The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 26]



 Chapter 26


Chandan met us at the entrance of Chandan Classes. Saurabh and I had reached late and missed half of our first class.

‘Pneumonia today?’ he said, his eyes bulging.

‘No, sir,’ I said. ‘The alarm didn’t ring. Both of us overslept.’

‘What about the students waiting in class?’

‘Sorry, sir. We’ll fix a remedial session,’ Saurabh said.

Chandan looked ready to explode.

‘Should we commit a murder too?’ Saurabh said, as we ran past Chandan.

‘I am hoping the gutkha will do the job before us,’ I said.

Later in the day, Saurabh and I met in an empty staffroom for a few minutes between classes.

‘Bhai, let’s give everything we found at Faiz’s house to Rana soon. I don’t want to keep it at home,’ Saurabh said.

‘We will go this evening,’ I said.

My phone buzzed. I looked around to ensure Chandan wasn’t lurking around.

‘Oh no! Saurabh, see…’

On my phone screen was flashing: ‘Capt. Faiz’.

‘What the…’ Saurabh said.

My hand trembled.

‘What do I do?’ I said.

‘Did he find out about us breaking into his house?’ Saurabh said.

The phone continued to vibrate in my hands.

‘How do I know?’ I said.

‘Pick it up. Act normal,’ Saurabh said.

‘Good afternoon, Captain Faiz,’ I said as I took the call. Saurabh kept his ear close to the phone so he could listen as well.

‘Good afternoon, Keshav. What’s up? How is the capital treating you?’

Faiz said, his voice cheerful.

‘Fine, sir. I am at work. Delhi’s too hot. I miss Srinagar.’

‘Oh, you must be busy. I won’t take much of your time. I called because I remembered something.’

‘What, sir?’

‘I gave these really special Kashmiri earrings to Zara.’

Saurabh and I looked at each other, surprised.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Special, as in?’

‘They are traditional Kashmiri earrings. They cost a few lakhs. Zara said she would pay for them, of course.’

‘She paid you?’

‘I told her to pay me when she completes her PhD and starts working.

She did give me fifty thousand though. The rest I said I would take when she has a proper job.’

‘Oh,’ I said.

‘Yeah. She had always wanted these traditional earrings from an authentic Srinagar jeweller. I offered to help.’

‘Sure. Thanks for calling and telling me. Don’t think it is important, but still, thanks.’

‘Cool. Anyway, keep in touch. Say hi to your friend Saurabh too.’

‘Sure.’

‘Bye then. Jai Hind.’

The call ended. I looked at Saurabh. He said, ‘See, how clever he is.’

‘Must have figured we had come to investigate. Or that we might find the earrings,’ I said.

‘Yeah, so better give an explanation beforehand.’

We sat in silence for a few seconds.

‘You think he could buy Rana?’ Saurabh said.

‘What?’ I said.

‘We give all the evidence to Rana. Faiz calls him, promises more gold biscuits from wherever he gets them. Rana agrees to keep Laxman in, which he prefers anyway.’

‘You think Rana can be bought?’

Saurabh looked at me like I had asked him if petrol could catch fire.

‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Let’s not go to Rana yet.’

‘We can’t take that chance,’ Saurabh said.

I walked up and down the staffroom as I thought of what to do next.

‘We need to confront Faiz in Delhi, in front of others. So he can neither bribe anyone nor escape,’ I said.

‘How?’

‘I have an idea,’ I said.

‘What is it?’

‘Let’s discuss at home,’ I said and checked the time. ‘I have to teach differential equations right now.’

‘Sure. By the way, bhai,’ Saurabh said and paused.

‘What?’ I said.

‘Just an idea, so be open minded. Should we sell one of the gold biscuits and buy a new air-conditioner for the house?’

Safdar, deep in thought, stroked his beard. Saurabh and I sat with him in his tastefully decorated drawing room. We had just told him about the events in Srinagar.

‘Sikander is dead? Really?’ he said, a hand still on his freshly dyed beard.

‘Yeah,’ I said.

Safdar spread his palms out and said a prayer.

‘Ya Allah,’ Safdar said. ‘Both Farzana and I have lost our children at the same time.’

Saurabh and I kept quiet.

‘That boy never followed the right path. I used to tell Zara so many times. How is Farzana doing?’ Safdar said.

‘We are not sure. She’s still in Srinagar,’ I said.

‘He might have been a terrorist, but Farzana’s pain won’t be any less.’

‘Of course,’ I said.

‘So, Sikander didn’t have anything to do with Zara’s murder?’ Safdar said.

‘No,’ I said. ‘As I told you, it is Faiz.’

Safdar shook his head. ‘Captain Faiz? Faiz’s father Abdul Khan and I have known each other for fifteen years. They are close family friends.’

‘That’s how he managed to get close to Zara. But later, when Zara realised her lapse of judgment, Faiz couldn’t take it,’ I said.

‘Faiz is married. He has kids, who I treat as my grandkids.’

‘We broke into his house in Delhi, to get the evidence,’ Saurabh said.

‘We have pictures of them in a houseboat. Pregnancy kits from the same shop.’

‘Enough,’ Safdar barked. Restlessly he stood up and walked across the room to his bookshelves. His back to us, he spoke again.

‘That qaatil! I treated him like a son,’ Safdar said, his words throbbing with anger. ‘We attended his wedding. How could he touch my little girl?’

Saurabh and I didn’t know what to say.

‘He’s a fauji and doing this? What makes him any different from those terrorists?’

‘We will get him punished, uncle,’ Saurabh said.

‘Will it bring my daughter back?’ said Safdar in a broken voice.

A tear rolled down his cheek. He came back to sit with us again and buried his face in his hands.

‘No, uncle, Zara won’t come back,’ I said. ‘But her soul may find peace if her killer is punished. Right now he roams free, as a decorated officer.’

Safdar removed his hands from his face.

‘What do you want me to do?’

‘Organise a prayer meet at your house. Call everyone who was close to Zara,’ I said.

‘Why a prayer meet?’

‘If we give the evidence to Rana now, we are afraid he could sell out.

We want to confront Faiz in front of others, and then call the police,’ Saurabh said.

‘How do we do that?’

‘After the prayer meet, invite some of us to stay for dinner. Get us in a room with Faiz,’ I said.

‘What do we do then?’ Safdar said.

‘We confront him over dinner,’ Saurabh said.

‘And then the police can come and serve him dessert,’ I said.

‘Scared?’ Saurabh said, looking up from his phone.

Saurabh and I were sitting on my bed. I was typing out a probability test paper on my laptop, which I had to conduct in class next week.

I folded the laptop screen shut.

‘No. Just anxious.’

We had five days left for the prayer meet. Safdar had sent a sombre white invitation card. I picked it up from the bedside table.


It will soon be a hundred days since she left us.

But we miss her every day, every moment.

As someone important in our daughter Zara Lone’s life, we invite you to a hundredth-day prayer meet at our residence:

238, Westend Greens

On 20 May 2018, 5:00 p.m.

Warm regards,

Zainab and Safdar Lone


‘Faiz will buy it? Is there even something like a hundredth-day prayer meet?’ I said.

‘There are no rules for grieving. It’s from her parents. Reads genuine.

It’s fine,’ Saurabh said and went back to his phone. He was reading an article titled, ‘How to hack Tinder for better matches’.

‘You really think you can hack the matching algorithm on Tinder?’

‘What if I could? Imagine. Every girl, no matter if she swiped left or right, would match with me.’

‘And when they see your real picture, won’t they figure out they swiped left on you earlier?’

‘They may reconsider me, too. You have to get them into the shop and display the goods. Maybe they will buy.’

‘You are the goods?’ I said and laughed.

‘When I get a hot babe in my arms, then you laugh. Okay?’

‘I am teasing you,’ I said and pulled both of Saurabh’s cheeks. ‘You are the best goods any girl can get.’

‘Yeah, yeah, make fun of me. I also know I won’t get any girl. Tinder or otherwise.’

‘What nonsense.’

‘Thank God for arranged marriages in India. If not Tinder, my parents will find someone. Indian parents have been the original left and right swipers for their kids for centuries.’

I laughed.

‘Anyway, you heard the news about Mr Richie Rich? Did you call him, by the way?’

Saurabh was referring to Raghu. I had seen the news pop up on my Facebook feed: the world’s biggest artificial intelligence firm had invested in Raghu’s company. They had valued Raghu’s company at three hundred million dollars.

‘Richie Rich owns half, while his investors own the rest, so he’s worth a hundred and fifty million dollars. That is a thousand crores in rupees,’

Saurabh said.

‘Fuck me,’ I said.

‘Yeah. Thousand crores. FYI, he’s our age. Twenty-seven.’

‘We are from the same college, same batch. He and I even dated the same girl. He’s worth so much and I have nothing. Can I be a bigger loser?’

‘Bhai, if he invests the thousand crores at ten per cent interest, he makes another hundred crores a year.’

‘Thanks, Saurabh. That makes me feel better.’

‘And that hundred crores interest alone can be invested again to make another ten. And that ten can be invested too,’ Saurabh said.

‘Will you stop it?’

‘Bhai, we make less than the interest on the interest on the interest of what he already has.’

‘Thanks for comforting me, Golu.’

‘Are you going to call him? You said we need to tell him about Faiz.’

‘I have to congratulate him on his company’s latest valuation too?’

‘Screw that. You have to call to tell him it is important for all of us to be there at the prayer meet. You know this. You said you will call him last week.’

I took out my phone.

‘Yeah but, how do I say it all?’ I said. ‘That his fiancée had an affair, her other lover made her pregnant, etc.’

‘I thought you wanted revenge. He took Zara from you. Tell him she was never really his.’

I shook my head.

‘Doesn’t feel right. That desire to hurt him has gone.’

‘Okay, spare him the details. Tell him we found the killer. Ask him to show up at the prayer meet. We will share the rest there.’

‘He’ll ask who, of course.’

‘Tell him it is Faiz, then. For God’s sake, are you going to call or should I?’

Saurabh tried to snatch my phone. I pulled my hand away.

I put the phone on speaker mode and called Raghu.

‘Hey, Keshav. Long time,’ Raghu said.

‘Hi, Raghu, are you in India?’

‘Yeah, I am in office. What’s up?’

I checked the time. It was 10:30 p.m.

‘Working so late?’

‘Have to. I have a new investor. We are merging some groups. So, bit of an insane month.’

Damn, should I congratulate him now, I wondered. I decided not to; I would stick to the agenda.

‘We will see each other at the prayer meet, I guess,’ I said.

‘I am trying to come. Just that all these new investors are on my head.

Oh wait, her dad invited you as well?’ Raghu said, surprised. He was right to be surprised. Safdar hated me. I had no business being there.

‘Yes. It’s part of a plan. Raghu, we cracked the case.’

‘You did?’

‘Yes, we found the killer.’

‘How? I mean who?’

‘You have heard of Captain Faiz?’

‘Yeah, the Army officer. Solid guy. Zara’s family friend. He helped you?’

‘No, Raghu. Captain Faiz did it. He is the killer.’

‘What?’ Raghu said and went silent.

‘Raghu?’ I said, thinking the line had got cut.

‘I am here,’ he said, his voice unclear. ‘Are you sure? Faiz?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why?’

‘He liked her,’ I said.

‘What?’

‘They had an affair.’

‘What are you saying? He is married. He has kids!’

‘I know. They still got involved.’

I tried to be as gentle as possible, using softer words like ‘involved’. But I guess any man in Raghu’s situation would only hear it as ‘someone else fucked your girlfriend’.

‘Raghu?’ I said, when I heard nothing for a while. ‘You there?’

‘You have evidence?’

‘Solid evidence.’

‘Fucking bastard.’

I think a comet must have crossed over Earth. It was the first time I had heard Raghu swear.

‘Don’t go to the stupid police,’ Raghu said. ‘I called Rana a few days ago.’

‘You did?’

‘To check on the case. I call him every now and then. However, he seemed to be happy pursuing the watchman theory and keeping Laxman in.’

‘Yes. It suits him.’

‘Rana will botch it up. And Faiz is in the Army. He will manage to slime out.’

‘Thank you, that’s exactly what I thought. Hence, the prayer meet,’ I said.

Even though I didn’t like to admit it, I felt good that someone as smart as Raghu was thinking along the same lines as me.

‘Does he have any idea you know?’ Raghu said.

‘No.’

‘Good. Now I will definitely come for the prayer meet. On the 20th, no?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I will be there for sure.’

‘I will see you then,’ I said and then took a deep breath. ‘Also, Raghu.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Congrats. I read the news about the new investor and the latest valuation.’

‘Oh, that. Thanks,’ Raghu said.

‘Anyway, see you in five days,’ I said.

‘Sure. Keshav?’

‘Yes.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Welcome, Raghu.’

‘I don’t know how I will ever repay you.’

Saurabh gestured that he wanted to speak to me.

‘One second, Raghu.’ I muted the phone.

‘What?’ I said to Saurabh.

‘Of course he can repay us. He’s worth a thousand crores. Maybe he can give us—’ Saurabh said.

‘Shut up,’ I said and unmuted the phone. ‘Yes, Raghu. Sorry, you were saying something.’

‘Nothing. Just that I can never repay you. And I hope they hang him. Or lock him up for life.’

‘They will,’ I said.

‘I miss her every minute,’ Raghu said.

Okay, I do not need to hear this, I wanted to say, but didn’t.

‘I had told her, let’s leave India. Leave this mess behind. I just…’ Raghu said and completely broke down. I could hear him sob.

‘I understand how you feel, Raghu.’

Damn, was it my duty to console guys who dated my ex?

He wasn’t done yet. ‘I wanted to give her everything. All these achievements and congratulations. They mean nothing. Life is quite incomplete without her.’

‘He can give us the money if it means nothing to him,’ Saurabh whispered in my ear.

I kicked Saurabh’s behind to make him shut up. I had to remain sombre when talking to a person who was in tears.

‘It’s nothing. All this money. Pointless,’ Raghu was saying. I realised Raghu could afford a shrink if he needed a shoulder to cry on. It did not have to be me.

‘I can imagine. Raghu, I have someone at the door. I will see you in Delhi?’

‘Yes, sure. Sorry to take your time. Thank you so, so much again.’

I ended the call and threw a pillow at Saurabh’s head.

‘Fucker, is this a time to joke?’ I said.

Saurabh laughed.

‘You handled it well.’

‘Did I?’

‘Yes. You told him and yet didn’t rub it in,’ Saurabh said and lay down on the bed. I kept my phone and laptop aside.

‘Golu, go to your room and sleep,’ I said.

‘Too lazy to move, bhai. Goodnight,’ Saurabh said and switched off the bedside lamp.

I lay in bed, my eyes still open. I could hear nothing but Saurabh’s mild snores and the rhythmic whirr of the fan above me. I reflected on my conversation with Raghu. Had I really grown up? I didn’t feel jealous of his success. Nor did I enjoy seeing him hurt about his fiancée’s affair. I didn’t make any taunts or jibes. He seemed to be in so much pain that a thousand crores meant nothing to him. He said he found life quite incomplete without her…

My last phone conversation with Raghu resonated in my head as I continued to stare at the ceiling fan go round and round and round above me.

Half an hour later, I switched on the bedside lamp.

‘What happened?’ Saurabh said in a sleepy voice.

‘I can’t sleep. I need to go somewhere,’ I said.

‘Huh?’ Saurabh said, rubbing his eyes.

‘You want to come on a trip?’

‘What?’ Saurabh said groggily.

‘Let’s get away until the prayer meet. It will help us deal with the anxiety.’

‘What? Where? What about classes?’

‘I don’t care.’

‘I can’t travel, bhai. I am way behind on my course schedule. Chandan won’t just fire me, he will kill me.’

‘Fine. I am going away for a few days,’ I said. I jumped out of bed and switched on the lights. I opened my cupboard and pulled out a suitcase to pack my clothes.

‘Where?’ Saurabh said, sitting up on the bed and scratching his head.

‘I will tell you later. You sleep now. And take care of Chandan for me, please.’

Prologue continued


On board IndiGo flight 6E766 HYD–DEL

‘That is some story,’ I said.

Keshav grinned.

‘Glad you found it interesting.’

‘But you are a dude, Keshav. You actually went to Srinagar and did allthis?’

‘Yeah, Saurabh came with me, and that helped a lot. But not bad for twomediocre coaching-class faculty types, I guess,’ Keshav said.

‘It is incredible. What happened next? You went to the prayer meet?’

‘It’s tomorrow. I mean today, as it is past midnight already.’

‘What? You just said you told Saurabh you were leaving the city for abreak.’

‘That was four days ago. I did go for my break. I am returning home now.’

I checked the date and time on my watch. It was 1:05 a.m. on May 20th.

‘Oh. Where did you go?’ I said.

‘Several places. To calm my mind. Clear doubts. Figure things out.’

I took a guess since the flight was heading back from Telangana.

‘Tirupati, or something?’ I said.

Keshav smiled.

‘I went wherever I had to,’ he said.

I understood he didn’t want to tell me more.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, we will soon begin our descent into Delhi,’ the flight attendant announced. ‘Please fasten your seatbelts.’

The aircraft descended and we could see Delhi’s smog-covered nightlights.

Within minutes, the plane landed with a mild thud and taxied to a halt.

‘Thanks for listening to me,’ he said.

‘My pleasure. So, you are going to nail him today. Send Zara’s killer tojail.’

‘I hope so.’

‘Of course you will.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Will you tell me what happened at the prayer meet later?’ I said.

‘Why?’

‘Well, I want to hear the complete story.’

‘The one you said, “Oh no, not again” to.’

‘I already apologised for saying that,’ I said sheepishly.

The moment the seatbelt sign was switched off, passengers got up andbegan elbowing and jostling their way down the aisle. Everyone behaved as if they all had some emergency, like their homes had caught fire, and they had to get out of the plane five seconds before the others.

‘I will call you, to complete the story,’ Keshav said and smiled.

We shook hands and exchanged numbers. As we left the plane, his phonerang.

‘Yes, Rana sir. Okay, that footage is fine,’ he said. We waved goodbye toeach other while he remained busy with the call and took brisk steps to walk ahead and away from me.

I reached my room at Andaz Hotel in Aerocity, less than ten minutes away from Westend Greens. I tried to sleep, but couldn’t. In a few hours from now, a prayer meet would take place. Minutes away from me, a killer Army officer would be nabbed.

I tossed and turned in bed for the nth time, and then finally picked up myphone. I sent a message to Keshav.

‘Best of luck for this evening, buddy.’





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