Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I Am Going Crazy-Chapter 11

I am going crazy. Nothing seems to make sense now to me. The killer is on loose again, and all I can do is while away, poring over clues on his target next. Will it be Sam, or will it be the forensic scientist again? What were his patterns; what were his trademarks? With age, I have also lost my ability to recall. But he is around us, or was. But is it enough to catch hold of him, and make him pay for what he has done?
Destiny is on his side once again. And here stand I, licking at my wounded pride that still exists after missing him on so may occasions. What is Stanley up to right now? Frankly, I don’t know. I don’t care as well, strangely. Once, I would have been all fired up, but today, I am totally distant with all that is happening around me? Is it my old age? Or has this line made me like this? Impassionate, distant, lost?
I was standing outside, watching an unconscious woman on ventilator, who had been administered a lethal dose of thallium. How could this have been done, without anyone even realizing what happened? And where did he get the poison from? Is he really hiding amongst us, or did he come and go in such a short time that we could not even realize till it was too late? How could I have allowed such a slip?
“How is she now?” asked Sam, as she walked in. “I heard the forensics woman was poisoned. Is it Stanley again?”
She was dressed in her usual manner. But something seemed different about her. The journalistic instinct was overshadowed by a sense of circumspection. What had prompted this change? Was it the threats given by Stanley that were shaping into horrifying realities?
“She’s critical for sure. The antidote worked, but not before the poison caused serious damage. If she passes through this time, she will manage well, or else we will lose one more person to this battle against hope,” I spoke, trying hard to hide the bitterness which was squirming inside me like a hydra, waiting to burst my chest and come out, spewing venom on everyone. I wanted to admit defeat; let me be honest to one and all, for I do not know how to play the diplomatic games.
She kept staring at me for some time, before she shifted her gaze across the door, wherein lay that poisoned victim. I, on the other hand, could not make any sense: there were no patterns unlike the last time, when he left for us a trail of evidence. This time…
“Don’t you think he is throwing a challenge to you? Is it as if he wants to meet you, and is leaving behind a pattern?”
Challenge? This was more than a challenge; it was pure mockery of me, my will, my frustration at having let go of him that night, and all that anger that had been piling within me for so many years now, it was waiting to burst forth on the next person I saw. But would it be worth it? I walked out of the building, with Sam following me. I lit a cigarette, while Sam lit hers, and we were smoking outside.
“When he killed her, she was alone at night time. She was killed with a knife. Then the editor,” she flinched with the recall of his body’s sight, “with a gun; and now with poison. What will be next? A noose?”
“Might be,” I finally replied, much to her relief, “but then when does he strike? This is something I do not know. Moreover, you are the next target for sure.”
She stared at me, with a look that meant to say “Tell me something I do not know,” but she still spoke up, “And what do you intend to do about that?”
“We need to give you a security cordon. But I am going to quit from this case. Clearly, I failed to catch him.”
She stared at me, and this time a sense of surprise clouded her face. “You mean to say you will not be there on this case anymore? But you are the only person who can catch him.”
“No I am not, else I would not have let him try and kill at least this woman in the first place,” I replied, with a tone of irritation tinging my voice, which took her off-guard, as she stared at me, while I began to walk towards my car. “Follow up on the victim. I want a report every hour,” I said, and stepped into the car, when she barged in deliberately.
I began to drive away, trying hard not to think, and instead concentrate on the road, which was unusually empty for this time of the day. But nothing was unusual nowadays; at least, not for me. I kept driving, and finally reached the headquarters, and soon stormed into the office of my superior, who was talking to someone.
“Can I talk to you alone?” I asked, and looking at my face, he asked the guy to leave, while motioning me to sit down.
“Yes, Maher, what do you want now?” he asked in a tone of total lack of interest, as though he was expecting me to storm in anytime now.
“I want you to relieve me of this case sir.”
The mug in which he was pouring his coffee nearly fell out of his hand, while he nearly choked himself on the doughnut he was eating. “What did you say?” he replied, having regained himself from the jaws of death in that instant.
“Precisely what you heard sir,” I replied with a measured composure in my voice.
“But what about Stanley?”
“What about him sir?” I asked him indifferently, trying to avoid any eye contact while staring outside the window behind him.
“You very well know what I mean Maher. You are the only one who can get him; you bloody well know that. Stop acting in such a sissy manner,” he spoke to me, trying to sound tough. “Plus, I am not willing to relieve you.”
“If I am so capable sir, then how in the name of Lucifer could he have poisoned the forensic scientist right under our noses?” I spoke, anger clouding my low tone, as I tried hard to hide my anger.
“You have lost it Maher. Do you even know what you mean right now? Since when did you feel so defeated?”
“Right after this poison was given to my soul by someone who mocked me so loudly. I failed totally to prevent the killer from attacking another person. He has killed so many, and what have we learnt so far about him? That his name is Stanley; that he has come back from the dead, and that . This is my achievement on this case,” I fumed loudly, creating quit ea storm in the office, which was now crowded at the door with people curious to know more about something that was of no concern to them.
“Calm down, Maher. If you think your screaming is going to get you relieved, then forget it; you are not going to be let off the case; not until you get me Stanley for sure,” scoffed my superior, and stormed out of the room, leaving behind a host of people who were now ogling at me, while I gnashed my teeth in anger.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Laaleshwari

“Welcome. You must have been waiting for a very long time, I believe,” she said to me. She walked towards me in the lounge, where I had been waiting for her.
“Not at all,” I replied, as I got up to shake hands with her. “In fact, for a minute I thought that I was late, for I do not wear a watch. My name is Rohit.”
“I know that, Mr. Mattoo had informed me previously. I am Laaleshwari Kaul. I was looking forward to meeting you. How is your documentary shooting going on?”
“Fairly well,” I spoke, as I walked along with her into the hospital, as she led me towards the infirmary. “How are you today?”
“Just as usual,” she spoke, as we went past one ward after the other. The day was very normal. “Boy,” I said, “It’s a bit chilly today.”
“You think so? I thought the weather was better than last week. It was really hot,” she smiled, as we closed in on the infirmary, which seemed a nice, warm and cozy building made of wood and stone. “Here is the infirmary. Do you want to go and have some tea first in my office?”
I nodded in agreement, as we headed straight towards her office, and she ordered some tea, while we began to talk.
“So, how come you are still in Srinagar, Ms. Kaul? I mean, when all the Pandits were being pushed out of the Valley, what made you stay back? Did you not fear for your life?” I asked, as we sipped the tea that had come in.
“Well, it is difficult for me to state the reasons. There were threats against my family as well. My father, in fact, was shot dead a couple of years prior to the mass exodus of the Pandits by JKLF men; what is ironic is that the very people who shot him dead are today pretending to be moderate separatists of the Valley. I do not want to indulge into any useless political talk; that is not meant for me. I am a psychiatrist; my job is to look after people who are suffering from mental disorders arising due to various reasons in this state. I can only talk about my patients and what is wrong with them.”
The tone was non-committal and asked me indirectly to talk about the things we intended to, not which made little sense in this climate of obfuscation and confusion, and where only bitterness and frustration ringed in the air; where anger was both the cause and the effect of all problems. I quickly rescinded my ideas, and gulped down tea. “So, what is the general profile of your patients?”
“Oh, there are numerous. Some are primarily suffering from some disorders, wherein they keep having recurring nightmares. Others are suffering from depression due to the trauma of missing or encountered husbands. Then there is also the case of women who have been severe victims of sexual abuse as children, and also of domestic violence. Also, there are patients suffering from amnesia arising due to shocks that they received.”
I was hearing what Laaleshwari was saying, and wondered as to what had been achieved with all the meaningless violence in this land that God had created with a lot of care and passion. Somewhere, it is said that humanity invites against itself due to its actions. But why should the target be the people who were not at fault? Why are the women and children the victims always, while the bloodshed continues unabated? Why do people love to incite passions, while conveniently ignoring the same when they become a spent force, and leave them to fend for themselves, while they sit in their plush homes, having hot tea and discussing ways to brew storms in their teacups?
“And how do the families of patients treat you?” I asked, “I hope I am not getting very personal with that question.”
“No you are not,” she responded with a smile and a puzzled look accompanying each other on her face. “You do not have to apologize for transgress that you have not committed. Of course, it is rare to see families of the victims, you see. It is considered a stigma to be a patient with mental ailments still in this country…”
“You mean to say in Kashmir?”
“I mean in the whole of India, Mr. Rohit,” she corrected me politely, “and so these people rarely get any visitors. And those that do are usually to upset to interact with me.”
“But you must have had some interaction that is particularly memorable to you,” I insisted, while picking up my tea, which had been served.
“Actually there is one. It involved this woman named Ayesha, whose brother was an ardent worker for the People’s Conference. Apparently, when he got to know that I was the head here, he had refused to admit her sister here in the asylum. In fact, I was threatened to leave the Valley altogether,” she spoke in an off-hand manner, which took me by surprise. However, the tone suggested that it was something that happened too often with her.
“And then? What happened then?” I probed on, curious to know the outcome of the incident.
“Do you know Mr. Rohit, what significance does the name Laaleshwari hold for the true Kashmiri?” she posed the question in front of me. I nodded, and said that I researched about the spirit of Kashmiriyat, and what it meant to the local Kashmiris.
“Its good to meet a Delhi person who at least knows his Nund Rishis and Laaleshwaris,” she commented sarcastically, making me feel a tad uncomfortable, which I hid, being reluctant to reveal a vulnerability in my understanding of today’s Kashmir. “I chided him with a quote of Laaleshwari devi, which translates thus:
Shiva's present everywhere.
Where lies the creek to distinguish
Between a Hindu and a Mussalman?
Quick witted if you are,
Recognise yourself and realise God !
And then, I took her away with me, leaving a horde of fuming agitators behind. Today, however, that man has left the Conference, and does follow up on his sister regularly. In fact, he is one of the few people who follow up on the patients here. He even apologized to me for what he had said that time. Of course, I never was angry with him, so the question of apology never rose.”
I was sitting there, with the teacup still in my hand, looking at this woman of substance, who had defied everything: the bullets, the death threats, the bombings as well as the bullying at the hands of such groups as Jamaat-e-Islami and Dukhtaran-e-Millat, only to emerge stronger than ever, with a clearer resolve.
Before leaveing her, I asked a question that still lingers in my mind to the extent of haunting me, “Do you see the Kashmiri Pandits coming back to the Valley? Or at least, would your family ever return?”
She looked at me with an expression that I could not translate. “Mr. Rohit, I am not a political person; I never was. All I can say is that I can perhaps live with all the security around me as is given to me. But do you think that three hundred thousand Pandits would confine themselves to these prisons in a country where their freedom is as much a birthright as it is to the Muslims, and where they are equal stakeholders in the Valley as the others are? Should they live all holed up in the lands where they were born, and die that way? They would rather die in a foreign land than die as prisoners in their own homeland. Have a nice day.”
Soon, I was led away to see the women who were suffering from various kinds of ailments, and yet who share one thing with perhaps all women across the world: that they are victims.

I could not make the documentary. I quit that project after I returned to Delhi. I was too disturbed with all that I had seen in that sanitarium, and do not even wish to discuss that day with anyone. Suffice to say that is was something so bad, I get nightmares on that. However, I will never forget the woman of steel whom I had met that day. I pray to God now that the fate of Kashmir and its people is decided with voices like hers, and not some gun-toting or screaming lunatics. Also, I pray that the Kashmiri Pandits may one day be able to return to the land they can truly call their home. But the second prayer will not happen in my lifetime; I am sure of that. And perhaps, even Laaleshwari is certain on that, For honour is dear to all human beings, and Pandits today would not be granted that by anyone in the Valley.

The Economic Slowdown Needs Immediate Address

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