Deepak looked at his watch. It was 12.30 A.M. He had been waiting for over an hour. The station was empty. There was yet no sign of Dhanbad Express. The train was scheduled to leave Dhanbad for Calcutta at sharp 12 in the midnight. Bemused Deepak went towards the station master’s office hoping to find the station master. Fortunately Deepak found the station master while he was just about to leave his office.
“Excuse me sir, can you please tell me the current status of Dhanbad Express. It was scheduled to leave Dhanbad station at 12 but there is no sign of the train.” Deepak hurriedly enquired.
The station master looked carefully at Deepak. He hoped that Deepak was the last passenger he had to reply before he could go home for the night.
“Well the train is late for about a couple of hours due to an accident in the rail track just about two hundred metres away. You will have to wait in the waiting room. If you are travelling by first class you can avail the first class waiting room. Go straight and you will find the waiting room in your right.” He replied.
As Deepak turned and looked towards the other end of the platform through the dim lights of the headlamps hanging overhead he could not see a single soul. Strangely the station was empty. He trudged around for some time then turned and ventured towards the first class waiting room. As he entered the waiting room he found out that there were a dozen people of all ages in the room.
Deepak looked at his watch. Another one and a half hour to pass before the train arrived. He looked around the waiting room. There were four tables placed diagonally opposite to each other with four chairs each. All the other tables were occupied except the table in which he was sitting. Suddenly he saw a man entering the waiting room. He was a clean shaven elderly gentleman in his sixties with grey hair dressed in khaki trousers and full sleeved white shirt. He carried a black suitcase. He was pretty well maintained for his age. The gentleman looked around the waiting room and then took the seat just opposite Deepak. Deepak smiled wryly at the stranger. He smiled back.
After some time Deepak thought to start a conversation with the gentleman. It was all too awkward to not talk while only two of them were sitting opposite to each other in the empty waiting room. Also the time would pass easily Deepak thought.
Deepak asked “Are you too going to Calcutta? “
“No. I am travelling to Mumbai, I was in Punjab Mail travelling from Calcutta to Mumbai but since the train lines got derailed due to an accident so will have to wait for some time before the train service restarts. I thought to wait in the waiting room “The elderly person replied.
“Yes my train to Calcutta also got delayed due to the accident. By the way my name is Deepak Sharma, I work in police service, currently posted at Calcutta.”
“I am Karan Dubey, I have a business of travel agency in Auckland. I will catch the flight to Auckland tomorrow evening from Mumbai” The stranger replied.
“So you are here in India for a vacation?” Deepak asked.
“I came to meet some old friends and relatives. I am settled in Auckland for about thirty years.” Karan said. “What about you?”
“Actually I am posted in Calcutta. I came in this town after exactly thirty years. I came to meet my old retired colleague, he is in his death bed and suffering from cancer.” Deepak said.
“So you have stayed here before then.”
“Actually this place has so many memories for me. There are so many interesting cases in my career but one case I remember pretty well it was about exactly thirty years back almost. Actually it is the only case in my career which I could not crack and it still remains unsolved. “Deepak said.
“Seems pretty interesting” Karan said.
“Well it was about thirty years back, I was posted here in Dhanbad as a police officer, and it was the first posting of my career. Dhanbad is a small town, most of the people know each other. I was posted as the station in charge of the police station at the market place. I remember a sensational murder took place about that time here. A collector named Suraj Ray was murdered by coal mafia. His body was not found though only his blood stained clothes were found by the river. A blood stained knife was recovered around hundred feet away in the bushes, may be the murderers had tried to throw it away. The body of the collector was never found though, probably the dead body was buried somewhere. I wish I’d been there earlier. It might have made all the difference. So all I can tell you is why he was murdered. “
“Well I still have another half an hour for my train. You can tell more about the story.” Karan said.
“Dhanbad at that point of time was a crime ridden town. The coal mafia had alleged links with the local politicians. The collector was in his mid to late thirties. He used to get a lot of threats from the local mafia. One evening he had come to the police station and reported that some people were following him regularly while he was returning from work. They had even stopped his car and had threatened him with dire consequences if he did not listen to them and sign on the tenders. The local mafia was involved in construction of rail lines and illegal mining. He had filed a report against unidentified persons.
The fateful day was 15th August 1987 the day we were celebrating thirtieth year of Indian independence. In the morning while we were having a flag hoisting ceremony at the police station, the wife of the collector reached the police station. She looked as if she had not slept the entire night. She said that her husband had not come home the previous night. So we filed a missing person report. We looked in the entire area and started search parties to conduct search. All that we could find was a blood stained clothes by the river side.
His wife had confirmed that the clothes belonged to her husband. He had worn them to work the previous day. The staff of his office said that the collector had worked late and had started for his home at about 8 in the night. He had given leave to his driver and was driving alone. It took hardly about half an hour from the collector’s office to his bungalow by car. His car was found abandoned by the riverbank where his blood stained clothes were found. So it was concluded after a few days that the collector was murdered.”
“Interesting, so the case remains unsolved till date?” Karan asked.
“Yes, unfortunately, we tried to enquire about the local mafia and even the contract killers but we could not find any clue. Every suspect had an alibi. Though there was another angle to the case, there were reports of financial irregularities in the collector’s office. Those reports had cropped up after his disappearance. He had allegedly misappropriated crores of rupees from the government fund. It all remained a mystery and still remains a mystery. His wife left for her brother’s house along with their child after the incident.”
Suddenly an announcement came from the loud speakers in the station. Mumbai Express travelling from Calcutta to Mumbai was ready and would depart in ten minutes.
“Okay I will have to leave now it was nice meeting you.” Karan got up and shook hands with Deepak.
He got out from the waiting room and went towards the train travelling to Mumbai.
After about an hour Deepak saw Dhanbad express enter the station. Time had passed so quickly. He bent down to tie his shoe laces, as he bent down he saw a photograph lying on the floor. It was the photograph of a couple, of Karan and of a lady. It must have dropped off from Karan’s purse. Deepak looked outside the waiting room. Mumbai Express had already left the station. Deepak looked at the photograph again and put it in his purse. His train to Calcutta had also arrived. So he hurried out and boarded the train.
On the next day Deepak was in his police station at Calcutta thinking of the previous night at Dhanbad. Something in him was disturbing him, was he missing something? He thought about the stranger he had met the previous night. He seemed familiar but could not relate him somehow.
He looked at the photograph he had found last night. It was a picture clicked abroad while vacationing. Niagra falls could be seen in the background. The lady in the photograph, she seemed very familiar. Deepak thought hard, and then suddenly he remembered the lady in the photograph was the collector’s wife. Thirty years had passed but the lady looked exactly the same apart from a few wrinkles on her face. He could remember she was an extremely beautiful lady with striking features.
But why the collector’s wife was in a photograph with Karan. What was the relation between the two of them, Karan thought hard. Deepak took a pencil and drew a moustache on Karan’s face in the photograph and coloured his hair black. Suddenly everything seemed clear to Deepak. The man in the photograph looked exactly as the collector.
It was the collector who had posed as Karan Dubey the previous night. So the collector was alive and was living in New Zealand for the last thirty years with a new identity. He had faked his own death and all the reports of the money swindling in his name was true. Fate had made Deepak visit Dhanbad after so many tears and fate had also brought the collector to Dhanbad at the same time. It was such a near miss Deepak thought. When Deepak was narrating the story he never let Deepak be suspicious even for a second. By then he must have left India and on the flight to New Zealand if what he had said was true.
Deepak would never forget the chance encounter in the waiting room for the rest of his life. Deepak looked at the photograph and smiled, though he was outwitted at least he had solve the one unsolved case of his life.