Many a times it is fairly easy to sit in judgment. But I was told a story – a real story on which, though I did, but could not offer any a well-rounded judgment. I still remember clearly how the story presented itself. It was last August, when I got a call from Rishabh, my best buddy in college, that he is going to be in Bangalore the next day. He told me that he will finish his work and then come to my house in the evening and then leave the next day, which happened to be a Saturday. It was presumed that we will get high in the evening and I had sought the rightful permissions.
When he came I hugged tightly – I was seeing him after a long time. He had never been to my new house. Rishabh has not changed at all much. Seeing my three year old, Rishabh took a doll from his back, “Look what chacha has got for you”. We chatted for quite a while and gorged on the hot Pakodas, courtesy my wife Swati. Rishabh kept pulling my leg throughout and letting out all the dirty secrets to my wife. Though Swati kept smiling but I knew I will be in trouble the next day. I instantly resolved to get sloshed that evening so that I can spend the Saturday in bed and probably scape the inevitable. We chatted on all the possible topics, catching up with each other lives.
When the evening tea was over, the scene moved to the balcony. I asked him to pull the chairs while I went to the bar to take out the scotch. Seeing the bottle Rishabh held my hand and asked, “Can we go out and drink. Like we did in college”. I said, “Of course, but what kind of place you wanna go”.
“To some seedy tavern, where the liquor is cheap and snacks free”.
Though I was becoming suspicious of the plan but in the memory of the good old days, I smiled and agreed.
But it took much cajoling and a promise that the next day we will discuss in greater detail the issues that have just came to light, to secure an approval.
Just when everything seemed set for a rocking evening my daughter jumped into the fray demanding that she should be allowed to accompany me and the newly found Chacha. The negotiations that followed consumed another ten minutes.
Once out on the street I told Rishabh that your intentions don’t seem to be very honorable.
“If you drink in a high end bar then it is honorable, but going back to the roots isn’t.”
We had to do a fair bit of hunting to find tavern and the place we landed up was quite something even for our taste. The table we chose was in a corner and provided us an awesome view of the busy highway. We ordered a double with coke. The whisky smelled more like feni and attacked my throat like an acid acts on a piece of paper. I could almost follow its path to my stomach. It seemed much the same like when I had first experimented with whisky.
With whisky started our esoteric conversations and rains. As the evening grew so did the alcohol levels in our blood and the tone of our conversations. To an outsider it would look as if we were fighting. By 10 o’clock it was pouring heavily.
Somewhere around that time, Rishabh suddenly turned towards me and said “Let me to tell you a story. It is a true story. A story told to me by my boss. Listen to it and then offer your judgment but do not interject in between.”
Rishabh said, “Last Friday, my boss, Kabir, came to my cubicle and told me to let him know when I am ready to leave, so that he can also come with me and drop me close to my house.” I was pleased with this generous offer and reasoned that boss has just returned from his holidays in the South and probably wants to catch up on the office gossip on the way. When we almost reached the place where he was supposed to drop me he turned his vehicle to Natraj Bar and asked me if I care for a quick beer. Though tired I couldn’t say no.
Over the beer he asked me my opinion on a story which he was going to tell me then. Kabir had gone to Coorg. His widower, school buddy owned a plantation there and has been asking him to stay with him for a week. The proposal looked awesome as he had to only pay for the travel and the rest would be taken care of by the friend. The visit was wonderful. Kabir said the place is a paradise. Though it rained heavily during his stay but he enjoyed it. They seldom ventured out of their estate. The friend though alone had a couple living in the house as servants. He also had a dog to give him company. Kabir said that he used to enjoy the rains against the backdrop of Western Ghats.
One the last evening of his visit, his friend came to Kabir and opened a new Scotch. Kabir said though it looked his friend has already been drinking but the proposition of scotch, tandoori chicken and rains looked exceedingly alluring. They continued to drink in silence for a while when his friend suddenly declared, “Kabir, do you know I killed Sushma”. Kabir too startled by this sudden revelation to say anything, simply stared back at him. The friend completed his peg in silence. My boss stared to think that probably such a long separation from his spouse has resulted in this sudden nonsense utterance. But just then the friend repeated, “Kabir, I killed Sushma, with these very hands. Such a frail woman she was, she did not even struggle much when I strangled her with my fists.” He was looking at his hands but seemed to be in control of himself. Knowing nothing what to say Kabir said, “Let us sleep, it’s very late in the night and I have to push off tomorrow morning”. His friend replied, “Though it may look like but this is not alcohol talking.”
Then the friend began the detailed story. He told that Sushma was a very beautiful woman. She was the sweetheart of the entire college. She was someone who always enjoyed male attention. She had this cherubic quality of been smitten by - at least for some time – by most of the men she met. She used to get friendly with all of them. There were many who tried to woo her, few who dated her and finally me who married her.
Though we had a happy married life, but I could never trust her. Probably it was the way she spoke to me; in an affected manner. Rolling up all As and Os; Moving her chest just a little bit every once in a while and constantly tried to put back the stray strand of hair. She used to speak like this to everyone to my boss, to the milkman and even to my father.
But she was good to me. It was clear that she loved me. She always took care of my needs and seemed content from what I had to offer. I also assumed that as age will catch up she will sober out. And I got immensely busy with my business of real estate brokerage.
But I guess she was one of those ethereal beauties who are ageless. Her petite frame never seemed to put on wait. Her chest always protruded with the same firmness. And her charm never weakened.
I arranged a rented apartment for couple of college boys. During the course of this work they came to my house few times and I had introduced them to my wife on one of the occasions. Almost immediately I realized that I had made a mistake. It was very clear to me that my woman has taken liking to them, especially of the tall fair boy from Punjab. The lad must be 12-13 years younger to Sushma. But this did not seem to deter her. The rented place where those guys were housed was only a block from our place and provided ample opportunities to bump into each other. I regularly used to see the fair guy around my house standing at the pan shop and smoking. Few times I saw him passing by our gate or coming out of the front gate I cannot tell, but was always around.
Sushma never hid anything, neither had she told nor I asked. But one day when I saw the biggest kadhai in the sink she did tell me that she had used it prepare halua for those two guys as it was birthday of one of them.
A week after that incident, I left for a nearby city for business and was supposed to come back the next day. However the business concluded at 10 o’clock and I decided to head back than to go to the hotel. When I reached home at wee hours of the morning I let myself in with the additional key so not to disturb Sushma. But the scene at the house enraged me. It was clear that the place had witnessed a party last night and probably an orgy. There were bottles of beer lying around the room; the music system was moved from its usual place. And there was Sushma lying almost naked on the divan. This infuriated me so much that I went to Sushma kept her head on my lap, wrapped my hands around her neck and strangled her. She opened her eyes, withered for few minutes and then gave up.
Surprisingly I did not feel any remorse at that time. Somehow I felt that this was waiting to happen. Next day at 9 o’clock I went to the police station and told them that my wife has been murdered when I was away. The number of rape and murder cases was seeing a spike in those days in the town and since I had an alibi police never really investigated me. I was asked to produce the bill of the lodge which I produced after paying many times the amount to the actual lodge.
My assumption got jolted when at the inquest, two of her girlfriends from college told the police that they had come to my house in the evening before the murder to celebrate the birthday of one of them and brought few beer bottles with them. All three ladies partied till 8 o’clock and after that they dispersed. I nearly managed to convince myself that even through the orgy did not happen but could have appended given half a chance; but for a few notes I found in Sushma’s handbag. The notes simply professed her love for me. Another note also talked about the students and how they reminded her of the brother she never had. The third and the last note she wrote about of her suspicion that she has finally conceived and was waiting for few more days to confirm the news to me. She was excited about this new phase and said that she wanted a son just like me.
As anyone can imagine I was devastated after this discovery not only I had killed the woman who loved me but also our unborn child. What kind of person would do that?
Almost 1 year after the incident I sold whatever I had and came to Coorg in the hope of starting a new life. “Kabir, but the guilt doesn’t allow me to live”, the friend said sobbing profusely. I have built a small temple here in her memory. I have also instituted a scholarship in her name in the nearby school. I keep donating alms and funds to various temples in Sushma’s name but even after 14 years of the incident I cannot forgive myself. My life has become my biggest punishment.
I had once even cut the vein of right hand in the hope of leaving this world and directly seeking forgiveness from the almighty but my care takers saw me and I was saved. Though I couldn’t gather the courage to do it again but I sincerely wish that I should have died. This life is worse than living through hell.
Crying and sobbing my friend passed out but the boss couldn’t sleep. The next day he left Coorg very early in the day and without saying anything to his friend.
But last Friday two days after his boss had returned, he received an email from his boss asking for advice. Kabir, being a straight forward righteous man wanted to be right to him to give himself up to police and serve the sentence. He said only through this his friend will find peace and will be a befitting penance. Rishabh said, “But I feel that his fellow has already suffered so much for the wrong he has done, how come punishment through the system will make any difference. Besides on this process of cleansing himself he is atleast doing some good for the society.” Rishabh felt that he has already suffered so much that he should stop being so harsh on himself.
Rishabh asked me, “I always regard your wisdom. Which side you take? What in your opinion is a better option”.
Listening to this ghastly saga evaporated all the effects of the wretched liquid, so I ordered a large and ruminated over the situation for a while and then said, “I think the friend should remarry. He should remarry a good woman of disadvantaged background such as a widow or from a poor economic back ground. But this time the marriage should not be to destroy but to create and protect. He should have a child also if possible from this marriage. He should take care of them and make them happy. Till now he has completed only a part of the penance, the other part is left. Only when he completes this cycle he will find slowly find solace.” I said gulping the remaining drink in one shot and nudged Rishabh to leave for home immediately otherwise there would be another murder today and the person will not even feel guilty this time.