The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 7]

 


Chapter 7


Click! Flash! Click! Click! The flashes, the camera clicks and the loud journalists screaming for my attention disoriented me. At noon on the day of Zara’s death, reporters from every publication and TV channel in Delhi had descended on the Hauz Khas police station. Around thirty journalists had crowded the station entrance. Through bits and pieces, they tried to figure out what had happened. Inspector Rana refused to talk to anyone. No constable would dare to speak to the media without permission either. Around noon, when I stepped out of the police station to get something to eat, reporters bombarded me.

‘Are you Keshav Rajpurohit?’ said one.

  I gave a brief nod. The reporters went into a frenzy. They jostled with each other to shove their mikes closest to my face.

‘Did you find the dead body?’ said another.

‘Did you break into the girls’ hostel?’ yet another wanted to know.

‘Are you her ex-boyfriend?’ came one more question.

Dazed, I didn’t know what to say and whom to speak to first.

‘Please, let me go,’ I said. ‘I haven’t done anything. I don’t know anything.’

I don’t know why I had to say that. It only fanned the flames further.

The questions became louder and more intrusive.

‘Are you saying you might be considered a suspect?’

‘No,’ I said, ‘nothing like that. When did I say that?’

  ‘Were you still having physical relations with Zara Lone?’ said one reporter, who was wearing thick-lensed glasses. I wanted to sock his spectacled face. I had to control myself. If I hit a journalist in a police station it wouldn’t help my case. I gritted my teeth.

‘I need to step out, let me go,’ I said.

‘Did you murder Zara Lone, Mr Keshav Rajpurohit?’ the spectacled

reporter asked next.

  ‘No!’ I screamed. Unable to move ahead, I turned around and ran back into the police station. I could stay hungry. I just didn’t want to be eaten alive.

I went up to Saurabh, ignoring the inspector’s instructions to stay away.

  He was snoozing on a wooden bench. My brain had officially stopped functioning. It didn’t feel sorrow, fear or even tiredness. I couldn’t sleep like Saurabh. I saw a TV perched on a dusty shelf, high on the wall opposite me.

  It was running a particular news channel. After a few ads, the channel flashed the ‘Breaking News’ sign.

‘Kashmiri Muslim girl murdered in IIT Delhi hostel’.

  A reporter stood in front of the IIT gate, right next to the security checkpost where I had shown my outdated ID card.

  I could see a dozen other reporters parked outside the gate as well; the director must have denied entry to the media. Only shots of the IIT Delhi sign on the main gate were being shown.

  The volume was very low, so I walked up close to the TV to listen. One finger in his ear, the reporter spoke to the anchor, Arijit, in the studio.

  ‘Arijit, so far what we know is the victim is Zara Lone, a PhD student at IIT Delhi. She was found murdered in her room, number 105 at Himadri hostel, around three in the morning. It seems her ex-boyfriend, who is also an ex-IIT Delhi student, broke into her room to wish her on her birthday, which was today, and found her dead.’

 ‘Wait a minute,’ Anchor Arijit said, pen in hand. ‘Did you just say her ex-boyfriend broke into her room?’

  ‘Yes, Arijit. His name is Keshav Rajpurohit. He graduated around five years ago. Zara Lone and he were in a relationship then. Incidentally, Zara finished her graduation from Delhi College of Engineering and then joined IIT Delhi for a PhD programme, so she remained on campus. However, Keshav and Zara’s relationship, sources tell us, was over a while ago.’

  I was famous. I was being talked about on TV, but not like one of those IIT guys who open billion-dollar startups, become CEOs or launch political parties. My claim to fame was breaking into girls’ hostels.

  ‘But can you elaborate on breaking into the room?’ Arijit said. ‘Boys are not allowed in IIT girls’ hostels?’

‘Well, yes, IIT Delhi has a strict policy of not allowing men into girls’ rooms. So Keshav came in through the window by climbing a mango tree.

  Unfortunately, we were not allowed into the campus, so we can’t show you the mango tree.’

Of course, it was unfortunate. The country could not see the mango tree.

Or the mangoes that grew on it.

  ‘Go on.’ Arijit shook his head, so bothered by it all that his neck was coming loose.

  ‘So he climbed into the room to wish her and found her dead. Then he informed the police and her parents. That’s his version.’

‘Exactly, that is his version. Now, what are the police doing?’

  ‘I think it is too soon. But Keshav is at the Hauz Khas police station. He seems to be in a daze, or maybe even angry, we have some visuals.’

Suddenly, I was on screen, looking every inch a psycho.

  ‘No!’ I was screaming. They played my ‘no’ on loop five times, like they do in TV serials.

  ‘I must add,’ the reporter said, ‘we are hearing that Keshav Rajpurohit is from Rajasthan, and his father, Naman Rajpurohit, is a senior RSS member there. It’s a politically connected family.’

  What? Why is that a must add? I touched my earring. Why did my parents have to come into this? I checked my pockets. I couldn’t find my phone. I had left it on the chair I had been sitting on in the police station.

  Fortunately, I found it in the same place I had left it. I guess nobody would steal from a police station. I had ten missed calls from home. Four from Chandan Arora. Two from Sexy Sheela, who must have called me on behalf of Chandan. Before I could call them back, I heard my name on TV again.

  ‘So have the police arrested Keshav Rajpurohit? Or are his political connections helping him?’ Arijit said.

  What the hell, I thought. Why should I be arrested? And what political connections had I used here? I didn’t want my father to ever find out about this. The reporter continued to speak.

  ‘No, Arijit, no arrests so far. Keshav is cooperating with the police or being detained, we don’t know yet. According to the police, they are looking at several angles. They will try to talk to other hostel-mates soon.’

  ‘But why haven’t they arrested the ex-boyfriend? Or anyone?’ Arijit said, incensed.

  Because I freaking didn’t do anything! Ten minutes since the story had broken on TV, and this guy wanted someone arrested. Thankfully, what the reporter said to this was even spicier than Arijit’s ex-boyfriend theory.

  ‘See, Arijit, we are also hearing, though there is no way to confirm it, that there could be a terrorism angle here. You see, Zara Lone was Kashmiri, and a Muslim.’

  Of course, being a Kashmiri Muslim is definitely a you see kind of situation. It puts you on the terrorism radar immediately. Within seconds, to my relief, Arijit had forgotten me.

  ‘A Kashmiri Muslim girl. Killed under mysterious circumstances. Is this part of a deeper conspiracy?’ Arijit questioned no one in particular.

‘We don’t know that yet, Arijit,’ the reporter said humbly.

  Arijit didn’t appreciate this kind of a non-committal answer. He leaned forward, even closer to the camera. ‘Ladies and gentleman, we have a big story here, and your channel has been the first to show it.’

That was a lie. I had seen thirty reporters at the police station itself.

Everyone had covered the story at the same time.

  ‘The big question, before we go into the break, ladies and gentleman, is this,’ Arijit said, speaking each word with deliberation, like his own life depended on this case. ‘Has terror reached India’s elite institutes?’

  An ad for Patanjali toothpaste, made from herbs used by rishis two thousand years ago, replaced the murder story. In the ad, rishis meditated peacefully, thinking of toothpaste formulations perhaps. In contrast to the anchor of the news show they sponsored, Patanjali’s toothpaste models had an immensely calm air. The ad ended with Baba Ramdev’s picture. I have never been happier to see Baba Ramdev’s grin. I just didn’t want the channel to go back to Zara.

  Of course, nobody cared about what I wanted. Within minutes, Arijit was back, this time with something he called ‘an esteemed’ panel. Six people—socialites, ex-cops, somebody who ran a think-tank on Kashmir and a retired IIT professor—occupied six little windows on the TV screen. How do news channels do this? How do they line up so many jobless people from different areas of expertise so fast?

  Arijit had his own window, double the size of the others. He opened the discussion. ‘The question is this, my esteemed panel, has extremism reached our elite shores? Could there be a terror angle here? And does this case also show that nobody is safe in Delhi?’

  ‘I don’t know about the terror part,’ the Kashmiri think-tank guy started to say before the socialite lady with a bindi the size of a ten-rupee coin out-shouted him.

  ‘Forget terror! My question is, Arijit, what is the institute security doing? What are the Delhi Police doing? Hauz Khas is a posh area. If that is not safe, what is? Is this a national capital or a crime capital?’

‘Exactly! If even the rich are not safe, what are the police doing?’ Arijit said.

  The ex-cop said something about at least giving the police a chance to investigate. The socialite lady shut him up. The ex-IIT professor never spoke a word.

  ‘Come, Rana sir has called you,’ a constable came up to me and shook me by my shoulder.

  ‘Your parents called. They are trying to reach you,’ Rana said. His voice seemed calmer than before.

  ‘Sorry, I had kept my phone away,’ I said. Anyway, I wanted to avoid them as much as possible.

‘They are on their way from Alwar. Should be here in a few hours.’

‘Damn,’ I said.

‘What?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Call your friend here as well. Let’s talk.’

I went out and woke up Saurabh. Both of us went back to Inspector Rana’s office.

‘This case is big. National news,’ Rana said.

‘I know, sir,’ I said.

‘What? How?’

‘I saw on TV. The reporters,’ I said.

‘For your own sake, stay away from the reporters.’

  ‘I didn’t speak to them, sir. They crowded around me when I went out to eat. I ran right back in.’

‘Have you eaten anything since morning?’

  Saurabh shook his head vigorously. Inspector Rana asked a peon to get us snacks. He came back with two cups of tea and aloo pakoras. The inspector ordered us to eat. I took slow bites as he spoke again.

‘Your father spoke to me. He is, what, RSS pradhan sevak in Rajasthan?’

‘One of the state pranth pracharaks.’

  ‘Yeah. He also spoke to the south Delhi MP. Hauz Khas comes in the south Delhi area.’

  I now knew the reason for Rana’s new tone, not to mention the tea and snacks. The only way to make power behave in India is, well, more power.

  ‘I won’t go easy on you because of your political contacts. If at all, I will be more strict,’ he said, as if reading my mind.

  ‘Of course, sir. But we really are innocent,’ Saurabh said, his first words since morning.

  ‘Innocence alone can set you free,’ the inspector said. ‘The case is on TV. If media says police went soft due to the accused’s connections, I am in trouble.’

Was I the accused? No, I wasn’t, right?

‘Sir? Accused?’ I said, bewildered.

  ‘I mean if you were the accused. Circumstantial evidence is there. But, luckily, we have some more information now that could help you.’

‘What?’ both Saurabh and I spoke in unison, adding belatedly, ‘sir.’

  ‘According to the campus register, you entered the campus on your Enfield bike at 3:14. It means the earliest you could be in Zara’s room is 3:20.’

‘Yes, sir. That’s when I reached. My bike is still parked on campus.’

  ‘And you called her parents at 3:38 and the police at 3:40. The police arrived at 3:52 and we saw the body at 3:54.’

  ‘Right, sir,’ I said. I didn’t understand why he was mentioning so many different timings.

‘So, let’s say you arrived at 3:20 and killed her, say, by 3:35.’

‘I didn’t, sir.’

‘Shut up and listen.’

‘Yes, sir.’

  ‘So, say, you killed her at 3:35. I saw the body at 3:54. Well, I am no post-mortem expert, but I have seen enough bodies in my life. That body didn’t look like it had died twenty minutes ago. It felt a lot more stiff and cold.’

I heaved a sigh of relief.

‘I know, sir. She was dead when I reached. Cold to touch.’

  ‘Well, an autopsy would have helped us more. Her parents didn’t allow it.’ Rana laced his fingers together.

‘Why?’ I said.

  ‘Religious reasons? Who the hell knows? They say they want to give her a proper burial. In autopsy, we do cut up the body. But we also stitch it back, but the parents won’t listen.’

Saurabh and I kept quiet. The inspector spoke again.

  ‘Anyway, I have sent a coroner. Hopefully, they allow him to do an external examination. He may have something to report.’

He opened his notes.

  ‘There’s no injury other than strangulation marks on the neck. No sexual assault or rape as far as we could make out.’

  It was amazing he could talk about dead bodies and sexual assault like we discussed trigonometry and algebra at the coaching centre. ‘We have taken statements from some of her hostel-mates. Was it a holiday on campus?’

‘Could be. A week-long mid-term break. We used to have one in February,’ I said.

  ‘Yeah, not too many people in the hostel. In her wing, only three other girls were present. The rest have gone home.’

‘Right, sir,’ Saurabh said.

  ‘There’s CCTV footage from the hostel entrance. We are going through it. We have asked for Zara’s phone records. We checked the fiancé’s cell tower location already. We even spoke to him. I haven’t slept all night.

Aren’t we doing our best?’ the inspector said. One minute I was an accused.

The next, I was expected to behave like a supportive spouse.

‘Yes, you are, sir,’ I said, ‘doing your best.’

  ‘So why are they flashing “Clueless Delhi Police” on TV?’ He pounded both his fists on the table. ‘What are we supposed to do? Go into everyone’s home every night so nothing bad ever happens? How can we prevent crime?

We can only solve it, right?’

‘Right,’ I said, mainly because that’s what I thought he wanted to hear.

‘And it takes time. There’s no app to solve a murder, is there?’

  ‘Not yet,’ Saurabh said. Damn you Saurabh, did you have to say that, I cursed inwardly. The inspector looked at Saurabh, who stared at the floor.

‘No, sir,’ I said.

  ‘They want us to arrest someone. Right now. If I arrest no one, we are lazy. If I arrest all the people I suspect, I am confused and brutal. What am I supposed to do, for heaven’s sake?’

  I really tried to think about what he could do besides not yelling. ‘I don’t know, sir,’ I said, ‘maybe ignore the news.’

‘I can ignore it. But the netas don’t. And my seniors report to the netas.

And those seniors come after me.’

  Inspector Rana’s phone rang, interrupting his rant. I supposed that, even though you did get to beat up people and that could be fun, it wasn’t easy to be a police officer after all.

  ‘Yes. Okay,’ Rana said on the phone and paused. ‘Good. You sure? You saw the full footage? What time? 2:02 to

2:41 a.m. Okay, good.’

  The inspector stepped away from us. He took a few notes while still on the phone. He came back to us after the call.

  ‘So, I was talking about speaking to your father earlier. I respect him. A gentleman. He never tried to threaten or use influence.’

  ‘Right, sir. He would never do that.’ Especially for a useless son like me, I wanted to add, but didn’t.

‘And I do want to give him good news when he arrives.’

‘Which is?’

‘That you are not the main suspect.’

Main suspect? I didn’t want to be even a non-main suspect.

‘Right, sir,’ I said, wondering how long it would be before my parents arrived.

‘The watchman was away from his post. 2:02 to 2:41 a.m. Confirmed from CCTV footage.’

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘so someone entered the hostel then?’

‘Could be. But there’s more,’ Inspector Rana said, a glint in his eye.

‘What?’ Saurabh said.

‘Zara Lone had a big fight with this same watchman, Laxman Reddy, one month ago. She slapped him in the lobby. In front of several girls.’

‘Really? Why?’ I said.

‘That I don’t know. But we will find out. See, I told you we are good.’

‘Yes, sir. Just out of curiosity, who told you about the fight?’ I said.

The inspector picked up his notes.

  ‘Ruchika Gill, fourth-year student at Himadri hostel. Room 109. Another girl, Subhadra Pande, room 203, also confirms this. My sub-inspector just finished talking to them. My team is working hard on the case.

And we have probably solved it. The stupid media will never highlight this.’

I remained quiet. The inspector stood up.

‘Biren,’ he shouted. A constable came running in.

‘Huzoor,’ he said.

‘Is that Laxman Reddy here?’

‘Ji, huzoor. He is sleeping on a chair outside.’

‘Slap him twice to wake him up. Send him in.’

  ‘Ji, huzoor,’ he said and left, overjoyed at the idea of officially getting a chance to use his authority on someone.

The inspector turned to us.

‘Wait outside. Sorry. You still can’t leave.’

   Saurabh and I stood up. As we walked out of the room, we saw Laxman walk in, spine bent, hands folded.

The sound of loud slaps reached us as Rana welcomed Laxman into his office.




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