The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 6]

 


Chapter 6


We went down the steps to the main entrance of Himadri. Seeing us emerge from the hostel, the watchman jumped up from his chair looking stupefied.

‘Stop. Who are you?’ he said.

‘Watchman sahib,’ I said, ‘we want to talk to you.’

‘What are you doing inside the girls’ hostel?’ he said.

‘Listen to us, watchman sahib,’ I said, ‘someone has died.’

‘What?’ he said, his mouth open.

   Before I could say more, I heard police sirens. The Hauz Khas police was more efficient than I had expected. A Delhi Police Maruti Gypsy entered the hostel compound. An IIT Delhi security patrol car followed it. Three cops stepped out of the Gypsy. One of them wore a police cap and his uniform had epaulettes. Seemingly the senior-most in the group, he walked up to us. I read his name tag: Vikas Rana. Two constables and four IIT Delhi security officers walked behind him. The watchman almost collapsed.

‘Who is Keshav Rajpurohit?’ Inspector Rana said in a rough baritone.

‘I am Keshav, sir,’ I said, extending a hand. He ignored it.

‘You called us?’

‘Yes, sir,’ I said. ‘I found my friend, Zara Lone, dead. Room number 105.’

The security officers looked at me, shocked.

‘Who are you?’ one of the security officers said. ‘A student?’

‘Ex-student,’ I said. ‘2013 batch. Kumaon hostel.’

‘2013?’ said the same security officer. ‘What are you doing here now?’

‘I came to visit her,’ I said and added, ‘It’s her birthday.’

‘But how can you come into the girls’ hostel?’ His voice got louder.

‘Can we not waste time and examine the body, please?’ Inspector Rana said.

A constable used a handkerchief to open the door of Zara’s room.

‘Careful,’ Inspector Rana said, ‘there could be fingerprints.’

   Saurabh and I looked at each other. The only fingerprints they might find on the door handle would be ours.

   The police entered the room. Zara, or Zara’s body, lay there, quilt removed and the room lights on.

‘Don’t touch anything,’ Inspector Rana warned.

  We already have, inspector, I wanted to say. One of the constables took pictures of the body, on his phone. He said something about the official photographer not being available at such an odd hour.

Inspector Rana walked up to the bed. He examined Zara’s neck.

‘Not a suicide. Someone strangled her.’

   A gust of cold air from the open door accompanied his words. Everyone fell silent until one of the security officers spoke again.

‘How did this happen, Laxman?’ he said, addressing the watchman.

Watchman Laxman folded his hands.

‘No idea, sahib.’

‘Did you see anyone come in?’ the security officer barked at him.

‘Nobody. I was on duty throughout.’

   ‘Did you sleep off or leave your post?’ the security patrol officer shouted, to reclaim his authority and show the police he meant business too.

  Watchman Laxman shook his head. His body seemed to shrink, and not because of the cold.

  ‘Tell me, honestly. You know I can check CCTV footage of the entrance,’ the patrol officer said.

  The patrol officer had to deflect blame too. For, despite all his patrolling and supervision, someone had come in and murdered a student.

‘No, sahib, I was on duty. Awake,’ Laxman said.

  ‘So how did two-two men get inside the hostel then?’ the security officer said, pointing at Saurabh and me. Laxman had nothing to say. The patrol officer slapped him. I guess he had to display his toughness to the police.

‘Stop it,’ Inspector Rana said. ‘Don’t do our job.’

  ‘Sorry, sir,’ the patrol officer said. He looked ashamed at being shouted at in front of his juniors. Perhaps he had wanted to be an investigating officer in the police too. People want to grow up and become cops. Nobody dreams about guarding an engineering college full of nerds.

‘You couldn’t prevent the crime, now at least let us investigate it,’

Inspector Rana said.

The patrol officer hung his head low.

‘Sorry, sir.’

   Inspector Rana ignored him. He walked around the room, saw Zara’s phone. He disconnected the charger and lifted the handset with a handkerchief. He passed it to a constable who put it in a plastic bag. He checked the documents on her desk. He couldn’t make any sense of the quant equations related to big data model simulation, Zara’s PhD topic. He dropped the papers back on the desk and walked up to the window. It was bolted shut.

‘The window is closed, the murderer entered from the door,’ he said.

Despite not wanting to get into trouble, I had to speak up.

‘Sir, the window was open,’ I said. ‘That is how Saurabh and I came in.

We closed it when we went down to inform the watchman.’

The inspector turned towards me.

‘Who are you really? And this fat guy? How and why are you here?’

‘Sir, I can explain everything,’ I said.

Over the next few minutes, I told everyone how Saurabh and I had ended up here.

‘And so I asked Saurabh to come up. And we decided to call the police,’

I finished my story.

  I looked at everyone’s faces. No one appeared convinced. The patrol officer seemed most offended, less at the murder, more at my audacity.

‘You climbed into the IIT girls’ hostel? An outsider? Who do you think you are?’

‘Sorry, sir,’ I said, ‘it was a mistake. But…’

   Inspector Rana walked up real close to me, eyes inches from mine. After staring at me for what seemed liked an eternity, he turned to Saurabh.

‘Is your friend telling the truth?’

Saurabh spoke like Ranbir Kapoor in the film Jagga Jasoos.

‘Ye … ye … yes, sir.’

‘So why is your voice shaking?’ Inspector Rana said.

‘Ju … ju … just like that, sir.’

   ‘Are you sure you guys didn’t kill her?’ Rana said. I felt the ground beneath me shift a little. Were we suspects?

‘No, sir,’ I blurted out, ‘I swear on my mother.’

The inspector’s eyes bored into mine.

‘Maadarchod, every murderer will swear on his mother if it helps him get away.’

‘No, sir, but…’ I said, shocked by his language.

‘Shut up,’ he said. He turned to the constable. ‘Bring them to the police station.’

‘Sir, you—’ But Inspector Rana interrupted me.

‘Take the watchman’s statement too. Get the entrance CCTV footage.

Anyone informed her parents?’

‘I did, sir. Her father is coming,’ I said.

Saurabh tugged at my hand, suggesting I keep my mouth shut.

   One of the constables marked the area and took more pictures while Saurabh and I stood silently in a corner. The patrol officer stepped out to call the IIT director as the cops rummaged around her room.

   ‘What’s happening here? Where’s Zara?’ Safdar Lone’s voice startled everyone in the room.

   Police stations in India are a good way to time travel. If you want to see Indian life in the Seventies, with no computers and tons of brown paper files, a police station is a good place to visit. Of course, the Hauz Khas station had a bit of modernity too. They had two computers, both with fat CRT monitors.

  They ran on Windows software from the Nineties. At nine in the morning, the station was jam-packed with people, as if the police were distributing free 10

  GB data cards. Lack of sleep and last night’s alcohol had already given me a headache. The cacophony in the station made the pain worse.

  Saurabh and I sat separately, as we had been told. They didn’t want us to talk and concoct a fake story. As if we couldn’t WhatsApp each other from across the room, if we wanted to do that.

  I waited for several hours. Inspector Rana finally called me into his office, a ramshackle room in which the desk and two chairs barely fit.

I sat down in front of him and yawned. He continued to read a file, one

eye still on me.

‘Sleepy?

‘A little,’ I said.

‘Go wash your face.’

‘It’s fine.’

He threw me a stern glance.

  ‘Do as I say,’ he said. I complied. I splashed filthy water from a filthy tap in a filthy bathroom on my face. I returned to his office and sat down again, my eyes open extra wide.

  ‘I had to make you wait outside. The other option was lockup. I am sure you didn’t want to spend the night there.’

  I imagined myself behind bars, and my parents finding out. They would yell at me more than any cop would. No, not that option.

‘No, sir. Outside is fine.’

‘Though behind bars is where you belong, if you actually killed her.’

‘I did not, sir. Honest.’

‘I need more than that to be sure.’

  ‘I love her, sir. More than you’ll ever know. Zara is … was … my world. Why would I kill her?’

‘Because you couldn’t get her?’

‘No, sir, I did. She messaged me herself.’

I passed my phone to him. He read my last WhatsApp chat with Zara.

  ‘Ask anyone in my batch. They will tell you what it would mean to me if Zara herself wanted to get back with me,’ I said.

The inspector scrolled through the chat a few times. I continued to talk.

‘I called the police, sir. I called her father. I even tried to call her boyfriend.’

‘Wait. Boyfriend?’ he interrupted me.

‘Yes, Raghu. He didn’t pick up. It was late. He lives in Hyderabad.’

‘Give me his number.’

‘It’s on my phone, Raghu Venkatesh.’

The inspector noted down Raghu’s contact details. A constable came to his door.

‘The father took Zara Lone’s body home,’ the constable said.

‘What the hell! How so soon?’ Inspector Rana looked put off.

‘Father is a big shot. Maybe used his connections,’ the constable said.

‘Where do her parents live?’

‘Westend Greens. Near the Shiv statue on the Delhi border,’ the constable said.

‘Rich girl,’ the inspector scoffed. ‘Speak to them about a post-mortem, please.’

  ‘I checked. Father declined. Too disturbed,’ the constable said. ‘Sir, you know these Muslim people. Their religion doesn’t permit cutting up dead bodies. We put too much pressure, there will only be more drama.’

‘How will we solve the case if they don’t let us do an autopsy?’

Inspector Rana screamed.

The other man didn’t answer. He took that as a cue to leave.

Rana turned to me after the constable had left the room.

‘You loved her. Why are you not sad?’ Rana said.

  ‘I don’t know, sir,’ I said. ‘I know she is gone but I cannot believe it, cannot accept it. It is like I will wake up soon and…’

‘It has happened. Zara Lone is dead. And you may have killed her.

Found on the crime scene. Smelling of alcohol.’

‘No, sir, it’s not like that.’

  ‘Former lover unable to get over her. She called you. You forced yourself on her. She declined. You couldn’t take it.’

  ‘I didn’t,’ I roared. Then in a more sober voice, ‘I mean. I didn’t. I just went to wish her happy birthday.’

  The stress finally made me cave in. Tears spilled from my eyes. I began to cry. Zara had died. I would never see her again. I wouldn’t hear her voice.

  I couldn’t message her or see her status, scraps I had lived on for the last few years. Worse, the police thought I had killed her. They could make me spend the rest of my already miserable life in jail. I folded my hands.

‘I haven’t done it, Rana sir. I could never do it.’

‘So who did it? And stop crying. What a baby.’

‘I don’t know.’ I composed myself.

The inspector picked up the intercom. Another constable came in.

‘Any luck with the girl’s phone?’

‘It’s a locked iPhone, sir. We don’t know the passcode.’

‘It has touch ID, right? The thumb one?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘So use the dead girl’s hand to open it.’

  The constable scratched his head. ‘When the phone is switched on the first time,  you have to enter the numeric passcode, sir.’

‘Did some idiot in the station switch the phone off?’

  ‘No, no, sir. It seems like the phone was switched off, kept for charging, and switched back on.’

‘So we can’t unlock the phone?’

‘No, sir. It is a six-digit code. It will lock forever after ten failed tries.’

‘These stupid phone companies. Call the service provider. Get call logs.’

‘Already done, sir.’

‘Did anyone call the girl’s phone today? It rings, right?’

‘Two missed calls, sir. From a contact called Raghu Cutie Pie.’

  ‘I will call him right away. You check the location of Raghu Cutie Pie last night from the cell tower.’

‘Sure, sir,’ the constable said.

The inspector turned to me.

  ‘Wait outside, Keshav,’ he said. ‘I can hold off on an FIR for a while, but you can’t leave the station.’

‘I won’t, sir, I promise.’

‘Sleep on the floor outside. Find a corner.’

‘I can rest on the chair. But, sir, one thing.’

‘What?’

‘You are calling Raghu. May I stay and listen to this call?’

‘Why?’

‘I don’t know. Just curious.’

‘Oh, you are a detective now?’

  ‘I found the body. I knew her. Of course, I am curious. Plus, maybe I can help you.’

  The inspector shrugged; he didn’t care. He dialled Raghu’s number and put the call on speaker.

‘Hello, good morning,’ a lady answered. Her voice had a Telugu accent.

‘Hello, is Mr Raghu Venkatesh there?’ Rana said.

‘Wait, one minute aan, doctor is inspecting him. I pass phone to him.

Who is calling, please?’

‘I am Inspector Vikas Rana this side. Who’s speaking?’

‘Nurse Janie, sir. I looking after Raghu sir here.’

‘Where?’

‘Apollo Hospital, sir. Wait aan, I give phone to him.’

  We heard her speak in Telugu to someone. After a few seconds Raghu came on the line.

‘Hello?’ Raghu said.

  ‘Hello, Mr Raghu, Inspector Vikas Rana from Hauz Khas police station speaking. Can you talk?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Have you heard the news?’

‘What news, sir?’

‘Do you know Zara Lone? A friend of yours.’

‘My fiancée, sir,’ Raghu said.

‘Oh. I am sorry, Mr Raghu. We found Zara’s body in her room. She’s no more.’

The phone went silent.

‘Mr Raghu?’ Rana said.

‘What?’ Raghu said after a few seconds.

‘Your friend, or fiancée. She was found dead in her room. We think she was murdered.’

  ‘Are you serious? Who is this? Did you send those men too?’ Raghu said, fear in his voice.

  ‘Which men? This is the police. We have her phone. You gave her two missed calls today. One at 8:14 in the morning, and the other at 8:32.’

We heard a fumbling sound as Raghu checked his phone. He spoke again.

‘I can’t … sorry, I can’t believe this.’

‘Her parents have her body. You can call them.’

  ‘Yes, I will, right now,’ Raghu said. ‘This is not … I can’t … sorry, I am unable to talk.’

‘I understand. This has been a shock to you.’

  ‘It’s Zara’s birthday today,’ he said, his breathing audible over the phone. ‘Our wedding is in two months.’

The word ‘wedding’ made my chest hurt. I looked away from the inspector.

  ‘Sorry, Mr Raghu. We can’t bring her back. But we will do our best to find out who did it.’

‘Why would anyone want to hurt Zara?’ Raghu said.

‘Do you know anyone who might?’

  ‘Some people attacked me three days ago. I thought it was a local gang extorting money.’

  ‘Really? Who? When?’ the inspector said. He took out a notebook to write it all down.

  ‘Three goons. Late at night. Right outside my office in Cyber City. They came on bikes and hit me with hockey sticks. Broke the windows of my car. I managed to scream, otherwise they would have hurt me more.’

‘Are you injured?’

‘A head wound. And a fracture in my arm.’

The inspector took down notes furiously.

‘Is that why you are in hospital?’

‘Yeah. I am in Apollo. I planned to be there for her birthday … and…’ he paused. We heard sobs on the phone. Raghu, my biggest enemy in life, was crying. Yet I didn’t feel good about it. The inspector let Raghu cry for a while before he spoke again.

  ‘I can see you are disturbed. I will hang up now but we may have to talk later. Take care.’

The inspector ended the call.

The cop who had come earlier was back.

  ‘Sir, phone records will come tomorrow. However, they confirmed Mr Raghu’s cell tower location in Hyderabad last night.’

‘Yeah, he is admitted in a hospital there,’ Rana said and turned to me.

‘Are you going to sit in my office like a jamaai all day? Go, wait outside.’

‘Of course, sir,’ I said, and stood up to leave the room.




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