By Kali Hawa
The dinner table was full. Arriving late, Timsy had to pull from the lounge a plastic chair quite not melding with the mahogany furniture, set it at one corner of the table to make room for her. It wasn’t a very comforting arrangement breaking the aesthetics of the décor and as if this unbalance wasn’t quite enough, she knocked a glass on the table, spilling its content before settling down on the chair. A mixed look of despair, apology and eventually defiance crossed her countenance before freezing on a blank expression. Shaheen, her laconic husband didn’t say a word, offered a sympathetic glance as if the routine from Timsy was quite predictable. The commotion caused by Timsy came to an abrupt halt, replaced by stunned incredulousness. Atiputi had collapsed on the table, his torso slumped over the table, both hands dangling freely, foam spewing out of his mouth. Dr Golu immediately rose from her chair quickly reached collapsed Atiputi, after brief examination, declared nonchalantly, “No need to take him to hospital, morgue will suit him perfectly”. She had this uncanny knack for black humour. E Babu wasn’t paying attention to the commotion but scrutinizing every single face on the table very carefully. No one is above suspicion; he had internalized the idiom long back in his investigative career.
E Babu was guest of Caulla family gathering called to read key features of the will of the grand patriarch of Caulla clan, K D Saheb. K D Saheb had amassed a fortune in Bareilly contracting in logging the forest around the mofussil town when going green wasn’t a fad with the hoi polloi or the cognoscenti. Caulla cottage was built in the busy Rajendranagar area over plenty of land but with passage of time, area became cluttered with large and small shops mushrooming all around it. Now the Cottage alone has some open space, rest of the area, a busy but claustrophobic market place. K D’s will had some intriguing features, chief being division of estate and property to be done exactly fifteen years after his demise until then Sir Prabhakar was the sole executer of estate without any right to sell or make capital expenditure. How the division was to be done was described in a sealed envelop lying in safe custody of their attorney. Inexplicably the will earmarked an undisclosed sum for his rebellious nephew Shashi Vader even though K D never liked him while he lived. Strangely, where Shashi Vader was, nobody knew. The quantum of sum earmarked thus was also locked in an envelop lying with their lawyers had no such lock in period. Vader could have come and collected it any time he wanted. Why is Vader not coming to collect the booty, is the question that intrigued everyone in the room. E Babu had a theory; Vader was a prisoner of one of the vicious members of this household. Most of them looked brash, self centred and willing to take risk.
The only constant at Caulla lodge was a permanent guest; CP, husband of Sir Prabhakar's sister. CP was the unscrupulous machiavellian on whom Sir Prabhakar leaned heavily for advice, as a result, the estate was doing extremely badly. Sir Prabhakar had managed excellently in reducing the value of estate by three quarters in just the fifteen years and in the process made several enemies who had stake in K D’s estate. Dr Bhaskar who lived in Bareilly but not in Caulla lodge kept himself aloof from the goings on in Caulla home. He was soft spoken, not easily prone to excitement, mostly wore a blank expression but on rare occasions displayed uncontrollable raze. Dr Bhaskar was a renowned authority in exotic poisons. He particularly disliked CP for descending at his home for drinking binges. Dr Bhaskar valued his wine collection even though he was frugal consumer of alcohol. His very modern wife, Sarita Devi prided at being the only Caulla ‘bahu’ who could fluently speak English, was a Bareilly socialite who had absolutely no interest in Caulla intrigues. She was gullible and due to her tunnel focus, a prime candidate for easy manipulation by any of the villainous members of Caulla family. Acharyaji, Sir Prabhakar’s next in line sibling lived in Lucknow, had fine practice in fortune telling. He had warm demeanour, can easily hide emotions therefore difficult to rate his character. He also occasionally came to Bareilly, had an ambivalent relationship with Sir Prabhakar, but as already explained Acharyaji never revealed his emotions, was cast in Chanakya mould would sometimes raise issues of estate with Sir Prabhakar. The most pugnacious of the lot was Atiputi, very vocal and open in accusing Sir Prabhakar for complete mismanagement and squandering away estate wealth. His open book approach to life possibly cost him his life. E Babu thought Atiputi’s murder was a red herring, a stimuli to set in motion a predictable course of events that would benefit the killer.
To be Continues...........