Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Mystery of the Black Envelope

The Mystery of the Black Envelope

Akaash Verma no subject Tue 26/07/2005 03:00 AM 4KB

The above line flashed across my mail client. Akaash has seen me off at the airport a couple of hours ago, must have reached his house a few minutes before the time he sent the mail. I was curious as to what was in the mail. The mail was sent using black stationary, and nothing in it. I powered of the screen, and looked at the azure sea beneath. The orange ball in the east lit up the sky to red; the birds were flocking in its direction as if to reach it. Slowly I slipped down to the events that started unfolding almost two years ago.

It was eight in the evening, I rise from my nap to answer the door bell, “Hi, I am Akaash, Akaash Verma, moved into the flat next to your's. Thought I would just let you know.” There was this tall, lean guy with professor’s glass on his nose, and a pleasant demeanor. There was this intelligent air around him.

“Hi, I am Raj, Raj Aryan”, I replied. “Why don't you come in”, I said moving aside to make way for him.

“Got to unpack lot of stuff, will come some time later”

“Sure!, can I be of some help.”

“No, Thanks, I will let you know when I need some”, saying this he left.

Over the next few days, I came to know that he is one among those countless software engineers who moved to Bangalore in search of greener pastures. We stuck an instant rapport in many areas be it be booze we drink, the sea foods we like, the books we read, and the biggest of all a hatred for Bangalore traffic. Things went on fine for about six months.

One evening I was passing by his door, and found him worrying too much over something. “Another Business Man Murdered”, read the heading of the newspaper in his hands. The article went on to explain that this was the sixth murder in the last eight months and police were yet to solve any of these. I looked at him puzzled and said “Hey, nothing to worry man, such things were common in a city like Bangalore”. He gave me a envelope which he was holding in the other hand. Except that it was black there was nothing in it, or nothing special about. I returned back quizzed at his behavior.

“You may think its crazy, but I am sure there is some relation between this envelope and the murders”.

“Come on Akaash, don’t be silly”

“No Raj, I am serious I have four black envelopes from the last six months, and all four of them, I found in my mail box. This time too, I found this envelope a week before this murder.”

“It must be a coincidence; I don’t think you should worry much about it.”

“Ok, ok I too thought the same, but can you explain where these black envelopes are coming from, why is it that each time I find them, there occurs a murder of a noted person in the city. This is way too much to be a coincidence.”

I was a bit disturbed; there is something to the questions he put, if not truth. “Don’t you feel you are being way too imaginative?” I said.

“I feel I am on to something”, he replied.

“Ok boss, up to you!, I wish you success in the mission ”.

It was some time before I could catch up with him on this front. One day he turns up and says “Raj! I told you about the black envelope sometime back, now I am sure it has a lot to do with the murders going on.” Sighting a heading in the newspaper he continued, “I have one more black envelope and here you see within a week, we have this murder in the city, my detective work makes me feel I am on to something.”

I was impressed with his argument, but decided to act as if I had no keen interest in the proceedings. “Hey, Take care man, if this stuff is for real you may find your self in a soup. Better take some police help.” “Oh! Nothing to worry, I am talking to inspector Jacob, and gave him all the circumstantial evidence I had; we think we know who the criminal is. He suggested I don’t reveal the thing to anyone until the issue comes up in court” he shot back with enthusiasm. I was waylaid; I did not see the issue of the black envelope as more than imagination, and now I see that he was infact right.

“That’s absolutely great, but how in the hell did you do that?”

“I came here to tell you just that, the hearing in the court is next week and I have to give my testimony, why don't you drop in once and you can get to know the story behind this.” he continued with excitement “You will be surprised to know who the culprit is”.

“You! Serious, all this has something to do with that black envelope”

“Yes! Yes!”

“Oh Man! That’s awesome, you are too much. Hey but I am relocating to Africa next Monday night.”

“My goodness, you never told me this, any way the trial is on Monday, just make sure you take some time out. I will help you with the travel stuff.” “You never told me this?”

“Sorry Akaash, I was actually busy with the arrangements for the relocation and thought I will let you know once things are done. Count me in on Monday; I will not miss the trial for anything in the world”

The court room was charged with anticipation of who the gruesome murderer was and how a seemingly insignificant pattern gave way to the criminal. To give a brief history of the murders, they were all committed in a meticulous manner, no single clue at the site of the crime. There was no apparent pattern among the victims except that all were from affluent families. The Bangalore police had to face the wrath of public for their negligence in this issue, but how does the public understand that this was not a simple case. Infact from what I heard of the case from Akaash, the murderer has not left a single clue in nine murders. If not for his extraordinary imagination, god knows how many more murders were waiting to happen.

The room was packed, the media, the families of the victims, onlookers like me, and many others whom I could not categorize. The proceedings started with the prosecution presenting its case, the defense presenting why the prosecution is wrong. The most surprising thing to me was that the criminal was none other than the person who stayed in the flat opposite to me. I have never seen him in over one and a half years of my stay in the flat. Then there were scores of witnesses. The evidence from police, it seemed this guy was a big smuggler too, about 4kg of heroin was found in his flat. This guy was not from Bangalore but he visited the city often. The police had strong circumstantial evidence sufficient to link him up to the crime. The defense could not prove anything and finally the guy was convicted to life term imprisonment for nine murders, selling drugs and other charges.

On my return back home, Akaash was there with me. I said, “To say I am impressed would be an understatement. How could you proceed with just the Black Envelope?”

Akaash started explaining, “After I talked to you that day about the envelope, I started reasoning, who is putting the envelope in my mail box? I had to have an answer for this if had to move further and also to convince myself that the murders have something to do with the black envelope. I reasoned that it can mostly be the work of postal department. I went to the local post office and talked to the postmaster as to who delivers the mails to our locality. Then I talked to the post man, but there was no clue from them. I was disappointed and almost left the issue. One fine day I came across the Z courier in basavagudi, an area very far from this place. The interesting thing about it was I saw black envelope similar to the one in my mail box.”

He continued, “I talked to the person if he delivers any mail to our locality, initially he was reluctant to divulge any information, but later agreed that he delivered mail to one particular address in our locality. And imagine my surprise when I realize that it is to the flat opposite ours.”

“But how is this related to the black envelope in you mail box?” I interrupted.

“Hey wait man; I am coming to that, this guy who delivers the mail, used to deliver the mail last at our locality. When ever he put the mail in the opposite guys mail box, he used to put the black envelope which he used as the base for all his mails, in my mail box.”

“Then what did you do?”

“It was straight forward from then; I became suspicious of this guy. I informed inspector Jacob of this and requested his assistance in keeping a watch on the guy. And sure enough he walked into our trap.” “ Last month when you were on tour was when we caught him red-handed. Once more I saw the black envelope, this time around I informed the police immediately, and as you know the rest is history.” he stopped.

“That was some excellent piece of work. You did a great job Akaash. I am proud to say that you are a friend and neighbor.”

That night he saw me off at the airport. I saw his mail again, switched of my notebook and closed my eyes. I could see Akaash going back to his house, finding a black envelope, not an empty one this time. I could see him opening it with suspicion; I could see a big “Thank You!” I drifted into my sleep with a grin on my face.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Swaying Conch

The Swaying Conch

Splash! Splash, came rhythmic beating of waves on the rocks. It was a beautiful evening on the sea shore, the sun in his prime among the picturesque mountains, the moon patiently waiting with a smile on, the waves enthusiastic to meet the shore, the moss covered rocks gently rocked by the lyrical waves, the dazzling lights playing frivolously on the sea, the gentle wind singing for the thee, the horizon dotted with vessels and among this setup of heavenly abode, me on the rocks with the sun charming the sea over my shoulders, trying to cope with the cruelties of life.

“Hello Surya, What is this that I heard about Nishant?”
“Hi! Ansh, yeah it happened last Monday, he was in a soup of a situation and then this”
“Hey but what is the situation which made him take the extreme step?”
“You know right! His ambitions were different from the rest, a few setbacks and he was depressed.”
“Surya! I don’t believe this, I know Nishant better than many and he is not one to bow down to these hurdles, there must be something else.”
“Yeah! It seems like he had many affairs. One of the girl with whom he carried on for a long time got married last year. She gave birth to a baby which was not fathered by her husband. It was proved that Nishant was the biological father. All this became too much for him to bear, which may have caused him to take this decision”
“Hey! You tell me as if, you never knew of his affairs.”
“No Ansh! You mean, you knew of this earlier”

Meanwhile there was this strong wave, and a sudden gleam among the rocks. I ventured forward to find a beautiful conch wedged between two rocks and swaying to the intermittent wave that succeeds in reaching it. For some one seeing it from far it was a beautiful conch on the rock bed. Only those who go near it may feel that it was in a delicate balance that could go against it. The conch seemed to assure that it was very comfortable and in control of its stature and only a few drops of water and the presence at least one ruler of the sky will ensure a spark among the otherwise dull morbid looking monstrous stones on the sea bed.

“I will call you later, we can chat on this when me meet”, saying this I put down the call. It was not that I was busy or I did not have anything to speak with him, it’s the revelation that even he did not know of Nishi’s (as we used to call Nishant) affairs that surprised me.
There was a monster wave that came, the conch rocked and rocked; I did not realize that another such wave will ensure it will not see another day.

My thoughts went back to the ping on YM!, from Nishi, the day before this incident that he wanted to talk to me on something important, but I asked him to wait as I was busy and later did not get back to him as I thought the issue could wait for two days when I plan to see him.

I slipped back into my memories of Nishi. He was my classmate in school. If there was one person with charisma in my class, it was Nishi. He was the center of all the activities, be it sports, studies, cultural programs, mischief and what not. He was sure he would be a famous playwright in the future. After 10th he moved to arts stream and me to sciences. Though I had some idea of where he was, and what he was doing, I did not meet him after that.

One fine day, seven years after I last met him, I was on my way from Hyderabad to Mumbai. The train was at 5pm, I was there by 4pm which was quite unusual for me, as I had this habit of reaching the station in the nick of the moment and getting into a moving train. I wondered what people do when they have to wait all alone for an hour at a station, and now I was there with the same prospect. I wished some one whom I knew would turn up to see me off. As it happens many of the times when one thinks of the devil the devil presents itself. No sooner did I wish for the presence of a sympathetic soul a hand reaches for my shoulder. I turn around and gasp in a shrill voice “Nishi!”, in the process managing to get a stare from the people on the platform.

Nishi or Nishant has changed in his physical appearance only to look more handsome. The oval face with bright black eyes adored with curvy eyebrows, straight nose ending sharply over a trimmed mustache, long hair just short of toughing the shoulders, he was a 5’7’’ in his early twenties.

He was on his way to Vizag from where we hail. Godavari the train he is to take was already on the platform and we go to his coach. In a span of half an hour we live thorough the childhood we spent together the good olden days when we were still innocent, unaware of the vagaries of life. In the short span we struck a chord which I found surprising as in such chance encounters with many of my other school mates, words were at loss to come from me. His train started and we parted our ways not before the exchange of the mail ids.

That was the rekindling of a long forgotten spirit in our friendship. The times we spent in on the Vizag beach, the long drives along the coast, and the competition on who will drive the slowest and what not. He was doing his masters in commerce and was aiming for a course in film making abroad. The determination with which he worked to achieve this was tremendous. We were in regular touch over mail and phone.

The Conch was swaying beautifully in the wedge. How it managed to get there was beyond my imagination.
Nishi had a way with girls, I am sure there was no girl who knew him and was not charmed by him, a born Casanova he was never careful with them. I doubt if he himself had any count of his innumerable affairs many of which were quite intimate. I never approved this and often warned him to take care.

Not surprisingly, he had a few problems with the girls and their families, but was always handled them with an aplomb which defies my imagination. The issue which Surya mentioned to was one which surfaced some time back, at that time I had a long chat with Nishi on this. For the first time since I knew I saw him concerned, after a long chat it was apparent to me that he was sick of his ways and was moving in with a singular focus on his career.

Since then I got busy with my own work, working day in and day out without much thought for my family or close friends. Work was the only thing that would strike a chord in my mind. Nishi also was busy with his admission procedures and stuff. Some time passed by before I called him, when I knew that he could not manage an admission this session. He did not seem to mind the failure, was his cheerful self and confident that he would make it in the next session. “Don't worry ra, I will make it for the next session” was what he said last.

The sun was crimson red; the light through the water drops on the Conch was playing on me, I blissfully unaware of the rising tide. A large wave rocks the Conch, and I keet staring at it.
For over a month I was again in my cave. It was time for me to go to Vizag, when on the day of my journey; he leaves me a message asking me to call. “It can wait for 24hrs, the first thing I will do is call him once I go home”, I say to myself.

“Hello! Can I speak to Nishant”
“May I know who is speaking?”
“I am his friend Ankush, is he not at home?”
“He has committed suicide in the morning”
“What………!” click. I hang up.

A strong wave which has come up when I was deep in my thoughts topples me from the rock I was sitting on. Gathering myself from my fall, I look out for the Conch, so beautifully set a moment ago, and now waned into the depths of the ocean. I walk back in the direction of the resting sun. A tear trickles down my cheek, and thought trickles down my mind “May Be”.