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Chennai Tidbits

‘2/14, Salvation Army Guest House, Doveton St, Chennai’ this address followed by a ten digit phone number was all that I had of Mr. Nageshwar Rao, who was to become my roommate in my new 'home' that Chennai was. Vipin Das is my name, an employee of All India Radio, and I had been transferred from New Delhi to Chennai only a few days ago.

So there I was, just outside the Chennai Central, drained and haggard after the grueling train journey that gifted me two sleepless nights. I approached an auto-rickshaw with baggage in my hands, and showed him the address I had. He asked me to get in, and I was traveling through the South Indian metro, a first time in my life. It was only six in the morning, and the city was just waking up. Some young professionals, probably long distance commuters, security guards, newspaper boys on cycle, trucks and light traffic were all I could see on road. I took out that card and dialed Mr. Rao. No response. Maybe he was still sleeping. After all, it was only six.

Sidharth Menon, my friend and an IT professional, had given this contact to me. He and Mr. Rao used to be roommates until Sidharth relocated to Bengaluru two months ago. In fact, he had talked to the manager and had booked the room for me in advance. According to Sidhu, Rao is a professor at some college here. He teaches psychology, and is doing some research on human minds and the sort. A strange and practical man, this was how Sidharth described Mr. Rao. I did not care as long as he paid his share of rent on time.

In five minutes, I reached the guest house. After paying the `rikshaw-wala`, I went up to the security at the gate, and using the Tamil I knew, told him who I was and why I had come there. He opened the gate and offered to take my bag, and led me to 2/14. The room was on the first floor. He stopped in front of the door, and pressed the calling bell. No response came. He repeated, this time a tad longer. After a whole minute, the door was opened. I had expected a middle aged and bald headed man, angry at being disturbed from his sleep. But, I was in for a surprise. The man in front of me was bald headed. And he was angry. Though not for being disturbed from his sleep, but for being disturbed from his work. The time was not even six-thirty, but Mr. Nageshwar Rao stood before me, dressed formally in a white full sleeve shirt and black trousers, as if he were ready to go out then. I wondered why a college professor should be up so early. Nevertheless, he let me in and closed the door. Presumably, he was at his desk writing something. His research papers maybe. The room was just of the size I expected, and it had two cots and two tables in it. Rao offered me a chair. We sat facing each other.

Rao: Nageshwar Rao. Professor at Trinity College. Sidharth had mentioned about you. Friend of his, I suppose?


Me: Yeah. We are friends from school. And neighbors too. After school, he went for that software thing and I opted for media.

Rao: I should have stayed with you today, but as it is, I got some really important work to do. Sorry, Mr. Das.

Me: You can call me Vipin, sir. And it’s all right. I could manage. Does it have anything to do with your research?

Rao: Excuse me?

Me: You just mentioned about some important work right? Were you referring to your research?

Rao: Has Sidharth told you all about my research as well! Yes, it’s related to that. Now I must actually be leaving. I would return only by night. You take rest. We could have supper together.

Without waiting for my reply, he got up, picked his bag, and started to the door. Then he stopped, turned back, and said: ‘I am particular about one thing, Mr. Das. Please do not tamper with my belongings. I wish to maintain certain privacy with that.’ Saying this, he left. By now, I knew my roommate was of a strange nature. Anyway I was in no mood to ponder over all that. In one moment, I fell on the couch and in the next, sleep conquered me.

Period.

That awkward moment when you wake up after a long and deep sleep, and you have no idea where on the planet Earth you are. Well, I was exactly in such a situation then. The clock on the wall proclaimed that the time was three-thirty. That meant I slept for nine long hours. It did not surprise me. The time was too late for a lunch, and quite early for an evening tea. Hence I decided to explore the metro. After a quick bath, I dressed and went out. I planned to catch the bus, but later decided against it. Walking on foot is the best option if you have no particular destination in mind and you like to get the feel of a place. I wandered aimlessly across the busy streets. Quite soon, I came to the conclusion that Chennai was like other Indian metros like Mumbai or Delhi. Sky-breakers, shopping malls, ice-cream joints, outlets of biggies like Levi’s, KFC, Café Coffee Day all could be seen here too. Only changes I found were street names like Vadapalani replacing Vasant Vihar, pao-bajji stalls giving way to idli-vada, a Suriya or a Vijay standing tall instead of a Shahrukh or a Salman, and ‘Pokkiri Pongal’ heard more on the streets more than ‘Chikni Chameli’. Leaving that, the larger image remained the same. And that included crawling traffic, unhygienic streets, stray dogs, hawkers, playing children, overcrowded buses and jobless youth burning their lungs out.

After two hundred minutes of pointless wandering, I tired myself and returned to my room. Mr. Rao had not returned yet. I sat there, plenty of time in hand and nothing to do in particular. This was the most enduring situation in life. Seconds would pass like minutes, minutes like hours. Hours like…well, it goes on.

I had a look at the professor’s study, and a diary smiled back. It appeared that he had this demanding hobby of recording a day’s events in a notebook. I myself had tried my hand at diary-writing 2-3 times before, and gave up on all those occasions. The quintessential urge of an Indian to peep into others’ private lives propelled me to take a look at his writings.

The papers inside told me that Mr. Rao was a regular diary-writer. He had a not so familiar style of calligraphy, with a left sway to his fonts. After tossing the pages, I would have closed the book and left had I not found something strange in it. I took the book again and rechecked. The last entry was made against the date January 14th.  This was really strange. For, 14th of January was today! How on Earth could anyone write a day’s diary in the morning? I decided to read what was written. After going through that, I was in such a state that cannot be explained in words. The usage ‘butterflies in stomach’ wouldn’t suffice. Anyway, I am putting down his note for the day here for your sake.

Jan 14                                                                                                            Wednesday
Hello,
            Today I woke up at four. After a bath and subsequent prayers, I went to Vasu’s stall for my routine black tea. Then I had to finish two more points in my thesis. After doing with it, I dressed for the day and as I was about to leave, my new roommate, Mr. Vipin Das, checked in. after a brisk chat, I left for work. I reached Adayar at ten and met Mr. Sethupathy and Vinayak there. Vinayak approved my papers though Mr. Sethupathy called for certain fine-tuning in the demonstration side. The afternoon was spent in the university-seminars and conferences, until five. On my way back, I bought two packets of curd rice and appalams from the Doveton Café and reached my room at eight. Mr. Das was there. Soon I found out that he had played with my diary. An altercation followed, and in the fit of a rage, I stabbed him to death. After disposing the body in the unused well in the compound nearby, I retired to bed after a meal of curd rice and appalam.
Good Night Diary.




INCREDULOUS!! For one instance, I thought I had gone mad. I dared one more look at it. Yes, this was exactly what was written here. I pinched me hard, but nothing changed. I looked out through the window and like hell I saw an unused well in the compound nearby. This was crazy. Could psychologists predict what was to happen and that too with this precision? And could anyone kill a person just because that person read his diary? The worst part of it was that Mr. Das, the victim of the rage burst, was the poor me. I looked at my wrist watch. It was 7:50. That meant Mr. Rao would arrive any moment. Now, hours seemed like minutes, and minutes like seconds.

Just as the clock tolled eight, the professor arrived. I felt my heart in my mouth. He kept his research papers on his study, and the other packet, which had the logo of Doveton Café, on the other table.

‘Oh! How are you, young man?’ Mr. Rao asked me. He seemed normal.

‘Quite fine, sir.’ I said, though in reality I was far from fine.

And then nobody spoke for a while. Mr. Rao changed into a banyan and lungi, and told me he would come back after his bath. Just as I was thinking everything was okay, he stopped and asked me, ‘I suppose not, but have you played with any of my belongings?’

‘Hmm. I’m sorry, sir…’ I began, ‘I saw that diary of yours and just checked it out. Didn’t read a word, just tossed the pages…’

‘You did! Oh you son of a…’ and then what followed was some of the incredible and terrible profanities that make you feel you are the most hated creature that ever existed.

After the verbal onslaught, Mr. Rao went to the wardrobe and pulled out a dagger.

‘Sir, you cannot do this!’ I shouted, ‘you cannot simply stab me and dispose my body in that well there.’

‘You swore!’ He shouted back. ‘So you lied to me that you did not read what I had written!! Morons like you have no right to live.’ Saying this, he raised the dagger in air, as if to finish me off.

I saw the blade rushing towards me, and…

Period.

‘It’s alright, Mr. Das. You just blacked out.’

I heard the voice, but could not recognize the source. I tried opening my eyes, and instead of the insides of an unused well, where I should have found myself, I was comfortably seated on my couch. Mr. Nageshwar Rao sat beside me, with a cup of steaming coffee in his hands.

‘Please take the coffee.’ He said. ‘it would help calm your nerves.’

‘Where am I?’ I blurted.

‘You are perfectly alright, my young man. It was one of my demonstrations, and you proved me right. Thank You.’

‘I don’t get it.’

‘You will understand everything. Let me tell you a point or two about human minds. We always tend to do things that we have been advised against doing. And, with a smart trick, our minds can be forced into believing things, which otherwise defy our logic. That’s why ghosts and spirits still roam freely in our villages. In this case, you started believing that I could actually foresee future. These were my demonstrations. Am not I correct?’

I said nothing, and sat there thinking. A clearer picture of the day’s happenings emerged. I could only exclaim at the marvel of the professor’s plans.

‘But, why did you have to demonstrate all these to me?’  I asked.

‘Money.’  His reply was sharp. ‘The college would pay me ten grands extra if the university approved of my research on the predict-abilities of human mind. I was behind this for the last six months. My mentor, Dr. Jagdish Sethupathy wanted a real demonstration to drive my point home. I could not think of a better opportunity, Mr. Das. Sorry for the troubles.’

That seemed logical. I pointed to that diary, ‘so that was my bait, huh?’

‘Should I explain everything?’ the professor’s eye twinkled.

I reciprocated a smile.

That night we retired after a hearty meal of curd rice and appalam.


***

If you enjoyed it, do check out its sequel :

Comments

  1. Fantastic! I am a short story writer and a novelist myself. I truly enjoyed reading your story and I enjoyed the twist towards the end. Good work. Keep writing.

    T N Neelakantan
    www.neel48.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow I am really elated. Thank You sir.
      Looking forward to read your works

      Delete

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