It is an overused cliche that before you slip into the claws of death, the thoughts that grip your mind besides absolute fear are of the things that matter to you the most. Before Cyrus slipped into the coma where his consciousness projected on man-made devices neared zero and the resounding thud of a soundless fall hit his brain, his mind flashed a montage of all the memories that had constituted his seemingly soon to be concluded stay on God’s green Earth. It was funny how the image of Jenny, his sweet Jen lingered and not even an ounce of jealousy or pain surrounded that image. The very first day when he had literally gone out of his way to give a guided tour of the serene Andaman and Nicobar islands to Jen, feigning to be a tourist guide Pappachan. She still called him that sometimes and it warmed his heart. After the tour, she had signed up for a guided tour to Cyrus’s heart and it had led her to some beautiful memories; memories so grand that they’re incapable of being captured in any photo album. Cyrus’s mind as it slipped away, flipped through those very memories. When the mind is on limited time, it avoids things that don’t really matter and helps us sort ourselves in the clutter of memories. There was no clutter, there was just Jen, and a few more things…
The opposite of this disenchanted, fearless near-death feeling- which Cyrus had felt before slipping into the vacuum of coma is the feeling of fear of letting go, the fear that comes from being too involved for too long. Was it this fear that had fogged Tawde’s judgments? He had a mind which could handle multiple complicated cases at a time doling out instructions to constables while handling aggrieved victims and wily attorneys at the same time and that too in the dirty underbelly of the city called Mumbai where there was no time to sleep for the burglar or the police. With such an alert mind, it was queer to such disheveled appearance both mentally and physically. Ever since the first day he had taken up this case, he was in charge. There was never a moment when his stoicism took a backseat or his thickly set jaw and firmly resolved eyes showed anything but commitment to get to the bottom of this case. But today, after one drink too many, it was a different Tawde.
It was the first time Jen actually cared to read his first name. Inspector Prakash Tawde his nameplate read. The nameplate sat crooked on the top of Tawde’s khaki pocket. Everything seemed crooked to Jenny. The first time she had come to meet Tawde in her capacity as a professional with Vijay, she was impressed with the lecture about social responsibility and loss of human values that he gave with a hint of compassion in his eyes. Now that those eyes seemed to blink too much and shifted their gaze repeatedly to avoid eye-contact, all those big words seemed like a facade. Jennifer was ready to accept the things she had read in the email Cyrus had sent, the secret blog, the revelations. She was unsure she knew Cyrus all this while. “So much for long distance relationships” she thought to herself and a wry smile came to her lips. There was some mist in the corner of her eye but she fought it back.
She even shuddered to think of the time when she had seen Roohi for the first time on the beach and the first thought that had come to her mind was to call and inform Tawde. Cyrus had even tried to warn her not to call him and they even had a fight when she pushed for it fiercely. She had mentioned how Vijay would have understood her, oh! How helpless poor Cyrus must have felt! The pieces were falling together. But wasn’t it Cyrus who ended up calling Tawde later? Was he himself sure of what he had unveiled? Or was it because he sensed that things were getting out of control and Tawde would never let anything happen to Roohi?
As Shekhar literally dragged Tara out of Aryan Ahuja’s house, Tara’s anger found a new target in Shekhar. “Shekhar Dutta you coward!” she shouted, “You knew that guy has something to do with our daughter’s kidnapping and you are still trying to be a respected individual in the neighbourhood, apologizing to him and dragging me away! Are you even a man!?” she ranted on. Shekhar had half-expected this reaction and partly, his ears had grown accustomed to the insinuations regarding his manhood. He hugged Tara tightly and let her calm down; he was trying just like the way he had tried in the initial days of these daily scuffles. It was only after some roughening up that both of them had stopped fighting the current and started flowing in it instead. Now that Roohi was gone, the current got stronger and so did their efforts.
“Inspector Tawde had just mumbled in incoherent gibberish that Aryan Ahuja knew about Roohi. He even sounded drunk. How do you think shouting at Ahuja is going to solve anything?” Shekhar calmly spoke while caressing Tara’s soft hair, hair which usually were tied up with not a single strand astray, hair that were the complete opposite today- messy, open and disheveled. He stroked her cheeks and Tara’s anger melted away in tears. Tears that had reddened her nose, her cheeks, tears that had meant tiredness, frustration and maybe submission. She nodded unknowingly as they stood in an embrace.
As Jennifer absorbed the shock of the news of Cyrus’s condition, Tawde had some time to himself to come back to his senses. He was a well built man and although he allowed himself momentary lapse of judgments, he made sure that he cleaned up real good after creating the mess and that was how he had survived in his job where there was nothing but mess. He gathered himself and stood up grasping the table that adorned the side of his bed. He had a sofa in his bedroom which gave it a very isolated hotel room kind of look. He was used to having all his things in one place. It did seem as if he had collected remnants of his past in one dark room as the rest of his two bedroom home was nearly devoid of any major furniture. His place reeked of a tragic life and a broken or estranged family. The alcohol and the mess were just small confirmations of that tragedy.
He could deduce that Jennifer had come to know something. What and how much was anyone’s guess and that’s why Tawde decided to play it safe.
“So, you think you know everything?” Tawde asked regaining his composure.
“Well, I know that Roohi and Cyrus are in this condition because of you.” she said with quivering lips. The word “coma” still echoing in her mind.
“That is totally uncalled for, and you are doubting an honest police officer. I know everyone has reasons for thinking a certain way and doing certain things. May I know what is yours?”- Tawde went on, apparently now seeming in charge of the situation.
“Uhh… how can I trust you with my source when it says that you are hand in glove with the criminals?” – Jennifer muttered immediately realizing that she was talking to a policeman.
Prakash Tawde was now completely out of the effects of all the alcohol he had consumed and the flashes of all his gross mistakes came to his mind one by one. It was a dimly lit room but the sweat drops on his forehead had started their journey down his temples. He remembered the phone call to Shekhar. Did he tell the Duttas about Aryan? Ah good grief! It was just a small argument with Aryan, how could he be so foolish? Jennifer was too moved to notice this sudden surge of fear in Tawde’s eyes.
“Please Tawde, I am tired of this! And Cyrus is in coma, just cut it out and let Roohi come back to her parents.” she changed her tone as Tawde seemed to be radiating different vibes.
“Hey! I am sure there has been some misunderstanding, let me handle this. It is okay if you do not trust me but I am committed to this case and I assure you I am just a police officer doing his duty.”- Tawde softened.
“Alright but if what I have come to know is true, you’ll not be spared Prakash”- Jennifer called him by his first name for the first time in this conversation immediately realizing that she had done so.
Calling someone by his first name has an effect of enhancing or lowering your respect to an individual based on your tone. In Prakash Tawde’s case, it was weirdly both. He smiled and offered to usher her out of his house. He needed time to think. There was too much mess to clean up at hand now. For starters, he had been ignoring the vibrating phone in his pocket and he knew it was an important call.
Aryan Ahuja calmly picked up the knife that had fallen on the floor after the drama had concluded. There was a wry smile on this middle aged man’s face. He had a natural calm disposition of a monk but the whirlwind of contradictions in his mind was building up silently. The calmness of his face defied the reality, the tension in his house which was rigid enough to be cut with a knife. He went to the bathroom to take a shower and regain his calm, half expecting Tara Dutta to again break into his house and try to jab a knife in his chest. Did he actually deserve it- he wondered as he went on wash his face with warm water. He reflected on some of the old memories of Roohi and he did not know whether to smile or feel sorry.
“Why do Mom and Dad fight so much, Uncle? Is it my fault?” she would ask and Aryan would just look at her with pitiful eyes. “Of course not, beta. Don’t worry…” is all that he could say. He was half-tempted to take Roohi away from Tara and Shekhar that very moment. He would just pat her head and continue helping her with her maths homework. For Roohi, he was a neighbourhood uncle with all the answers. The trail of thoughts ended as he turned off the shower. The answers had stopped coming to him as the mirror in the bathroom fogged up from all the steam from the hot shower. He was not the uncle with all the answers anymore.