Who killed Balasubramanium?

Padmalakshmi sits there in the interrogation room, facing the famous detective Kondaswamy. she adjusts her saree’s pallu strategically enough to let some cleavage slip out. The table fan to Padmalakshmi’s right gorges on anything remotely cool in the room like a bulimic, only to throw it up in hot, stifling blasts that barely touch the sweat streaming down Padmalakshmi’s ample sideburns.

“Madame”, Detective Kondaswamy says, as his eyes stare not into Padmalakshmi’s big black, kohl smeared one, but right at her heaving chest. “So, you say that you were taking a bath when you heard a commotion and came running down to discover his body?”

“Yes Sir.” she sniffles for effect and he hands her a murky handkerchief from his pocket. “Have you found out who did it? Who mercilessly bashed my dear Balasubramaniam’s head like a pulp?”

“Madame Padmalakshmi” Kondaswamy says, unbuttoning his first two buttons, shaking his collar and gulping down the lukewarm cola in front of him.

“We have sent your husband’s body for autopsy. Until then please answer my questions.”

“Sir… my husband is dead.” As if on cue, Padmalakshmi’s eyes water and rivulets run down her cheeks mingling with salty sweat. “What will I do? How will I eat? How will I survive?”

Kondaswamy shakes his head and continues. “Madame please, who else was in the house except you?”

Through tears Padmalakshmi pulls up her pallu, that was on the verge of threatening to expose more cleavage, and says, “That wretched Mahalakshmi. She was there in the house when it happened.”

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Kondaswamy mutters in disgust, as if disappointed at the game of tease that Padmalakshmi’s pallu has been playing with him. He brings his diary out and writes Mahalakshmi in capital letters. “Do you know of any enemies that Balasubramanium had? Anyone who wanted to hurt him?

“Oh sir” Padmalakshmi sprawls her torso on the table and this time her pallu finally falls off to reveal her sweaty breasts trapped between her and the unvarnished surface of old teakwood.

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Cold Case Files – #795666

“Detective Inspector Shane Devouc, you and I are gathered here in this room, on 10th April 2010, to discuss the events of the dispatch call on 13th May 1990, at 3 am, where you were the first responder” I say and then stare at my smart phone recorder.

“Oh shit,” I say again, and look up; embarrassed at my rookie mistake.

The burly man with head full of hair as white as snow stares at me impassive.

“I’m sorry, Detective Inspector.” I say. “We’ll have to go over this again. I forgot to press the record button.”

He grunts, and I start over. I can see that he is trying to brush this off as just another interview. Cool as a cucumber, or at least that is what he wants me to think. But no matter how hard he tries, he can’t hide his twitching fingers.

“Detective Inspector”, I start, again. “You and I are gathered here in this room, on 10th April 2010, to discuss the events of the dispatch call on 13th May 1990, at 3 am, where you were the first responder.”

He grunts again and then picks a strand of chicken stuck between his front two teeth. He pulls it out from the crevice slowly, like stretched bubble gum as I watch fascinated. That visibly obvious strand has been distracting me since the past fifteen minutes and now that he is pulling it out, I can’t help but feel a sense of strange relief.

“Can you tell me about the events of that night, Sir?” I ask, my eyes fixed on that long strand as he finally pulls it free and then pops out back into his mouth, chewing slightly.

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A Thanjavur bobblehead doll

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Mrs Kumar was unsure of everything as she entered the market. The hustle and bustle of the market felt removed from her as if she had been left behind from it. She realized that each of the thousand times she had entered the market she had always had a to-do list or a list of ingredients to collect for a recipe. And here she was at this late hour of the evening, without a list of ingredients for her life or a recipe for how to cook it.

Mrs Kumar decided that she had wandered into the market because it was familiar. She hoped that the tired alleyways and the small shops of the market remembered enough of the items of her life that she may be able to pick up a decision about it in the next shop around the corner.

The smell of the fresh flowers wafting from the flower vendor reminded her of her husband. She had never really liked Jasmine, but he liked them so much that she had grown to like them too. The memory of a thousand intimate moments made her blush in the fading sunlight. She could always go back to him, her husband. The fight they had was just a fight, everyone fought. She could just go back to him and it would all be back to normal. She looked at her phone, it had been two days and he hadn’t called even once. Mrs Kumar covered her nose and moved on.

The toy shop down the road reminded her of her son. She would save up money each month for his birthday so she could buy him his favourite toy. And it was always worth it to see his tiny face light up. She could always go to him, he was a dutiful son and would always take her in, but she could never fail to notice how her presence dimmed his eyes just a little nowadays. There was no toy she could buy to fix that.

The bangles on the bangles vendors cart twinkled like her daughter’s laughter. Could she go to her daughter? No, it was too early to even consider that.

And then she saw it, in the window of a fancy shop, a Thanjavur bobblehead doll. Mrs Kumar froze in place, as she watched the doll nod her head and sway her hips. She had had the exact same doll when she was a little girl. It had been her most prized possession. When her father would play songs on the radio, Mrs Kumar would run to the table where the doll stood and nudge her gently, and she would join the doll in her dance always in tune with the songs. Continue reading

Nina

Nina was found buried in the crook of a Wych elm deep into the forest. or perhaps what would have been deep into the forest before Sobha builders decided to make a home away from the city, in the lap of nature, eco apartments that were only five minutes from fairy falls, only fifteen kilometers away from the nearest school, hospital or office space; and only twenty minutes away from NICE road.

It was barricaded to the public; only Sobha resident joggers eroded it every morning and practically turned it into a freeway to the waterfall.

It was a dog that found her hand dangling like a T-Rex’s arm from the rotted core of the elm; one of those furry golden ones. I saw them often with the joggers, trotting along, burying their nose where it didn’t belong.

Devoid of skin, tissue or even rot, Nina’s arm had been licked clean to the bones. I was surprised that the foxes hadn’t ground the bones into a powdery puff, yet.

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I stood among the few joggers, as the police pulled Nina out from the dark hole, one limb after another. Her torso came last and a small man was sent inside to fetch her head.

It was almost thirty minutes later that a head popped out, not Nina’s, but the man who was sent after it. He climbed out, panting and repeating, “Kuch nahee hai, Saab. There is no head.”

The Chief Inspector who looked like mosquitoes had made half a meal out of him, stomped his foot and shouted, “Where the hell is the head, then?”

“Kamraj sir…” said his deputy, smiling like a patient grandmother, “Where will the head go? It will be around somewhere. Mil jayega.”

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The recipe

todd-quackenbush-x5SRhkFajrA-unsplashRadha paced in front of the closed kitchen doors. She passed them and sniffed, she could make out the faint aroma of the dish wafting from the kitchen. Her mouth began to water and a smile played on her lips as she reminisced about the dish. She had set up the lunch table already. Everyone in the house was waiting eagerly for the meal. Radha was jumping up and down with anticipation. The kitchen doors were closed since the morning coffee. Any moment now her mother in law would open the kitchen doors and she would walk out holding her world-famous Bisi Bele Bhath. Radha swallowed as her mouth watered more. This year, somehow she would convince her mother in law to give her the recipe.

At long last, the doors opened, and her mother in law walked out, sweat gently dropping from her brow, her fingers stained with spices, a gentle smile playing on her radiant face. She looked like the goddess Annapurna herself come to serve her devotees. She was closely followed by Amba her faithful maid, who carried the large vessel filled with the aromatic Bisi Bele Bhath. Radha eagerly took in the aroma of the dish and almost joined get hands in prayer.

The table was laid and everyone was served. There was silence while everyone ate the dish. “Shanti, you have outdone yourself again. I am convinced when I die I will be sent to your kitchen, cause the door to heaven must be through there…” her father in law said licking his lips.

“Amma. Best. Dish. Ever.” her husband said licking every one of his fingers.

Her mother in law blushed and brushed their compliments aside. Radha was always surprised by her humility. Everyone knew she made the best Bisi Bele Bhath and yet she was always so humble about it. The rest of the meal was spent in silence as everyone licked their plates clean.

When they were cleaning away the dishes Radha finally mustered the courage to ask, “Amma, will you please teach me the recipe for the Bisi Bele Bhath?”

Her mother in law’s face changed, her smile dropped and her eyes hardened. She dropped the plate she had picked from the table, “No!” She said and walked back into the kitchen. Continue reading

The Polls

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A warm morning sun shone into the courtyard of the school. The tree that stood in the centre of the courtyard came to life with the cries of birds. Shiva sat in the shade of the tree, hard at work on a thick rope that he was tying into an elaborate knot. He had been up and working for a long while already. He had set up a stage that now stood beside the tree. He had brought out chairs from the classrooms in the school and placed them in neat rows in front of the stage. As the school peon, it was his duty to set up the booth on election day and the stage on the counting day. It was also his duty to prepare for the results. He inspected the knot that he had tied, he pulled on the rope to make sure it held in the correct manner. He tied the loose end of the rope to the tree and hid the other end in a nook behind the trunk of the tree. No one liked to think of the rope before the results were announced. He inspected the stage one last time and went outside the courtyard to smoke a bidi before the counting began.

As the sun climbed in the sky, the courtyard was slowly filled with the buzz of the villagers gathered there. They greeted each other and sat in small groups among the school chairs exchanging news and gossip. The women sat to the right though there was no rule that they had to. Their whispers were loud but quickly suppressed like a bee caught in a bell jar. The men gathered to the left of the stage, they greeted each other loudly at first. But their conversations grew quieter, like a bullfrog that had grown tired of its own mating call. The children ran around the playground that they were so familiar with. They found it funny that they had to visit the school on a holiday and the empty classrooms rang with their shouts and laughter. By the time the appointed hour arrived the whole village had gathered in the school courtyard. Continue reading