Anjali Deshpande


It was past 12.30 and he ran into Bharat in the bazaar. At the booze shop.

“It won’t be good for me to go there,” said Bharat pocketing the half bottle of rum. “Beer is too expensive and has no kick in it either.”

“Has he come?”

“Looks like he has. The car is not here, though. Cheti had come again in the evening yesterday. Says he will quit the job. He did not sleep there at night. Went to Nachahtar’s. I just saw Parduman, inside the gate. About an hour ago.”

“he hasn’t arrived today. he has been staying her. Does he not have to go to his do his duty as the driver?” Adhirath mumbled to himself. He dropped Bharat a little distance ahead of the station where his scooter was parked. He drove close to the farmhouse and killed the engine. Dragging it he walked slowly to the gate that was half open. He kicked the gate open and dragged the bike in and parked it to one side.

Today even the bungalow was open. When he went in he was impressed by the simple elegance of the place. There was no heavily carved furniture. Everything looked like it was made of unpainted or even unvarnished wood. The table was a roughly cut irregular slab of stone resting on two stumps of trees and no attempt had been made to plane them out. Adhirath thought that the table had dry leaves drifted on to it and wondered how they had come to be there. At the same moment it dawned on him that the stone was an unusual one. It was not the marble of every middle class dreams. It was studded with the skeletons of leaves shed many many years ago that had become part of the texture of the stone. The sitting room was a museum of such stones. Some of them were studded on the walls too.

“Fossils, they re,” he heard a voice telling him. Parduman stood at the door leading to an inner room. He had a sarcastic smile on his face. He was smirking at Adhirath’s obvious ignorance. “You may know what a fossil is!”

Fossils. The remains of life preserved in stone. He could see Saroj’s taste stamped on every detail of the place. In the lamp shade made of the wire basket, in the handmade copper pots, in the brass lota, in the bronze figurines and above all in the unplastered walls which were not smooth but sandy to the touch almost as if they were walls of a hut in a village.

“You are not from the village,” said Parduman.

All at once Adhirath found his police training asserting itself.

“ I will ask the questions,” he said in a harsh tone. You understand? You are Parduman, right?”

Taken aback by this tone Parduman nodded.

“Sit,” said Adhirath using the ‘tu’ for him. His tone made it clear that this was not affectionate ‘tu’ used with familiar or junior acquaintances but the humiliating one used for servants and riff raff. He sat down on a chair shaped like a Veena and pointed to a chair and gestured rudely to Parduman. “What did you think? You won’t be caught? You are the one who committed the murder. Now tell me why?”

Parduman remained silent for a while then looking over Adhirath carefully he stammered, “Who are you, sahib? Are you in the police?’

“You will not ask the questions, bugger. Want a tight slap?” Adhirath added after a brief pause, “Jhandapur people called you, right? Did they or did they not?”

“Sahib I have not done anything. If anyone says anything…”

“Have you got the money?”

“What money?”

“Ten thousand. You had been told to get it.”

“I have it. You take it Sahib. Have they sent you? Inspector Nitesh? I could have brought the money there.”

Adhirath said in a menacing tone, “Bastard, I told you, I will ask the questions. Just reply to them. That night you got the car here and parked it under the chaukhamba?”

Parduman had not sat down. He was still standing, towering over Adhirath. His chest was broad. His arms looked like he worked hard at weights. He was not n his chauffer’s uniform. He wore a blue Tee shirt and black pants. He could have easily tackled Adhirath but his guilt and his suspicion that the man was a cop robbed him of all his strength.

“The Inspector will let you go for ten thousand! Isa that what you think? That too in a murder charge? Come, now let me hear your story.”

Parduman sat down and told him the story.

For ten years he had served been the driver for Udairaj and saroj madam. In the beginning he regularly brought Saroj madam to this place. She came her at least three times a week. Not just her, he had driven her to Agra, Shivpuri and wherever else she wanted to go to pick up things to build this house. She had selected each and every stone personally. He had also developed a taste for the good things of life taking her around such places. He had eaten such fantastic vegetables from the garden of this bungalow, that he could not even dream of seeing in this life. Once in the bazaar he ran into Basanti. He had gone to fetch milk and offered her a lift.

“She lives in Amirpur,” said Adhirath.

“That is where I dropped her,” Parduman said. He said that the police had told him recently that Basanti’s real name was Suryabala. He did not know this. She had told him it was Basanti. Had he been friends with the villagers eh would have discovered her name and many other things of this butterfly. But he kept his distance from the villagers. She wore parandas. Then she quit wearing them and took to keeping her hair lose. Never plaited them. Soon she began to wear her hair in buns, different kinds of buns. In the winters she kept her hair lose. Sometimes they would be straight. Sometimes they would have waves. At times they were packed in tiny curls, really crinkled. The first time he met her, the hair on her head clustered around in tight curls like a cloud. He thought she was not from the village. He mistook her for a woman from the city. She was buying samosas and he said Namaste to her so she simply nodded her head stiffly. He did not see any car around and thought she had walked up from one of the farmhouses close by and offered her a lift. It was only when she got into the car and opened her mouth to speak that he realized his mistake. One, she came and sat in the front seat. No owner of a car would do it with a driver. He was in his chauffer’s uniform and anyone form a farmhouse would sit in the back. She did not know even this much. Then she had to tell him where her house was. Spoke like a country girl and tried to speak English. She turned out to be a rural lass. And not high caste or class either. but she was very pretty. Parduman noted her phone number. He learnt that she came to the village only once in a while, lives in Chatarpur village on her own in a room and works for a parlour. The woman who owned the beauty parlour had a store room that she had let to this girl to make a little money. Who would have rented a single woman a room in the village?

After a week he got her to the farmhouse. Just showing off. After that whenever he came here he would check with her and get her with him. While the caretaker plucked the vegetables they would have fun in the bedroom. Parduman made a lot of money on the side. So he began to shower gifts on her. She would come with him in the big car and would go back with him. But she wanted a lot more. More money. More clothes. Jewellery. There was no end to what she craved for. She wanted to have expensive things, she wanted even her underwear to be expensive.

“Sahib, tell me now, are you in the police?”

Adhirath glared at him, from head to toe and said tersely, “continue.”

After that they kept meeting. He had a set of keys o the farmhouse. He looked after everything on the farm. He got the house cleaned and the wall kept the way it was. “These walls have both cement and dung. It has to be given a coat of the same stuff once in six months or so. It is skilled work. Not everybody can do it. In Taimur Nagar in Delhi you can find some people who know how to do this. They are from Rajasthan and they are the ones who made this wall. Saroj madam had found them. I used to go fetch them here and even drop them back once they had finished the task. I had a lot of freedom and time to do all this.”

“They also had a manger here,” said Adhirath.

“Only in name, sahib. Only in name. now tell me who got seeds from Indira market? Parduman. The tubewell has to be serviced, who will get it done? Parduman. For a whole year I alone came to this place. I carried back the vegetables and fruits. Manager only organized the extra labour and paid them. Yes, he knew when to get the tractor to plough the field and he took it to fill it with diesel. He knew when the planting had to be done. He made sure that the workers worked properly and were paid on time. All that he did. But the running around, the real hard work, why, I did it.”

“So you began to enjoy yourself.”

“What enjoy, sahib. Sometimes I would bring her and have a little fun. That is all. Udairaj sahib had no interest in the farm. He would go to the factory, to the mall, to the club but never would he come here. Came only once when they had the pooja for grah pravesh. Madam is the one who is fond of this place. She was truly fond of it.” He kept quiet for a while.

Adhirath cocked an eyebrow at him.

“I am telling you sahib. One day I don’t know what happened but Udairaj ji came here all of a sudden. Those days that Nachchatar used to work her. he was a real bastard. Never even came in to warn me. after all he must have opened the door for him. And Sahib barged into the bedroom. You know, we were lying in bed, half clad and all that. I thought I have lost my job now. But sahib I got saved because of Basanti. The next day sahib calls me and what does he say, ‘call her to the farm’. After that Udairaj sahib began to make trips to the farm quite often. His factory was anyway about to shut down. Later it did. Sahib got the locks to the house changed. After that this became his den.

“One day I took her to sahib’s house. She insisted that I show it to her. I told Saroj madam that she is some distant cousin and has done a beautician’s course, you give her an opportunity to work for you and may be later you can get your friends also to call her home. Sahib got very angry. He came here and hit her. slapped her real hard. Told her stay within your limits, if you ever show up at my house I will teach you a lesson you will not forget. Then he gave me notice and told me if I got here there again he would throw me out.”




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