-Written By Dr. Parijat De
(Reading Time: 15 min Approx)
Mr. Justice Manchandani shifted in his chair. He couldn’t believe his ears! This young, innocuous girl, still in her teens, is the accused in a murder case! The seasoned justice that he was, Mr. Manchandani told himself, ‘there must be more to it than meets the eye’. How come a girl of seventeen, as innocent as a rose, committed such a heinous crime?
Sarda was sensing it for quite sometime. She normally returned home not before 5.30 in the afternoon. After the school was over, she’d attend her tuition classes. Fully caught up with her studies and by the warren of thoughts about her career, she didn’t notice the aberration in the beginning. In fact, when it was the third time round, she smelt something foul. On all the three days, punctuated by a gap of a fortnight or three weeks, she found their flat locked on return from school. Where did her mom go? In the first instance mom said she had gone for some shopping. She didn’t carry home any bag though. On the second occasion when the same ruse of shopping was advanced, she shot back at her mother, “but, ma, you didn’t buy anything. Did you?” The reply was late and nervous. “Found nothing to my choice. Was looking for some exquisite pillow covers”. Sarda didn’t buy the excuse at all. Yet she calmed her mind and bade for her time. On the third day, the school gave over after the first half as an ex-headmistress had expired the day before. Sarda hurried home back without once thinking of her Maths tuition slotted at 4 p.m. Mom was not at home!! It was only 2 – 0’ clock. Where could she go at this noontime? Not to Swati aunt’s place for sure, as Swati aunt, a school teacher, normally returns home at three. Mom arrived at 4.30. Where had she been? In a matinee show, was the answer? When Sarda queried further of the cinema hall and the name of the movie, mom all but stammered. Fear was writ large on her face. If nothing else, the face gave away the lie!
Sarda couldn’t sleep for successive nights. What if her suspicion proved true? Oh! What a shame! She remembered her poor dad. For the family he was working in a far-off place, almost a ‘continent’ away, in Kochi. His firm, a leading multinational company, posted her father in Kochi to jack up its sale in the state of Kerala. What a successful man her father, Anirban, was! Dad said he’d return in two months time but added, from now on, he’d have to live away from home more often than not. He was tipped to be the marketing head of his company very soon and may have to tour important business centers of the country in far- flung corners. This might continue at least for 5-7 years, he commented, till he became the General Manager, Strategic Planning in the company’s head quarter in Kolkata. Sarda seethed with anger. She decided to see the end of it, and made up her mind to follow mom on the next Friday. On Fridays she had two tuition in succession – English and Chemistry. Her mom knew well that she’d not return before the evening. Yes, she must take her chance on Friday. Why, it is only day after!
Sarda narrated a well-rehearsed lie to the headmistress and obtained permission to leave the school after the first half. She reached her bus stop before two. The plan was all chalked up. She’d sit in the coffee shop opposite the crossing where the relatively narrow road that leads to their housing complex emanates from the main thoroughfare. A person or any vehicle coming out would not escape her notice. She had thought of some emergency measures too. The yellow taxi perched in the only available slot in that stretch of the road was waiting for Sarda. The driver was told that he’d be more than amply recompensed for his waiting time.
Sarda was feeling queasy. She pushed the coffee cup aside, winked at the waitress and quickly paid off the bill. After a minute or two she drank half a glass of water. But all this time her eyes remained transfixed on the road leading down to their complex.
Yes, she was coming! In a quicker pace than normal! She was talking in her mobile. Sarda could guess she was booking a rented car service. Sarda quickly came out and hid herself behind a telephone joint box on the footpath. The car reached and mom got into it hurriedly. Sarda jumped into the taxi and told the driver to follow the car, which she could see, had to screech to a halt in the signal 20 metres away. The rest was easy. When the car in front turned for the Elliot Road from Nonapukur Tram Depot, Sarda knew where her mom was heading. Oh, my God! How could she stoop so low? Tears welled up in her eyes thinking of her dear dad. Of all persons, Dad’s bosom friend, Dipak uncle! Sarda still wanted to be sure. When they entered into that well known residential complex Sarda jumped out of the taxi. The building was so familiar to her! She had come with dad at least on three previous occasions. She was circumspect of her movements and stealthily reached the lobby that housed a pair of lifts. A cursory glance at the floor number where her mom was disgorged by the lift confirmed her suspicion once and for all. She had nothing more to ensure. It was Dipak Uncle only!
Mr. Dipak Som was making tea for himself. It was 3.30 in the afternoon. The winter sun had already tilted in the west considerably. Dipak was humming a tune when he heard the doorbell ring. Who could come at this hour of the day? The maid comes only in the morning. It was not Susmita’s day to come. She comes on Wednesdays and Fridays. Anyway, Dipak left his cup in the kitchen and moved swiftly to answer the bell.
“What a pleasant surprise! Sarda, you, at this hour! The school gave over early or what? Any emergency, baby? Is mom all right? Did dad call up from Kochi?” Dipak rolled out all the sentences in a drove and took Sarda by hand. Sarda made herself free, kept her school bag on a corner table and sank into a sofa. “Nothing of that sort, uncle! I came with a friend who has shifted recently here. Just two blocks away from your building. Her father is a businessman. Previously they were in Nager Bazar, Dumdum.” “Oh! It’s okay then. I got a little unnerved by your totally unexpected appearance.” Pat come the reply from Sarda. “I thought I’d spring a surprise upon you, uncle.” Oh! That’s okay! I’m delighted that you came.” “Uncle, may I have a cup of coffee?” Sarda pleaded. “Yes, of course! Why? I totally forgot’ of the tea that I made for myself. Allow me some moments, dear. I’ll bring your coffee in a trice.”
As soon as Dipak went out of the drawing room, Sarda sprang to her feet. She hastily opened the chain of her school bag and took out the heavy, sharp chopper-type knife she bought from the Lake Market the other day on the pretext of buying it for her school canteen. She posed as if she was the Prefect of her class and was entrusted by the authority to buy that kitchen utility.
Sarda deftly hid herself on the left side of the door through which Dipak would enter from the kitchen. She held lightly the chopper in her right hand and waited for Dipak to make his entry. Now the stirring by the spoon stopped. Footsteps could be heard. Sarda took a deep, long breath and waited.
It was a child’s play for the detective department of the police. A security man on duty caught a glimpse of Sarda when she entered Dipak’s block. It was about quarter past three, he said. As per the doctor the time of murder was anywhere between 2 and 5. But police could come up with no other proof. They grilled Sarda who came up every time with the stock reply, “I pined to meet the uncle. Dad was away. I felt like spending sometime with him. Yes, I was there for about half an hour. Uncle offered me sweets and water. He was alone when I reached. I saw no one else when I left his flat. Why, he even came down to see me off. No, there was nobody around when he bade me good bye.” Sarda had meticulously cleaned the floor of any tea or coffee stain. She had collected all the broken pieces of the cup and saucer, kept them in a plastic bag and threw them in a dustbin near Jodhpur Park from where she walked down to her home. She took no risk with her dresses too. She threw them, packed neatly in a bag, in a garbage vat near her home.
The prosecution lawyer harped on the fact that Sarda was the only person spotted near the site of murder who gained entry into Mr. Som’s flat. “But what could be her motive?” Justice Manchandani queried. No plausible answer could be proffered. Some four pieces of sweet that Sarda described in court she had that afternoon were found in a box in the refrigerator too. A near empty glass of water, which Sarda claimed she drank from, and a saucer with some traces of sweet were also found on the centre table in Dipak’s drawing room. This was truly a masterstroke on Sarda’s part! She had planned all these and more beforehand, rolled them over in her mind for umpteen times and finally played her role to a T.
Absence of any motive whatsoever was the bedrock of Sarda’s acquittal, Justice Manchandani wrote in his short, 32-page verdict. He didn’t prolong the trial, gave successive dates for hearing and disposed it off in less than six months. Sarda was free, Scot-free, as free as when a eagle flies up and above after killing a prey on the ground!
Did the ends of justice meet? They didn’t. But who cares for justice at least in this poignant, heart-rending story involving an unsullied mind and an immaculate, virgin girl?