by Sharmila Roy Ghosal
It had been raining incessantly since last evening. I paced the room anxiously waiting for my husband to return. Suddenly there was a soft knock on the door. My heart missed a beat Rahul was here at long last. I almost ran to the door and opened it. A gasp escaped my lips it was Sujata, my college friend. We were meeting after seven years.
The last time Sujata had come to this house was on my wedding reception, seven years ago. “Oh my God! “ I exclaimed. “Sujata, where have you been all these years?” She laughed a little nonchalantly at my exuberance while seating herself, as I prattled on.
“Where is your husband and what does he do?” I could make out she was married by the red mark in her parting.“Gautam is in Nainital he has his own hotel ‘The Cocoon’. She replied softly.
“Oh! What a beautiful hill station, you are so lucky to be able to live there. You are here in Kolkata to visit your parents I suppose.” I got up to make tea for my long lost friend.
My friend stopped me and got up too.“I am in a hurry, actually I am here to get justice for my son, Amit,” she said. “Your son? where is he?” I smiled. “In Naukuchiatal. Your husband is a police commissioner, isn’t it? I thought maybe he could help my son get justice.” She moved towards the door.
“Rahul is coming back tonight, he was in Darjeeling on official work all this while”. I continued, “We are planning a trip soon, we might go to Nainital and meet you, your husband and your son too”.
“You will find Amit in the garden of Gautam’s ancestral house in Naukuchiatal amidst flowers with tear drops,” she said. I frowned what was that? Nevertheless I tried to comfort her.
“All your problems will be sorted out.” I assured her. “Let Rahul meet your family.” She smiled and nodded and was gone.
Nainital was teaming with people, I spoke to some tourists from Bengal. “We are looking for a hotel called ‘The Cocoon’. Each and everyone seemed to know the direction to the hotel. The food was awesome. The hotel belonged to Gautam Bose and his beautiful wife, they said.
The rust colored building seemed to beckon visitors with its plush garden and glass paneled doors, though we had checked into another hotel I was determined to cancel my booking and stay at 'The Cocoon.’ I would be able to spend so much time together with my friend. I insisted, Rahul agreed.
There was a young girl sitting at the reception. After checking in, I spoke to the girl, “I would like to meet Mrs Bose the wife of Gautam Bose.”
“Mam comes everyday between 3 and 4pm,” the girl said.
I was at a loss for words. I had been ushered into the room by the receptionist to meet the owner’s wife, but who was this?
“I am sorry, I wanted to meet Sujata, Gautam Bose’s wife“, I said.
The lady looked up from the files she was reading and said crisply “I am Gautam Bose’s wife Sonia Bose”. She was beautiful, clad in blue jeans and a black top.
Naukuchiatal lake was really the most breathtaking lake in the district of Nainital. The thick network of oak trees surrounding the lake seemed to leave a lasting impression on the mind. Even though boating in the lake was the most relaxing experience I was not in a mood for it. Where was Sujata? What justice did she want for her son? Gautam Bose’s ancestral home was easy to locate since people knew him by name.
“Sujata Bose?” an old lady coming back from the bazaar stopped and stared at me.“The first wife of Gautam Bose you have come in search of her? Didn’t you know that she died three years ago, was found hanging from the ceiling fan? It was a case of suicide they said”. The lady said.
I found myself unable to move “What do you mean”? I exclaimed. “She came to see me last week”.
The lady shook her head as if she was talking to a lunatic and walked on.
I bit my lips. Gautam Bose’s wife turned out to be someone else and now this lady said that Sujata was no more. What on earth was happening?
The house was deserted and the garden was covered with overgrown grasses. It was situated at an isolated spot near a cliff, there were no houses nearby.
“You will find him in the garden of Gautam’s ancestral house”. I remembered Sujata’s words.
But where was Amit?
“Let’s go. I think we are wasting our time”. Rahul looked at his watch it was almost six o’clock.
The creaking sound of the gate opening made us turn around. It was a grass cutter come to cut grass. He stared at us.
“Have you been coming here for long to cut grass?” I asked.
I was determined to get to the bottom of things.
The grass cutter nodded.
“Then you must be knowing a little boy called Amit and his mother Sujata,” I said.
The grass cutter shifted uncomfortably on his feet for sometime, cleared his voice, and then said. “The mother died three years ago. The boy was last seen a couple of months back. He used to live in the outhouse with the mali. The mali was pensioned off some time ago, no one knows what happened to the boy after that. His father and step mother did not care for him at all.
Things were getting complicated. I could sense that a plot had been hatched, I shuddered. Gautam, in order to marry his present wife, had killed Sujata and made it look like suicide. Sujata was a strong person I knew her well. She would never commit suicide. But what about the son Amit where was he? We were back in the hotel room.
Rahul spoke to some police officers of the district and got the information that Sujata’s death had been hushed up. He also met some old residents of Nainital with the help of the police and came to know that Sujata had inherited immense wealth from her grandfather, which had all been transferred in Gautam’s name. A month after Sujata’s death Gautam had married Sonia a socialite. They had a son after marriage. The hotel and business had all been set up with Sujata’s money.
It was past midnight, but sleep eluded me as tears pricked my eyes. I thought of my friend Sujata, how close we had been in college, then one day Sujata had just vanished, a few months after my marriage. I had come to know from Sujata’s parents that she had eloped with a sales man. She did meet her parents once, but since they told her they were ashamed of her, Sujata never showed her face again.
But where was little Amit?
“You will find him amidst flowers with teardrops”. I tried to make sense of what Sujata had told her.
Suddenly realization dawned on me; I stood up not wanting to accept the truth.
Rahul was asleep, I would have to wait till morning.
The Fuchsia flowers were clustered together at one end of the garden they had a pendulous teardrop shape. This was the site. The police were present together with diggers. The little body was decomposing.
The police were all over the place. Gautam’s hotel ‘The Cocoon’ was sealed. Gautam and his wife Sonia were taken into custody. Sonia admitted to having Amit killed in order to let her own son Rajat be the sole heir of all Gautam’s property. She had paid henchmen to do the job.
Gautam bowed to pressure and admitted to the murder of his wife Sujata. He had throttled her neck and then hung her from the fan in order to make it look like suicide. He was desperate to marry Sonia and Sujata would not grant him a divorce.
Sitting in the train I thought of Sujat , “Justice has been done my friend.” A mother’s soul would find peace now that the guilty were being punished.
The train gathered speed, suddenly in the distance I saw Sujata standing alone holding a child’s hand. “Rahul” I cried. “Look Sujata”. Rahul looked but couldn’t see anyone. He took my hand in his own. Sujata had taken human form in order to get the guilty punished, and bring her son justice.
Suddenly, I realized that Rahul was talking to me, it was morning. “We are going to Nainital tomorrow. Rathinda a dear friend you remember him, he is the Superintendent of police in Nainital , has invited us to spend a few days at his bungalow with him.” Rahul paused. “Rathinda is in the midst of an interesting case. He wants me to give him suggestions unofficially.” Rahul continued. “A child has been reported missing from Naukuchiatal. The missing report was lodged by the mali of the house recently. The police are puzzled, since the parents of the house did not file any missing report. Incidentally the child’s mother had committed suicide or was it murder three years ago. The case is going to be reopened again,” Rahul said.
“A lady called from Kolkata and informed the police in Nainital that her name was Renuka and she was the dead lady Sujata’s friend. The lady also said that she knew where the missing child could be found and that her friend Sujata had been murdered by her husband Gautam Bose because of another woman.”
I stared, Renuka that was me. I was in Kolkata, but all this while I was in Nainital. Or was I? Had I been dreaming or visualizing things? Whatever it was justice would prevail, since an honest officer like Rathin Ghosh was being put in charge of the case with Rahul by his side and I who knew all the answers to the jig saw puzzle.***