It was getting dark. Though it was post-winter gearing up, evenings had still not appeared to forget their winter chills and the habit of diving early into the shadows.
‘When the hell are you coming back? Or shall I call your daddy?’ yelled his mother from the third-floor balcony.
The ten-year old signalled with his two fingers held out, ‘Just two minutes, mommy!’ and returned back to his search.
He was totally spent out searching for the ball near the apartment gardens. Damn, where the hell did I hit it?
He glanced back at the building’s porch (which was also their small cricket pitch) hoping to call someone for help, but the place seemed quite deserted. After all, who wanted to stay in the chilly dark, when the game had ended up with his ball being ‘hit-and-lost’ for the last ten minutes.
Getting back to his last attempt for the evening, he spotted a lone white Maruti OMNI placed near the apartment building. Maybe, it’s hiding there, beneath the car…
Slowly, he walked down to the car. It was dark inside. Probably, no one was there inside it. There was a creepy silence around that corner of the building. Stealthily, he crouched in front of one of its sliding doors and bent down to look for his lost item. He couldn’t make out anything there below. Indeed, it was dark. And then all of a sudden his eyes fell on something near the rear wheel. Yes, it was there. His ball. Finally letting out a sigh of relief, he stretched out his hand to recover it……and…….
A few microseconds later, Mr. Patel, who had just made his exit from the apartment elevators, was deafened by a huge scream.
‘Hi, Priya didi!! Wanna join us for a match of cricket downstairs?’
‘No Raj… I am too tired today. Go, enjoy with your buddies’ she said blowing a flying-kiss to that ten-year old kid as the elevator doors closed.
Totally blushed, he went running outside to the porch, savouring the moment which just happened.
The Oberois had been an odd sort of a couple. Though they had been residing there at the Satyam Towers for about the past eight years, hardly any of their neighbours had ever seen them or interacted with them. Or ever ‘tried’ to do so. Also, they knew very little about the family or their dealings with society. Actually, no one cared to. Everyone was so busy immersed into their own pot of worries.
There was gossip among the neighbours that the present Mrs. Oberoi was Mr. Oberoi’s second wife after the death of his first one. Well, no one ever cared to validate that. Apart from all this, they had soon learnt that Room No.148 (Oberois) housed one more female – their daughter.
A charming girl in her early-twenties, Priya Oberoi had been the eye-candy for every male in those apartments. A lot more social compared to her guardians, she worked at a nearby call centre and spent her weekends playing with the kids from her neighbourhood. On other days, it was the same rogue routine as it used to be. And today was just going to be a similar day.
As the Otis took her up to her ninth floor, she whole-heartedly expected the day to end up nice and peacefully at home. The whole day, until now, had turned out to be a total nightmare, and she expected not to finish it with another one at her home.
The alarming ding of the elevator doors as it opened brought her back from the trance she had gone into. She came out of it to find her neighbour eavesdropping outside the door to their flat!
‘What the hell’ came out with a reflex.
Taken aback with her unpredicted arrival, her neighbour hurried back into her home.
It took nothing more than a minute to get hold of the whole situation going inside. Her parents were again engaged in an argument. She could hear the way each one of them was hurling abuses at other. And then, a glass came and hit the entrance door inside the room.
She stood there frozen with fear for a minute. All this is enough!! She knew what she had to do. The final solution.
She gazed at the flight of stairs leading upwards from her floor. The dark terrace door hiding in the shadows seemed to give an open invitation to her freedom.
In spite of the shiver that went down her spine, she knew she had to take this step. Once and for all.
It was a huge crowd that the residents of Satyam Towers were hardly used to. Hundreds flocked into that place from nearby areas and the lower floors of the apartment itself to get a whiff of the incident. A police van with an ambulance arrived at the spot blaring their sirens, much aggravating the tension amongst the residential people gathered there.
Police Inspector Umesh Yadav ordered his constables to make a fifteen-feet perimeter all around the site thus keeping the general public at distance. All of them rushed into action and secured the whole area with tapes. Meanwhile the medical team had also made the necessary arrangements.
One of the constables came running to Inspector Yadav with a man, ‘Sahib, the whole area has been sealed off. And…and, this man, sahib, he claims to have first notified us about this incident.’
‘So tell us what happened? How did you come to know of this?’
‘Sir, I was leaving for a party to my friend’s home. And that’s when I heard this huge scream of a child. I came out running to the porch to find out what happened. And my eyes fell on small Raj near the OMNI parked there at the corner. I ran over to him thinking that the car must have hit him. He was still screaming with fear. All I saw was broken glasses everywhere near the car. And in that lay, Raj crying and shivering with fear. As I lifted him and tried to look inside the car, I could see no one. And then, my eyes fell on the roof of the car. There was this body that was lying atop it making a huge dent in the middle. Blood splattered all over the roof and the head soaked in a pool of blood.’
Mr. Patel broke down as he finished recounting the whole incident.
‘Okay, where’s the kid?’ asked Inspector Yadav.
As Yadav approached the kid, he could clearly figure out the state of shock he was in. He saw the cuts on his arms and face. So much for a boy of this age.
‘Hey Raj, how are you? Would you like some chocolates dear?’ he greeted him with a smile.
The kid nodded.
A constable offered some confectioneries to the kid.
‘So what happened with you, Raj? Can you tell me? I won’t do anything to you’ assured Yadav.
‘I was just searching for my ball beneath that…that car’ he pointed out to it, ‘and then I heard some loud blast above me and all the glasses broke off from the car.’
‘Did you see anyone else around the car?’
‘No, it was just me.’
‘Okay here take some more chocolates. And relax.’ He smiled on to the kid.
‘Now take down the body from the roof and lay it down on the ground. Let’s find out who she is’, Yadav gestured to his fellows.
Room No. 148
He couldn’t fathom how that could have just happened. He never ever kept bullets in his pistol since his retirement from the army. It was just to threaten his bit*hy wife to bow down to his wishes and demands. But that’s it. Then, how could it get loaded up with bullets?
His gaze quickly turned towards his wife, squatted in one corner of the living room, sobbing. This has got to be her work.
He swiftly walked across the room and slammed his handgun on her head. And the whole room filled up with her wail. He dragged her by her hair to his daughter’s bedroom and slapped her hard.
‘You put the bullets inside it, didn’t you?’
‘No’ she squealed, ‘why would I do that?’
‘Oh yes, so that you can get freedom from me forever and send me to jail in return, huh?’
‘No!!!! I would never kill myself for you, bas*ard!! Do you understand me?’
‘Oh, I know you very well f***ing b***h!! Now just wait and watch what I do!’
He left the room slamming the door on her face.
I hope no one was hit by the bullet. He reached out for the window to ascertain if everything was alright out there on the streets.
Damn!!! What is the crowd beneath the apartments for??
From the ninth floor windows, he could barely see anything except for the ambulance and the police vans with their sirens radiating from their top.
Was somebody hit by the bullet? But taking into account the bullet’s projectile trajectory, how could it hit someone just below at the foot of their buildings, he thought. No, it can’t be mine. Still, he craned his neck further out of his window to clarify his doubts and get a glimpse of what had happened. It was quite hard to visualise it from there.
And just then, he heard a knock on their door…
Mr. Nitin Oberoi could literally hear his heartbeats pace up inside. A varied multitude of questions were popping around in his head. Had somebody been really killed by the mistaken shot? Had someone overheard him beating Maya? Oh no, it can’t be. If that would have been the reason, I would have been in jail long time back. So what was it?
At last, he reached to the end of the hallway and opened up the door. It took him a moment to read the name of the person standing in front of him from his nameplate.
‘Yes, Ins…Inspector Yadav, how can I help you?’
‘Well, can you take a look at this?’ and he produced a driver’s license ID from his pocket, ‘Do you know whom does it belong to?’
‘Holy sh*t! This is my daughter’s! Where did you find it?’ he asked, after checking the name and photo on it twice.
‘Well…. I’m sorry to say…but your daughter Priya is no more there with us…’
‘What!!! What do you mean by no more there? Where is she? What happened to her?’ he started yelling at the inspector, ‘what happened???’
Tears and rage had mixed up in his cauldron of emotions, and he was finding it hard to know which one was appropriate. He didn’t know how to react. He felt totally numb. An eerie silence fell around his ears as if someone had deafened him by pouring hot fluid down his ear.
All his reminiscences with Priya since her childhood flushed through his memory-lane. He loved her daughter so much. She was the only hope he had in this world. The mere sight of hers used to bring light in his world. And now, it was sheer darkness. He could hear a faint muffling voice somewhere far in his ears. By the time he regained his senses, he had missed most of what the Inspector was briefing him about the accident.
‘……after investigating the crime scenario, we could say it is a suicide. But…’
‘But what, sir?’ Mr. Oberoi asked.
‘There’s another problem in this.’
‘On examination, it was found out that she was shot too.’
This fact came as another blow on his neck. Mr. Oberoi couldn’t believe what he just heard. How could that be possible? Who could have hated her so much as to kill her?
‘Yes she was shot.
‘But the thing that’s contradicting this is that the door to the terrace was found to be locked from the opposite side. So if we go by assuming it that the assassin had to flee, the door should have been either open or latched from this side of the stairs. Also this building stands alone with no connections with any neighbouring buildings. So there’s no chance that the assassin could have escaped by any alternative route. Anyways, we will work on the forensics and keep you updated with the progress on the case.’
‘Thank you, Inspector!’ There was a painful remorse in his words. Yadav sensed that.
‘By the way, we need to search for any kind of clues in your rooms.’
‘Huh, whaa…aat?’ Mr. Oberoi got another shock for the day.
‘We’ve got the search warrant and we need to do it’ the inspector insisted.
‘But sir, there’s nothing in there that would be of any help to…..this…..’
It was too late to react. Yadav had already opened up the door to his bedroom. He and his fellow assistant went through all the drawers, almirahs and cupboards ransacking everything that came in their way.
‘Sir, here. I got something’ and he pulled out a 0.32’’ Berretta handgun from inside the drawers.
Inspector Yadav stared at Mr. Oberoi with a clear question mark on his face.
‘I… I was an ex-army man. So, have one in my custody since those days. Just for my safety. To scare off intruders. It doesn’t even contain any bullet. You can check that’ explained a panicked Oberoi.
‘Okay take that with us. We may need that as evidence’ Yadav ordered his fellow officer.
As the duo walked further towards his daughter’s bedroom, Mr. Oberoi’s heartbeats began running a marathon. What will I say if they ask me about Maya’s injuries? Oh Sh*t!
As they opened the door to her bedroom, Mr. Oberoi closed his eyes praying and anticipating that she goes invisible.
And voila!! Where did she disappear?
The other cop motioned to the translucent bathroom door and asked, ‘Who’s in there?’
‘My wife. She must be taking a bath.’ He tried to explain.
‘Fine’, and with that they continued their search.
After rummaging around the whole place for five minutes, Yadav got hold of Priya’s personal diaries. He took all three of them and some other notes and handed over them to his assistant.
Just when they turned to leave the room, the bathroom door opened and out came Mrs. Oberoi. Seeing those khaki-clad men in the room, ‘what is police doing here?’ slipped out of her tongue. And with that, Mr. Oberoi felt the ground slide beneath his feet as the cops caught site of his wife.
‘Hello Mrs. Oberoi. Sorry to say but your daughter Priya is dead’ said Inspector Yadav with in a grave tone.
‘What!!!??? Nitin, what is he saying? Tell me, he’s bluffing!’
Oh yeah now don’t start your dramatics. You’ve always wanted that, bi*ch!! Mr. Oberoi politely nodded to her question.
She was merely waiting for his nod to start showcasing her artificial love and grief at the news of her daughter’s death.
She began hitting her chests hard, crying and cursing God. For a moment, even Mr. Oberoi felt that she had changed.
‘What happened to your forehead, Mrs. Oberoi’ Yadav asked pointing to the bruise on her left forehead.
And Mr. Oberoi’s heart once again skipped a beat.
‘Nothing sir, I fell in the bathroom and hurt myself.’
Nitin couldn’t believe his ears. Why didn’t she tell the truth?
‘Okay fine. We’ll leave then. And Mr. Oberoi, you’ll get the custody of your daughter’s body by tomorrow after the post-mortem.’
Nitin thanked him for his help. He had no emotions left for expressing them to the cops after this blow to his life.
‘Yadav sahib! Oh Yadav sahib!!’ the newly appointed constable shook his boss up from his afternoon nap.
Frightened, he woke up and took a note of his surroundings. ‘Hmm, what happened?’ he asked regaining his composure.
‘Sir the forensic reports from the lab’, he said handing over them to his boss.
As he read the reports, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The report had clearly stated that the bullet belonged to the 0.32’’ Berretta owned by Mr. Oberoi. Why would he kill his own daughter? Or did someone use his gun to kill him? There is a link that I am missing.
For the time being, he needed to arrest the guilty on the charge of attempting murder. He ordered his junior officer to take Mr.Oberoi into custody.
All of a sudden, his eyes fell on the diaries he had picked up from Priya’s bedroom last evening. Without any delay, he began going through them looking for more clues. One by one, every knot in his mind began untying itself.
Inspector Yadav let out a sigh of relief as he finally completed reading the last of Priya’s personal diaries. He reclined comfortably over his chair, staring onto the ceiling and lost himself in some thoughts.
Everything in the diaries reasonably agreed with the cause for her suicide, and also partly for the gunshot wound by Mr. Oberoi’s handgun. But the piece that was not falling into place was: how did she get hit by the bullet?
In the meantime, Mr. Oberoi had also arrived in the police station. Yadav straightaway motioned his officers to take him to the interrogation cell. He was the only one who was hiding something.
‘Okay, so let’s get this straight, Mr. Nitin. You’re telling me why you opened fire on your girl?’ he asked staring intently into his eyes.
‘I already told you, officer! I didn’t shoot her!! Why would I do that to my daughter? I loved her more than anything else in this world. I would never do that.’ Words barely came out from his mouth.
‘Then how did your gun’s bullet end lodging up into your daughter’s body? Is that some sort of a miracle you are trying to explain? We have the forensic reports proving your gun was involved in this crime. Now come on! Speak up!’ Yadav yelled at him.
Mr. Nitin Oberoi completely broke down. He couldn’t control himself. After all, it had been his damn mistake. He started speaking.
‘Yesterday, I and Maya were having an argument regarding Priya’s marriage. She was my only child and I wanted it to be a high profile wedding. But Maya didn’t want to. She never loved her. The reason being she’s my second wife.’
I know that, Yadav told himself.
‘So after Savita’s death, I married Maya and brought her home. It was never a pleasant relation between Priya and Maya. Even I started hating Maya’s attitude towards my daughter and her happiness. And that led to an incessant chain of arguments between me and Maya since last two years.
‘Last evening was another one like earlier. But it went quite out of control. She took out the handgun from my drawer and threatened me of attempting suicide. I knew very well that it didn’t possess any bullets, so I reached to her and tried pulling it out of her hand. In that struggle, my finger fell on the trigger and by mistake, it got pressed.
‘Thank God, the barrel of the gun was in another direction and the bullet went straight out of the window of the living room. We both were literally shocked. Both of us knew it never used to hold any bullets in it. I just used it to scare her sometimes during my arguments with her. But the presence of the bullet really scared the sh*t out of me.’
After few seconds of pause, he added with curiosity, ‘I still don’t understand how that single lone bullet got in there.’
‘I’ll tell you how that happened’, replied the Inspector .‘After reading through your daughter’s diaries, I already got an idea of the tensions going on in your family. Plus the bruises I saw on your wife’s face and arms last evening confirmed this logic of mine. But you see, your daughter was really not happy with whatever was going on in your family. She was passing through turmoil in her job, her relationships and her life. And some way or other, all this was due to the fondness that she was not receiving from her family. To be specific, you.
‘She began hating both of you. She didn’t like it when you brought another woman into your family. That was the trigger. Although she didn’t love this new woman, but still she cared for her feelings. She didn’t like the way you were treating her on daily basis. She got familiarized with the monster in you. On the whole, she didn’t like the way people were talking about her family. And for all that, she held both of you responsible.
‘And so to end this whole drama, she planned to remove any one of you.’
‘What do you mean by remove?’, enquired Mr. Oberoi with a frown.
‘She wanted one of you to die.’
‘Yes! She very well knew that you used to threaten your wife with the gun, but you never meant to. So one day without your knowledge, she planted one bullet in your Berretta hoping that in the next fight between you and your wife, you would pull it into either of your head. But to her dismay, that didn’t happen in the last three weeks when you guys had an argument again.
‘So last evening when she heard you both having that same old sh*t in your home again, she couldn’t restrain her emotions anymore and went for the final solution. And unluckily, at the same point you fired that gun of yours and the bullet went out of the window to hit your daughter. So in a very strange way, she only killed herself twice. I am myself unable to figure out whether to tag it as a murder or a suicide.’
Mr. Oberoi was dumbstruck by this whole disclosure. Indirectly, it was him who had done this to her girl, he thought. He had snatched away her happiness and smothered her. I would never be able to forgive myself. This is what I brought onto myself.
One week later, the court judged this case of Priya’s death as a suicide and sentenced a term of six months of jail to Mr. Oberoi on the charges of domestic violence against his wife.
But do you think the actual culprit in this whole case was brought forward? No. The actual culprit stayed back mute in one corner looking at the disaster it had caused. The actual culprit didn’t even open its mouth against these many years of domestic violence that took place behind those doors. Had it opened its mouth earlier, Priya would have not lost her life to her weakness.
The actual culprit today also fails to raise its voice against all this injustice. Just because it can never raise a voice.
The actual culprit is Silence.
“Raise Your Voice Against Domestic Violence”