Chapter 1, Book One, Artha and Kama, Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
That New Year's Eve, all the nouveau riche of New Delhi seemed to have gathered at the Misty Nest in their ubiquitous wear. While women wore designer dresses, men turned up in safari suits. Hosting them at their grand dwelling in the Defense Colony were the Gautams, Prabhu and Sneha. By the time the last guest was hugged in welcome, Gautam’s silk kurta and Sneha’s mink coat were truly crumpled. Augmenting the warmth of their bonhomie was the Glenfiddich with soda. In time, while the lure of the Scotch drove many into the lap of Bacchus, the allure of Venus enticed others to ogle at the desirable. But, above all, it was Gautam’s good-humored banter and Sneha’s sensuous charm that lent aura to that midnight rendezvous.
When the New Year was an hour away in its coming, what with the inebriated becoming tardy in their tangos, the going got really bawdy. As Sneha too got into the act, there was a virtual riot for a round with her. When someone went overboard to bottom pinch her, she paid back with a belly punch that regaled the gathering.
As the gigantic clock was all set to halve the night, the antique chandeliers were put off. When the radium hands went straight up on the dial, the ribaldry reached a new low on the floor. At that, as the Gautams goaded all to raise their hands to fold out the year on hand, the boozers struggled to get on to their feet to welcome the year in the offing. But, for its part, the antique piece welcomed the incoming year with the first of its twelve chimes that reverberated in that sprawling banquet hall.
In the prevailing darkness, the euphoria that followed led to a fresh round of bear-hugs amongst the sexes before the stewards switched on the chandeliers as though to let those bear witness to the goings on. As if that translucence showed the revelers the reality of life, sanity was restored in that exuberant setting, and soon the pangs of hunger made the gathering scamper for the buffet of varied cuisines, brought from the capital’s five-star restaurants.
When the hosts went up to the table to pick up their plates, a steward alerted Gautam to an urgent telephone call. Soon, seeing her man turn all pale, Sneha made her way to him in apprehension. When Gautam made her privy to their unfolding tragedy in an undertone, Sneha nearly swooned into his arms. The news of Suresh Prabhu, the heir to their business empire, hauled up in the lock-up was enough to unnerve her. That he was booked for rape and murder as well ravaged her soul no end. In her state of shock, she was unable to comprehend what Gautam mumbled into her ear to lift up her spirits.
Having realized that they were attracting undue attention, Gautam led his wife into the anteroom, leaving the gathering with a free rein on the rumor mill. The breaking news, set in motion by someone who had eavesdropped on the hosts’ conversation, gained circulation with understandable exaggeration. And there followed an intense debate about the eventual outcome of the current indictment that led to the Gautams’ predicament. The indignant gathering, in one tone, roundly censured the hosts for the fall of their only offspring. For once, everyone seemed to agree that loose morals would only bring ruin in the end, even for the rich and famous. Of course, even the mighty of the world are bound to fail on the false path, so emerged the consensus. Even those who professed closeness to the Gautams maintained that they knew all along that things would come to this pass with Suresh, sooner than later.
Such are the ways of the world that the lows of life would turn the admirers into critics, and what is worse; make the naive speak as the know-all.
Closeting with Sneha, Gautam assured her that he would pull out all the stops to free Suresh in no time. But Sneha was terrified that the magnitude of the indictment might be beyond the endurance of their son. In spite of her awareness of their political clout and the loopholes of law, her sixth sense gave a dissenting note, making her apprehensive about the possibility of her son coming clean out of this messy case. But as hope coupled with her confidence in her go-getter man calmed her nerves a little, Gautam led her back into the banquet hall.
When the besieged couple resurfaced, what with everyone feigning camaraderie and volunteering help, hypocrisy seemed to rule the roost on the human stage. As if to show up the fallacy of human sympathy, appeared malice to induce innuendoes about the perceived closeness of Sneha with the powers that be.
‘Why, in this topsy-turvy,’ said a naughty one, ‘her leeway is bound to come in handy, won’t it?’
Not to be left out, curiosity too entered the arena to tie the crowd to the unfolding drama. When the hosts tried to make light of the incident as but a storm in the teacup, the guests maintained that they would not desert the ship in the storm. With his appeals for a premature adieu falling on deaf ears, Gautam left for South Extension with an entrapped feeling. Thereafter, preyed upon by her guests, Sneha remained a prisoner in her own palace.
When Gautam in a dilemma reached the South Extension police station, as Pramod Rawal, the Station House Officer (SHO), received him reverentially, he was a little relieved. But as the SHO made him privy to the incriminating evidence gathered against his son, Gautam was in a spot all again.
That very night at ten, one Saurav Swaroop came to the police station to lodge a ‘missing person’ complaint. A worried Swaroop told an impatient Rawal that his daughter Shanti hadn’t returned home yet though it was her wont not to stay out after seven. Worried over her life and limb, said Swaroop, he had contacted all those he should including his family friend Sohan Singh, the Circle Inspector (CI). At that, Rawal became alert and almost got into a saluting posture. The CI, Swaroop claimed, had advised him to take the matter to Rawal, the SHO on duty.
But, knowing the proclivities of his flock only too well, Singh left nothing to chance, and thus mobilized a force to search for Shanti. It was past ten, when a patrol party intercepted a speeding Mercedes at Mehrauli. As the teen at the wheel betrayed his unease, the Police saw the need for a thorough search of the limousine. And when they found the body of a woman in the back seat they were truly aghast. But, as the distraught lad revealed his identity, the cops were really dumbfounded. Having led the accused to the police station, they revealed the identity of the arrested to Rawal. Without any coercion, Suresh revealed that he had kidnapped the girl with the idea of raping her. While pleading that he had no intention to harm her, he confessed to having killed her under extreme provocation.
As feared by Rawal, the victim turned out to be Shanti Swaroop. And this unwelcome development irked him for he feared that the vengeful Singh might brutalize the brat, leaving him to fend for himself with a lock-up death. And the rest at the police station felt that in spite of his impeccable pedigree, Suresh was in for an unimaginable trouble.
An uncanny manipulator of the system that he was, Rawal thought it fit to inform Gautam before all else. After all, wouldn’t Gautam involve the top brass to deter the CI from laying his hand on the lad? Besides, there is much to gain by helping the rich, isn’t it? It was, thus, that Gautam’s arrival lightened the cop’s burden while raising his hopes as well. But his countenance to Gautam’s suggestive glances seemed to convey that the accused might not be able to get away for once. Given his closeness to the Swaroops, after all, the CI can be expected to be averse to hushing up the murder case. Besides, to splash the scandal in the making, the press-wallahs had already rushed back to ‘Stop Press’.
“Saab, I've done my best in this ticklish case,” said Pramod Rawal. “And the rest is in the CI’s hands.”
“Thank you Rawalji,” said Gautam enticingly, “but don't I know how the system works. Why, you are the king-pin here, aren’t you? I know you realize that I will put my wealth on line for my son’s release.”
“Saab, as I told you, Singhsaab has taken a personal interest in this case,” said Rawal feeling sad that he couldn’t avail of the chance of his lifetime. “If only it were in my hands, I would've surely given it a different twist.”
“But still… ”
“Saab, you better pull the strings at the top to see that your boy is not troubled by any,” said Rawal trying to ingratiate himself to Gautam. “Well, I'll call up the CIsaab only after you fix up things. And you too can speak to him a little later. After all, courtesy wouldn’t spoil, will it? Be assured, I'll not let a fly come near your boy. Why, I'll treat him as my own son.”
“Thank you, Rawalji,” said Gautam as he dialed the Police Commissioner's residential number. “You may know I’m not the one to slight those who help me.”
When Rawal in relief led him to Suresh, finding his son shell-shocked in the lock-up, Gautam himself was shaken to the core. When the son broke down seeing his father, the father could not hold back his tears either. But realizing that his nerves would unnerve Suresh even more, Gautam decided to put on a brave face.
To the approving nods of Rawal, Gautam averred that it was no more than a case of juvenile delinquency, and thus the courts were bound to treat it likewise. After all, there was no need for Suresh to worry over much for the sentence was going to be light. And to address his son’s troubled psyche as well, the father showed an understanding to his misdemeanor. And to assuage his son’s apprehensions on account of Sneha’s absence, Gautam said that she was hell-bent on accompanying him and that it was he who dissuaded her from coming. Anyway, it was difficult for any mother to go through all that and in his situation; it would be delicate for Suresh as well to face his mother. Gautam tried to inject a dosage of optimism into his depressed son with the assurance that all would end well as he would line up a battery of ace lawyers to free him from his predicament.
In spite of his own enthusiasm, as Suresh remained gloomy, Gautam feared that his son might sink into depression. And to avert its happening, he thought that he should spring into action without any loss of time. But on second thoughts, he felt it prudent to wait for Sohan Singh’s arrival. In time, when the fuming Singh made his appearance, Gautam needed all his suave to plead mercy for his son. However, it was Suresh’s countenance that softened Singh’s ire and that made Gautam heave a sigh of relief. Thus, leaving Suresh to Rawal’s care, Gautam rushed to draft in Vijay Mehrotra, the eminent criminal lawyer.
In that nocturnal briefing, Mehrotra heard Gautam with all the sympathy due to a valued client’s predicament. But in the end, he duly showed Gautam the tight spot into which his brat had put himself in. When the desperate father said money shouldn’t be a constraint, the wily advocate assured that he would apply his mind to judicially undo his son’s wrongdoing, of course, at the first hearing itself. Carried away by his own conviction, Mehrotra even dismissed the whole thing as no big deal at all. Nevertheless, he said that the Gautams would have some bad press to contend with to start with. But then, public memory being proverbially short, he averred, they would be able to put all this behind in no time. In the meantime, said Mehrotra, all that the Gautams needed to do was to remain calm, and loosen their purse strings to buy justice for their son.
And to make a skeptical Gautam feel at ease, Mehrotra sketched the contours of the countervailing defense against the weight of the incontrovertible evidence. At the end of the briefing, impressed with Mehrotra’s methods, Gautam was sure that an unconditional acquittal for Suresh was on hand. Assured of the likely twist of justice in the trial court, Gautam in relief headed home in his Rolls Royce. But soon, his apprehension about the imminent fallout of it all on his life and his wife’s times dampened him no end.
‘How thin is the line between glory and infamy!’ thought Gautam sinking in the back seat. ‘Doesn’t it seem thinner than the second’s hand that splits the time frame at every turn? The shine of the year gone by and the shame of the one on hand, oh, what a contrast they make! How all those guests so welcome at the dusk seem unwelcome even before it is dawn! But, how the course of the discourse at the Misty Nest might have turned after all that! Oh, the ugly turn of events, are they any less embarrassing for the guests? Maybe some of them could be gleeful as well, won’t they? Indeed, how life could turn on its head overnight! Would Sneha ever be able to cope up with all this? And don’t we need to camouflage the scandal before it ceases to interest? Well, one needs to be thick-skinned to brave it all. Thank God, I’m up to it anyway. It’s as if life had prepared me to face this day!’
When Gautam reached Misty Nest, he found it inundated by the neighbors as well. As everyone rushed up to him in the portico itself, he tried to make it up by alleging that his rivals had falsely implicated an innocent Suresh. It was easy to see, he said with his trademark composure, all this was to scandalize his family and ruin his reputation in the same vein. It was like hitting two birds with the same stone. But he assured them nonchalantly that he would come up trumps after all, the indomitable fighter that he was. Apologizing for having spoiled the party, he got rid of them all one by one by bidding goodbye.
Though the Gautams felt relieved for having seen the back of their guests, yet they were overwhelmed by the tragedy that befell on them, and that denied them even a wink all night. If anything, the dawn made it worse for them as the glare of the scandal splashed in the newspapers irrevocably blurred their vision for days to come.
As the reportage of the crime, dubbed as Mehrauli Murder Case, tended to bring the background of the accused into focus, it irked the Gautams no end. What with the condemnation coming thick and fast from all quarters, it soon turned into a nightmare for them. One newspaper went overboard, suggesting that the Gautams too may be tried as the abettors of the crime for a lack of their brat’s bringing up. Then and only then, averred the eloquent editorial, that the country’s courts would be perceived as concerned with social justice.
But what kept the news alive for weeks on end was its potential to embarrass the ruling party for its patronage of the Gautams. Thus, in time, it all turned out to be a trial by the media, well before the case was committed to the session’s court. As the crime caught the public imagination as well, the investigative journalists worked overtime to pull out skeletons from the Misty Nest’s closets. The competitive yellow journalism that followed, tarnished the fair name of the Gautams, and shamed them in the process. Such was the media one-upmanship that even a magazine dubbed the decade-old general insurance claim of the Gautams as fraudulent while a tabloid insinuated that Sneha had all along promoted Gautam’s business interests by entrusting her charms to the care of men who mattered.
It was only time before the women’s groups joined the fray demanding justice to the victim’s soul with a rope to the culprit’s throat. The religionists, for their part, lamented over the depravity of the youth and attributed the same to the lack of faith in God. Of course, the conformists raised the decibels of the debate by deriding the baneful influence of the alien lifestyle on the age-old culture. The social scientists, as though not to lag behind, attributed the rise and fall of the Gautams to the deteriorating value system in the society of the day. The political pundits, however, attributed the rise of Gautam Prabhu to the position of power and prestige to the perils of the License Permit Raj. That he was on the verge of being nominated by the party in power to the Rajya Sabha, they averred, underscored the inimical politico-business nexus that was in place. And what a peril that posed to the nascent Indian democracy was anybody’s guess. But, waiting in the wings, the human rights activists made no noise till then. It seemed as if they were hoping that the accused would be sentenced to death to enable them to get on to the centre stage. Whatever, well before the scandal ceased to make news, the remarkable transformation of Gautam Prabhu, a former Engineer of the Public Works Department, into the most influential lobbyist in New Delhi became a matter of common appreciation.
In the mid-fifties, it was said, Gautam, with a ravishing wife and a burning ambition to make it big in life came to New Delhi from Andhra Pradesh. Having mastered Hindi meticulously and cultivating people methodically, he soon came to specialize in wheeling and dealing. Sneha Gautam, who eventually made waves on the cocktail circuit, nevertheless, made her debut with her Sneha Travels. Dazzling her influential clientele, soon enough, she reached far and wide in the travel world. But that was not all. Combining her unquestionable charms and questionable morals, she laid the foundation for the edifice of her husband’s global empire. It was like she was the spark that ignited Gautam’s ambition to make it to the zenith of wealth.
Having begun life in a by lane of Karol Bagh, the Gautams soon set their eyes on the avenues of Defense Colony, only to dominate its landscape in the end. Their palatial bungalow, evocatively named Misty Nest, became the owner’s pride and the neighbors’ envy, indeed of Lutyen’s Delhi. Sadly for the Gautams though, and deservedly so as many thought, the veil of respectability that shrouded their vulnerability lay tattered. And that unmistakably exposed their shameful visages to the public gaze.
Owing to the fear of compromising their own reputation in their company, their former friends started distancing themselves from the fallen couple. What with the prospect of their only son ending up on the gallows staring in their face, troubled and shamed, the Gautams went into a cocoon in their Misty Nest. Moreover, used as they were to the hustle and bustle of life, the informal boycott in place seemed to weigh down heavily upon their social spirit.
Thus, in time, as the make-believe world they had built around them came crashing down, the Gautams remained in seclusion in their duplex dwelling. But, it was from that very setting, until not so long ago, that the Gautams had mesmerized the socialites of the country’s capital, and strolled like colossuses in its portals of power.
Continued to "Trauma at Tihar"