The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 14]



 Chapter 14


‘Laxman, you will get out. It just won’t happen so soon,’ I said.

I had come to meet Laxman in Tihar Jail, in west Delhi.

An undertrial, he was allowed to see visitors during designated hours.

‘Sahib, my wife is alone. There is no income,’ Laxman said.

‘I am sorry, Laxman,’ I said. ‘Help me, and I will help you.’

We sat in the meeting area, a dingy room with several rickety chairs.

‘What can I do for you?’ Laxman said.

‘I want to know who used to come to meet Zara at the hostel.’

‘Her parents, not much though. Once in two months.’

‘And?’

‘Raghu sahib. Once a month he would visit Delhi. He would come to pick her up and Zara madam would leave for a few days.’

I sucked in my breath sharply.

‘And?’

‘Prof. Saxena, sometimes.’

‘When?’

‘It will all be in the visitor’s book. I think he came around three times last month.’

‘Did you hear them talk?’

The watchman shook his head.

‘He would go to the common room. Zara madam would come there.

Sahib, when will I be able to go back home?’

‘Yes, what can I do for you?’ Prof. Saxena said. He sat at his desk, face partially hidden by piles of files, books and a super-computer with a gigantic CPU, probably used to make big data models.

‘I am Keshav Rajpurohit, sir. Alumnus from here. Graduated five years ago.’

Prof. Saxena had thin grey hair on his head that looked like it hadn’t met a comb since he had graduated. His paunch remained hidden under his desk. He did not look up from his computer.

‘I am not looking for assistants right now.’

Students lined up to work with Prof. Saxena, in the hope of a recommendation when they later applied to US universities. A nice reco letter from him could help research students earn a full fellowship at an MIT or Stanford.

‘I don’t want to be your assistant,’ I said.

‘So, why are you here?’ he said, eyes still on the monitor.

‘I want to talk about Zara Lone.’

‘What?’ he said, looking at me for the first time.

‘She did her PhD under you, right?’

He stared at me.

‘I am sorry. Who are you again?’ he said.

‘Keshav Rajpurohit. Batch of 2013.’

‘And how are you related to Zara Lone?’

‘She was a close friend.’

‘Really? Close friend?’ Prof. Saxena said. ‘You are her ex-boyfriend, aren’t you? My other students told me you were the reason she gave up a wonderful scholarship at MIT.’

He leaned forward in his chair, forearms on the table.

‘Yes, sir,’ I said, clearing my throat. ‘The point is, I found her body.

When I went to wish her on her birthday.’

‘You are the boy who broke into the girls’ hostel?’

I nodded.

‘She had a fiancé, right? I’ve met him, he’s PGM from here. Raghu Venkatesh.’

PGM referred to President’s Gold Medal, given to the topper of the batch. Of course, Maggu Raghu had scored straight 10 GPAs—grade point average—in all semesters, ensuring the ‘nerd of the batch’ medal belonged to him and nobody else.

‘Raghu is from my batch as well.’

‘Doing really well. Sequoia Capital funded his artificial intelligence company. Many Silicon Valley companies want to invest. A true IIT Delhi success story.’

Unlike me, a true IIT Delhi failure story.

‘I am aware. Sir, do you know anything that could help solve the murder of Zara Lone?’

‘What?’ His chair creaked as he sat up straight. ‘The watchman did it.

We all saw the news. Terrible.’

‘The watchman didn’t do it, sir.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes, sir, a hundred per cent sure he didn’t.’

‘Who are you? The police?’

‘No, sir.’

‘First that inspector, what’s his name, Rana bothered me. Wanted to send his team all over campus. Thankfully, he became quiet since they got the watchman.’

‘Why didn’t you allow the police to come to campus and investigate?’

‘This is a place where people study, not some criminal interrogation zone. I told him to get lost. And I am sorry, but you are wasting my time too.’

‘I am helping the police, sir. Since they are not allowed here. I just have a few questions for you.’

‘What nonsense. You may be allowed on campus as an alumnus, but you can’t go snooping around. I can bar you from entry.’

‘No, you won’t,’ I said, in a calm but firm voice.

My sudden defiance startled him.

‘Is this how you talk to your teachers? Please leave.’

‘Is it true that you propositioned Zara?’

‘What?’ the professor said, his face turning white. Even though he kept up a defiant posture, his lips trembled.

‘You delayed her thesis. Asked her to sleep with you.’

‘That’s nonsense. I am going to call security and have you thrown out.’

He picked up the intercom in his room.

‘Don’t make that mistake. I can say what I am saying to the media as well,’ I said.

‘Like they will believe you. The person who breaks into women’s hostels!’ he scoffed, still on the phone. ‘Hello, security? Send some people to my office please. Yes, unwanted person.’

Acting as if I no longer existed, he went back to work on his computer.

I opened email on my phone and after a couple of moments, said,

‘Check your inbox.’

‘Why?’ Prof Saxena said even as he clicked his computer’s mouse. He opened the email that I had forwarded to him. His mouth fell open as he read it.

To: Raghu

From: Zara

Hey Love,

How are you? So far away from me in Hyderabad. Today is one of those days I really, really wish you were here. I tried calling you. Your secretary told me you are in meetings all day with people who have come from San Jose. Well, good luck with that. Hope they go well. Call when you can? I really need to talk. I have already told you about the creepy feeling I get from Prof. Saxena. You also know how many times he has asked me out for coffee.

What I haven’t told you are a few more things he has done. I thought they were inadvertent or harmless, but it has happened too often now. For instance, he often comes up behind me and touches my hair when I am working on the computer. Two days ago, he put his arm around my shoulder when I showed him a printout. When I wriggled away, he said, ‘Why don’t we get closer? Intimacy always helps people connect.’

Raghu, I felt so creeped out, I wanted to jump out of his office window. I don’t know why I didn’t tell you about it right then. I guess I thought it was a one-off. But today, he did it again! I went to show him an Excel sheet on my laptop, and he kissed my right cheek and said I looked like a Kashmiri rose!!!

Then I am not sure, but I think he pulled my hand towards his … oh gosh maybe he didn’t mean to, but Raghu, it was gross! I wanna quit, but how?

What do I do? I am so confused. Call me soon.

XOXOZ

‘This is utter lies,’ Prof. Saxena said, his voice quivering.

‘It’s an email from your research scholar who has been murdered. The PGM fiancé is witness,’ I said.

‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’

‘Hostel registers show you visited her eight times in the last three months. I don’t think you have ever visited any other student in their hostel.’

Someone knocked on Prof. Saxena’s door.

‘Sir, you wanted us to come?’ the institute security officer said as he walked in.

Two other guards stood behind him.

‘Actually,’ Prof. Saxena said, ‘we are fine. You can leave.’

The security officers gave us confused, irritated looks and left.

‘What do you want?’ Prof. Saxena said to me.

‘Before we get into that, we all know what you want.’

‘What?’

‘Padma Vibhushan. You might even get it soon.’

‘Because I am the best in my field. I could have gone to any university in the world. I chose to stay in India.’

‘How noble of you,’ I said. ‘But imagine the news: Prof. Saxena harassed his PhD student. They will give you a special Padma then?’

He put his head in his hands. It is amazing how amiable people become when the power balance shifts against them.

‘What do you want? Really?’ Prof. Saxena said.

‘I am only trying to solve Zara’s murder.’

‘Okay. So what? You think I did it?’

‘I didn’t say that. But did you? Did you, you bastard?’

It felt strange to talk to a faculty member like this, yet oddly satisfying.

‘What? I didn’t kill anybody. What are you saying?’

I stood up. I leaned forward and grabbed his shirt collar.

I said, not very coherently, ‘You creep. Zara wanted to come back to me. You troubled her. Harassed her. And I don’t know what else. Now you sit here like an innocent geeky professor.’

To make up for my inarticulate speech, I slapped Saxena hard across his face. I held on to him, wanting to slap him again and again. However, he began to whine.

‘Please leave,’ Prof. Saxena said. ‘Don’t hurt me.’

‘Did you kill her?’

‘No. Please let me go.’

I released my grip and sat back. He put a hand on his heart.

‘I have never hurt a fly in my life. Why would I kill her?’

‘Maybe you thought she would reveal the truth about you once she had her PhD degree, something you couldn’t delay anymore. Maybe you got scared, went up to her room and killed her.’

‘No, I swear on my kids, no,’ he said. He pinched his throat like an eight-year-old.

I stood up.

‘If you did, better admit it. Or else, I will come back with the police.’

He shook his head, and still pinching his throat, he said, ‘I swear, I didn’t do it.’

‘I’ll see you soon, asshole,’ I said. I slammed the office door behind me and left.

‘The dean?’ Saurabh said, walking on the treadmill at the lowest speed possible. I had finally convinced him to come to the gym with me.

‘Can you believe it?’ I said. ‘That bastard dean. You read the email, right?’

‘I did. I have two things to say,’ Saurabh said.

‘What?’ I said, and increased the speed of his treadmill to four kilometres per hour.

‘Slower, bhai.’

‘It’s fine. Your heart rate should go up. You weighed yourself? How much was it?’

‘Ninety-five point five.’

‘That’s too much, Saurabh.’

‘I am working on it. One day I will have a six-pack like you. Actually, I do have one. It’s just hidden under some tissue.’

‘That tissue is called fat. And it is not some tissue, it is a lot of it.

Anyway, now say the two things you had to say.’

‘Fine. One, what my brain says, and the other, what my heart says.’

‘What?’

‘Brain says, I really wish you would stop pursuing this. Even Rana said,

“Ideally, stay away”.’

‘Screw the brain. What does the heart say?’

‘The heart says,’ Saurabh said and stopped the treadmill. ‘Wait, my heart is actually racing too fast.’

‘You just started.’

‘I know, just pacing myself. Anyway, bhai, my heart says, this is so freaking interesting and intriguing. Really? The dean of students at IIT Delhi, top quant prof in the world, might have murdered a student?’

‘He swore on his kids, but he’s a smartass. He could be acting.’

I lifted a ten-kilo dumbbell and handed it to Saurabh. Saurabh found it too heavy and went to replace it with a two-kilo one.

I shook my head.

‘Bhai, my body is tender. You can’t push it so much, so fast. Anyway, what will you do next about the dean?’ Saurabh said.

‘I will meet his wife. Try to find out if he wasn’t home that night.’

‘She will tell you?’

‘I don’t know. I have no other way to find out.’

‘Hmmm…’ Saurabh started doing bicep curls with a weight that a toddler could pick up. Both of us looked at each other in the gym mirror.

‘I want you to come,’ I said.

‘Me?’ Saurabh said, surprised.

‘Yeah. Observe everything. Ask any questions if you like, and later give me your view.’

‘You want me to come? For something my brain says you should stay away from?’ Saurabh laughed.

‘Yes.’ I grinned.

‘Why do you think I would do that?’

‘Because between you and me, it is all about the heart. I love you,’ I said. I sent a flying kiss through the mirror and winked at him.

‘Oh dear. Profs or students, you IITians are all creeps,’ he said, finishing his set.

‘Prof. Saxena is not at home,’ said the lady who opened the door.

‘Mrs Parminder Saxena?’ I said.

‘Yes?’ Mrs Saxena said. She adjusted the dupatta over her nightie, Delhi’s official housewife dress.

I took out my alumni card.

‘I am Keshav Rajpurohit. Ex-student here. This is my friend Saurabh.

May we come in? It is you we want to talk to.’

‘Me?’

‘This is regarding Zara Lone. Prof. Saxena’s student who died.’

Prof. Saxena’s wife looked left and right, and then gestured us in.





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