Continued from “An Aborted Affair”
When a dejected Dhruva returned home alone that evening, Raju informed him that some Radha came to see him in the morning. What with the lost love and his hurt ego haunting him, he thought no more of petticoat chasing, even if it were the coveted Radha, whom, after Shakeel’s revelation, he came to pity as well, so he thought. Whatever, to catch up with the lost time and to get back to the brass-tacks of his business, he invited the cop to review the Operation Checkmate afresh over a couple of drinks.
Lying in wait in mufti near Maisamma temple, said Shakeel sipping ‘Teachers’ on the rocks, he sighted the earmarked Santro, driven by a young woman. After she brought the vehicle to a halt, nearby the roadside shrine, he alerted the patrol parties stationed at all the exit points. When he was nearly tired of keeping focus on the target in that dim light, he saw the woman alight from the car along with Kavya, whom she readily led into the vaulted staircase abutting the in-built temple. Shortly thereafter, he had seen a familiar looking figure emerge from the staircase with the handbags that he himself had arranged for the Operation Checkmate. While the guy was about to get into the Santro, a Skoda passed him by, and in the flash of its headlights, he was surprised to realize that he was none other than Pravar himself. However, when the rogue steered the car towards the Ramakrishna Mutt Road, he had alerted the patrol party in wait near the Dharna Chowk, and by the time, he himself joined them, they had already nabbed the stunned culprit. But it was his own turn to be shocked, when, during interrogation, Pravar revealed his hidden hand in the unresolved double murder of Madhu and Mala.
Sparing the cop with his barbs for once, the detective wanted a picture of the captor’s background to bring the captive’s perturbed psyche to the foreground. So began Shakeel to sketch Pravar’s skewed past.
Mala was ten when Pravar was born, and soon thereafter, as their mother became sickly, their father took to drinking, further denting their family’s meager resources. What with a drunkard father to contend with, a sickly mother to attend to and a younger sibling to provide for, Mala began to mature more than her age. However, when her brother was ten, their father kicked the bucket, and shortly thereafter, thanks to her good looks and a relative’s good samaritanism, Suraiah, a measly clerk in the civil works department, came into her life as her man. Just the same, she was discomfited as he turned out to be utterly miserly, for she believed that a paisa well-spent was far more worthy than a horded rupee, but soon, as her mother too died, making her brother an orphan, her husband, in spite of his reservations, had to accommodate him in their home. Pravar was fourteen then.
Sadly, that arrangement didn’t auger well for Pravar as he was torn between his sister’s affection and his brother-in-law’s resentment to his presence in the house, which turned him into a schizophrenic: while his physical proximity to her insensibly induced in him a sub-conscious sexual affinity with her, her marital closeness with the man he abhorred inexorably bred a sexual jealousy in him. And that made him an awkward being, perturbing Mala and annoying Suraiah but attracting Rajan, a hardened criminal, who took him under his tutelage. As his wayward ways that followed made his brother-in-law take jibe at his sister, it further fuelled his subconscious oneness with her; but when his nemesis died in a road mishap, with no rival to her affections, he began to dote upon her like never before, which suited her as well, for it catered to her innate need for male attention.
In time though, as she was absorbed in the department on compassionate grounds, she began leaning towards Madhu, her enamored boss, and for its part, destiny that scripts its acts in life’s plays with some denouement in mind, enabled Rajan to trick a young Natya into eloping with him. And that proved to be a double jeopardy for Pravar; bitten by Natya’s charms, even as he was eying her, seeing it as a travesty of his devotion to Mala, he was beset by qualms. But soon though, further accentuating his mental distress, as Mala became Madhu’s keep, and seeing her dote on the new man in her life, he was truly depressed. Soon, as Madhu reduced his young son Raghu into Mala’s errand boy, Pravar took up cudgels with his sister on the boy’s behalf, but perceiving that was the privilege of a mistress, she paid a deaf ear to his protestations. As a result, he came to identify himself more and more with the hapless boy, and that made him resent her liaison with the tormentor even more.
However, at length, abetted by him, when Raghu rebelled, an irate Madhu said that for all he knew, he could be a bastard, and humiliated thus, as the hapless boy committed suicide on the railway tracks; Pravar felt that Madhu had no right to live, and so also his sister, who was no less callous either. What’s worse, he came to perceive Radha as a cock-pecked wife, unmindful of her son’s plight, and that evaporated the sympathy he felt for her as a neglected wife, owing to his sister’s trespass into her marital life. So, strangely, it was his sense of righteousness that steeled Pravar’s heart against the disparate trio.
Thus, even as he was morally low, the lifting of prohibition, ending the bootlegging in the State, had hurt him monetarily as well. It was then that Rajan thought of wriggling out of the tight spot through the extortions from kidnappings. But what with the dangerous pursuit emboldening him even more, Pravar developed the nerve to kill, and waited for the opportune moment as by then Madhu started mixing his women by taking Mala home. So, he worked on a plan to eliminate the three of them without soiling his hands that developed the skill to tamper with bottle seals in his bootlegging days. Being aware that under Madhu’s influence, Mala took to drinking, he presumed that Radha must be a habitual drinker too, so he poisoned a bottle of Teacher’s Scotch, and waited for the day that Madhu and Mala gloated over as their Union Day. So on that U-day, he presented the ‘bottle of death’, sans his fingerprints, to Mala for their cynical celebration with the lost out wife. When Mala said that Radha was ‘no game for that’, he said in jest that they might as well leave the dregs for her to rue later, and true to his word, he implicated Radha by poisoning Shakeel’s mind about her involvement in the double murder.
As Mala’s death ended Pravar’s emotional divide, so his passion for Natya came to rule his heart, and being bolder for the double murder, he plotted to eliminate Rajan to usurp his woman, and waited for the right opportunity, which presented itself soon enough. That midnight, the three of them were in wait at a secluded spot in Shamirpet to collect a hefty ransom from a businessman, whose kid they kidnapped the day before. While Rajan and Pravar waited for the father at the exchange site, holding the kid, Natya positioned herself at a safe distance. When the father met them with the ransom amount, Pravar went up to Natya to fetch the kid for the barter; but on the way back to her with the booty, he shot his benefactor dead, which he pictured it to her as a police action, and the cops too publicized it as such to score a few Brownie points of ‘law and order’.
Having split the booty with Natya and thus having gained her trust, he induced her to marry him, after which, even though she urged him to give up his wayward ways, as he desisted, being too far down the road of crime by then; she had no choice but to keep pace with him. Thus while he planned the next kidnap, wiser for the possible police action while collecting the ransom in a secluded location, he conceived the ingenuous rendezvous on the busy Tank Bund with its sparsely used staircase to the road below. What with Natya playing her part to perfection, they almost pulled it off, but only fell short owing to Dhruva’s uncanny foresight into their plan though without any hindsight.
Continued to “Victim of Trust”