Ghosts Of The Past

Rashmi sat staring at the news link on her cellphone.  Her college had made the headlines – for all the wrong reasons.

Mr. M K Patel, Principal of the commerce section of DYC Senior College, had been arrested on charges of inappropriate behaviour with several female students.  One gutsy girl had approached the police and this had led to almost all the other girls come forward to report their horror tales. 

The media blew it up into a full-fledged public scandal.  They also played up his grotesque looks, just to grab readership.  The Principal had a badly scarred face, thanks to extensive cosmetic surgery done years ago, after an accident.

DYC college was located on the fringes of the city.  It offered courses in various streams, segregated hostel facilities for outstation boys and girls and residential quarters for faculty.

Rashmi had a reason for being perplexed.  She had visited the Principal’s cabin on multiple occasions and he had never ever misbehaved with her.  

==========X==========

Rashmi was born when her mother was barely 20 years old.  She had never known her father.  Her mother slogged away to earn and support them, often changing residences and schools, for reasons unknown.  Rashmi would return from school to an empty house.  Her weekdays were spent pining for her Mom’s company.  On weekends, she waited desperately for Monday, just to get away from her mother’s overprotective and possessive nature.  

Rashmi grew up to be a highly introverted girl.  Then came her rebellious teenage years.  Her fiery fights with her Mom caused her to enter this college.  The place wasn’t great, but Rashmi’s yearning for freedom was far greater.

“Madam Rashmi Sharma – where are you?”  Her roommate teased her.

She came back to the present.

“Have your bath, Rashmi!!”

“Yes, Nafisa.”

Nafisa raided her famous shoe collection for today’s colour-coordinated high heels.  The five-footer was never seen in flats.  That done, she put on her burkha and left for her classes.

==========X==========

The next evening, the Principal was out on bail.

He returned to his quarters.  The college ordered him to vacate the place by morning.

And vacate he did.  But not the way the college wanted him to.

==========X==========

It was 4 am.  Nafisa woke Rashmi. “Mr. Patel was murdered last night.”

Rashmi sat up, startled.

“His throat was slit.  There were signs of struggle.   The cameras have captured a person dressed in black, creeping in and out of the room and leaving the campus…..”

There was a knock.  Two uniformed people stood at the door.

The tall, lanky forty-something man with a handlebar moustache introduced himself, “I am Inspector Singh – in charge of this case.  And she’s Constable Selvi.”  He pointed at the young, stern-faced woman who accompanied him.  We’ve been told that you were the only girl with whom Mr. Patel behaved in a gentlemanly manner.  We want some information from you.”

Two hours of questioning later, an exhausted Rashmi collapsed on the bed.  Oh, how much she missed her Mom!!  For the first time in nearly four years, she felt homesick.

“I want to go home, Nafisa.”

“They’re asking questions at the gate.  Refusing permission for some people to go out.  They want to find the man in black.  They believe he may have accomplices.”  As usual, Nafisa had all the news.  “But……”

==========X==========

It was 7 pm.  The lone security guard at the gate was fed up of his increased duties.  Hell, they never raised his pay!!

He saw a burkha clad girl approach the gate on her Scooty.  He recognized her.  Nafisa was the only girl in burkha in the entire campus.

“Medam, where are you going?” 

“To get my asthma medicines.”  Nafisa showed him her id, an inhaler and a prescription.

“All right.  Return soon.”  

She sped away.

As he watched her turn the corner, he suddenly sat bolt upright.  She was wearing flats!!

==========X==========

Rashmi drove nonstop for three hours before taking off her burkha.  Half an hour more and she was home. 

Her flat was locked.  

Damn!! When I know that Mom works the night shift at a call centre, I should have informed.  

She let herself in with her spare key.  She called Mom, but her cellphone was switched off.  She raided the fridge and had a light dinner.

While washing the dishes, her eyes randomly went over to the huge attic above the kitchen platform.  She was surprised to see an old trunk right in front.  That trunk had always been secreted away at the back, the contents unknown to her.

Curiosity and boredom caused her to bring down the trunk and open it. 

==========X==========

Inspector Singh was a worried man.  He had been given charge of this crime-ridden area with high expectations.  And within a week, this Principal had to get murdered.  The clues?  A mysterious man in black.  Another mystery called Rashmi.  And a message he received five minutes ago – that Rashmi had escaped the campus.

It was 8 pm.  He sat alone in office, pondering.  He vaguely remembered a similar case a few years back, but couldn’t place it.  Just then, his cellphone beeped.  It was a reminder – a friend had invited him for dinner.

He had to go.  

On the way, he saw a biker in black race by.  Within seconds, the bike entered a narrow bylane and disappeared.  He cursed under his breath.

He stopped his car a few blocks after his own residence, outside an ancient-looking bungalow which bore the nameplate “D D Shinde”.  His friend welcomed him warmly.  Shinde was his old schoolmate who now worked as a supervisor in a Government department.

After dinner, the two men sat on the terrace, reminiscing the old times.  Suddenly, the Inspector saw the black figure lurking in the distance.  He quickly made an excuse and left.

He parked his car a little distance away from where he had seen the figure and tiptoed towards it.

He placed his hand heavily on the biker’s shoulder.  The surprised biker turned around.  “What the…??”

Now it was Inspector Singh’s turn to be surprised.  For it was a female voice.

==========X==========

Rashmi gingerly took out the contents of the trunk.

There was a package which appeared to contain something delicate.  A twenty-year-old college magazine.  Various photo albums and random photographs.  A dented trophy.  And a file that contained newspaper clippings ranging from twenty years ago till the present day.

Rashmi went for the albums first.  Photographs of her maternal grandparents, who had passed on before she was born.  Her great grandmother, who remained in this world till Rashmi turned three.  Her mother’s wedding album.  Her father’s face.  Rashmi remembered her Mom telling her that she didn’t have any of her wedding photographs and that her Dad was no more.  Why did she lie to me?

Then there were photographs of her mother in her college days.  “Wow, she looked so pretty,” thought Rashmi, even as she remembered her Mom’s present-day looks – a world-weary reflection of a life full of struggles.  But she was yet to know the extent of her Mom’s travails.

Rashmi next picked up the college magazine.  

She skipped the articles and poems and reached the events section.  Her Mom had participated in an inter-collegiate drama competition.  Her college had won the first prize.  There was a photograph of the team and there she was, right in front, with one hand on the big trophy and the other holding a small replica.  Rashmi matched it with the trophy in the trunk.

Her Mom had played a young Christian bride and looked divine in that white bridal dress.  On an impulse, Rashmi opened the package to find that very dress.  Old, a bit faded – and also torn and stained.

==========X==========

The Inspector removed his hand.  His keen eyes observed that the description of the bike, helmet, jacket and gloves, all black, matched those in the CCTV footage from the college.

He asked in a stentorian voice, “Who are you?  And what are you doing here?”

The biker didn’t reply.  In the next five seconds, her whole life flashed in front of her eyes.  Right from that fateful day twenty years ago when her team had won the inter-collegiate drama competition.

==========X==========

Rashmi was puzzled at the stains and tears.  Maybe I’ll get all the answers in the trunk.

She was browsing through the photographs of the other drama teams when she suddenly spotted herself in one of them.  She froze.

This person had the same face as hers and also her short, curly tomboyish hairstyle.  The list of names below said that he was Mahesh Karsanbhai Patel.

The name immediately reminded her of the murder of her Principal, Mr. Maheshbhai Karsanbhai Patel.  Rashmi had a memory for names.  A namesake?  If so, how come she looked exactly like him?  Was it related to his different behaviour with her?

Rashmi then remembered her Principal’s stunned stare when he had first seen her and his probing enquiries about her background and mother’s name.  “So you are Savita Sharma’s daughter.”

She also recalled her Mom’s repeated insistence that she change her hairstyle and how her refusal had contributed to the wedge in their relations.

Rashmi now picked up the file.  The clippings were neatly arranged in chronological order.  

She went over to the oldest clipping and started reading.

The article was dated around the same time as the drama competition.  It was a standard press release announcing the winning teams, along with their photographs.  She saw her replica again there.

The next one was of the next day.  Three boys had allegedly raped a girl.  Though the newspaper stuck to the rule of not naming the victim, the description, as usual, was enough to give away the identity.  “A girl, from — College, who was part of the prize-winning drama team, was allegedly raped by three young men.  She had played the role of the bride in white….” 

Rashmi exploded in tears.  Her Mom was a much stronger woman than she had thought.  She had endured so much in life. Including a daughter who had hated her at one point of time.

She continued reading.  The next few clippings mentioned how she had identified the three rapists.  Keshav More, Drishtadyumna and – Mahesh K Patel.  The last name came like a chilling bolt of lightning as she realised, within a fraction of a second, that two of the mysteries in her head had just been resolved.

==========X==========

After the prize distribution, Savita got a message calling her out to the lawns for a photoshoot.

She found the place empty.  Suddenly, she was cornered by three boys.  She recognized them as part of the drama teams of other colleges.  They gagged her and threw her behind a bush.  Then they ravaged her, one by one.  And destroyed her life, forever.

After the incident, she ran home in that torn and stained bridal dress.  Her father blamed her.  “I told you not to talk to boys.  See what has happened now.  Who will marry you?”  These words hurt her far more than the crime perpetrated on her.

So she herself went to the police station to file an FIR, after enduring huge resistance and open taunts questioning her character.  Her parents immediately shifted her to her maternal grandmother’s house in their native village.

Yet, she identified the three rapists.  But they were out on bail within a week of their arrest.  Keshav, the scion of an influential family, threatened her with dire consequences.  True to his word, he sent goons to attack her parents.  She was left orphaned.

By then, word about her “loose morals” spread in her grandmother’s village.  The looks and snide comments gnawed into her soul everyday.  Just when she thought things couldn’t get worse, the morning sickness started.

Her grandmother panicked.  Then a distant relative came forward, offering to marry her.  The relieved and gullible grandma agreed.

==========X=========

Rashmi’s faith in the police and the media, already at a low, hit rock bottom as she continued reading.  FIR, identification of the rapists, arrests, bail and then the hacking of her maternal grandparents.

What had her Mom told her?  “Your grandparents had been victims of an accident.”

==========X==========

Seven months into the ill-fated marriage, Rashmi was born.  The next year, Savita and Rashmi were abandoned on the streets, penniless.  Her husband had forged her signatures and transferred her parents’ properties to his name.  This time, she couldn’t fight.  The small, fragile baby held her back.

She left Rashmi with her frail grandmother for a couple of years, while she struggled in the city to get work and a place to live in.  She had to encounter many prejudices, questions, comments, insults and lecherers.  But she trudged on, unwilling to give up.  She had to bring up her daughter.  And she had to finish off those men, someday.  Her desire for revenge never left her.

Survival wasn’t easy.  She had no friends.  She had to change jobs and residences the moment her bosses or landlords came to know her past.  No one wanted a “woman of disrepute” in their vicinity.

Two years later, her grandmother left this world and Savita brought Rashmi to live with her.

==========X==========

The initial shock and anger turned into amazement as Rashmi went on to read how Keshav More’s car was found on a highway, with the owner’s throat slit.  

The next clipping was of the Principal’s murder.  Throat slit again.

God, how did she do it?  And where was Drishtadyumna?

==========X==========

Savita’s first chance at revenge came nearly fifteen years after the incident.  Keshav turned up at her office as a client.  He recognized her.  “I heard that you have a teenage daughter, as pretty as you are?”  He commented slyly before leaving.  Savita made her decision.

She kept a tab on his movements and noticed that he often took a narrow, deserted roadway to the next town for his business matters.

On one of his return journeys, she encountered him on that road.  And slit his throat with a kitchen knife.  An eyewitness reported seeing a biker in black speed away.  But they couldn’t trace her.  Because she’d hidden away the bike.

A year later, Rashmi got herself into DYC College.  And another four years later, the scandal broke out.

A worried Savita called up Rashmi, who told her everything she knew about the Principal.  At the end of it, an even more worried Savita realised that she couldn’t take the risk.  Mahesh Patel had to go.

==========X==========

Drishtadyumna.  Who on this earth would keep such a difficult name for their son?

The file didn’t speak of anything happening to him.  So he must be alive.  Where was he?

Rashmi typed out the name on Facebook.  No results.

She turned to Google.  After pages and pages of results showing him as Draupadi’s brother, she hit the jackpot.

By the time she had read through it, she knew exactly what she had to do.

She got up.  

Feeling thirsty, she reached out to the full bottle at the farthest corner of the dining table.  It was then that she saw her Mom’s cellphone lying there.  Its battery was dead.  A charger with a frayed wire lay on the chair at the far end.

Has Mom really gone to work?

==========X==========

“Reply to me or I’ll arrest you!!”  The Inspector growled.

Savita remained silent. 

“Remove your helmet!!”

She didn’t.  He pulled out a pair of handcuffs.  

Suddenly, she ducked and ran.

He caught her from behind.  She clawed and bit him so hard that he loosened his grip.  She slipped away.  

God, she’s strong.

The bike was behind him now.  She couldn’t reach it.  So she ran out onto the near-deserted streets. Her still-slim body was somewhat faster than the potbellied Inspector and she reached the highway. 

Traffic was sparse.  She ran into the dense growth on the side, till she tripped and fell, hurting herself in the process.  She felt dizzy.

He yanked off her helmet.  As he stared at her face, his memory of old cases suddenly returned.  The murder of Keshav More.  That rape many years ago.  He understood.  Two down.  One more to go. 

No – he couldn’t let that happen.  She couldn’t take the law in her hands.

He looked around.  No pedestrians.  He pointed his gun at her.  “You escape and I’ll kill you.”

She sat still.  He placed a finger on the trigger.  The next moment, he slumped to the ground.  Savita saw another figure in black standing behind him, holding a huge stick in her gloved hands.  “Rashmi??”

“Yes, Ma..”

The Inspector had not let go of his gun while falling.  He now aimed it at Rashmi.

Rashmi deftly kicked it out of his hand, silently thanking her martial arts classes.

Inspector Singh struggled and stood up.  He lunged forward to catch Rashmi.

In the next few seconds, Rashmi realised that the Inspector was also trained in martial arts.  And his experience overpowered her.

He was now standing behind her, with one hand around her neck and the other holding his gun to her temple.

“So mother and daughter are both involved.”

“Leave me!!”

He tightened his grip.  She felt herself weakening.  It was now or never.

Her body suddenly went limp.  “So you are not that strong, young lady!!”  He smirked, as she fell to the ground and lay motionless.

The Inspector took out his cellphone to dial headquarters.  Again, a kick knocked it down.  Rashmi’s ruse had worked.  She stood up at lightning speed and pinned him down.  Her hand reached into her pocket for the kitchen knife.  One slit – the game was over.

Drained and emotionless, she fished out his id and tossed it over to her dazed Mom.  “Your revenge is complete, Ma.”

The id said – Inspector Drishtadyumna Virpratap Singh.

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Archie Iyer
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One Thought to “Ghosts Of The Past”

  1. Great story very well narrated, and it flows with ease. A definite flair for writing.

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