The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 23]



 Chapter 23


‘We can make this for you, no problem. And yeah, we know Nizam bhai. A lot of customers come from his houseboats.’

‘Yes, he sent us. Anyway, I know you can make them. But did you make these particular set of earrings?’ I said.

We had come to Akhoon Jewellers at Syed Hamir Pora, our fourth shop since we had started on our hunt that morning.

‘Sir, we will make better than this. How much did you buy these for?’ the salesperson said.

‘You did not make these, right?’ Saurabh said and turned to leave.

‘Stay, sir,’ he said. He signalled to one of the shop-boys, who served us two cups of hot kahwah and a plate of dates.

‘Be our guest, janaab. You don’t have to buy anything,’ the salesperson said.

‘Can you tell us if these were made in Srinagar?’ I said.

The salesperson held one of the earrings.

‘Definitely. Wherever it is made, the kaarigar is Kashmiri. The detail on the design tells me.’

An elderly man in a skullcap and white kurta, presumably the owner of Akhoon Jewellers, got up from his chair in a corner of the shop and shuffled up to us.

‘Show me,’ the owner said. He brought the earrings close to his face, narrowing his eyes. He took out a magnifying glass from his pocket.

‘No, not ours. But it is from this area. I know kaarigars who make this,’

he said after examining the earrings.

‘Thank you,’ I said.

‘Give us a chance. We will make you better ones,’ he said.

‘His wife wants us to go to the same place,’ I pointed to Saurabh.

Saurabh smiled shyly. In his puffy red sweater, he did look like a henpecked husband.

‘Oh, up to you,’ the owner said, a tinge of disappointment in his voice.

‘Uncle, can you help us find who made it?’ I said.

‘It’s expensive, so must be a top jewellery shop. Is there a shop mark?’

he turned to his salesperson. ‘Get the microscope.’

The salesperson went to the back of the shop.

‘How much would something like this cost?’ I said to the owner.

‘Three, maybe four lakh rupees,’ the owner said. ‘I am Hafiz, by the way.’

We shook hands.

The salesperson returned with a compound microscope. Hafiz placed an earring under the microscope and looked into the viewfinder, moving the earring up and down. He shook his head.

‘Give me the other one,’ Hafiz said.

He placed the second earring under the lens.

‘Many jewellers put their mark, such as their initials, on expensive items,’ Hafiz said, one eye peeping into the viewfinder. ‘There it is. SJ.’

‘What is SJ?’ Saurabh said.

Hafiz returned the earrings to us.

‘Let’s see. SJ could be Sona Jewellers, which my friend owns. There’s S. Khem Singh Jewellers opposite Hanuman Mandir. There’s Salaam Jewellers on Hari Singh High Street,’ Hafiz said. ‘These are the shops with SJ initials that I can think of.’

Saurabh took out the list of jewellers Nizam had given us from his pocket.

‘There’s more. Shabnam Jewellers at Lal Chowk. Showkat Jewellers on the Srinagar–Ladakh highway,’ he said, going down the list.

‘Good luck in your search. If you can’t find the same shop, we are always here,’ Hafiz said and smiled.

‘No, this is not made here at Sona Jewellers,’ the shop owner said the moment he picked up the earrings.

‘Not from our shop,’ said the salesgirl in a hijab at Shabnam Jewellers.

Four other shops with the initials SJ turned us down that day.

‘Three more SJs left,’ Saurabh said.

We ate rusk and drank kahwah at a roadside teashop as we took a break between our shop visits.

‘Well, last few tries. Otherwise, time to book a flight back to Delhi, I guess,’ I said, dipping my rusk in the kahwah.

‘We just wanted to know if your shop made these earrings,’ I said, passing them to the owner of Showkat Jewellers. He sat cross-legged behind the counter. The brightly lit shop dazzled with all the jewellery on the walls.

‘These?’ the shopkeeper said, taking the earrings in his hands. He ran a finger on top of them.

‘Yes, of course,’ the shopkeeper said and laughed. ‘This is Showkat Jewellers’ finest work.’

Hearing the word ‘yes’ after four days, I almost collapsed on the spot.

The shopkeeper looked startled by my obvious relief.

‘What happened?’ He put out a hand. ‘I am Showkat.’

I shook his hand. ‘I can’t tell you how happy we are to meet you.’

Showkat laughed.

‘The pleasure is mine, actually. You want more jewellery? You have come to the right place.’

He gave us what was our sixth cup of kahwah of the day. He held the earrings up against the light.

‘Look at the work. Exquisite,’ Showkat said.

‘Who did you make these for?’ I said.

Showkat looked at me, surprised.

‘I don’t understand. They don’t belong to you?’

‘They belonged to a friend. She is no more,’ I said.

Showkat touched the tips of his earlobes with his right hand and mumbled a prayer.

‘I am sorry to hear. What happened to her?’

Saurabh and I looked at each other.

‘Accident,’ Saurabh said.

‘Ya khuda. What can I do for you?’

‘Her parents found the earrings in her room. But they didn’t recognise them. We happened to be visiting Srinagar. They told us to check who might have given them to her,’ I said.

‘You know parents,’ Saurabh said, though I am not sure what it meant. I guess the moment you say, ‘you know parents’, you are allowed to drop some logic. Showkat looked at us with some hesitation.

‘The parents are quite disturbed by their daughter’s death, as you can imagine. We just want to do our bit to help them,’ I said.

‘But looks like we found a good shop, bhai. For our family needs also, we have a good jeweller now,’ Saurabh said to me.

That seemed to convince the shop-owner. He nodded and picked up a microscope from a shelf above his seat. He examined the earrings again.

‘Definitely ours. Has the shop mark,’ he said, head bent over the microscope.

‘That’s how we came here. SJ,’ I said.

Showkat kept the microscope aside.

‘Yes, but I don’t remember selling them. Could be one of my two sons.

Or my nephew, the main salesperson.’

‘Do you mind asking them?’ I said.

‘They just stepped out for some bank work. Should be back soon. You can wait here.’

We waited at Showkat Jewellers for over two hours, before a Fortuner arrived outside the shop. Three men in their twenties, each with a French beard, stepped out of the vehicle.

‘So late?’ Showkat pointed at his watch.

‘Army had closed the roads. Full checking. Chaos and traffic jams all over,’ one of the men said.

‘Screw the Indian Army,’ said another man.

‘Talk with some tameez. We have guests,’ Showkat said, pointing to us.

‘Hi, I am Mohsin, Showkat chacha’s nephew,’ said the man who had just cursed the Indian Army. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to…’

‘It’s okay. I am Keshav. This is Saurabh.’

‘I am Ali, and this is my brother Salim,’ said one of the other men.

‘They are my sons,’ Showkat said and smiled.

Showkat asked them about our earrings.

They passed the earrings to each other one by one.

‘I don’t remember selling this,’ Ali said.

‘Me neither,’ Mohsin said.

‘Show me,’ Salim said. He took the earrings. ‘When was this purchased?’ he said.

‘Sometime in the last few years maybe,’ I said.

‘It looks antique, but it is not. A good replica of an old Kashmiri design,’ Mohsin said. ‘Oh yes, I remember now.’

‘Remember what?’ Saurabh and I both spoke at the same time.

Everyone looked at us, surprised by our excitement.

‘Arrey, that man, he looked fauji. All tall and fit and kadak. He said he wanted to recreate his dadi’s earrings,’ Mohsin said.

‘I remember you discussing it,’ Ali said, ‘but can’t recollect the customer.’

‘I do,’ Mohsin said. ‘He paid cash. Give me the cash sales book.’

Ali opened a drawer under the cash counter. He took out a carbon copy-lined notebook. It had pink and white pages filled with handwritten scribbles. He passed it to Mohsin.

‘This must have cost above three lakh rupees. Let me see all high-value sales in my handwriting,’ Mohsin said. He started flipping through the sheets of the notebook in a furious manner. He finished one notebook. Ali passed him another one.

Five minutes later, Mohsin paused and tapped his finger on a particular page.

‘One year ago, see,’ Mohsin said, and held up the notebook for Showkat to look at. The open page had an outline of the design of the same earrings.

‘Correct,’ Showkat said. ‘Yes, see. Rs 3,80,000. Diamond, sapphire, kundan, 22 karat gold. Rs 2,00,000 advance. Delivery after a week, 28 May 2017. Paid balance. All cash.’

I looked at Showkat, somewhat confused.

‘Someone bought them in May last year?’

‘Yes,’ Mohsin said.

‘Who?’

Mohsin looked at his notebook again. He shook his head.

‘He didn’t leave a name,’ he said.

‘Any contact details?’ I said.

‘No. He just gave an advance for the earrings. We gave him a temporary receipt. Later, he came again to pay the balance and collect the earrings.’

‘You sell such expensive items without knowing the customer’s name?’

Saurabh said.

‘In our business, we have all kinds of customers. Some become our family friends. Others want to stay discreet. We respect that,’ Showkat said, tugging at his white beard.

‘Do you remember what he looked like?’ I said to Mohsin.

‘I do. Handsome man. He looked Kashmiri. Fair. Six feet tall at least. I told you, he looked fauji,’ Mohsin said.

‘Did he come in uniform?’ Saurabh said.

‘No. Just the gait. Faujis have an andaz,’ Mohsin said. ‘In fact, yes, I think he came in a military green vehicle the second time.’

Saurabh looked around the shop. He noticed cameras on the ceiling.

‘Showkat bhai, will you have CCTV footage from May last year?’

Saurabh said.

‘No,’ Salim said. ‘CCTV back-up only remains for two months. Why?

Is everything okay?’

‘Yes, of course,’ Saurabh said and stood up. ‘Nothing of concern. I just thought if we could see the person…’

‘I am sorry. The hard drive deletes anything older than sixty days,’

Salim said.

‘Thank you so much,’ I said. I folded my hands. Saurabh and I stood up to leave.

‘If you ever want to sell these back to us,’ Showkat said, ‘we can give you a good price.’

The flimsy wooden bed of the houseboat creaked as Saurabh turned on his side. It was close to midnight. I placed my laptop on my stomach as I surfed random websites.

‘Earrings worth Rs 3,80,000,’ Saurabh said. ‘Who gives such a gift?’

‘Parents,’ I said. ‘But they didn’t.’

‘Or a lover,’ Saurabh said.

‘Raghu?’ I said. ‘I can check with him.’

‘Yes, but Mohsin said, fair, six feet tall and fit. Nothing like Raghu.’

‘He even said handsome. That’s definitely not Raghu,’ I said.

‘Sikander?’ Saurabh said.

‘Nobody gives their sister earrings this costly. Also, Sikander was skinny and short. Not what Mohsin described.’

‘Maybe Sikander sent someone. Or hell, Raghu is rich, he could have sent someone.’

‘I can check with Raghu easily,’ I said. I took out my phone and sent him a ‘Hi’ on WhatsApp.

‘Hey, Keshav, long time. What’s up?’ he replied within a minute.

‘Just wanted to check something with you.’

 ‘Sure,’ Raghu said.

‘Where are you?’

‘I am in San Francisco. Just landed.’

‘Wow. That’s far.’

‘Yeah. I literally came down for like one investor meeting.’

‘Oh. What time is it there?’

He replied after five minutes.

‘Noon.’

‘Sorry, you seem busy.’

‘It’s okay. I can chat a bit. My meeting hasn’t started yet.’

‘Do you recall giving any expensive gifts to Zara?’

‘Not really. She never liked expensive things. I did give her an iPhone though.’

‘When?’

‘On her last birthday. Why, what’s up? Working on the case?’

‘A little bit. Not much. So no jewellery?’ I said.

‘No, never. I only gave her tech stuff. Bluetooth speakers. Headphones.

That sort of thing.’

‘Thanks,’ I typed back. Loser, I thought.

‘Why? What happened?’ he said.

‘How do I respond?’ I turned to Saurabh.

‘Tell him her parents asked about the earrings,’ Saurabh said.

‘They would have just called him directly,’ I said. ‘Wait, I have an idea.’

I WhatsApped Raghu again.

‘Her hostel friend Sanam Razdan called me. She said Zara had kept a pair of earrings with her. Which she received as a gift.’

‘Oh, really?’ Raghu said.

‘Yeah,’ I texted back, unsure if Raghu believed me.

‘I didn’t give them. Maybe another girlfriend?’

‘They seem expensive. More than three lakh rupees.’

I took a picture of the earrings and sent it to him. He replied after two minutes.

‘These are elaborate. Can’t be just a friend.’

‘Exactly.’

‘Maybe her parents? Or a relative?’

‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘I will give them to her parents.’

‘Can you? Please?’ Raghu replied.

‘Of course. Thanks, anyway. When are you back?’

‘I fly back later this afternoon. It’s so hectic at work back home right now.’

‘Didn’t you just land?’

‘Yeah. I only came for six hours. Have to get back. We have a new product launch tomorrow.’

‘Wow. Crazy trip! Going to the US from India for a few hours.’

‘I am used to it. Do such trips all the time. Anyway, I better get ready for my meeting.’

‘Sure, take care.’

‘Hey, Keshav,’ Raghu sent a message after a few seconds.

‘Yeah?’

‘Thank you. I know I have judged you harshly before. But thank you.

For whatever you tried to do or are doing to help.’

‘I haven’t done anything. I have failed so far, actually.’

‘You are still trying. To be frank, I am still scared. My parents too are paranoid and keep constant tabs on me. But you are not afraid. Thanks.’

‘No issues. I judged you badly, too. You are a nice guy.’

‘Thanks, buddy. Cheers.’

I didn’t know how to respond. I sent back two smileys in response.

‘Are you going to send him a hug and a kiss too?’ Saurabh said, when he saw my message.

‘What?’ I said, keeping my phone away.

‘What is this? Lovefest between the exes?’

‘Are you getting possessive? About me talking to Raghu?’

‘What nonsense.’

‘You are. My Golu baby, I love you man.’

‘Shut up. Come to the point. If not Raghu, who gave Zara the earrings?’

I scratched my head.

‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘What do we do now?’

‘You think Saxena gave them to her?’

‘Are you kidding? No IIT prof is romantic enough or rich enough to afford these,’ I said.

‘So who?’

‘We have to figure out who was in Zara’s life. In any way.’

I opened Instagram on my phone and gave it to Saurabh.

‘What?’ Saurabh said.

‘You said we should go through her social media again. Let’s do that.’

‘Look for someone tall and fit like a fauji?’

‘Yes, sir.’ I saluted Saurabh. ‘Fair and handsome too.’

‘Who is more handsome than you, Keshav bhai? Right?’ Saurabh said and grinned.

‘Very funny. Focus. Let’s go through the posts,’ I said.

Saurabh opened Zara’s posts one at a time.

‘Okay, the last post just before she died is a picture of Raghu in the Hyderabad hospital.’

‘Read the caption,’ I said.

‘Birthdays are no fun when your #bae is injured far away. Miss you, my Raghu,’ Saurabh said.

I shook my head.

‘Actually, let’s look at Zara’s posts from the start. Right when she joined Instagram. Otherwise, it won’t make sense,’ I said.

Saurabh selected the first picture from Zara’s account.

‘Okay,’ Saurabh said. ‘First post on the day she opened her account, 12

September 2013.’

‘We were together then. Is it our picture?’

‘It is a picture of Ruby,’ Saurabh said, ‘her dog.’

‘Oh. Next one, please,’ I said.

‘A month later, a picture of her blog on Kashmir.’

‘What’s the blog title?’

‘ Why we can never give up on peace in Kashmir. We will have to open the blog in a new tab though. Should I?’ Saurabh said.

I shook my head.

‘Next post,’ I said.

‘Another month later. A picture of her hostel room. The caption is “The Girl in room 105. #myspace #myworld”.’

‘Oh, yes, I remember. She had come back from Alwar, stressed.’

‘Then on 1 January 2014. It is picture of a quote. “When you lose something, don’t think of it as a loss. Accept it as a gift that gets you on the path you were meant to travel on”,’ Saurabh said.

‘Of course. We broke up the night before, remember? On New Year’s Eve.’

‘The next post is in April 2014. It is a picture of her at a conference.

Comment is “Amazed and inspired at the Global Artificial Intelligence Conference”.’

‘That’s where she met the bastard Raghu, I know.’

‘I thought you liked the bastard now and send him smileys,’ Saurabh said.

‘Shut up. What’s after this?’

‘The next month, a picture of her and Raghu. At another conference.’

‘What does the caption say?’

‘“My good friend Raghu. Started his own AI company after IIT. Fortunate to be in the same college as such inspiring people”.’

‘Good friend, my ass,’ I said.

‘Bhai, it is impressive. He started his own AI company.’

I kicked Saurabh’s fat butt with my foot.

‘Ouch, that hurt. Okay, the next post is a picture of two pairs of feet. On a beach. The hashtag says #journeytogether.’

‘Which means this is when they started doing it. Yeah, those are Zara’s and Raghu’s feet, probably just after sex.’

‘Bhai, focus, we are trying to find something.’

‘Sorry,’ I said. I let out a huge breath. ‘This is tough. Go on.’

‘Nothing for a while. Then pictures from the Jaipur Litfest.’

‘She always liked to go there. Even we went once.’

‘Next post is on 9 Feb 2015.’

‘Her birthday.’

‘Yeah. Says, “Birthday Special. Super busy #bae plans surprise trip to Goa”. Smileys, kiss emojis, hug emojis, too many exclamation marks.’

‘Fools in love. Keep going.’

‘The next few posts are from a family holiday in Kerala. Then a blog on the handicrafts of Kashmir. After that, pictures from another literature festival. The Bangalore Literature Festival.’

‘Then?’ I said.

‘Okay, see this—9 Feb 2016. A picture of a gift hamper. Chocolates, wine, cookies, Bluetooth headphones. Says, “#bae surprises and spoils me again”. Bhai, why does she call Raghu bae?’

‘Bae is what some people call their lover.’

‘Bae? Sounds rude, no?’

‘Only in Hindi. Leave that, what’s next?’

‘15 August 2016. Another Kashmir blog picture. Independence Day special report from an Army camp in Kashmir.’

‘Wait. Open the actual blog in a new tab.’

Saurabh clicked on a blog titled ‘Zara’s Valley Musings’. It had a background picture of snow-capped mountains.

The blog described Zara’s visit to an Army camp in Baramulla district in Kashmir. She had interviewed various servicemen with the local Army commander’s permission. The servicemen spoke about their daily routine and their special projects, such as rescue work and keeping the Valley safe. One of the soldiers said, ‘The job is tough. But the insults and hostility from the locals, that’s the hardest part.’

The blog also had a few pictures from the camp. These included a tent with the backdrop of a spectacular sunset, one of the soldiers having tea, and another of an Army officer in uniform. The officer wore Ray-Ban sunglasses and stood proudly next to an Indian flag.

‘Nice blog,’ Saurabh said.

‘Yeah,’ I said and paused. I tapped at the officer’s picture. ‘Saurabh, who is that?’

‘Who?’

‘This dude, Ray-Ban and all. He is tall, isn’t he?’

‘Yes, of course. Oh, is he Mr Fair and Handsome?’

‘He looks familiar. I have seen him before,’ I said.

‘You sure?’ Saurabh said.

‘Yes. A hundred per cent,’ I said.

‘With Zara?’

‘No… Yes, I saw him at Zara’s funeral. Remember when Safdar uncle insulted me? This guy was standing next to Zara’s father. Uncle thanked him for leaving duty and coming all the way for the funeral.’ I thought hard.

‘Faiz. His name is Faiz.’

‘You heard his name before?’

‘Yes, Zara mentioned him once. He’s Captain Faiz Khan, Zara’s senior from school. They are family friends.’

Saurabh zoomed in on the Army officer’s picture.

‘Could he have bought them?’

‘Showkat Jewellers can confirm it.’

Saurabh took a screenshot of the Army officer’s picture on my phone.

He then went back to Zara’s Instagram.

‘After the blog there are pictures from the Karachi Literature Festival,’ he said.

‘We already saw those,’ I said.

‘Nothing after that until her birthday on 9 February 2017. A picture of an iPhone 7 plus.’

‘The one Raghu said he gave her,’ I said. Saurabh zoomed in on the picture.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Nice phone. Trying to see how many GB of storage.’

‘Seriously? Focus, Golu.’

‘Sorry. Okay, the next one is 3 April 2017. A photo of a sunrise, taken from the window of a houseboat. The hashtag is #goingwiththeflow.’

‘Strange. After that?’

‘She has posted nothing for six months after that. Finally, in November 2017, she has a picture of a quote, “Some memories last forever.”’

‘Zara and her love for quotes,’ I said, and sighed, as her smiling face flashed in my mind, making me miss her again. I composed myself. ‘After that?’

‘It’s New Year’s Eve, 2017. She’s wearing a black sari. Oh, this is the time you called her from Chandan’s terrace. Remember that night’s drama?’

‘I do, unfortunately. Go on,’ I said.

‘Nothing. After that is her final post. The picture of Raghu’s plaster cast.’

Saurabh returned my phone and yawned.

‘It’s two in the morning.’

‘We have to check with Showkat about the earrings.’

‘Let’s hit the bed, Sherlock janaab. We’ll do it when we wake up.’

‘It’s him,’ I said. I kept the phone on the dining table so Saurabh could see.

‘The Army officer in the blog? What’s his name?’

‘Faiz. He bought the earrings. See my chat with Mohsin. I had sent him Faiz’s picture on WhatsApp.’

Saurabh looked at my phone. Mohsin had replied, ‘Definitely him.’

‘Wow. Why is Zara’s senior from school buying her such pricey earrings?’ Saurabh said.

‘Also, why doesn’t her fiancé have any idea about it?’ I said.

Saurabh and I looked at each other, confused about what do next.

‘Let’s try and meet Faiz,’ I said.

‘How?’ Saurabh said.

‘I will check with Safdar uncle. He will have his contacts,’ I said.





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