Sunday, July 24, 2011

An Unfinished Story

The naked body appeared to be a Mathematics book. It was a piece of art, not a cold blooded murder. A sharp knife had been used to engrave Maths equations all over the body. The body was found in the victim's car which was parked outside Juhu Beach. The body had been carefully washed to remove all the blood stains so that the equations in form of deep cuts were visible. The quadratic equation (-b ± b2 – 4ac) / 2a was etched on the forehead while the trigonometric equation sin2θ + cos2θ = 1 was inscribed on the left cheek. The neck, the flat belly, thighs, legs, back, buttocks and arms were all engraved as well with other Mathematical equations. A right angled triangle was drawn on the left breast and alongside the Pythagoras theorem a2 + b2 = c2 was scribbled. The head had been shaven and the numbers from Fibonacci series were neatly marked all over it. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5… right up to 1346269. "The murderer must have worked on this for hours, may be even days. It's a job of a sick and a completely fucked up mind" exclaimed detective Paripakav. He received a phone call. "The victim has been identified. Her name is Sankhya and guess what she was a Maths teacher at a government school in Baijnath a small town in Himachal Pradesh".

K was sipping his coffee in his cheap one bed apartment. He had found the green binder in his car's trunk. He was driving towards a mall to run a few errands. Led Zeppelin was helping him with his hangover when he heard a loud screech and braked instinctively. The front right wheel was flat, a long nail stuck in it. He opened the trunk and saw it lying beneath the spare tyre. He drove an old Maruti 800 that he had recently bought from eBay. As per the previous owner K would be the fourth owner of the car. The previous owner told him that he was a part time short story writer and was trying to get some of his stories published but had been unsuccessful. K thought that the guy must have accidentally left the binder there. K picked it up and put it in his bag. He loved to read. He worked as a clerk in a government office in New Delhi and did not have enough money to buy books at the pace he could read them. To quench his thirst he would read the same old books he possessed again and again. His favourite book was Catcher in the Rye which he had read at least thirty seven times. When he was bored of books he would pick up an old newspaper and read it front to back, multiple times. He could not let go of the opportunity that the binder presented. He thought of reading the contents and after that returning it back to its owner. Once he was back at home later that evening he opened it up. It contained few sheets of what looked like manuscript of a short story that the eBay guy must have been writing. To his utter surprise only a few sheets had text on them. The others were blank. Some sheets had only few lines written on them. The text was neatly written with hand. There were no page numbers and a quick scan was enough for him to understand that everything was jumbled up. Over all it was nothing but a few paragraphs in no particular order. The eBay guy had just scribbled those paragraphs probably outlining the plot of his next story. He thought of dumping it when his eye caught on a polynomial. He hated Maths but his curiosity got better of him after seeing the polynomial. "What is a polynomial doing in a story?" was a question he could not simply let go off. He dumped the useless sheets and retained the ones that had even a single line of readable text. He had just finished reading the first sheet in one single breath. 

The school was popularly known as the school of terror. An ex-Army man Jalaad Saini had been the principal of the school for the last nine years. He was a short tempered man and was notorious for handing severe punishments to anyone who crossed the lines he had created. "Life is all about discipline. As teachers it is our responsibility to inculcate discipline into our students. We can't rely upon parents as they are in love with them. You can't make a loved one learn. Today's generation is fucked up and as constructors of the society it's our job to straighten them up. Show no mercy cohorts" he would shout out loud in his meetings with the school teachers. He had laid down the guidelines that every teacher had to follow. One, he had built special bamboo canes for all the school staff. Two, every teacher had to go through a rigorous training. How to effectively slap a lad? How to use the cane? Where exactly to hit to induce maximum pain? How to humiliate incompetent students? Three, he had a rule book for the teachers. A rule book he had written himself. Four slaps and three cane hits on the buttocks for being late to the school. Two slaps and one cane hit for every mistake committed in the homework. Eleven slaps on the face, thirteen cane hits on the knuckles and seventeen cane hits on the buttocks for missing homework altogether. The list went on and on.

K made himself a toast and put some jam on it. He got back to the sheets. He gazed at it for few minutes. He turned the radio on. Galloping pages was bread and butter for K but for some strange reason he was reluctant to pick the binder up and move on. He hesitantly picked up the next page that contained a little paragraph only.

The boy was admitted to the hospital. The left leg's kneecap had completely come off and was hanging by the shredded skin. A quick surgery was performed but the boy would never walk straight. A class mate had complained that he had stolen his pen and on a thorough search the pen was indeed found in his bag. A red eyed Jalaad was livid and he pounded over him like a soccer player would do seeing the ball and an empty goal. He slapped him, kicked him and beat him up with the cane. After a while it seemed that it was the cane that was being beaten down. He kept on hitting him till the cane broke up.    

K set the binder aside and made himself some more coffee. He roamed around in his little apartment with the coffee mug in his hand. The old clock showed 10:38 PM. It was a Sunday evening. An evening that was just perfect before K had started reading. Now he could not get his mind of what he had just read. He looked at the binder lying on his bed. He picked it up but immediately put it aside. He sipped the coffee. He didn't notice that it had grown cold and gulped it in one shot. He minced some curse words and got back to the binder again. "I am not going to read this fucking story. I know now why that stupid fucker can't get a publisher. This is insane. Who would want to read this shit?". He picked up Catcher in the Rye and slept only after he had read it one more time.

K kept to himself the next day in office which was not unusual for his colleagues. He could not get his mind of the few pages he had read the last night. He thought of returning the manuscript the next day. He came back early that evening and turned the radio on. It did not help so he resorted to what had worked for him all throughout his life. Newspapers. He had not read a newspaper for one week. He picked all the newspapers from the last week. For the next one and a half hour he went through them front to end till he stumbled upon a news article. A small piece that was published seven days ago.

"A retired history teacher found dead". He found the small piece on page five and read it at least seven times. An old man Praachin Sharma was found dead in his house in Kanpur. He was a retired teacher who used to teach history. He was found dead by his maid servant. His naked body was found lying on the floor. A brief narrative on the 1919 satyagraha initiated by Gandhi against the Rowlatt act was scribbled on the dead man's belly. The buttocks were engraved with a brief on the Anglo-French hundred year’s war. The thighs gave the story of the 1857 revolution. The entire body was an encyclopedia of a tenth grade history book. The news also mentioned some minor details about Praachin and his family.

The striking similarity between the murder mentioned in the newspaper and the manuscript could not have been a coincidence. He lit a cigarette and pondered over the similarity. He had bought the car four days ago. There was only one possibility. The guy had read the piece in the newspaper and then cooked up his short story by changing the subject from History to Maths. "So this is how the bastard cooked up that filthy story. What a mother fucker? Why did he keep the manuscript in his car's trunk? Who gives a flying fuck? I am not going to return this binder to the leech". He made himself coffee and opened up The Outsider. It was a book he had read twenty nine times. 

Six months had passed. K could not get the story out of his mind. Once every two or three weeks he would pick up the binder and read out a paragraph. He would never read more than one at a time. He wouldn't sleep well the day he read anything from those sheets. The brutality that played out in the school and its gory details disturbed him immensely. The story had completely hijacked his mind. There was mention of other murders. All teachers. All the victims had at one point or the other taught in the school of terror. A science teacher was found dead in Palampur under similar circumstances. Physics and Chemistry formulae were scribbled all over his body. Another man who was a Biology teacher was found dead with his body engraved all over with organ names. The killer had ensured that the organ names were written at the right place. The murderer had gone at length to engrave the word 'tongue' and 'penis' on the dead man's tongue and penis respectively.

There was one paragraph that was devoted to the futile investigations that had gone on.

Once the link between the victims had been established the detectives had tried to dig through the school records. The school was shut down after the incident in which a boy almost lost his leg. Going by school's history it was quite possible that an agitated pupil was taking revenge on all the teachers. So many students had been thrashed throughout the history of the school that it was a mighty impossible task to track each and every one of them down. The detectives concentrated upon four students as their clobbering was still etched in local's memories. This included the boy who had stolen the pen. They could only trace two out of the four. A girl named Anusamarana who was drubbed by Sankhya using the cane. She was hit so bad that her skirt had come off. Sankhya was unperturbed and kept on spanking. Show no mercy. The girl kept on bawling. Her red bum became blue and then black. She had moved to Australia and the cops ruled out of any link between her and the murders. The second was a boy named Mastishk who was found eating his lunch during his history class. It was Praachin's turn to show no mercy. After beating him to pulp he had put the cane down his throat to ensure that all the food came out. Any link of the murders with Mastishk was also ruled out when it was found that he had died several years ago in a car crash. 

K was on his way to the office when his car broke down. The fucking engine had heated up. He opened up the bonnet and had to wait for next five minutes for the smoke to subside. He got the coolant and poured into the car's radiator when his eyes fell on what looked like a bus ticket. He picked it up. Himachal Pradesh Transport Department. He looked closely. Even though it was not clearly visible he could make out the date printed on the ticket. It was more than a three month old ticket. His mind started to race and his heart started to pound. After his car was functional he rushed home instead of his office. It took him few minutes but he found what he was looking for. He checked the date on the newspaper. Five days after the bus ticket. The eBay guy had travelled to Himachal and even though it was not clear where he had gone, K could not help thinking. He started to sweat and grew anxious. He could feel ants crawling all over his body. He picked up the binder and this time read it all. Word by word. Multiple times. There was no further information or clues he could find apart from the fact that the cops had tried their best but had not been able to locate Jalaad Saini. There were some other names mentioned in the story. Teachers who used to work in that school. The cops were trying to get in touch with them to find any clues. K felt restless. He had read a story. A story that could be more than fiction and it was unfinished. He made a decision. The story had to be finished.

He sent an email. "I know your secret. I will dig it out". After that he packed his bag. Two t-shirts, one jeans, two underwears, toiletries and a towel. He did not intend to be away for more than two days. He got to the bus stop and found that there was no direct bus to Baijnath at that point in time. He had to board a bus to Pathankot and from there take another bus to Baijnath. The state transport bus was way past its expiry date. The bus engine made a sound louder than an air plane's engine. It shook like an airplane landing all the while as it rumbled on the national highway. K got a window seat for himself and gazed outside at the scenery. Despite all the noise around he felt asleep. He was at Pathankot when he opened up his eyes. There was a slight nip in the air and he regretted not getting a light jacket with himself. He got a cup of tea and immediately boarded the next bus to Baijnath. This bus was no different and the journey became even more treacherous when the bus entered the hilly regions. This time he could not sleep. He looked out into the hills. The tipsy-topsy curves that the bus took all seemed the same. It was as if he was moving in a circle and got back to the same point after a while. Every curve reminded him of a curve he had seen before. He got the manuscript out one more time and read it again and again till he reached his destination. He got out to what seemed like a familiar territory. The temperature had dropped further. He found a cheap hotel and checked in. He ate at the hotel itself and had three cups of tea along side. It was evening and he was tired from his journey. He slept as soon as he laid his head on the pillow. When he got up the next morning he quickly took a shower and set out to finish what he had come there for. To complete the story. To know the truth if there was any.

He came out of the hotel and a local boy in his teens chased him asking if he wanted a guided city tour. K thought for a moment and agreed. Adhinaayak was a boy full of energy and kept on blabbering about the city's history which K was not at all interested in. He took K across the city known for its temples. At times someone in the crowded street would give him a gaze as if he was an acquaintance. He waited for the right moment and asked "Adhi, have you heard of the school of terror?". "Who hasn't heard of it sir? The school shut down before I was born but every boy around knows about it. My uncle used to study there and he tells me some nasty stories about the school. How do you know about it?". So it was true. K remained stoic and did not show any emotion. "I read about it in a newspaper. Can I meet your uncle?". The question took Adhinaayak by surprise. "I will give you five hundred bucks if you take me to your uncle". It was more than he could make in a week and he readily agreed. They walked through the narrow streets of the city and then had to hike for half an hour to reach his house.

"This is Mr. K from Delhi. He wants to talk to you about your school". The bidi that his uncle was smoking fell out of his mouth. K handed a five hundred rupee note to the boy. "I read about it in the newspaper. I was quite astonished and wanted to know more about it". The uncle was a young man named Unmaad. He showed no interest and was not even willing to talk. K took out a thousand hundred rupee note. He was not left with much himself now. The thousand rupee note was not enough and K had to work to convince the man but he finally succeeded. "What do you want to know?". "Have you heard of the Sankhya or Praachin? Did they use to teach at the school? Jalaad Saini?". The names sent a shiver through Unmaad's spine. K could clearly notice the fright on the man's face and he knew the answer even before the man uttered it. The young man did not have a lot of information apart from telling K about the brutalities that played out in that school. He knew that the Science teacher Vigyaan had been murdered. He knew it because Vigyaan had settled in Palampur which was a city not very far away. He however had no clue of the other slayings. "Do you know where Jalaad is?". "No one knows. He disappeared after the school was shut down".

K enquired for another twenty minutes. He asked about other teachers. He mentioned some of the names that were mentioned in the story. The young man knew most of the names but couldn't help K with their where abouts. "Most of them moved out of the city to may be find new jobs after that incident". "Can you help me find them? Any one of them? I promise I will pay you thousand rupees more". The young man was perplexed but it was a lot of money. "I will try". "OK, I will visit you in the evening. Please see if you can find someone for me. I will pay you double the money if you can find Jalaad" he said and bade him good bye. He had time to kill and he decided to pay a visit to the school building. The young man had told him that it still existed. K came down the hill he had hiked and got to the school building on his own. He did not need directions. It was a shabby old building on the verge of crumbling down. "Welcome back sir. How are you?" an old man who seemed to be the gatekeeper welcomed K. "You must be mistaken. I am here for the first time. Can you let me in? I want to take a look". "I'm sorry. I am an old man. Someone had come last year and had made a similar request. You can surely go in. But there is nothing inside apart from ghosts". The school was a two storied building. It smelled of saw dust. He went from one room to another. The blackboard and the desks were still there. There was at least three inches of dust on the desks. Spiders were having a ball with webs sprawled all over the place. He coughed. He entered a room and saw a bamboo cane lying in the corner. He was instantly filled with rage. He thought of the kids getting thrashed down. Beaten to pulp. He saw Sankhya. He saw Anusamarana and her bare buttocks getting the pounding from the cane. He clenched his fists. He walked towards the cane and extended his hand to pick it up. He did not. Instead he turned around and walked out of the school.

He hiked up the hill to meet Unmaad in the evening. "I asked my old class mates. No one had any information but one of my friends who is settled in Mandi told me that he has seen Anunasika the Sanskrit teacher many a times in town". "Give me your friend's address. Tell him that I am coming to see him" K said handing him a thousand rupee note and noted down the address on his twentieth century Nokia phone. He rushed to his hotel and checked out. He was not left with a lot of money but he could still survive for a week. He found a direct bus from Baijnath to Mandi. It took him a little over three hours to get to Mandi. To save money he decided to sleep at the bus stop itself. It was slightly cold so he wore another t-shirt and tucked himself in a corner. He met Unmaad's friend Dhrupedra early next morning. He had a small cigarette shop in a local area called Indra market. He told K that he had seen Anunasika many a times shopping in the market. K told him that it was urgent for him to meet her and asked him if he could stay at his shop till they located her. He promised to pay him five hundred rupees. Dhrupedra had no reason to refuse the offer.

For the next three days K stood by Dhrupedra watching him sell cigarettes. Every now and then K would buy a cigarette himself and would smoke it away. He waited. Every night he would go back to his spot at the bus stop to sleep. K got lucky on the fourth day. Dhrupedra identified Anunasika. She had the look of a teacher on her face and K thought even he could have identified her. K followed her. After she entered what seemed to be her house he waited for half an hour. Then he rang the door bell. The old lady opened up the door. K asked her to allow her in as he wanted to talk about a very urgent matter. The old lady was about to shut the door on him when he mentioned that it had got to do with the school of terror and he was there to save her life. The name of the school took her by complete surprise. She dropped her guard and let him in. Once seated he told her that Sankhya, Vigyaan, Praachin and two others were dead. Her jaw dropped. She was terrified. K got in to the kitchen and offered her a glass of water. He asked her for her phone number and said that he would call her up when she has calmed down.

Once he came out he checked himself in the cheapest hotel possible. He got out and found a local book market and scanned through some school text books. He found what he was looking for. Once he was back at his hotel room he waited and rang her up after three hours. He asked her to come down to the hotel and told her that he needed to talk with her at length about the school. He also wanted to see if she knew the where abouts of other teachers especially Jalaad. He wanted to help them. All of them. Anunasika obliged and paid her a visit that evening. She only knew about Alankaarini, the Hindi teacher. He saved her address in his mobile phone. She did not know anything about Jalaad. 

K was on his way back to Delhi. This time he had taken a bus from Mandi to Chandigarh. At Chandigarh he walked from the bus stop to the nearby sector-17 market. He got into an Internet cafe and logged onto eBay. He bought a few blank sheets and a ball point pen from the cafe. After that he walked back to the bus stop and boarded a bus to Delhi. Before reaching Delhi he threw the pen out of the window.

Back in Delhi the first thing he did was to slip the sheets he had bought into the binder. Then he unzipped the small glove behind his car's passenger's seat and dumped it there. He got the memory card from his phone out and pushed it beneath the car's carpet. He got to his apartment and took a long shower before going to bed. The next day he logged onto eBay. He found what he was looking for. He accepted the offer. He was told that he was the fifth owner. He cleaned up his email inbox. He decided to stay at home the entire day. 

The next morning he got ready for the office and limped towards his new possession. The story was not yet finished.

12 comments:

  1. Awesome ! Has a touch of SK's work on it :)

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  2. Awesome... can you please finish the story

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  3. Wonderful story. Thrilled :)

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  4. Thanks every one for the heart warming comments. I am really glad that you liked it. Hope to stay connected through these tales :)

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  5. please finish the story..its was enjoyable reading it..:)

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  6. For those who are asking me to finish the story please read it carefully, especially the second half. The story is unfinished & yet it's finished..

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  7. I wonder how much time it takes to complete these stories.. they are so methodical and well written.. the plot was convoluted like a puzzle and in the end all pieces fall smoothly in their place.. another great tale..! relished it.

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  8. The story is finished? I don't get it, sir jee. Plus that "Welcome back" by the guard of the school is the mysterious part! Can't really sum up what exactly you mean to stay in the last two paras. i.e. Once he got back to Delhi again! Please, please, please shed some light on it. *Waiting eagerly for the reply* Thanks.

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  9. You have named him 'Jalaad Saini' ...funny :P

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  10. fantabulous !! it is organized very well and ends beautifully :)
    one of your best efforts and definitely in my top 5 favourite stories !

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  11. Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant!

    The best short story on blogs I've ever read! Hats off, sir!

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