The Dead Man's Eyes-Chapter 1
by Geetashree Chatterjee
The body was found early in the morning by the house maid. Mr. Mukherjee was a bachelor and preferred to stay that way till his last breath. The housemaid, Bela, was the mainstay of the household - taking care of the house as well as the house owner. She would come early in the morning and stay till late evening. It was only after serving dinner to the old man that she would depart home. She stayed close by and could be called in whenever required. But she had never been required at unearthly hours of late. Although she always carried a duplicate set of keys to the house which was only used once in her entire working tenure and that was this morning.
Bela was middle aged and had seen life. When she found the body she did not panic but calmly telephoned Dr. Manik Roy, the old man's physician as well as friend. Mr. Mukherjee's death did not come as a surprise for anyone. He had a long history of heart ailment and had not been keeping too well lately. It was considered rather fortunate that the septuagenarian died in sleep without suffering or troubling his near and dear ones much. It was not that Mr. Mukherjee had hordes of relatives who worried about him day and night. In fact, he had none except his two bosom friends who endured his idiosyncrasies in doting silence! Dr. Manik Roy, his doctor and Mr. Someshwar Nath, his chess mate.
Both were present to say their last good bye to a friend of nearly forty odd years. All three had met at a Bridge Party and struck an instant rapport which prospered unhindered into firm friendship of four decades. Someshwar closed his eyes in silent prayer for the departed soul while Manik signed the Death Certificate with a heavy sigh which reverberated in the room for quite some time.
Mr. Manavendra Mukherjee, once reputed to be a ruthless and shrewd businessman, looked peaceful in death, reclining in his favourite easy chair. Only his grey eyes with the dilated pupils stared at the ceiling in a bottomless gaze. There was no annoyance (though he was known to be short tempered), astonishment or anguish lining the grey depths. It was a kind of fatal acceptance, a quiet resignation, a look of final disclosure. As if he knew.
The last rites were an unceremonious affair attended of course by his two best buddies. The will was read a week later, one rainy evening, by Mr. Raghavan of M/s. Raghavan and Dutta Gupta. Present in the room were Dr. Roy and Mr. Nath. Nothing came as a surprise. A handsome amount was left for Bela as a reward for her lifetime service. The rest went to the Mukherjee Trust. The trustees were again his trusted men
- Dr. Roy, Mr. Nath and Mr. Raghavan. The details of the will had been discussed and re-discussed many a times amongst the three Musketeers before its final draft perfected with Mr. Raghavan's legal aid.
It was not that Dr. Roy and Mr. Nath were less blessed financially by any standard but the sole aim was to save the sprawling properties and the astronomical incomes thereof, from going into the hands of the unwanted or the Authorities in the absence of a legal successor. After all these were the life time accumulations of the old man who had lovingly stored every penny which went in the making of the Mukherjee Empire.
The emotional moment came when Mr. Raghavan announced Mr. Mukherjee's last wish - his decision to donate his eyes to Someshwar's grand son, Rujhaan, who had lost his sight a few years back in a car accident. Even age could not blemish the old man's eyes which were surprisingly healthy and accurate - "a delightful miracle" as his optician would often say. "Divine blessing", the old man would condescend to acknowledge the Lord's magnanimity at infrequent moments of uncharacteristic humility. The rest of course were all his (the old man's) creations - result of his hard work, determination and keen business sense. Often he would proudly boast of these two precious possessions his eyesight which allowed him to savour all the beauty and joys of this world unhampered and his ability to make money, the sole activity around which his life itself revolved. Everything else was too unworthy of even a mention.
There was pin drop silence in the room when Mr. Raghavan finished reading the will. Manik sat ram rod straight with his eyes closed while Mr. Raghavan softly cleared his choked throat. He had been Mr. Mukherjee's solicitor for ages. It was Someshwar's fingers drumming a nervous beat on the centre table that broke the dismal quietude, a much desired interlude in between the jarring notes of muted thoughts that each of them was haunted by in that 'empty' drawing room.
The abrupt end to the wordless mourning was drawn by the door closing not with a bang, not soundlessly either but with a definite finality reminding the men that an era had at last come to its fateful conclusion. Bela who had been standing in a shadowy corner of the room just next to the door left the room. Before closing the door behind her she had once looked back at the occupants - an odd, piercing stare had momentarily appraised the three stony figures. From her experience-worn face it was not clear whether she was happy by what she gained or dissatisfied.
And then she drew a deep breath and shut the door behind her back, as though closing a chapter forever.End of Chapter 1 To be continued ....