Roy was feeling drowsy. Last night he couldn’t sleep well. The unanswered questions haunted him in his sleep and perturbed his peace of mind. Knowing full well that ACP Gupta was not going to help him in any way, as the case was officially closed, he contacted Mrs Singhania in the morning to fix an appointment. The bereaved lady listened calmly and said that she was free that evening and if Roy could come over to Kasauli, there was no problem from her side.
So, Roy was now on his way to Kasauli, located about 185 kilometers from Dehradun. He hired a car as he wanted to think about the sequence of events and didn’t want to concentrate on driving. The journey would take hardly 4 hours with mild traffic with enough time for contemplation. But now his eyelids were acting on their own will and he was finding it hard to keep them open.
“Saab, chai lijiye” , Roy squinted and came out of his torpor. Oh! chai…I needed it much. After finishing the sweet syrup the locals lovingly called ‘chai’ , he looked at his watch, 1.45 pm, still about two hours to reach Kasauli. “Hurry up Ravinder, I need to reach there well before 5.30”. “Don’t worry Saab, we’ve much time”, smiled the jovial chap as he started the car stereo.
Roy had been to Kasauli a few times before and even an insouciant person like him, was mesmerized by the gorgeous beauty of this small hill-station. The evergreen line of oaks, willows and firs, on both sides of the road, formed a delicate leafy canopy with their foliage. The picture perfect place owed much its beauty to the British who used to throng in there once upon a time. Age old Victorian mansions still stood gracefully here and there adding serenity to the divine beauty of Kasauli.
It was almost 4.00 pm when Ravinder parked the car in front of the local police-station. Sudeb Rane, the Officer-in-charge was an old friend and Roy wanted to take advantage of his hospitality to freshen himself up before the appointment.
At precisely 5.31 pm, an uniformed person, perhaps one of the housekeeping staffs, ushered Roy to the spacious and ornamented living room of the Singhania Mansion. Sitting on an exquisite Moroccan leather sofa right under the dazzling Swarovski chandelier, Roy couldn’t help but to think again of the mortal comfort and excellence that money could buy. After waiting for another couple of minutes, a maid appeared and informed that Mrs Singhania would like to meet him in her study.
A redolent bed of roses invited Roy as he passed an open verandah on his way to the study. The maid gracefully knocked at a door and asked Roy to enter the room.
Beauty is skin deep, Roy heard that cliched phrase but never could get the meaning. The lady, who was sitting on the high-backed oak chair, looked like a pristine lily in a white gown. Her skin looked luminescent, her hair, hung over her like a brown silken veil, and her eyes, looked deep and mysterious. Roy had no idea that Mrs Nishita Singhania could hardly be in her early thirties while Mr Singhania aged fifty-two! For the first time in his life, he was finding it difficult to start the conversation. The pulchritudinous lady seemed to understand his discomfort. Smiling, she said,”Good evening Officer, please take your seat, I hope you won’t mind a cup of coffee….. the wind is playing hard throughout the day.”
Mrs Singhania looked visibly puzzled, “So you want to say that someone was there that night who played very cleverly?”
“Yes, Ma’am, I don’t have any evidence, no concrete proof….but all the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle are getting stuck with the appearance of that mysterious lady. Do you have any idea who she could be? Anyone you have ever met or your husband used to know?”
“No, the vague description fails to ring any bell”.
“Mr Singhania went to Dehradun to attend some business conference, right?”
Nishita changed her sitting posture,” Yes, everybody knows that”.
“Are you sure?”
“What do you want to say? Your question reflects insolence”!
“Sorry, I was just asking”.
“Any incident you remember…anything regarding any person who could be vindictive to Mr Singhania?”
“Look officer, a vast business house like us has its regular friends and foes, but I don’t think none of them would play any such foul play”.
Roy sighed. The evening was becoming dull and gloomy even with the bodacious beauty sitting in front of him. His questions, his logic and intuitions…they failed..for the first time ever.
“A final question Ma’am”, Roy took out the handmade bookmark,”I found this in your husband’s room in the hotel, have you seen it before?”
Nishita took the bookmark in her hand,” No, never seen any such thing before.”
Roy lifted himself up from the chair.
“Thank you very much for your time Mrs Singhania, I’m very obliged that you managed to…………” he stopped halfway, his gaze fixed on a book kept on a table at the far end of the room. BOOKMARKS !!! A bunch of them! Almost like the one he was holding in his hand….the same type of design, colour and shape. It was beyond doubt that all were made by the same person.
Nishita’s eyes quickly followed Roy’s gaze and a number of emotions played over her countenance within seconds, fear, hate and anger, the last one settled itself in her beautiful eyes too making them gleaming abnormally.
They both stood silent for some moments. Nishita spoke up first, her voice sarcastic, “But what proof do you have? You can’t frame Nishita Singhania with a bookmark!”
“I know Mrs Singhania, a perfect planning, everything was in place and officially it’s closed. But why? Why did you do that?”
For the first time, she looked vulnerable. Her décolleté gown was revealing a faint view of the deep abyss of her cleavage, wonderfully offsetting by the ups and downs of her bosom as she was breathing heavily.
As if in a trance, she started, “Anand Singhania was one of the hundreds of employees who worked in my father’s office. I fell in love with him. I was only twenty-three years old, a pampered, young, rambunctious girl. He was much older than me. My father was against this affair but finally succumbed to my decision. We got married and my nightmarish journey of life began soon after it. Dad believed Anand and handed him over all the responsibilities before his death. He started practicing his own ways compromising the reputation which my father’s brand used to hold. He had no feelings….a churlish, hedonistic person he was! He used me just as a way to enter the world of rich and famous. He never loved me, cared for me…”
Nishita was almost out of her breath. She took a sip from the glass kept on the table and started again. “You know, he used to find pleasure while making me cry…while having sex he tortured me brutally every time…..he was a bloody sadist! Not only that, he was a philanderer. You were asking me why he was there in Dehradun? He was there to enjoy with some sex-worker. He had an affinity for them. I tolerated him for 8 years. But I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to have freedom, I wanted to live my life.”
“I hired a room in the same hotel. One of my father’s former employees prepared some fake identity proofs for me and I wore make-up and a white wig accordingly. The disguise was that of an old woman. Singhania was a patient of high blood pressure. He had to take medicines regularly for that. I replaced his hypertension tablets with sleeping pills before he started for Dehradun. The bottle remained same, but the content changed which meant he was without his medicine for two days. I consorted with a local sex worker and she planted herself at Singhania’s suite on that night. But she was not registered as his visitor as she first came in my room and then went to his. She made him take some aphrodisiac too and the effect was great. No medicine for his hypertension for two days and those aphrodisiacs!” Nishita was laughing insanely.
“I would be ever grateful to that woman. She also mixed a couple of sleeping pills in his drink and was there to make sure that he was fast asleep. After she left, I entered the room, opened the bedside window to let the chilly Himalayan winds in. Well, God sometimes did help miserable souls like me. Singhania was also a patient of asthma. The extreme wind did its work, I was right there watching him when he got his asthma attack. He was panting for breath….I was enjoying the sight…really. I waited in the other room reading a book until he got his comeuppance. The heart attack occurred around 4.30 am. I made sure that he was dead as a stone, replaced the bottle of sleeping pills with his regular medicine and left the room.” She paused, “But I missed that bookmark.”
“I make these bookmarks myself for my books. I love my library. Books are my only friends.” There was no hint of repentance in her voice.
Myriad emotions were filling Roy’s mind. A young girl, her dreams, her family…all were gone.
“The case is closed Mrs Singhania, from my side too. I got my answers. Wish you a new life ahead.”
He could hear faint sobs as he closed the door behind him.