This short story is selected as Story of the Month September’2015 and won INR 1000
This story is selected as Editor’s Choice and won INR 500
August 25, 2015
Times of India
“36 Year old found dead in his posh apartment. Body battered beyond recognition”
“City in shock – IT Techie bludgeoned to death in the elite Santacruz neighborhood. Preliminary investigations indicate no sign of forced entry”
“Slain SantaCruz resident identified as Rizad Syed, father of 2, family lives in New Delhi”
August 28, 2015
Shailaja Gupta, Hindustan times reporting live from B-18, Silver Heights, Santacruz, Mumbai:
“Just to update our viewers who have just joined in. We are in conversation with Saira Syed, wife of Rizad Syed who was found brutally murdered in his lavish Santacruz apartment on Monday. Reports suggest time of death was appropriately 1 am – 3 am.”
“Saira, Third day since the death, still no leads have emerged in this case. I know this is a tough time for you and your family. What would you want to say, what appeal do you have to those watching this?”
A light skinned, slim woman wearing a black salwar kameez appears on screen. She seems to be in a trance.
“What would you like to say? What kind of person was your husband? Who could have killed him?
Saira hesitates for a moment, then looks straight into the camera, her eyes blank and her face expressionless. Behind her is a picture of a very handsome man, with a perfectly symmetrical face, soft, brown eyes and a very contagious smile.
“Please if anybody has any clue in the”. “If anybody has seen anybody entering this building on the day of the” …. “day before yesterday, please help us. Rizad is a good person. He did not deserve this.
Was. Thank you”.
Saira rushed towards her bedroom and locked herself, away from the fleet of the reporters, and the flock of the visiting mourners and sympathetic friends, away from chaos of this unbelievable, surreal “place of crime” which in what seems like another life used to be her husband’s home.
Saira – Until 3 days back
Saira had grown up in Lucknow where she studied till B-Com. When she was 22, her uncle had arranged her marriage to Rizad, a software engineer working in New Delhi. Rizad and Saira had been married for 10 years now and had two daughters – Saba and Sana. Rizad had recently taken up a project which required him be in Mumbai 3-4 days a week. He used to fly back to Delhi every Thursday night and spend the weekend with his family. Although the project was meant to be for a year, Rizad had accepted to extend it for another 6 months, much to Saira’s reluctance.
Off late, Rizad had been working over weekends as well. Saira was emotionally very dependent on Rizad found it difficult to manage alone by herself in Delhi, although she had the support of parents and in-laws who lived in the same city.
Saira was in her house on Monday morning 15 minutes before she received the call. Saira hated mornings. She despised the way every morning the struggles of life strike the very moment one wakes up. Just like the last thought before falling asleep is always the responsibilities and anxieties of the following day, or the uncertain days ahead which nobody has seen. The known anxieties and the unknown fear of the future always seemed to engulf Saira’s mind when she went to bed at night.
The morning of August 25th was no different. Saira woke up at 5 am. She was going through the mundane tasks of every day.. waking up the girls, getting them ready, preparing the lunch, packing their lunch, switching on television and shuffling between her favorite English and Hindi news channels when the phone rang…
Saira does not remember the exact words of the caller. All she remembered was “Rizad” and “dead” in the same line. It is peculiar how a news like this shakes up her entire universe and yet the world seems to be going on. The faucet is still running. The birds outside are still moving. The television is still on. Why is this news reader still talking? Did she not hear? “RIZAD IS DEAD”.
The days that followed were torturous. Saira was experiencing a kaleidoscope of emotions – shock, anger, helplessness, numbness, denial. The grief was too prodigious. The only tragedy Saira had witnessed in life prior to this was her 80 year old grandmother’s death from an illness. Her grandmother had ‘passed away’ after living her life. But this was so harsh, so brutal! Her husband was 35! He was so young, handsome, intelligent, so incredibly successful, so lively. How could God let this happen? It seemed like she was paying for a past life sin. How could his life be cut short like this? She was to live the rest of her life alone without her partner? Her girls would grow up without a father? The permanence of what had happened was catastrophic.
People were trying their best to take care of Saira, to help her feel better. Saira knew they had the best intentions but the magnitude of pain was so much that she could not appreciate anything. She could feel a pinch of jealousy for these people whose lives were not ruined, whose spouses were still alive, whose problems were still redeemable. This was not like failing an exam, it was not like missing a promotion, it was not like a break-up. It was simply the end of any and every happiness that Saira could ever feel in this life.
September 1, 2015 – The Times of India
“CCTV footage shows a person in a burka enter the building at the night of the murder of slain techie, Rizad”
‘“Telephone records indicate chats and phone calls with a woman named Janet”
“Is Janet the woman in the burka?”
Mumbai – Rizad’s house – 11 am
The police have come to investigate further with their recent findings – transcripts of Rizad’s chats with a woman named Janet, his phone list and some pictures that were exchanged. Janet is an exceptionally beautiful, Caucasian looking woman with exotic features. She looks like a model, posing in a bikini outside a pool! The chats start out from being flirtatious, to suggestively titillating to outright obscene.
Janet says she is an American ramp model who has come to India to try her career in Bollywood movies. The phone bills indicate late night calls for hours. They seem to have known each other for 2 months. Janet was the one who had initiated the talks, apparently through a social networking site, indicating that she found Rizad’s Indian looks irresistibly aboriginal and that it has always been her fetish to sleep with a man of the Indian subcontinent. After teasing him for two months, she had seduced him into a meeting at his apartment with the intention of finally fulfilling her dream.
CCTV footage shows a burqa-clad woman enter the building who leaves after 45 minutes. There are no signs of robbery. The email id, whatsapp account, social networking site profile that belong to Janet have all been deleted, and the phone number is not traceable. Rizad’s friends, neighbors, colleagues have been questioned. Nobody could think of any motive for murder.
While the police is engaging experts to retrieve all of these vitals clues to track Janet, they have approached Saira first to ask her if she has any seen or heard of Janet. Saira’s brain seems to be exploding. Some American woman allured her husband at the pretext of a memorable affair only to kill him? Saira is furious. Not just because her husband was flirting with another woman or planning to cheat on her. But because he was stupid enough to even fall for her.
“You look like Shah Rukh Khan, Indian men so hot, I always wanted to **** one”.
“I will show you true India”
These were some of the crass exchange of messages. And yet, life just got even worse if at all it was possible. Three days later the media had somehow released Janet’s pictures!
Mumbai – Rizad’s house – September 5, 2015 – Times of India
“Prime suspect in the murder of Rizad Syed, a woman named Janet identified as Miss Kosovo 2014!”
“The only lead in the Rizad Syed murder a big sham”
“Picture of the alleged murdered retrieved by the police turns out to be a fake profile”
Saira answers the phone. “Miss what?” she repeats.
Police inspector: “Miss Kosovo 2014”
Saira: “Miss Kosovo killed my husband?”
Police inspector: “We are extremely sorry ma’am. The picture that Janet shared was a fake one, of a celebrity – Miss Kosovo 2014. Infact that was taken at the Miss Universe Contest that took place in Bangkok in November last year. This picture has been viral on the internet for quite some time.”
What followed for the rest of the days was a complete circus of the media. The entire story had become a joke, immensely popular on social media. People were making fun of Rizad’s gullibility and his lasciviousness. Rizad was not around to speak up for himself, and he was being judged in the most undignified manner. Any lay man had an opinion on him and what happened. Everybody had their own theories. Saira had heard that one person’s misfortune is another man’s gain. But people’s insensitivities was just unparalleled. People would not even spare a dead man!
Days passed, turning into weeks, into months. Rizad’s murder was soon to be another addition into the list of unsolved crimes. Even the media had found new entertainment pieces. Saira did not know what hurt her more – the unwarranted publicity following Rizad’s death, or him being forgotten completely.
Suddenly, out of nowhere Saira received an sms. It was a confession. It read:
“I killed your husband. Meet me at the back gate of the old Fort, tomorrow 12:00 am. If you involve the police, you will never know what happened.”
Saira had been waiting for this day. She wanted closure. She wanted to know how and why her husband died. But now that the moment had come, she was completely dumbstruck. Meeting the person who took her life away from her, to go through the gory details of her beloved husband’s death all over again, was giving her shivers.
Saira drove to the Fort. As she stepped out of the car, she saw a girl waiting there whose face was covered with a scarf. She was very short and very petite. She looked too powerless to have executed a crime like this. Saira wanted to look at her straight in the eye. She wanted to tell her how she had ruined her life. How she had deprived her of all her happiness. She wanted to tell her she that would never forgive her. She wanted to slap her, spit at her, crumble her into pieces until she became as negligible as her Rizad, gone forever.
Her face was still covered with a scarf in shame. She was covering her eyes with sun-glasses, possibly because she could not look Saira in the eye. Saira reached out to her purse and took out a family photograph taken on her younger daughter’s birthday. As she looked at it, she could not control her tears and broke down.
Saira sobbing:” You have destroyed us completely.”
Lady in scarf: “I am sorry”.
Saira: “That’s it! Sorry? Who are you? Why did you do this?”
Lady in scarf: “I wish you and your kids did not have to suffer like this. You had to suffer for his sins.
Saira: What did he do to deserve something so harsh? I need to know”.
Lady in scarf: “My name is Zeenat. It was 1997. My father used to work in Rizad’s house as a gardener. I used to accompany him to help. One day, while I was alone, Rizad tried to touch me. He said he had fallen in love with me. I told him to get away. I had no romantic interest in him. He said he was completely mesmerized by me and would not be able to forget me. I told him to leave me alone and let me do my work, and that I would inform his parents if he misbehaved with me again. After that incident, I stopped going to his place. But he did not take this rejection well. It was a big blow to his ego – that a woman, that too a poor one hurt this pride and he decided to teach me a lesson”.
Zeenat paused for a moment. Saira was trying to visualize the whole scene – a 17-18 year old Rizad wanting to fool around with a domestic helper. And Zeenat, taking revenge almost two decades later. It was all so unbelievable, like watching a bad movie. But then everything was so surreal since Rizad’s death. Why was she even trusting this woman?
Saira: “Then, what happened?”
Zeenat removed her scarf and her sun-glasses. Saira gasped in horror as she stared at what she saw. It was not even a face. She had one eye, the remaining eyelids were burned off. The nose was completely shrunken and deformed. The lips were partly present, exposing the teeth. The skin tissue was scarred, every visible part of it. She was wearing a high-necked top but the burnt neck was peeping out her sweater.
Zeenat: “This was my punishment. Your husband threw acid on my face because I rejected him. I have gone through 13 reconstruction surgeries in the past 20 years. My mother died a year after the attack, as she could not see me hide from myself every day. And my father left me two years back. I did go to the police but Rizad was a minor. And throwing acid was not a crime recognized by law anyway. He went scot free and moved on with his life, even forgot about me while I lived each day, knowing that he was alive, breathing, and happy in the same world in which I had become a shadow of who I was. Rizad died once while I died every…”
Zeenat was interrupted as a man in civil clothes appeared and flashed his police ID. Saira had informed the police it seems. He started interrogating Zeenat. Zeenat started to mislead him until…
“The caller did not show up. This is my friend from school. I had called her here for support. I could not handle it alone”, Saira said.
The police officer gave a good look to Zeenat and then to Saira, wondering whether to trust any of the two woman. But he had no reason to doubt late Rizad’s wife.
No progress yet, another misleading clue he complained as he went back to his job to resolve other “crimes”, the ones that have succeeded in finding a place in law.