The Inadvertent Serendipity




Prologue

13th July 2011 ‘…the city is rocked with three blasts….reminder of the 2008 attack… Panchratna building in the Opera house… authorities have sounded high alert… Indian Mujahideen is believed to have carried out…’ PANCHRATNA* ? You don’t blink as the news anchor screams her lungs out, your living room now a cacophony of voices, intercepted rhythmically by the platter of the Mumbai monsoon right outside. A lone tear escapes its kohl-lined confines as you press a palm on your thumping heart, attempting to slow it down.  Just a bit... Romil… Tame thik cho*? You wonder anxiously, turning the raw stone on your ring finger. Romil had given it to you when he had proposed last month promising to shape the diamond gradually along with your lives together. The pages of your 20-year-old life book unfurl rapidly and come to a standstill.

Chapter 1

Present You are humming the latest Neha Kakkar remix, cringing at the atrociousness and the destruction of the soulful original melody but Romil loves to gyrate along the notes.  You stare at the full-length ornate mirror, Romil’s wedding gift to you. But then what else does one expect in a diamond-merchant household? You smile at the chipped frame edge where the so-called elephant lost its tusk. You tease Romil about it all the time. He is a perfectionist to the core but despite being married for over a decade he hasn’t repaired that frame.  You sway, twisting a bit to the left and then to the right. The lavender dress doesn’t do justice to your bulging contours. You aren’t young anymore, are you? But Romil has eyes only for you. You sigh uttering a mental prayer for a long marital inning, gripping the precious stone that’s yet to be shaped... Dabbing your lips with a final touch of gloss you blink rapidly trying to adjust the contact lenses. Those cosmetic cobalt blues hide your grey orbs and suit your outfit to the T. You have to shine tonight at the party. Aadarsh Mehta will be there as well. The immoral soul thinks you are clueless about his debauchery and he can get away with it.  Tonight, it’s time for action.  You have arranged it all.  Romil will get his revenge but you will be the catalyst. Lost in your world you turn around only to stamp on a broken glass piece. You had cleaned up well that morning after accidentally dropping the glass of water. This must have remained. Pain pierces your senses even as the metallic odour of the oozing claret sends a shiver down your spine. You hop on one leg and plonk on the double bed, into its welcoming softness. ‘Shalu, what happened?’ Says Romil as he rushes over, anxiety marring his handsome face.  Oh, he understands pain only too well. The wretched blast 11 years ago had left him bleeding profusely. So yes, he knows what pain is. You stare into those depthless beautiful brown eyes, overflowing with emotions and love…  Love only for you.  Your pain recedes. Romil’s strong square jaw and chiseled features cause your heart to flutter as he bends over to inspect your wound. But you had fallen in love with his abundant heart when you were barely 16. You knew the moment your eyes met; you would be his wife someday.  Age has been kind to Romil. Thank God for the plenteous blessings. His jet-black hair adorns his crown like a velvety hat. Those morning walks might be doing their job well. You should join him too and maybe follow his diet as well. You nod, making a firm resolve to do so. Maybe that would open the avenues toward motherhood. You desperately want a baby but aren’t so sure about Romil. As Romil struggles to apply the loyal band-aid, gently circling the wound with his soft thumb pad, you watch his creaseless lemon-green shirt. It was your engagement gift to him. It was Romil’s go-to outfit and gently tucked into the black jeans hugging his slim waist. The black Levis brand was also a part of wedding shopping almost a decade ago. You love that Romil has maintained your gifts including that Times limited edition watch you gave him ages ago which got crushed along with his hand on that horrific day…  You shudder at the thought and Romil looks up, question shining in his alluring eyes even as that lock of hair falls on his forehead. You gently push it aside. ‘Shalu stay calm dear…’ He says and gets back to observe his handiwork on my wound. “Um… Romil…” you hesitate but continue. “…I checked that IVF clinic in Tardeo… Let's try once again, please?” you battle your eyelashes for you know he always falls for it. Romil gently places your foot down and sighs, the warm tuft of exhaling gently ruffling the silk of your evening wear. The way Romil looks at you, you know the dress was worth every penny though it burnt a hole in your pocket.  Romil loves lavender. But instead of replying Romil walks towards the elegant French window and moved the satin curtain as he stares at the lashing downpour. He puts his only hand in his well-toned glute pocket… his gesture indicating, he is lost in thought. You wonder if you have bitten more than you could chew given the business disquietude these days, particularly with that reprobate Aadarsh staking claim to the entire foreign trade. Romil has been so worried. But he turns around and smiles. That endearing dimple causes your heart to get into the marathon all over again. Those broad shoulders are adept at carrying the burden of the world… relieving you instantly.  ‘Ready to go darling?’ asks Romil and you nod shyly at the prospect of sharing an intimate evening with your beloved but… you are suddenly reminded of what you have planned.  The evidence. “Romil, I have found those encrypted emails, …” you begin to confide hobbling towards him trying to maintain a balance, avoiding putting pressure on that injured toe. ‘Later darling…’ Says Romil.

Chapter 2

You walk into a fusion of Indo-western culture across the realms, be it food, music, or the attire of the gathered tinsel town folks. You strongly detest these dos but tonight it was important. Fortunately, the rain Gods had taken a break so your dress isn’t soaked like you worried nor was there any flood around. The driver had been diligent and your motion sickness too didn’t spoil the fun. Romil, however, remained pensive throughout and even here he breezed his way to his favorite glass of Chianti.  He has been drinking a lot these days…  …thanks to that imbecilic fellow gyrating shamelessly to the upbeat number belted out through the HiFi speakers. Adarsh is such a douche. This was a party celebrating the successful diamond deal with a Middle Eastern company and you know Romil had put his heart and soul into it. Just last week you had cooked an elaborate spread of Romil’s favourite cuisine. He loved the Surti Undhiyu* “O Bhagvaan, tame shu kari rahiya cho?* Baa had resented and blabbered about the grandiosity citing religious concerns.  But you were never the one for idol worship or religious poppycock. Romil had arrived late that night. He had an important investor meeting that sealed the fate of the foreign deal. Though bone-tired he smiled seeing the spread and you knew you were successful.  ‘Tamhara haathan ma jaadu che, Shalu* said Romil, the lucky charm lemon-green shirt glowing furthermore as he relished every dish.  That night he hugged you tightly after ages, and your OCD-level-cleanliness-freak-side didn’t mind him not changing his clothes.  The music changes and you are brought out of your reverie. The naacho naacho track makes you tap your foot too even as the stilettoes bite into your tender skin. The music is blaring annoyingly making your stomach churn occasionally but you know it’s because of what you are set to do tonight. Adarsh has always had his way but tonight it was time for redemption… justice would prevail.  Romil would get what he deserved.  You look around the swelling crowd, some faces are known but many are unknown. You have consciously stayed away from those lecherous gossipy wives’ groups. They would only talk about your barrenness… thought you didn’t know, did they? “Jai Sri Krishna, Shaliniben. Kem cho?*...”   I startle and look at the pesky Adarsh. Tall and reed thin with those ridiculous spectacles on his funnily shaped nose, the asshole thought he was a gift to the fairer sex. “… It's nice to see you Shaliniben… after so many years…” He ogles at you sending chills down your spine. You want to throw up that fruit punch you gulped on entry, on his Armani tuxedo. The man is a walking brand emporium. You can smell the woody Amouage even as he flaunts the Cartier, shaking his arm and flexing his shoulder, a maneuver you are very familiar with. After all, he is Romil’s best friend and business partner. You look away in disgust. ‘Just a couple of hours more, Adarsh…’ you gleefully ponder. ‘…inspector Shirke has everything ready.’ You smile thinking about how you arranged for the crucial email evidence to be delivered to the investigating officer Shirke. The backstabbing bastard wouldn’t know what hit him. Right then you turn around and look towards the bar watching Romil sip his second drink… or maybe third? Who knows? But after tonight he won’t touch a drink, you will see to it. He would take over the entire business and be too occupied to think about anything else. You would become the perfect wife by taking care of all his comforts back home…. You travel the course of the next hour meeting friends… meticulous to slimes. Each out to suck you dry, taking in every ounce of that pint now guzzling through your bloodstream. You stare at the goblet in your hand, trembling as you raise it in front of the light shining like an aura around it. When did you pick it up? That scum Aadarsh must have arranged for it.  You smirk and drop the offensive object on the floor, the carpet cushioning it from breaking up. Chuckling you hobble your way toward the washroom dodging the shimmery but shallow beauties en route. You hear their snickers and snubs above the clamorous decibels and wave a trembling hand… you are the elephant out here and the bitches are meant to bark. You enter the corner, wondering if Romil would appreciate what you are set to do tonight. Right then, he emerges from the shadows startling you. He looks sober and that makes you happy.  “Romil… don’t mind but I have to do this… for you, for us” Romil and the rest of the world begin to spin and you steady yourself holding the wall. ‘Go ahead Shalu…I am with you…always.’ Says Romil as he steadies you with those strong arms. God, how much you love the man. “Ro…Romil… that Adarsh tried to… he… he has to be … pun….punished” your speech begins to slur. Romil and the row of linen behind him become hazy. NO… you can’t lose it tonight… NO NO… you clutch your head, hoping to stop it from bursting open. The headache that had taken root the moment you saw Adarsh had flared up and it pounded your insides. ‘I believe you, Shalu, I trust you…’ Romil says holding your cheek in his palm and you rest on it. The pounding takes a break and you stumble into the washroom. You splash cold water, the spraying faucet notwithstanding, you look up to see your makeup cruise unevenly down your face. You hear giggling as a couple of women finish their task and reach the basin. There’s Aarti… Adarsh’s wife. She considers her mighty self, way above other lesser mortals. You chuckle and look into the mirror yet again. The lavender shade has changed near your ample bosom as the wet cloth sticks to your cleavage. You know you look hideous at the moment but the finale is all that you care about.  The women walk out, and the door hinge creaks softly as it shuts. You wipe your face and use a stole to cover your chest. Your uncouth self has Romil’s reputation to consider. You exit the washroom and look for Romil but he has disappeared yet again. These are the times you hate him.  You walk over to relieve your parched throat. You are already feeling the hot flush and touch your cheeks. Asking for a glass of sparkling water you drop in an ice cube… and you watch. The tiny shapely cube spirals down more gracefully than Romil’s plummeting fortune and the tiny air bubbles attached to it are a marked contrast to the burr attached to your heart. You sigh and take a cool sip feeling the chill sink into your inner warmth. ‘Sweetheart you need to calm down. Everything’s going great…’ Says Romil out of the blue into your ear and his warm breath fanning out against your pinna makes you smile. How much you love that… how much you love him! You turn towards him and your hawk eyes fall on the wet-colored spots on his shirt. He must have dropped his drink just like the other day when you had dined in his favourite Thai restaurant. The Thai curry had stained the lemon-green fabric. You had been upset but Romil had managed to get the stains removed. You are sure he would remove these stains as well… “Romil, it's show time now…” you whisper leaning towards him and your beloved voguish Terre D’Hermes wafts into your olfactory chambers.  ‘Go ahead darling… aapne jitaasun*…’ he hugs you closer. Head held high you walk to the DJ. Opening your clutch, you take out the lone content beside your handkerchief; a pen drive. You instruct him and move back to your water and Romil. Entangling your fingers in his, you wait for the spectacle to begin. The lights are dimmed and the music stops amidst murmurs.  The DJ announces, “dear friends we hereby have a special request, a video clip to be played. So, let's have your attention on the wall here…” He points towards the only brightly lit wall that would serve as the screen for the projector.  You wait with bated breath as a video unfolds. It’s a grainy visual, an old clip from a hidden video camera, that shows an argument… no, a fight between Romil and Aadarsh.  Aadarsh who has now walked towards the screen stares at it wide-eyed. Everyone else watches in stunned silence. A couple of minutes later in the clip, Aadarsh brutally stabs Romil and runs away. You watch in agony as Romil struggles his way toward the camera and uses his HTC thunderbolt to do some settings. Even as he pants, losing breath, he looks into the camera and whispers.  “Shalu, check …your… email darling, baddhun thyan che*… I don’t… trust… anyone…Love…love you…” The phone falls and goes blank.  Wiping your tears, you tighten your clasp on Romil’s hand and look accusingly at Aadarsh. The lights are back on and so is the tumult of discussion. A few of the men you know as Romil’s friends dauntingly gather around Aadarsh.  Right then the DJ announces an entry and sudden silence befalls the area as Inspector Shirke makes his Singham-style entry. You find it difficult to hide your chuckle as he tries to hook those glares into his collar! “Everyone stay right where you are. Anyone escaping the venue will be tried for breaking the law…” Shirke bellows, his bass voice tinged with nasal snorts that make the crowd giggle or murmur rather than scared. Aadarsh, all flushed, stares daggers at you and loosens his tie. Your self-doubt rears its ugly head. But right then Romils warm palm engulfs yours. ‘Don’t worry Shalu, baddhun saarun thai jase… all will be fine’. Romil assures. Shirke goes closer to Aadarsh and declares. “You are under arrest Mr. Aadarsh Mehta for the murder of Romil Shah in 2011…”

Epilogue

You open your heavy eyelids to a pristine ceiling and the soft hum of the fan above. The ubiquitous antiseptic redolence strikes you and you make an effort to move. You feel a pinch where the IV is attached to your arm.  Romil? You panic and look around….  You pluck out the IV without caring about the throbbing and place your unsteady feet on the cold tile. You are in a hospital room… did something happen?  You hear sounds and cruise towards the door. You aren’t able to open it but the voices stream in and you recognize three. Your baa, Inspector Shirke, and your psychiatrist, Dr. Azmi.  You look down at yourself and realize you are in the familiar sky-blue hospital wear. The muffled voices stream in as you try to listen despite the fuge. ‘Mrs. Dholakia, Shalini has not been taking her medication. She has been drinking too. She had a band-aid on her toe without reason…and the lemon-green shirt perseveration is back… the one Romil wore on the day he passed…she has lost all sense of reality…’ Dr. Azmi reprimands baa. ‘Sorry, doctor, but we were busy with a family function and….’ Baa seems flustered ‘But, Shalini helped us crack this case from years ago. We knew something was amiss about Romil’s death despite the blast damaging everything…’ Inspector Shirke speaks. ‘…if she hadn’t given us the email evidence then we would still be groping in the dark…  Aadarsh in the guise of the blast, would have gone scott-free for murder…’ The words fade away as you walk towards the bed, confused, and read the hanging diagnostic chart. Name: Shalini Dholakia Diagnosis: Paranoid Schizophrenia Month/ Year of diagnosis: July 2011 You look away in a daze, even as your heartbeats pace up. A warm palm enwraps yours.  You smile. ‘Proud of you darling… you did well.’ whispers Romil. Glossary:
  1. Panchratna: Mumbai’s famous diamond-hub
  2. Tame thik cho: are you alright
  3. Surti Undhiyu: a Gujarati mixed vegetable dish that is a regional specialty of Surat, Gujarat, India
  4. O Bhagvaan, tame shu kari rahiya cho: O God what are you doing?
  5. Tamhara haathan ma jaadu che, Shalu:  there is magic in your hands, Shalu
  6. Kem cho:  how are you?
  7. aapne jitaasun: we will win
  8. baddhun thyan che: everything is there
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