Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Diary Of A Stalker (From The Scrap Shop: III)

It’s nearly been eight months since the last murder. Then, Kuttan had killed his wife and two grown-up daughters with a machete before hanging himself from a ceiling fan. We had expected the latter knowing about his rapid decline into depression. But, we never expected him to kill his family members. He was a decent chap, hard-working and a teetotaller, too. Some sniggered and said that a drop of arrack would have cleared his head of such thoughts. Speculations about the motive varied with each group - relatives, friends, acquaintances and so on.

This time, the murder happened in a house (named Saraswathy Villa) near the junction. Kunju Swami is the alleged murderer. In the early hours of yesterday, a neighbour saw him walking on the terrace of his house with bloodstains on his mundu (dhoti). That neighbour woke up her family members and after an hour or so for discussion and morning coffee, one of them informed the president of the residents’ association about their suspicion. The president, after some deliberation on the telephone with his coterie of committee members, called the police. When the police arrived, knocked down the door and finally entered Saraswathy Villa, they found Kunju Swami’s wife lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen and without any doubt, dead. Some alleged eyewitnesses claimed that her head was bludgeoned to pulp and that her torso bore multiple stab wounds.

This time too, we had expected this to happen. Kunju Swami is a rascal and should have been treated like a mad dog long back. His name used to be Hari and he is supposed to have made a fortune by smuggling – illicit liquor, gold, drugs, young girls – even when he was in his twenties. He was twenty four when he met his wife, then a pretty girl of eighteen who lived just a few houses away. They fell in love and married with the blessings of both parents. Then, for a few years, he was associated with a nearby ashram and assumed the current name. They have two daughters, the eldest who is around twenty is married and the younger one is four years old. The young kid is supposed to be the only witness to the murder.

One night a few months back, Kunju Swami had hit Raman (the guy running the scrap shop at the junction) without provocation – with an iron bar and from behind. Someone had told Kunju Swami that Raman had smiled at his wife. Three weeks back, around eleven in the morning, he picked up a fight with one of his relatives and smashed the latter’s legs and hands using a granite block. That took place right here at the junction. People there at that time remained as spectators till the brutal thrashing was over – some were his friends – and did not come forward to help the injured even after the fight. It’s known that Kunju Swami is quite generous with booze.

We knew that he used to fight with his wife quite often – sometimes, every alternate night. And now, we have gathered at the junction trying to get every bit of news.

I am in Raman’s scrap shop, on my usual seat, assimilating the gossip but paying more attention to the discarded books. There is no discernible pattern in the arrangement. I had asked Raman once but he offered a smile (probably the same kind of smile that had got him into trouble before) and no explanation. For example, on my right, I have a precariously placed pile with about ten books: the 3 volumes of Feynman’s lectures at the top, hardbound edition of Lisa Alther’s Bedrock at the bottom, then two books of Sophocles’ plays (Penguin edition), a thin brown diary of the year 2003, K.G. Paulose’s Kutiyattam (minus the DVD), one of those museum books on Rodin and handbook for Canon EOS 300.

I took the brown diary without disturbing the rest of the pile. No name nor address. Just a few pages filled at random. I found a printout close to the end of those notes – a low resolution printout of a black and white photo of a young woman taken from a distance. She is wearing loose (cotton?) pants and one of those loose tops (maybe, a pyjama top). Slightly built, seems graceful. The face is not clear but looks attractive. She is standing on a balcony and not looking at the camera.

My curiosity was piqued and I flipped the pages:


Tuesday, February 18.

Two months back, I came across an article on the Net titled “Remembering John Galt” written by a person named Chandrika.

How long have I been haunted by (a) the question “Who is John Galt?” and (b) all that John Galt stood for – ever since I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand for the first time eons back, I suppose.

Is that why I wanted to know more about Chandrika? I searched on the Net with search phrase “Chandrika” but there were too many hits and nearly impossible to get further information regarding her identity. Then, I used “Chandrika Remembering John Galt” and I found that the article had appeared in a weekend edition of a national newspaper. There, I found her true name and e-mail address. Let me call her X.

I sent an e-mail to her, praising her article and explaining my views about John Galt. She replied with a brief e-mail expressing her thanks. Around New Year’s Day, I sent another e-mail wishing her all the best in the New Year. I never received a reply.

Meanwhile, with a few more searches using her real name, I found that she would be attending a conference, in this city, in the second week of January. For some reason, the organizers had posted details of participants, details such as mobile number and home address, in a PDF downloadable file on the website of the conference.

I saw her for the first time on the day she presented a paper at the conference. Since then, it has been hectic. I had to shift to a new apartment – somewhere close to hers. I was lucky and found one overlooking her apartment.

As I write this, I can also look at her.

Saturday, March 8.

Now, I know her schedule quite well. I also know that she has left a key with her neighbour – probably because they share the same maid or maybe, just a precaution. I like to look at her when she rests on a rattan armchair on the balcony late at night. She rarely entertains guests at her place.

A few days back, I saw her opening the door to a guy – a young attractive chap though he looks a bit wet behind the ears. She told him to sit in the drawing room and went to her room to change, I think. Soon, they left together, walking close but not holding each other.

Today around noon, I saw them together at the chic restaurant near our apartment blocks. They sat outside under an umbrella. I chose to sit inside in the air-conditioned area. It is tough to say whether they are intimate but the easy manner in which they talked and their body language seemed to indicate a relationship based on mutual interest. I quickly finished my lunch and waited at a bookshop facing the restaurant, close to where my car was parked.

They left the restaurant around three. She stood on her toes and gave a brief peck on his cheek, maybe just an air kiss. The lad watched her cross the road and go towards her apartment; and then, proceeded to his motorbike. I left the bookshop and went to my car. At that time of day, it was not too difficult to follow him. Even on the express highway, I managed to stay behind him. We were now close to the dangerous crossing on the expressway with the entrance to the arterial road leading to the subway from the West to the East. Recently, a colleague had met with an accident right there – a car had nudged his scooter by mistake onto the wrong lane and he was mowed down by the oncoming speeding vehicles. The lad was in that position and all I had to do was countdown and nudge at the right moment when the lights are about to change. I watched the stop-watch on top of the traffic-lights.

Seven, six, five, four, three, two,…

one, zero. I am not a killer. I am not a killer. I was breathing heavily and I kept saying that. I trust her to make the right choice.

On my way home, I stopped at a crowded public phone booth and called her mobile for the first time. I nearly cried when she took the phone and said hello. I listened for a while, hearing her repeat it, maybe even hearing echoes, and then disconnected. I can’t say anything, can I?

I got home and saw that she was sitting outside. She seemed to have a puzzled look on her face. She turned her face in my direction. If she could see my face now, will she care about the tears?

I could taste bile in my mouth and swallowed. Even I was surprised with the force of dejection and anger. I am not a killer, I am not a killer, I repeated.

Monday, March 31.

She gets up early to go to the gym. Irrespective of that, she is usually in a hurry from seven till eight. I usually watch this routine of hers with kind amusement – at least, when I can forget my anger. Before she leaves at eight, she usually boils a large vessel of water on the gas stove.

This morning, her normal routine was disturbed by a series of phone-calls. Around eight, I saw her rushing out. I stepped out onto the balcony and waited till I could see her, thirteen floors below, getting into an auto-rickshaw and leaving. Then, I turned to go inside. It was while closing the French windows of the balcony that I felt that I had missed doing something. I adjusted the lenses and looked at her apartment. I scanned from left to right, and it was on the second time around that I looked more closely at the kitchen. I could not be sure but I was nearly certain that she had left the gas stove on.

For a few moments, I froze with indecision. Maybe, the gas will just burn out. Maybe, the water will boil over and douse the flames, and gas would leak. An image of her entering the apartment and switching on the lights nearly made me cry out loud.

I cannot call her.

Anyway, she is probably too far away by now. I did not want her to enter the apartment. No chances to be taken.

I rushed from my apartment, onto the lift and outside towards her apartment block. I was not too sure what I intended to do. Maybe, knock on the neighbour’s door - the one with a spare key to her apartment - and tell her that I was passing by and smelled gas from the flat next to hers. Will she forget my face?

As I approached the lobby of that block, I noticed that the security guard was not in his place. Probably, doing the rounds or talking to some maidservant elsewhere. Calmly, I walked to the phone on the deserted security desk. After referring to the intercom directory placed below the phone, I dialed the neighbour’s number.

When the neighbour picked up the phone, I spoke with a gruff voice and told the lady to go next door and switch off the gas. I repeated the instruction once again to the confused lady and left.

It is now just around half past nine and X is back in her apartment, followed by the lady next door. Looks like the latter had called her after following my instructions. She inspected the kitchen briefly and then she gave the neighbour a tight hug. I could then see the neighbour trying to explain – maybe, about the call she had received.

X seems to be listening carefully. She keeps nodding her head – maybe, in a puzzled or bewildered way. After a while, the neighbour takes her leave and leaves X alone. From the drawing room where she sits, she looks at the surrounding apartment blocks carefully.

Saturday, April 26.

Two weeks back, I met an old acquaintance and he introduced me to his colleague, a teacher in the English Dept. at the University – let me call her Y. His introduction was embarrassing, “The person famous for intense crushes – the perpetual adolescent.” I nearly blushed.

Meanwhile, in the last three weeks, X has been trying to solve her mystery. At times, I can see her silhouette in the dark apartment, probably watching outside, waiting to see. One Monday, she even left the apartment with the water boiling and the gas stove on. But, she returned soon, and found no messages for her nor her neighbour. She looks haggard these days. I have not seen the young lad in the last few weeks.

This morning, I was busy packing my stuff. Y had promised to come over and help me. When the doorbell rang, I expected it to be Y and opened the door saying, “Ready to carry the crates, love?”

It was X standing outside. “Sorry, thought it was someone else. How can I help you?” I said, quite breathless.

“I am looking for my friend’s apartment.” X said. At that instant, the lift opened and Y walked towards my door, nodding towards X and raising her eyebrows. I gave a small shrug. I think X saw that, turned around and looked at Y. This time, Y asked “Yes?”

“I am looking for my friend’s apartment.” X repeated.

“What’s his name?” Y asked.

“I don’t know.” X said faintly. She looked as if she might collapse.

“Are you OK?” I asked her.

“Yes, yes,…” she mumbled and turned towards the next door on that floor, “maybe, I should check there…if I see him, I will recognize…” and mumbled to both of us, “sorry to have disturbed you, ma’am.”

And left.

(The characters and events are fictitious. Any resemblance to real events and recent news reports is purely coincidental.)

No comments:

Post a Comment