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NOBODY LIGHTS A CANDLE
When the jeep arrived at J J Bindal’s Preet Vihar House, nobody asked the Inspector who was with him.
Adhirath had never understood why the dome that looked so grand in Humayun’s Tomb began to look like an onion the moment its size went down. The onion was the tallest thing in this building. There were two bow shaped terraces on its two sides which were obviously the roofing of the rest of the house. This is what he was contemplating while sitting under the onion that the crorepati had installed on his house. Nitesh was staring at the roof, which was of such a dark blue hue it looked black. Light glimmered from scattered holes in the ceiling.
“Yaar, I have seen such a ceiling in the planetorium,” he said to Adhir.
Adhir laughed. They had been waiting for ten minutes, there was no sign of not just Bindal but even one of his servants. They will make the police wait, what ways the rich have of showing minor officials their place.
“Sorry, sorry, I was having a little bath,” said a thin man entering the room. He looked annoyed.
Adhir studied him carefully. A raw silk kurta, pajamas with wide bottoms. He wasn’t yet bald. Had he had a proper bath or just a little one? He shook his head forcefully. Bindal was cribbing that nobody had even served ‘tea shea’ to the guests. Two servants presently appeared with trays of tea and other things.
“Is that your farmhouse?” Nitesh asked him after some preliminaries.
“Yes, it is ours.”
“Did you know that girl, that woman whose body was found there?”
Bindal took a little time to think. Looked like he was trying to remember something. Adhir thought the old man was very clever. He is pondering. Trying to figure out how much truth to tell and how much of his lies would not be caught.
“I had seen her...came here a couple of times. Parduman got her. Our driver. We did not talk. She was some relative of his, some distant relative.”
Nitesh found out that Parduman was on duty the on day of Holi and was here. According to Bindal there was no question of his going to the farm despite the fact that he did everything that needed doping at the farm. He seemed forthright. It did not appear as if he was hiding anything. Perhaps the annoyance he had displayed in the beginning was because he did not like the police coming to his house. Adhirath had never liked this aspect of his job that whoever it was nobody ever appeared pleased to see the police. He enjoyed watching people cringe but he also knew that the moment their backs were turned people hurled the filthiest of abuses at them. He was certain that till now he had only gathered the curses of people. People like Bindal, who are known as ‘big people’ in common parlance cannot function without having the police in their pockets that is why they must hate them even more for being pressured to buy them. And they know how to talk to the police without being scared.
“Where were you on the day of Holi,” Nitesh asked.
“Here? Where would we go? My astrologer had asked me to stay away from red colour. So you know, I never got out of the house. Got even the red curtains of the house changed and yet what should not have happened did happen. Everything is in the stars,” Bindal looked at the glittering stars on the ceiling of his house and spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness.
“You are suspecting me?” For the first time Bindal’s eyebrows were raised in a frown. It seemed as if he would now say, “You don’t know me, the police commissioner is my locker room buddy.”
“It is our job, you keep answering questions,” said Nitesh picking up two slim slivers of Kaju katli from the ‘shea’ that had been served with tea.
Bindal told them that in the day there had been a Holi party at home. There were two pots of bhang. Bhang pakoras (fritters) had also been made. There was a lot going on. Everyone had been told not to get red gulaal but who ever pays heed? They said you have to avoid it, who else is forbidden red colour?
“How many people came to the party?” Nitesh did not like it that he had finished his statement so fast. He had just started on the gujhiya. What top quality sweets were these! Definitely not from the neighbourhood Aggrawal sweets. These were more delicious than the ones at Nathu’s. Must have got them specially made by some special halwai.
“Must have been around fifty,” Bindal replied promptly.
Nitesh’s heart sank. Now he would have to interview so many to discover who went missing for how long and when.
“How long did the party go on?” Adhir asked his first question. He began to feel that his skills were truly fading. He had not even asked what time the woman had been killed. Perhaps Nitesh knew.
“Who can remember? This time Bindal looked at Adhir carefully. “People were high on Bhang. They just lay here and there. You know that Holi parties are like this only. More tea?” he yelled for the servant.
They talked for over an hour. They found out that four people lived in the house including his eldest son and daughter in law. The fourth was a ten year old grandson. The younger son had moved to Kota in Rajasthan and had just begun a new business of gold jewellery. The son younger to the eldest used to live in this very house till last year but began to obsess about opening a hotel in the hills and began demanding his share of the wealth.
“Who ever transfers property to the name of sons while alive? I had invested some money in the business for him when he was born, we do that whenever a child is born, I asked the munshi to calculate how much it had grown to, and I gave him half of that amount. It was quite substantial. Both daughters are settled. They live here, in Delhi. Not a big family. The mother of my children died two years back. After that the family is sort of breaking up, scattering away.” Bindal told them the whole story of the family. His mocking tone had vanished.
“Even then fifty people came to the party, who were they?” asked Nitesh.
“There are some business contacts. Most were relatives. Whoever meets us becomes like a part of the family. I will say they were all like family,” said Bindal.
“You will know that the kind of enmities you find in families is difficult to find elsewhere. Mahabharat was also a fight in the family,” said Adhir.
Nitesh threw a strange look at him.
“We have to talk to the servants also,” he said.
“And your son and daughter in law also,” Adhir added.
The son and daughter in law were not home. The servants looked scared and answered questions in a frightened tone, but it did not look as if they were hiding anything. The story remained the same. People had started arriving around eleven in the morning. The whole day people were in the house. They left only in the evening around four or five. Some even slept in the house. Bhaiyyaji was home and so was bahuji. Alcohol flowed. Even the servants had had some. Yes, Parduman was here too.
Best English Stories
Anjali Deshpande Books
by Anjali Deshpande
English Social Stories
Total Episodes : 46
by Anjali Deshpande
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