed to me by our parents . He loved to tell me these stories of him shopping as a kid , and how he loved to bargain with the shopkeepers when he was not even 10 . The shopkeepers considered him a mini terror and hated bargaining and wheedling with him ;it is perhaps another one of the great ironies of my life  that I absolutely hate bargaining . I don’t even bargain in places like China where I am expected to bargain and leave the shopkeepers disgusted , bemused and presumably richer. One of the stories that he liked to tell was about the size of prawns that he would get in Chennai . He claimed that they were as large as his fists and he also said that these days , according to him those prawns are exported so we never see them in any marketplace in India. I had bought into that hook , line and sinker but as time passed , scales fall from our eyes and realization sets in that perhaps parents are human and have feet of clay. The realization that there are no damned prawns the size of fists and my dad was exaggerating firmly took root.  Dont get me wrong, I loved my dad and had the greatest reverence for him and some of the same loyalty was still lurking not too far from the surface but I also imagined that a lot of his stories were just that, stories.

I had moved to California from Ohio two years ago .  Ohio was a wonderful place to live , settle down . People like to poke fun at me , especially in the Bay area and in New York where there seems to be general condescension for the rest of the country. But I had a great time and if I have any regrets, it is that I did not soak in everything that Ohio had to offer more enthusiastically. I did not travel to see the museum of Aviation in Dayton , nor did I hang around the riverside in Cincinatti or check out what used to be the glass capital of the world , Toledo nor did I spend any great length of time in what used to be the Rubber capital of the world , Akron. It was only in the last few months that I went to see the Rock and Roll Hall of fame . It is a tad bit sad considering how much I love hard rock and metal . The Rock and Roll hall of fame is designed like the Louvre in Paris , inside it lists the history and etymology of music . One of my cousins who is extremely talented in terms of music , explained to me how the layout and etymology made perfect sense to him , how the gospels did inspire soul and R&B and eventually Rock and Roll and hard rock . It was a fascinating and delightful journey into the world of music .

But I have always had a delightful time at the West Side market on W25 st in Cleveland . I have looked at the West side market as a  one stop shop for fruits , vegetables , cheese , spices , meats , pasta , oils and pastries and snacks.  Not too far from the Westside market is another Cleveland treasure that one should not miss . The Great Lakes Brewing Company !! it is a microbrewery with very high quality beers and a restaurant that serves delicious American fare. One of the primary advantages of visiting a micro brewery is that you get samplers . A sampler platter of 6-9 beers served in shot glasses . An elegant way to sample all the deliciousness that the brewery has to offer without getting drunk.

While I was living in Wooster , the nearest Indian grocery store was in Cleveland which was 60 miles away. When I would go to get the so called essentials , I would swing by the west side market . Sometimes I did not even buy anything , just indulge in the pleasure of browsing . Growing up in India had me accustomed to open air markets and Singapore and the US had no parallels . The West Side market had an open air vegetable and fruit market and then inside a immense building was a treasure trove of culinary shopping . Mind you, I hate shopping with a passion even today with the exception of shopping for food , the more exotic, the more I delight in it . After shopping for fruits and veggies , I would go inside and talk to the pretty girl who was selling flavored Italian oils and learn how to make it myself , the Lebanese butcher who sold lamb and goat meat , the local farmers who would sell choice cuts of veal and steaks and porkchops. The sausage store that sold kielbasa , Chorizo ,Andouille , Bratwursts , Italian sausages flavored with sweet fennel and just regular sausage flavored with sagebrush . meetandcheeseThe cheese store was a delight , Gouda with its smoky sweetness , Havarti with the delicious astringent crunchiness of caraway seeds, soft Brie that one could spread like butter on toast, delicious English cheese like Stiltons , goat cheese , mozzarella , Parmigiana – Romano and many many more . There were several bakeries with more pastries than I could name and recognize . One of my regular stops was the Italian pasta shop where I would buy fresh Fettuccine and fresh Ravioli for my stepchildren , they loved my Fettuccine Alfredo and Zuppa Toscana and Chicken Marsala.  At the center was a spice store that one could find just about anything that one craved for , no matter what the origin was. The proprietor loved spices , spices were her life and the intimate knowledge of what ties in with which entree was something that she could effortlessly calculate in her head , it reminds me of accountants who could effortlessly calculate interest rates and calculate what your PMI is or what you would pay over the course of 20 years, most people would find it boring but I find the ease with which they proceed to be a delight. This woman was like that , she was the London cab driver of spices . She was white but she could correct me as to what I would need for Indian recipes . One could spend a whole day here and not get bored . Away from all of this hustle and bustle was a vestibule that led to a small section of the building . In here was the fish market , one could find grouper , Mahi Mahi , Freshwater bass , trouts , eels , even Pomfret from India . The first time that I was here , I looked at each fish and grilled the Russian proprietor  at length . However I was puzzled about this hunk of meat that vaguely looked like a prawn but it was enormous , probably bigger than my fist . The texture was slimy , reminded me of prawns and shrimp . The color did too . After admiring it for a few minutes , I asked the Russian proprietor again as to what this mystery animal was . He looks at me with a sly grin and says in a thick Russian accent  “Prawns” .  I wonder where they could be getting these enormous prawns from so I ask him “Where are they from ?” . His sly grin grew broader and he said “Well from India , of course” . To say that I was stunned would be an understatement . As I walked back to my car with my fresh fettuccine and Ravioli and lamb chops .  I silently apologized to my dear departed father for doubting him in the first place , an apology that was perhaps 10 years too late to matter .

Westside-Market

 

Twinkling Twelve and Charles Sobhraj – Part 3

Continued from Part 2

“Well how about we start by making a trip to the police station and tell them that we will be helping them. We know how the mama (police) just botch everything up” , Anurag stated authoritatively

Ed – I have no idea about the etymology of the term mama being used for police . Mama in Marathi means maternal uncle . But usually the term when used for cops has a derogatory sound about it that has always been inexplicable to me.

Sachin looked dubious , “Are you suggesting that we go to the police station and tell them that they need to stop investigating this case?”

“Exactly , we will also tell them where we will be searching so they can be spared the trouble of having to look in those places ” , exclaimed Anurag triumphantly . Like most sheltered children who are pampered and told repeatedly by their parents as to how special they are , Anurag had developed a strong sense of contempt for the general mass of humanity . With Anurag , one was guilty of stupidity unless proven otherwise.

Satish looked around puzzled , having always been obsequious in life tends to leave one tremulous of authority and the thought of walking into the police station and informing the guard that we will be taking over was more alien to him than say the thought of landing on the moon. He wondered if his idiot friends would actually go along with this foolishness.

The rest were happy to go along with Anurag’s suggestions and the dirty dozen walked over to the nearest police chowkey(station) . The picture of the paunchy  constable chewing his betel leaf contentedly with the red juice staining the lower echelons of his majestic mustache formed a sight that is familiar to most if not all . He looked petulantly at the young impetuous horde that seemed to advance towards him. He had children of his own and disliked them with a passion . They were usually good for nothing and demanding .

This crowd looked no better , especially the vanguard who looked like entitled spoilt brats . His instinct was justified when the brat started to talk “Hey you havaldar(constable) , we wanted to tell you that we are going to capture Charles Sobhraj and we dont want you meddling around ”

“What !!” , constable Ganpatrao was dumbfounded but as the words permeated through the layer of confusion and astonishment and understanding floated to the surface , his eyes blazed . The little bastards always bought out the worst in him

As Anurag patiently started to reiterate their position , unwary of the mottled rage in his adversary’s eyes “Weeee arrrre gooooinnng toooo caaaptuuurrrre Chhharrrrles Ssssobhhhhrrrraaaj and weeee donnnnt wannnntttt you medddddling arrrrounnnnd ”

” Piss off , you little bastards ” , screamed constable Ganpatrao and brandished his staff with the strongest intention of knocking off the little brat’s block whilst spewing profanities directed at mothers , fathers and general family ancestry in chaste Marathi . The dirty dozen beat a hasty retreat with Anurag still in the vanguard .They did not stop until they were out of breath and well out of reach of the fat constable who looked like a bloodthirsty savage as he ran after them with all the effort that he could muster

Now after they had regrouped , Anurag looked around and counted 12 for 12 .He was disgusted that nobody had bothered to put up a stand with the fat constable. He wondered if they needed some inspirational lessons in courage but he decided that perhaps inspiration could be better utilized at another time especially since some uncouth idiot might point out that he was in the vanguard while fleeing .It would be impossible to explain to these idiots that since he was the smartest, he had to ensure his protection for the betterment of the group . He looked thoughtfully around him .The stupidity of the police as personified in the fat constable who could not see the voice of reason and intelligence made it evident to him that they would have to go higher . Perhaps the Inspector or Sub Inspector in the station , that would mean having to sneak around the constable. It was also evident to him that he would have to be the one who would have to talk to the sub inspector because these idiots seemed to lack the backbone requisite for such a foolhardy task. His contempt at his comrades who seemed to have fled without making a bold stand was rising in a dangerous crescendo.

Ed – Well , dangerous for Anurag anyway, had he proceeded to voice his contempt at them , Sachin and Satish may well  join the others in a new punching game 

Fortunately he did have a brilliant brainwave

“I have an idea ” , Anurag exclaimed

Satish looked tired , these audacious trysts with authority were beginning to sap his strength and test his belief that bringing Anurag was a good idea to begin with.

“Ajit and Yogesh should bait the fat constable so that when he was busy chasing them and away from the door , the rest of the gang could go inside the police station and talk sense with sensible authorities. ” , Anurag looked at them proudly expecting an applause . Two silent minutes later, he silently told himself that he needed to find an audience intelligent enough to appreciate his brilliance

“Why should we risk our necks” , bleated Ajit .

“yes , you should go “, ventured Yogesh  timidly looking at Anurag.

Anurag wanted to launch a blistering attack on the stupidity of the general public who were utterly unwilling to sacrifice themselves for the larger cause but rescue came galloping from an unexpected quarter .

“You guys are the fastest runners that we have, Anurag is too slow and he could get caught” Sachin said slowly

Anurag was deeply offended by that comment and wanted to correct him that he had been in the vanguard whilst running away from the policeman . Before he had a chance to defend his running prowess , Yogesh agreed and Ajit reluctantly followed him .Flattery or perhaps logic had won the day.

As Ajit and Yogesh started walking towards the police station . Sachin rallied everybody this time “We need to get in position before the fat constable is led away from the door”

As so everybody decided to take up their respective vantage points where they could see Ajit and Yogesh approach the fat constable .

Ganpatrao viewed tea as one of the rare luxuries nay necessity that was permitted in a thankless spartan government job and he took it very seriously . The neighbourhood tea boy who was a whole 8 years old , knew exactly how he liked his tea . The black tea leaves needed to be blanched in boiling water and 3 paper thin slice of ginger added , after which a pinch of powdered cardomom and cloves were added to the mixture followed by 2 spoons of sugar. After the decoction was deemed suitably aromatic, whole fat buffalo milk was to be added in an exacting proportion of 1.125:1  for milk and the tea decoction. On occasional days , he would permit himself the luxury of a biscuit with his tea.  Ganpatrao viewed the general public as a nuisance that had to be tolerated , personally he would love to lock the lot of them up and throw away the key , unfortunately prison space was a big consideration these days. But his distaste of the general public  might almost seem like love if one was to realize his loathing for the public’s children had grown by leaps and bounds in the last hour . The bastards had led him on a merry chase for a full 10 minutes . It had taken him almost 20 minutes to come back to his post where his boss , the sub inspector demanded to know where he had been goofing off and given him a good ticking. Not a good day at all . The ordeal today was certainly one of those days where he needed a stiff cup of tea with a extra spoonful of sugar and a couple of biscuits to fortify himself for the rest of the shift . As he took up his post again , he looked around for the tea boy who was nowhere to be found. Story of his life, the runt was always hanging around when he was not needed and right now when he desperately needed a tea, the little vagrant had pulled one of his disappearing acts . He wondered if he could arrest him , a definite benefit would be that he could always get tea when he needed it. Deprived of the life resurrecting benefits of tea, he had to content himself with a betel leaf (paan) . Fortunately he had the foresight to buy an extra paan after lunch and he pulled it out of the recesses of his uniform but realized that the earlier exertion of running after those rascals earlier had managed to drench the paper packet in sweat . He slowly unwrapped the wet paper which had the annoying tendency to tear off and stick to the betel leaf and meticulously cleaned it . The sweat on the betel leaf made him queasy , the thought of putting that in his mouth was nauseating but so was the thought of throwing away a perfectly good paan. He hit upon a compromise , he decided to wipe the sweat off on his uniform before eating it.   So focused was he at the task at hand that he failed to notice Yogesh and Ajit on the steps of the police station looking curiously at him. The sudden sight of these two squirts that he did not recognize startled him thereby dropping the precious paan and in a moment of rare adroitness , he swung his hand and managed to clasp the precious cargo between the palm of his hand and his thigh. It is rare that one has moments of such joy followed by such depths of consternation. It was as though somebody sky diving from a mile above in the sky manages to plumb the depths of the Mariana trench in the next moment. The pride and joy at having secured the paan safely was followed by an acute consternation at the sensation of wet betel leaf goop on his hand . He withdrew his palm looking on in horror at the slowly spreading red stain on his trousers . If one had a view of the thoughts inside constable Ganpatrao’s mind , one would have witnessed Dante’s inferno in all its volcanic frenzy.  He looked up at the two miserable wretches who had caused this mayhem and his fury knew no bounds . In a act of agility that would have defeated most Olympic athletes , he leapt up to grasp them . Fortunately for both of them, they had retreated couple of steps while they had watched him during the whole paan exercise and they fled as hard as they could with the constable in hot pursuit . This time the constable aided with various emotions that had eluded him during his prior pursuit seemed to be gaining ground .  The fat constable gaining ground on Ajit and Yogesh mesmerized Satish into paralysis, while Anurag and Sachin came out of their vantage points and hurriedly looked for the others . Seeing nobody else come out of their vantage points, they decided to go inside the station alone before the fat constable came back.

Entering the police station , they found a small vestibule that had a table with crumbs of stale food and stains of tea. Entering a swinging wooded door , they were confronted by a officious looking man in a police uniform with his legs stretched on the table and head hanging on his chest. The man appeared to be asleep . Anurag looked at Sachin and grinned and whispered “You see why we dont want these idiots around”

Sachin looked exasperated . It is unclear to us whether his source of exasperation is his all knowing companion or the police who seemed determined to make an ill impression on the young minds but notwithstanding  the source , he rapped the table  . The sleeping figure did not budge . Anurag watched the reclining figure , could it be possible that somebody had committed a murder in the police station and left the body dressed up as a cop . Before he could convey his theory to Sachin , Sachin rapped the table again , harder with greater urgency. The sleeping cop woke up with a start . He looked at the two kids with bleary eyes . He had a new born at home that kept him up at night and his hopes of getting some rest at the office was dashed by these impertinent brats.

“What do you want?” , snapped Inspector Vithal Pant .

As Anurag started to talk, Sachin interrupted him . “Sir, please we would like to help the police catch Charles Sobhraj . If you could tell us what we can do to help , we will be thrilled to help”

Vithal Pant looked at the kids . Unlike Ganpatrao, he did not view them with a jaundiced eye. Perhaps the sweet taste of fatherhood had inculcated some tender feelings towards children, unlike Ganpatrao who had to provide for a big brood, this was his first child. Perhaps Sachin’s demeanour of humility was the clinching factor, we will never know . He smiled at the boys .

“I actually have a bigger task for you guys before we set out to catch Charles Sobhraj. ”

The boys looked agog with excitement

(To be Cont)