A Birthday Celebration in Nainital

This year my birthday falls on a weekend, so we are going out of town to celebrate. My husband votes for his favorite destination, Saat Taal. I give in a little half heartedly since our last trip was also to Saat Taal. Then while browsing for accommodation online, I notice that the KMVN guesthouse at Snow View, Nainital has a room available. Without much hesitation, I immediately make the booking.

How We Get There

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Nainital is about 300 Kms from Delhi. We pile up in a Qualis around midnight on Friday and reach Nainital around 7:00 in the morning. Snow View is on the top of a hill overlooking the Naini Lake. Although the motor road goes all the way up to Snow View Heritage rest house, we decide to go via the Ropeway or Cable Car as my sister is not feeling too great after the hour long drive on the twisty curvy hill roads. The Ropeway starts around 8:00. To pass the waiting time, we have coffee and oily burgers at one of the all-in-one stalls near the football ground. Before we know it, it’s after 8:00 so we move to the point where the Ropeway starts. Since we are staying at the rest house , the Ropeway ride is complementary for us.

Where We Stay

On the Window Ledge at Snow View

Snow View Heritage, situated at a height of 2270 meters, is a four-room Raj bungalow. The rooms are large and spacious with attached dining and dressing area. The interiors are done almost entirely in wood. Our room has broad, comfortable window ledges where you can relax with a book while enjoying the view. There is even a beautiful fireplace. We get two extra beds put in to accommodate my sister’s family, who had joined us at the last minute. But so large is the room that it still doesn’t get cramped. The food is good and priced reasonably. On the right of the guesthouse are small eating joints, selling a variety of food ranging from fresh fruit juice to greasy chowmien. There are also the mandatory curio and get-photographed-in-ethnic-dress shops, which mark all North Indian tourist locations. On the left of guesthouse is a mini adventure park. complete with “Free Fall,” go-karting, and crazy cars.

What We Do

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We have only one day and one night with us so we try to make the most of it. After a quick breakfast at one of the stalls, punctuated by the kids demanding money to try out various games, we move to the adventure park. The games are primarily meant for kids aged 6 to 12. As both the kids are in this age group, they have a wonderful time driving crazy cars, riding bikes that go round and round, and shooting balloons with a rifle. After they have spent enough “10 Rs” notes, we move down the road to a small temple. Near the temple are a few “View Points” from where you get a glimpse of the Northern Himalayan ranges. Binoculars are provided for just Rs 5. On a clear day, you can see Nanda Devi, the second highest mountain in India. Further down the road lie the ruins of a large house, supposedly existing since the time of British Raj. The villagers now use the cracked and crumbling walls to dry cow dung cakes.

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From the plot of land in front of the ruins, we get a breathtaking view of the complete Naini lake. We come here several times during the day. At one point, we count around 100 boats lazily drifting along the length of the lake. This point is quite peaceful as few tourists coming in the cable car venture here. Only the villagers and the few people staying in the guesthouse usually come here. The road continues to other viewpoints and then later moves on to Kilbury. We meet an old British couple, nearly in their 70s, planning to walk to Dorothy’s Seat and then down to the lake. Their energy leaves us slightly envious and embarrassed. We return to the guesthouse for a little rest and recuperation. In the evening, we again go for short walks. By now, the cable car has stopped, the crowds have departed, and there is complete peace.

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Late at night, amid a few drinks, I cut my birthday cake, which my husband has miraculously arranged for from a bakery on the Mall road. After dinner, we go for a last walk. One of the stall owners has stayed back to serve us ice creams (again a proof of my husband’s persuasive powers). At this is time, the wind is chilly and I devour my chocolate ice cream with chattering teeth.

After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we are ready to go back. However, we must have a two hour gap between breakfast and the nauseous downhill drive till Kaladoongi. We elect to spend this time shopping at the Tibetan Market on the Nainital grounds, which offers great imported cosmetics at very reasonable prices. So, we pack our backs, say our goodbyes and head for the ropeway for the final ride.

Speech 5: My Body Lies

I am going to speak today on the CC5 Project, “Your Body Speaks!” Your body language reveals a lot about you and your state of mind, at any given point in time. Now, there is around a six-month gap between my last speech and this one. I think my reason for delaying this speech will become clear from the title of my speech — My Body Lies! Or rather, my body exaggerates every emotion that I’m feeling.

For example – my guilt threshold is very low. I feel guilty about the most trivial issues. I’ll be late to office by 15 mins and I’ll try to slink in unobserved through some back door. And this when I come in by the office cab. There’s no one watching me. My manager sits in the US, in a different time zone altogether. I’ve no reason for feeling guilty. But my body thinks differently.

It takes all that guilt, amplifies it, and broadcasts it through my face and body. Especially when some sort of an authority figure is around. Delhi policemen for instance. If I’m anywhere near a policeman, my body automatically goes into ‘Guilt Mode.’ I get all flustered and shifty-eyed. If a policeman so much as steps towards me, I take a step backwards, trying to shrink myself, and disappear. My instinct is to run far, far away. Again, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a hangover from a past life when I was a thief or smuggler. This time round, I’m leading a fairly blameless life. My encounters with the police have been restricted to passport verification checks, airport security checks, and one red light jump. But each time a policeman sees me exhibiting all these classic signals, like nervousness, avoiding eye contact, trying to blend in but failing, basically everything they have been told to watch out for in their handbook, they naturally assume the worse and question me more than necessary. Then the next time I come across a policeman, because of my previous ordeal, I become more wary, look even more guilt. It’s sort of a vicious cycle.

I’ve noticed that this problem of disproportionate or incorrect body signals is not just restricted to me. My husband another manifestation of the same problem. He sweats..he sweats excessively. Even while doing the simplest of tasks like eating, he sweats profusely. A minute into his meal, you can see beads of sweat forming at the top of his head. He’s balding so it’s all the more easier to see. Three, four minutes later, you can see rivulets of sweat flowing down his sides. This when he’s having a simple, non-spicy meal. So imagine what happens when he’s been walking briskly for five to ten minutes. Now this sweating is a physiological condition, but excessive sweating is also considered an indicator of extreme stress, such as that faced by a suicide bomber. Once he walked for over a kilometre to the metro station. The security guard placidly sitting there with one eye on the baggage scan machine and the other on the walk-through detector took one look at him passing through and waved him to a corner. He probed him twice with a handheld metal detector, frisked him to be doubly sure, then asked point-blank, “Why are you sweating so much?”

“I’ve been walking,” he said feebly.

“It’s a pleasant day,” retorted the guard and repeated, “Why are you sweating?”

My husband explained that he can’t control it and that’s how it is. Eventually, the guard let him go, though not without adding “Get yourself checked!” as a parting shot.

So here’s I am on one hand with my excessive guilt complex and my husband on the other with his excessive sweating problem. Imagine what happens when we are together. We probably come across as a terrorist couple. I had some interesting anecdotes related to that, but due to time restriction, I’ll not share them right now.

In any case, my point is that body signals are sometimes disproportionate to intent and there might be interesting fallouts if they are misinterpreted. Once I was interviewing a guy who seemed to have taken body language advice too seriously. He kept looking directly into my eyes for the whole duration of the interview, wouldn’t even blink. It wasn’t an uncomfortable kind of stare, more like his mom or trainer had asked him to be sure to make eye contact. I discussed it with my coworker, who had also interviewed him, and she felt the same that he simply had no idea that making eye contact is all good but you don’t need to go on and on. Since the candidate was otherwise suitable for the position, we hired him. He probably never learned that he was this close to getting rejected. Because of ill-tuned body signals. That’s one of my interpretations. The other is that maybe, maybe, he actually hypnotized us into hiring him.

But jokes apart, I would really like to know if any of you had similar experiences where a person’s body signals were not in tune with what you thought was their intent. So, do share your experiences with me.

Thanks!

Speech 4: Sibling Influence

Do you have an elder brother or sister?

If you do, you probably have an idea about the power they hold over you. A sibling shapes how we see the world and behave in it. Especially in early childhood. My sister, Lata, is three years older than me and she made those three years count. She was the Big Sis, the wiser one, who would always know more than me.

When I was about six or seven years old, my sister walked up to me and said, “Do you know how the earth was created?” I was in class II at the time, studying in a Christian school, brought up on hymns and stories from the Bible.

“God made Adam, and then he made Eve…..,” I started.

“That’s all just stories for kids,” she laughed at me. “The world was really created with a Biiiiig Bang.” And then she went on to tell me all about the Big Bang Theory that she had learned at school that day. She was so convincing, I stopped believing in God by the end of the day. When my mother lit the lamp in the mini-temple in our house that evening, I folded my hands and pretended to pray, but I tuned out and thought of other things. I assumed that my sister by my side was doing the same. We never got around to discussing God again, but I started developing my own thoughts based on what my sister had told me. I soon had no place in my heart for religion or caste, because these things don’t mean anything once you accept that there is no God. I remained an atheist for the next 20 years or so.

So imagine my surprise, when I read an article that my sister had written which revealed that she was a staunch believer in God. Apparently, the Big Bang Theory had captured her imagination just for a few days. After happily demolishing the foundations of my world, she had moved on, forgetting to update me about the change in her beliefs.

Throughout my childhood, there were many other instances when my sister showered me with the advanced knowledge she possessed, whether I wanted it or not. Once, when I was probably in 9th, she chanced upon me studying Rutherford and Bohr’s model of atom.

“It’s all wrong, that’s not how atoms are structured at all!” She went on to explain the the more accurate, but more complex, valence shell atom that she was studying in class 12th. Though it took out all the thrill of learning about the atom, this did teach me one thing…..that in Science, there is never a last word. There will always be a bigger, better theory around the corner.

After 12th, when I wasn’t sure which stream to choose for graduation, she told me to take Economics. It wasn’t as popular as it is these days, but it was an upcoming field. I followed her advise because I couldn’t think of anything better. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed Economics and did well at it too.

Similarly, when I was looking for a job after graduation, it was my sister who pointed out the ad for instructional designers at NIIT. I had no idea what it meant, neither did she. But the ad indicated, that it required good reading and comprehension skills, which she knew were my strong points.

All these examples are the known, probably expected ways, in which siblings influence each other. But there are also some inexplicable instances. A few years back, while I was visiting my sister, my niece saw my watch and exclaimed, “That’s mummy’s”. As it turned out, both my sister and I had purchased identical watches from different stores in the space of a month, though we had had no prior discussion about watches.

Now though my sister has moved to Bangalore, we still have the power to influence each other. On my last visit, we realised we were both carrying identical wallets, which we had bot bought online. There must be thousands of wallets listed on Amazon, but we both liked, selected, and ordered the same one.

If you think that’s uncanny, consider this. Every time I upload my pics on Facebook, it insists on tagging me with my sister’s name, Lata Sony. We don’t even resemble each other that much.

What’s funnier, our spouses have started resembling each other. People on both sides of my family have commented that they look like brothers. This despite the fact that one is a Pahari and the other, a Malayalee.

When you go back, think about the various known and unknown ways in which your siblings have influenced your life. Because, our siblings are the ones with whom we not only share a past but also our futures. If you think of your life as a 3-hr Bollywood movie, your spouse and kids come along 1 hour into the move, and parents typically leave 45 minutes before the end. It is only our siblings who are our supporting cast from beginning to end.

Speech 3: Finding Your Calm

Keep Calm!

You must have heard of this brand. We all got Keep Calm T-shirts a few years back for our 25th anniversary. Do you know its history? “Keep Calm and Carry On” was a motivational poster designed by British Government just before World War II. The poster wasn’t publicized at that time, but around the year 2000, it was rediscovered and has since become quite popular. But even before “Keep Calm” became a brand, people would advise anyone who was getting angry or anxious to keep their calm. Now to be able to keep your calm, you need to find it. How do you find your inner calm?

To answer that, I would like to relate a story that I first heard in a sermon by life coach and monk, Gaur Gopal Das. It’s about a king who loved and appreciated art. One day, the king asked all the great artists in his kingdom to come up with the perfect representation of ‘peace’. A fabulous prize was announced for the best painting. Many artists tried their hands at it and submitted their paintings to the king. The king looked at all these paintings but finally chose two and put these two up for public display.

The first painting depicted a beautiful serene lake, nuzzled between snowy mountain peaks. Above it was a soothing blue sky with soft, fluffy white clouds. The clear, transparent waters of the lake perfectly mirrored the peaks and the pure blue sky. Everyone who saw this painting thought that it was a masterpiece and was certain to win the prize.

The second painting was very different. Crashing waves pounded against the foot of a rocky, bare, weather-beaten cliff. A raging waterfall tumbled down a side of the cliff. An angry sky, overcast with dark clouds. Lightening streaks here and there. “Peace?”, thought the people who saw this painting. The king asked them to look more carefully. Then they saw that a tiny bush was growing from a crevice in a rock behind the waterfall. In that bush, a little bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water and noise, sat the mother bird in her nest. In perfect peace.

Which painting do you think did the king choose for his prize?

The second one!

A small bird, aware of its surroundings, yet unruffled and at peace with itself. This, the king announced, was the best expression of true peace, which is not shaken by the turbulent events that surround it.

In real life too, you may sometimes feel overwhelmed by problems. Maybe the enhancement you are working on is not coming out the way you wanted, and you are feeling frustrated. Maybe a coworker is promoted and there is this undercurrent of resentment – why was he promoted and not me? Maybe your children are not doing as well as you want them to. Or your parents are going through health issues. Or your spouse is not very understanding. Maybe, there is a financial concern.

The first step to achieve a state of inner calm is to accept that there will always be difficulties, challenges, problems around us. When we resolve one problem, another one might raise its head. Can we wait for a magical time when everything is perfect to feel at peace? No, we must find our inner calm, our inner strength, amidst all these problems in our life.

Once you have accepted that you will have problems, don’t spend your time panicking or worrying about your problems. If you keep thinking, “Why is this happening to me?”, “What did I do to deserve this?”, only your health will go down. The problems won’t go away. Instead of worrying, check if the problems you are facing are within your control.

If they are, channelize your energy in finding solutions. Take help, if required. For instance, if it is a work problem – a bug in your software that you can’t resolve on your own — discuss it with your colleagues and you are sure to find a fix.

Then there are problems that are not entirely in your control. In that case, do what you can do and leave the rest to God or Time. For instance, if your children’s performance in school is not up to the mark, give them the support you can but also accept that they have a certain aptitude and whether you like it or not, eventually, it’s their life. If there are health issues, either your own or in your family, take the necessary diet and exercise and medication. After that, worrying about it is not going to make it any better.

Accept that there are things that you cannot change. In the sermon, Gaur Gopal Das says spirituality can help you find your inner calm when things seem beyond your control. He’s a monk, so obviously, he would say that. In my opinion, in an adverse situation, you can experience inner calm by doing whatever makes you happy. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, I sit down to an engrossing book. Now, this may seem like escapism. But I think of it this way. Option one, sit and worry. Option two, read a good book. Neither option is going to resolve the problem, but at least I would have enjoyed myself in the second case. So, hold on to the small things that bring you joy!

In short, “Don’t worry, be happy”, and you will find your calm.

To hear Gaur Gopal Das’ speech on inner peace, click here.

Speech 2: When One Is Not Enough

Birth, life, death.           Birth, life, death.                 Birth, life, death.

Does that sound monotonous? In Hinduism, this cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is considered so mundane and repetitive that it is viewed as a cycle of suffering, with the ultimate aim being to attain liberation or Moksha from this cycle. I, on the other hand, want to continue with this cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Why? Because, for me, one life is simply not enough.

In one life, I can experience only so much. At present, what am I? I am a woman; I am a technical writer; I am a daughter, wife, and mother to someone.

In this life, what more can I hope to become? A grandmother? Professionally, I can perhaps move on to be a creative writer. Or maybe, I can switch to a completely new profession like wildlife photography. But that’s about it! And yet, there’s so much more that I want to experience. I want to be an astronaut, I want to be a banker, I want to be a spy.

Then, there are so many places that I want to see. Not just see, but experience. I want to experience life in America, not just as a tourist, but as someone living there. I want to go to Mexico, Canada, Australia, Germany, South Africa….

There are so many possibilities. Clearly one life is too short to experience all that. So what do you do When One Is Not Enough?

That is when you look for an alternate interpretation of life. I found that alternate interpretation, about 15 years ago, in a book called ‘One’ by Richard Bach.  This book was based on the Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics formulated by the American physicist, Hugh Everett.

The Many-Worlds or parallel universes theory says that all possible alternate histories and futures are real. In layman’s terms, this means there is an infinite number of parallel universes, and everything that could possibly have happened in your past, but did not, has occurred in your past in some other universe or universes.

Let me take an example to explain that. When I completed my graduation, I got admission to a post-graduation course and I got a job offer as well. I tried both the post-grad classes and the job for a week each, and then I decided to stick with the job because I was tired of studying and the job seemed well-suited. I also happened to meet my future husband at this job. Now consider if I had not taken up the job and had instead continued with my post-graduation in Economics. I would not only be in a different field, with a different career, but I would also have a different husband and child. And, as per the Many-Worlds theory, that’s exactly what has happened in an alternate universe.

At one level, the parallel universes or ‘Multiverse’ theory may seem a like a really wild idea, but it is completely supported by the mathematics of quantum mechanics. If you are interested in the mathematics, you can check it up in Everett’s paper on the Many-Worlds interpretation.

I support the Many-Worlds or Multiverse theory because it ties in neatly with my desire to experience multiple lives. It basically says every possible version of you exists out there. You can perceive only this specific life-path because this version of you is in it. It is a matter of perspective. When you are walking down a road, you can just see the road ahead of you and maybe a turn or two. That doesn’t mean there are no other roads out there. If you can fly up to the Google Earth satellite, you would be able to all the intricate twists and turns that you can take.

Similarly, if there was some way by which you could step back from this specific life-path, you would be able to get a long shot view in which you can see your alternate selves living parallel lives. Currently, there is no scientifically tested way of doing that. But I have got a vivid imagination. With some effort and audio-visual aids, I can visualize my alternate selves to some extent.

Let me share an example of how I use Multiverse theory to my advantage. Last year, we had planned a trip to France and Switzerland. We were quite excited about the trip. Then just about 10 days before the trip, I slipped on a pavement and fractured my left foot and we couldn’t go on the trip. I was of course disappointed and spent some time moping about it. Then I visualized an alternate life-path in which when I slipped on the pavement, I fell onto the road and a car passed right over me. I lost my left leg completely. I started feeling a bit better about my current life-path then. Next, I watched videos on all the places that we had planned to visit in Switzerland, I looked up nearby restaurants, read up about the places. Then I visualized an alternate life-path in which I hadn’t fallen, and we were able to make the trip as scheduled. As I had already seen the videos, I was able to visualize the entire trip quite well. Maybe it didn’t give 100% of the happiness that I would have got out of the trip in this version of reality, but it gave me about 40%.

This might seem like simple wishful thinking. To some extent, it is wishful thinking, but the Many-Worlds Interpretation does give it a certain legitimacy.

Another way in which I use the Multiverse interpretation is that if I need to take a decision, it helps me visualize the alternate lives I can lead because of my choices and that can help me nudge this version of my life in the direction that I like best.

Finally, the Many-worlds interpretation can also help you feel less anxious about future events. It helps you appreciate that what you perceive as reality is just one of many possible outcomes. If you can visualize alternate outcomes, you don’t need to dread any particular outcome. For instance, I wasn’t worried how this speech will go. Because, in a parallel universe, I have already delivered this speech, and you have already liked it!

Speech 1: Leena for Dummies

The Ice Breaker Session

Competent Communicator 1

OBJECTIVES

  • To begin speaking before an audience.
  • To help you understand what areas require particular emphasis in your speaking development.
  • To introduce yourself to your fellow Club members.
  • TIME: Four to six minutes.

Welcome to Leena for Dummies!

In this session, I hope you’ll learn all you need to know about me, at least what can be conveyed in 4 mins.

I’ll start with a little background information. I was born in Kerala. When I was about 6 months old, my family shifted to Delhi. I’ve resided in Delhi NCR since then. I did my schooling from St. Thomas’s, Mandir Marg. I graduated in Economics from Sri Venkateswara. Right after college, I started my first job as an abstractor. Then for a few years I worked as an instructional designer, and finally as technical writer in Cadence. I’m married and I have a son.

Moving on to the qualities that make me “Me”. I think when God was putting me together, he packed in some powerful super strengths. Then he probably thought, hey this girl is getting too good to be true, so for every super strength, he counterbalanced with two weaknesses. Or maybe it was vice versa, he started off with the weaknesses and then threw in the strengths as compensation. Let me illustrate with an example. God gave me tremendous will power. When I set my mind on something, I can really make it happen. If it needs hard work, I can work like crazy. If it’s something that needs time, I can be quite patient while still remaining focused. Even things that are seemingly beyond my control will fall right into place to make what I want happen.

With that kind of strength, you would think I’d be going places. I should have been at least the Prime minister by now. But that’s where my weaknesses kick in. The crucial ingredients for making what you want happen are a) that you are clear what you want to happen and b) you are really passionate about it. Unfortunately, it’s very rare that both of these conditions are true for me. I can see pros and cons for each alternative and justify each one of them. This is useful when dealing with people because I can empathize enough. But not useful when taking decisions. Then if by some miracle I do decide in favour of one alternative, I feel what’s wrong with the way things are. I’m reasonably happy, why rock the boat.

Moving on to likes and dislikes, the easiest way to make me happy is to give me a book. And my pet peeve is when someone borrows a book but doesn’t bother to read it. I don’t mind if someone returns it with smudges or food stains. I don’t mind even if you enjoyed it so much you don’t return it all.

That’s me in a nutshell.

If Only

Man stabbed to death in own house by unknown assailant

I put down the newspaper and massage my forehead. The pounding in my head has subsided to a dull ache. I don’t feel any more like throwing up all over, till the last drop of liquid has been squeezed out of my body. I felt like that yesterday when the horror of it all was fresh in my mind. I had thought I would never feel normal again. But today, things have already taken on a distant tone. As if it is all happening to someone else, and I’m just a spectator. Except for the constant refrain in my head, “I could have stopped this.

Ankit – Ankit Bansal  – that is the name of the man who was stabbed. He was an executive at an Axis bank branch in a nearby sector, I’ve forgotten which, in Noida. Ankit was also my next door neighbor. He moved into flat number 428, about four years ago. He rang our bell, that of 427, and asked for some water. My wife, Anjana, asked him in for tea. I can’t say I took to him immediately. He was a little too handsome. Tall, well-muscled, crisply dressed. You know, just the kind girls fall for in college, ignoring you and making you feel completely inadequate.  But after a couple of dinners together (our house), I realized he was a decent sort. Ankit was quite enthusiastic about his work and even asked me to open an account at his branch. I think he asked everyone on our floor. Some obliged, others politely declined. I was among the latter.

Ankit was gunning for the position of branch manager and kept long hours at the bank. He was unmarried so the long hours were not a problem. On weekends and holidays, he often went to Meerut to visit his parents. Between these visits, his long hours, and my own hectic life, there was not much overlapping time. Mostly, I just met him in the corridor or in the lift. So that’s about all I know about him. And oh yes, he drove a red Swift. Though I guess that’s not very relevant.

Yesterday, I didn’t see Ankit in the morning. At least I don’t think I did. I’ve been in a sort of daze these last few days. You see, Anjana left me a week ago and is refusing to come back. She says it is because I am too busy with my work and hardly pay any attention to her. But I think she’s just using that as an excuse. I think she’s having an affair with someone. Why else is she not coming back though I said I’ll cut down on my work?  I even promised to talk to my boss to put me on less demanding projects but she’s just not budging.

Anyway, coming back to Ankit, I didn’t see him in the morning because I left earlier than usual. I went to Anjana’s parents’ house — that’s where she’s staying these days — to try and make her see reason. But she wasn’t there. Uncle said she’s gone to a friend’s house and didn’t want to see me. He was quite evasive too about the identity of this friend. I gave up and went to my office. But I was looking so unwell that my boss suggested I return home and take rest. The sleepless nights were showing and I guess the unshaven look didn’t help either. I took his advice and came home.

That’s where I was when the police came. They had to bang on my door to wake me up. I had taken a Combiflam for the pounding in my head and washed it down with half a bottle of cough syrup. Not a combination any doctor would advise but I really needed to sleep and the cough syrup was handy. I completely missed the bell, and it took me a while to register the banging on the door. I finally opened the door to face a highly excited Mrs Sharma from 425 and a stern looking cop who introduced himself as Sub-Inspector Aggarwal. After inquiring why it had taken me so long to open the door, the sub-inspector gave me a brief account of what had happened next door in 428. Mrs Sharma rounded it up with “And when you didn’t open the door despite all the banging, we thought you too….”

All the while, Sub-Inspector Aggarwal was watching me closely to gauge my reaction. But what with the drowsiness from the syrup and my earlier sleeplessness, he probably judged that I was a little slow on the uptake.

“Can I see the…the..body?”

“Sure,” said the sub-inspector, taking my ghoulish curiosity in his stride. He escorted me to 428. A constable posted at the door was making sure none of the hangers-on gained entry into the flat.

“Mrs Sharma has already identified the body,” said the sub-inspector, “but I’d like you to be an additional witness.” I followed him inside. “The crime scene investigation team hasn’t finished yet,” continued the sub-inspector, “so be careful and don’t touch anything.” I didn’t hear the rest of what he was saying. Ankit’s body was sprawled over the carpet just a few steps into the drawing room. There were deep gashes on the chest and stomach. Large blood splatters glistened on the carpet. The nauseating stench of drying blood hit me just then. My stomach heaved and I threw up. I heard someone cursing. A strong arm turned me around and propelled me towards the door. The arm, I realized it was that of the sub-inspector, continued to pull me towards my own door. Mrs Sharma, who had remained outside 428, was asking what had happened. I heard the sub-inspector muttering something about potential damage to evidence.

I held on to my door for support and tried to excuse myself, “I did try to stop.  It’s probably because I haven’t eaten anything since morning.” Mrs Sharma tut-tutted.

I trudged into my house, followed closely by both Mrs Sharma, out of concern, and Sub-Inspector Aggarwal, out of disgust. As I stepped into the washroom adjoining my drawing room, I could hear Mrs Sharma bring the sub-inspector up-to-date about the recent incidents in my life in what was by her standards, a hushed tone. I splashed cold water on my face and cleaned myself up a bit. I stepped back into the drawing room and apologized to the sub-inspector. “It’s all right, Mr Arora,” said the sub-inspector in a markedly different tone from the one he had employed a few minutes before, “You should rest now. I’ll come back later for questioning.” He went away with Mrs Sharma.

About two hours later, the sub-inspector was back, this time without Mrs Sharma in tow. I was feeling a little better by then and offered him tea. Sub-Inspector Aggarwal questioned me in detail about my day’s activities but I could sense that his heart was not in it. He was just following procedure. He would make sure to check with my boss, my wife’s parents, and anyone who had seen me coming in but would be satisfied when everything tallied. For some reason, my throwing up had disarmed him. I wondered if his wife had also left him.

“Tell me Mr Arora, did you see anyone when you were returning to your flat?”

“No,” I said, “There was no one in the lift with me. And as I said, I wasn’t really paying attention.” Sub-Inspector Aggarwal nodded in understanding.

“Will you be able to find out who killed Ankit?” I asked in the ensuing lull. The sub-inspector smiled, “I’m sure we will.”

“Of course! The CCTV camera on our floor!” I exclaimed. “Have you seen who it was in the CCTV footage?”

“Not exactly,” said the sub-inspector. “The cable of the CCTV camera has been cut, possibly by the killer. And the footage just before that is not so clear as it’s a low-quality camera. And then, it only covers the stairs and part of the corridor,” he complained, “It doesn’t even cover the lift.”

“Oh,” I said, “We will definitely take that up with the RWA. But you must have been able to see something?”

“We can make out a woman. She came in at 9:30 am and left just before 11 by the stairs. You probably just missed her when you were coming up in the lift. She didn’t go to any of the other houses on this floor, so she must have been visiting Mr Ankit Bansal.”

“You mean if I had come back a few minutes earlier, I would have been face to face with the killer?”

“We can’t be sure she’s the killer. She definitely didn’t act suspiciously in any way. We are trying to find out who she was. If only the guards at the main gate of the society had made a note of each entry as they are supposed to, we would have solved this case by now.” The sub-inspector sighed in exasperation.

At this point, there was a commotion in the corridor and the sub-inspector left to investigate. I left my door open so that I could keep abreast of what was happening. I noticed that the doors of several other flats were open too. After a few minutes, I figured out that Ankit’s parents had arrived.

I wondered if I should go out and meet them, but decided against it. I didn’t know them. And what can you really say to someone whose son has just been murdered?

Another hour or so passed before I saw the sub-inspector leaving for the day. Ankit’s flat had been locked, his body had been sent for postmortem, and his parents had left. They were probably staying with some other relatives.

I called out to the sub-inspector as he was waiting for the lift and asked if there were any further developments. The sub-inspector shook his head.

“What about the woman? Were you able to trace her?” I asked.

“Oh, that was just Mr Ankit Bansal’s sister, Radha. Her parents identified her from the footage. We have already called and spoken to her. We need to investigate further but most probably that is a dead end.” The sub-inspector stepped into the lift and the lift door closed.

I remained frozen on my doorstep for a long, long time. It was Radha, Ankit’s sister. Not Anjana. Not Anjana.

I had lied to the sub-inspector. I had seen the woman going down the stairs. The lift door had opened just as she had started going down the stairs. Simultaneously, the door of Ankit’s flat had clicked shut. I’d caught a glimpse of her and thought it was Anjana. I was convinced it was Anjana. She was wearing that yellow silk suit that I’d bought her a few months back on our anniversary. She’d been saving it for a special occasion. Was meeting Ankit a special occasion?

I turned it over in my mind as I unlocked my door. I thought of the warm smiles that had passed between Anjana and Ankit every time we had met. Hadn’t Anjana always been a bit too enthusiastic about asking him over for tea or dinner? I stepped in and paused in the act of removing my motorcycle gloves. She had probably fallen for Ankit the first time he had come over. She must have been two-timing me all these years and I hadn’t suspected anything. Something came over me. I was filled with hatred for Ankit, his charming, lying face, his sculpted body. I wanted to obliterate him. I grabbed the sharpest knife from the kitchen drawer and walked out of my door. I pressed myself to the wall, sidled up sideways to the CCTV camera, and cut off its cable. I then walked to Ankit’s door and pressed the door bell, a smile pasted on my face and the knife clutched tightly inside the right-hand pocket of my leather jacket.

Ankit opened the door, the same deceiving smile on his face. “What a surprise to see you at this time of the day, bhaiyya, do come in.” I stepped in. He closed the door and turned. “Is everything alright?” he asked as I remained silent. I took a few more steps in. He followed, “I heard about Anjana.”

Anjana, not Anjana bhabhi, I noted. The time for games, it seemed, was over. I turned around, “You lying scum!” I plunged my knife straight into his chest. He had no time to react. Indeed, I didn’t give him time to react, as I pulled out the knife and plunged it into his stomach. Blood was spurting out of his wounds. As I pulled out my knife for the second time, he swayed and then fell backwards on the carpet. He lay there motionless. I stood watching over him for a moment or two, waiting for my rage to subside and my breathing to return to normal. His blood had splashed onto my jacket, but luckily not on anything else I was wearing. I carefully sidestepped the puddles of blood that had started to form around his body and walked out closing the door after me.

I returned to my flat, carefully washed the knife and returned it to the kitchen drawer. I wiped off the blood from my leather jacket and gloves with a damp tissue and put them out to dry. I flushed the soaked tissues down the toilet. Then, I took a Combiflam and followed it with half a bottle of cough syrup and lay down on my bed. When the police came, there was no need to pretend. I was genuinely sleepy and exhausted.

Yes, the horror of yesterday has receded. Even Anjana’s going away doesn’t seem so important any more. Nothing really matters, except this guilt that is refusing to fade away. If only I had not come in just then. If I had been just two minutes earlier, I would have seen the woman’s face and would not have mistaken her for Anjana. I wouldn’t have flown into a searing, jealous rage and killed Ankit. Those two minutes might have made all the difference.

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bhaiya – Brother (Hindi)

bhabhi – Brother’s wife (Hindi)