Anjali Deshpande


Udairaj seemed to have dressed with great care. The narrow collar of his shirt had been ironed so carefully that there was not even the hint of a crease in it. Ditto with the button strip. Adhirath had seen many dressed in expensive shirts but the shirt this guy wore was in an entirely different category. The weave of the fabric, the testimony of every thread that a hot iron had pressed it down, told of a shirt not available in shops ordinary mortals went to. Its colour was so pale a yellow it looked transparent. From which bolt of cloth were cut such shirts that there was not a single little knot of threads in the weave? He may have been slightly high but did not look drunk.

He had not stood up when he saw them but the length of his person visible above the table suggested that he was very tall. Not broad enough but tall and lean. The face was easy on the eyes. Very fair. His eyebrows were of the same thickness. Only the lips were a little full. His short hair stood up with the support of some gel. His face was clean of blemishes and the skin was smooth. His nails were clipped neatly, not the type of uneven clipping a nailcutter gives you at home. Did he go to a parlour? There are parlours for men nowadays, so he had heard. The days of the barber’s shop at the corner and their vigorous oil massage of the head was over. Whoever had massaged this body must have found its touch a relief to the calloused hands. Very decorative he was, Udairaj.

Adhirath stared at his glass. What was he drinking? He had come in thinking the man would have some golden fluid in a glass before him, but here it was something else. Red like thin blood. Looked like tomato juice. The edge of the glass had a border of salt like the thin border of a sari. A little salt must tickle the tongue with every sip. Adhirath felt the taste of salt on his tongue.

“Will you have a drink? Scotch? I prefer something like this bloody mary in the day,” Udairaj said lifting his glass to his lips. “You get tomato juice and you get vodka. Want this?”

“We are on duty,” said Nitesh.

Adhirath thought he was not on duty. He could easily down two scotches. Would be good to find out whether the touch of the fire of expensive whisky tasted different. He had never tasted scotch, even the inexpensive one, even when he held his post. This crorepati must be used to very sophisticated scotch. Udairaj quickly placed an order for Nimbu pani, kababs, and various other delicacies to the waiter who had manifested the moment he saw the rich member had guests. Or who knows, may be the sight of a khaki uniform had brought him scurrying.

“The chicken adraki here is very tasty. All my Jain friends eat it here. The club has been set up for this purpose only. At home we can’t have even garlic,” said Udairaj with a faint smile.

“You know, don’t you that there has been a murder at your farmhouse?” Nitesh said. “The formal statement will only be recorded when you visit the police station. You have to sign it.”

Udairaj nodded. The waiter arrived and began arranging plates on the table. Adhirath noticed that Udairaj had turned his eyes to Nitesh with a mute appeal in them to not broach the subject of murder in the presence of the waiter. They kept quiet till the waiter had left.

“You want to know where I was on the day of Holi?”

It was now Nitesh’s turn to smile. “How do you know?”

Udairaj also smiled. Just then the waiter arrived with the eats. Udairaj’s phone rang, playing the tune of some English song. He fished out the phone from the top pocket of his shirt and disconnected it.

“Who was it?” asked Adhirath helping himself to a wafer thin slice of cucumber with escalloped edges.

“A friend,” said Udairaj and went silent on them for a minute or so. When the waiter began to leave Udairaj told him not to disturb them at all and to come only when called. His voice had authority of a man used to issuing orders and being obeyed.

The waiter bowed slightly and silently as if a single word uttered would insult Udairaj.

“Start from where you were going to. Where were you yesterday?”

“Actually I shouldn’t be here drinking again. I had had enough yesterday. I was at home. I did not eat bhang pakoras. Don’t like bhang. But if there is liquor in front of me I find it hard to control my hands. I keep pouring. Had a lot. Closed the door and must have passed out. Saroj says she banged the door a lot but I did not open. Father woke me up, in the morning.”

“You did not get up even once?”Adhirath asked placing the bone he had picked clean of the chicken adraki on a small plate.

Udairaj’s eyes narrowed a little. Running his fingers in his hair around the temples he said perhaps he did get up once or twice. Once he felt very restless. That is why he had even stepped out in the balcony. Went downstairs also, took some deep breaths in the fresh air. Then he went back and collapsed on the bed.

“Did you know the girl?” Nitesh asked fixing his gaze on Udairaj”s face.

“Yes, everybody knew her. Meaning, we knew she was some relative of Parduman. Did not know her enough to talk to her.”

“When was the last time you visited the farm?”

Adhirath felt that the question had alerted Udairaj. Playing a drum on his temple with his index finger and the middle finger Udairaj sank into thought. Then he shrugged, “Don’t remember.”

“Well make a guess. Two days ago? Bhang grows wild there. Perhaps you went to bring some for Holi?”

“Oh, all that I never do. Papa used to get it from there. Don’t know if he got it from there this year too.”

Very clever, Adhirath remarked to himself. Well, had he not been so how would he run a business? Do people who drink enough to throw out all the gastric fluids at night look so fresh in the morning, and down more liquor? He too had had so much to drink once or twice but the next day his eyes refused to open. If he opened them light pierced them like a spear of electricity. Darkness felt comforting. In fact nothing brought comfort. The head was heavy like a rock and hung loosely on the neck. This guy looks bathed, groomed, fresh and crisp.

“So when was it you went to the farm the last time?” Adirath asked.

“I can’t recall. Must have been a month or two ago. Really, I can’t remember.”

“Had I had a farm I would eat only the vegetables grown on it,” Nitesh said closely examining a slim roundel of tomato.

“It makes no difference to me. That is Saroj’s department.”

It was obvious that he would open his mouth only when presented with some evidence, Nitesh thought. He himself did not think Udairaj had anything to do with this murder but he had been trained to treat everyone as a suspect. That is the key to unlock the case of a murder, it had been drilled in his head. All three kept munching, lost in thought. The waiter brought in fresh crisp rotis dancing to the tune of Udairaj’s fingers. Another bloody mary had also arrived. Noticing Adhirath stare at the brimming glass, Uday said, “They say the antidote to hangover is to have another drink. Only iron can cut iron.”

“That driver of yours. Where is he?” Nitesh asked.

“Yesterday he was on duty. Today he absented himself. Must be at home,” Udairaj replied calmly.

His gaze was fixed on the glass, his eyes lowered, it was difficult to gauge his reaction, but the answer was so prompt, it appeared to have been a practiced one, as if he was waiting for the question. When Nitesh asked for Parduman’s address Udairaj rested his head on his palm and closed his eyes.

“Some jhilak milak it is called. Somewhere near Vivek Vihar. I have given him a mobile phone. Will give you the number. Or else I will ask Saroj and let you know the address.”

Well, the ways of the rich are unique thought Adhirath. He uses his mobile phone with great care, even today he uses the landline whenever he can find one,. Till now the government has not issued mobile phones to all ranks of the police. Top officers have them, but not the lower ranks. And here his driver has so much luxury, he has a mobile phone and the boss clearly picks up the tab.



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Rajan Kulkarni

Rajan Kulkarni 8 months ago

lovekesh tewatia

lovekesh tewatia 8 months ago