by Prodipta Banerjee
An aerial view of the dead woman would have made her look bizarre like a raw egg. The body lay on the floor in supine loveliness, arms outstretched, covered and encircled with thick parchment like virgin white plastic secured by Scotch tape. Piled on the chest, over the plastic was a circular, huge, yolk-orange cushion. Dried purple toe-color had stiffened a bit of the white plastic at the bottom. Departure had never been so weird!
It was midsummer in Calcutta. The murder had been committed between 2 am to 5 am, –death by suffocation.
A back-stair acquaintance at a famous pub in the city told me about the dead 29 yrs old lady who was synonymous with warmth, friendship, and of course solitude. Her brother- in law had been at the pub possibly throughout the night of the murder, as later on, his intoxicated friends reported and had been weaned away by the frantic call from his wife in the early hours of the morning. Curiosity had made me reach the lavish upper class home of the murdered lady at 9 in the morning in tow with the Inspector to see for myself how solitude which was once the charm of sages now only sought to destroy or be destroyed.
The husband of the dead 29 year old Priyanjali Sinha was a fine looking 40 year old man, well proportioned, a Professor of Economics whose face, given the circumstances, was grooved with intense pain and grief. He sat in an armchair, silent, possibly completely resentful of the irremedial injustice done to him. He had been away at a conference at Beneras and had returned only a hour ago and since then sunk into not a very delectable state of contemplation.
His younger brother, nearly 10 years younger, a young photographer rising to fame was a dark, handsome man, with a certain strong delicacy and a deep delight in oneself and his art. There were shadows – dark, un-erasable, residues of sleepless nights, which added to the magical witchery of his eyes -but what was more noticeable was a grave expression of fear and alarm which persisted as long he garrulously spoke of the horrifying turn of events. He seemed perpetually drunk on what he said rather than what he listened to and thus talked incessantly, silencing others with his gestures lest they should interrupt him.
His wife was a slim, young woman with sad, large eyes and who looked far older than her years and whose hours were happily spent in the kitchen resulting in a lingering fragrance of celery, sage, cinnamon, butter, and spices and of course fish whenever she approached. She had thinning coarse hair, thin lips, a strangely thin pale chiseled face and she made me feel that she was one of the most powerful women i had seen in a long time and when she turned to look at me smiling a wan smile, I knew she knew about the power she wielded.
After an hour of coaxing, cajoling the sullen, anxious family and the hyper cook and the housekeeper what emerged was since the elder Mr Sinha had been away, there was hardly any cooking to do and the servants had all retired to bed by 11 pm after the serials on television were over. The cook took sedatives at night, and hadn’t heard a single thing and the housekeeper too had slept too soundly. Madame had gone out in the evening and had returned by 10 pm and then retired to bed. She hadnt had dinner at home but the housekeeper whispered disapprovingly she had smelt of “foreign “ alcohol.
I had suppressed a smile but then she conspiratorially told us that
Priyanjali Sinha had been a not –so – very famous model, who just before her career had taken a further plunge into a whirlpool of being forgotten had consciously married a man 12 years her senior.
The Sinhas of Calcutta were ”old money “ and it was unheard of that the respectable “Boro dadababu “ would marry a flimsy, waif who didn’t know how to steam banana flowers with mustard paste and coconut powder and sprinkle fried shrimps over it. This was the cook’s verdict. The housekeeper was a bit more generous. The lady of the house read a lot, cried a lot more, and spent hours whispering over the phone and certainly not to her husband. “Boro dada “ was mostly absorbed in his work, his studies and conferences and treated his wife kindly and neither the housekeeper nor the cook had ever heard the two quarrelling. They had been married for 2 years.
The Sinha brothers didn’t stay together. They lived at a distance of 20 mins from each other in ancestral houses left to them by their father. The two brothers were both of a different make-up but incidentally what I realized was both tended to become absolutely obsessed about what they put their mind to. The sister- in law was obsessional too, she despised everything but her husband and her love for cooking but one could never understand as she was gentle in manner, courteous to all but in spite of her speaking of her dead sister in law as a warm, kind, vivacious human being, I could sense the bitter, personal hatred she had for her. it was my guess that she harbored in her a desire to see the downfall of the family especially in matters of pride and arrogance. Strange are the ways of women and often their minds are like the interlaced branches of a tree, resembling and more dangerous than the nest of poisonous snakes.
The husband still looked like a spectre and from his color or lack of it in his face, his irregular breathing and from his dull muttering, his hopelessness was evident. The younger brother spoke a great deal and it was from his ramblings I procured an idea of what the dead mistress of the house had been like. She seemed to be the finest woman in the entire world and yet he hadn’t said so much but if you had seen how his voice softened and then rose with extraordinary rapidity as he spoke about her, how he grew nearly ecstatic and then after glancing at his wife, his voice suddenly turned into a monotonous drone of a news bulletin.
The proceedings of the day being over we left the house of mourning. Outside I felt happy to feel the scorching rays of the sun and breathe the humid air. Plush surroundings can often lead to a prison like feeling after some time!
That evening, over two glasses of chilled beer, the Inspector spoke of the dead woman again. Autopsy reports showed death had been at 3 am. 300 ml alcohol had been found in her blood. According to the Inspector, she used to tipple and had fallen asleep and not awakened till she had been unable to breathe.
Two hours passed swiftly, the evening shrinking into night with us disagreeing over whether the murderer was mentally ill or a cold – blooded killer till the Inspector leaped up suddenly “I don’t want to spoil my dinner with your horror stories of the human mind “ He went out of the house. I smiled at his receding figure. He certainly knew how to bring on laughter and annoyance in me at the same time.
The night began quite uneventfully. I finished a lonely dinner and didn’t go to the pub but spent some hours looking up the upcoming photographers and models of yesteryears. . The younger of the Sinha brothers was reigning on Facebook as a supreme monarch in Calcutta, in the realm of photography and good looks though I thought mostly his women followers had sidled upto him for his drop dead good looks rather than his photographic skills. Feigning interest however was not difficult in this day and age and I saw a following of nearly 3 thousand. I thought what the likes of Buddha, or Christ would have done now!!!
The profile pictures of some pretty young girls excited me and I soon clicked on one FB id after another till one interested me not for the looks but for the writing. She was a friend of the younger Sinha brother and though her pictures were unavailable, her writings were not. I was redirected to her blog called Deception Pass. Her name was Anjali Chatterjee.
Anjali, Priyanjali… she seemed to me the same person. People have been known to unconsciously retain a part of their names even while taking on a pseudonym.
I sent her a friend request and started reading her blog.
It was a strange upside down world, of masked parties which ended in senseless rituals with men wearing masks and choicest neckware and the women wearing only masks and chanting “Fall in, fall in, fall in with us “. She seemed to be an outsider at these quasi –religious rituals, tagging along because she was in the intoxicated, delirious state of forbidden love and yet that love had asked her to pay an improper price. It was a new Calcuttan decadence she spoke about, as she struggled with her own questions of what life really meant in the collapse of an entire social order of being in a relationship where an objective and known morality didn’t seem tenable and the tragedy of her inability to find a way out of it. How does one fight the enemy one cannot see, the one that resides in human souls.
There were certain comments written below and one especially dated a week back on the last post caught my eye. it was a couplet by William Cowper posted by ‘Starlit Darkness’
“Beware of desperate steps: the darkest day,
Live till tomorrow, will have passed away “
There was no update after that I wiped the sweat of my sleep-dizzy eyelids and promptly fell asleep.
I woke up realizing who the murderer was.
It was nearly 2 PM. I had slept through the day. My cell was ringing too. The Inspector had called. Six hours ago the Sinhas had been subjected to intense interrogation on certain evidence found. I cautiously asked if they had found scotch tape and photographic reels too. The Inspector muttered something inappropriate and slammed down the phone. I sent him a message asking him to meet me at a scheduled place.
That morning I made a few other phone calls before logging on to my FB.
Anjali Chatterjee hadn’t responded to my friend request. She never would. Not anymore.
At 8 pm I made my way towards the Sinha house. The house looked dark and quite uninviting. . The door was slightly ajar and I felt the humidity dampen my skin as I entered the house. In the study, to the right, a small lamp at the table cast strange shadows on the wall. A soft, gentle voice made me sit down. I give a detailed exposition of what I heard that day.
“The last few years, a lot of things have happened. Everything was shattered –both public and private. Agonizing experiences, undeserved blows from the person you loved the most. How eagerly I ran over day by day the time I was introduced to my love and how within months it seemed intoxication, a delirium. ‘my dream was past –it had no further change ‘.
I did understand the potential danger of making a dynamic change in our strained relationship by allowing her full freedom but it was misused and it ruined me. The only comfort was I could kill her just as she ruined me, ruined my capacity to trust, to love.
The elder Sinha’s voice was loosened by emotion as he spoke of the motley passions and the restless impulse of hatred on knowing of her love for his younger brother, a mercurial young man, irresponsible and depraved. Well he certainly was not the kindly Bhupati nor was his wife Charulata. He cackled into peals of strange laughter and said “Love is an economic reality of profit and loss”. I knew of her posing as Anjali Chatterjee on FB, it was I who posted the Cowperian couplet. I knew of their secret trysts, the sexual aberrations, the debauchery, the shipwreck of lives “
The lights switched on. The Inspector had lived up to my expectations and understood my message I sent him. But, we stared in shock at the elder Sinha. He was smeared with purple dye from head to chin.
“Purple “I whispered is the colour…
A shot rang out. “Of defeat” said Dr Sinha and died.
The case of the Sinhas was hushed up. After the elder brother’s suicide, The younger Sinha brother disappeared from the scene soon and the last we heard of him was he was painting nude girls in Europe. The secret cult worships of senseless perversions went on in Calcutta, unabated. I wrote my third draft on mentally ill murderers and killers with no human feelings and was rejected. The Inspector often asked me whether it was possible for someone to lead a normal life, pass exams, complete courses, start working before committing brutal murders. I would only smile in answer.
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