In last episode you read about Feluda’s investigation of the crime in Agwanpur, Tapesh’s spotting the suspicious and arrogant man with a limp in his left leg, the incident of seeing locksmith, the threatening letter to Feluda and Feluda meeting Nishant. Read on as Feluda solves the mystery in Episode 5
Feluda put down the receiver and asked me to get ready and called to check on Lalmohan babu aka Laluda.
“Laluda, come at once. We need to hurry.” Said Feluda and disconnected.
Once we all were in room and ready, Feluda started talking.
“You would have wanted to know what I am onto so far, right?”
“Yes!”- We spoke in unison.
“I cannot tell you much right now but listen, Tapesh do you remember the night when I was experimenting with some chemicals? It was potassium nitrate and sugar; I was checking how the sadhu must have created smoke. I also have checked with locksmith that Radhemohan made him break open almost all the locks in the house as he doesn’t remember combination of safes and forgot where he’d kept keys for other locks. Also, the local police have Balram Misir’s son Kamal under suspicion as they found him roaming around pond in early morning hours many a times and he was also caught sneaking-out ration from the temple’s storage for no good reason he could state.”
“So he is our prime suspect…”
“No. He is theirs, not mine. I still have things to clear my mind off of.”
“So what will you do next?”- asked Laluda.
“Nothing now. Let us go to Kali’s temple for that is where I am meeting Radhemohan and Kamal today.” Feluda said with a calm air and lit a cigarette.
I was still wondering about the phone call so I asked.
“Last night I have called a friend in Delhi to look into whereabouts of Radhemohan’s elder son Pramod. It was him, calling me to tell me that Pramod has been missing from his job, and the place he lived, for more than a month now. Something is not right in Mr.Shukla’s house.”
Kamal was helping temple’s priest in preparation for a Pooja. He stopped when he saw us and came to us.
“Hello Mr. Mitter, how can I help you?”
“Could you please tell us about that incident Kamal, when you were caught stealing ration from temple storage?”
“To tell you the truth Mr. Mitter, I didn’t want anyone to know this but I can see that there is no point in keeping it from you given my present situation when police is harassing me daily to admit for a crime that I didn’t do.”
“You can trust me on this Kamal, for a fact I know you are not guilty. I want to hear truth about that night so that when I bring the real culprit up, there shouldn’t be anyone questioning your involvement in this.”, Feluda said in his reassuring voice.
“I was just trying to help a woman live.”
“I need specifics”
“I am coming to that Mr. Mitter. There is a widow woman who lives in a house behind the market. Untouchability is a curse Mr. Mitter and she is a victim of it. She had lost her husband and son to an accident, they were her only family. These people come from a caste that is considered untouchable. When her husband was alive he used to earn by working in fields of others but now no one lets her come near self, let alone giving work or food, for she is asthmatic too. She eats off of the temple’s extra prasadam and prays to lord for mercy. I wanted to give a share of what a temple of God owed to this woman, maybe I was an answer to her prayers. I was caught then but I didn’t stop it. I sneak in and out every month and this is the truth. If you consider it a crime, you may turn me in.”, iterated Kamal.
“Your motive may be Nobel but you are not entirely correct. You should have approached people to help her out. I am sure there are people who sympathize with her but may not have the courage to speak their minds, you could be their voice.”, said Feluda with calm air.
We saw the temple’s priest approaching us so we stopped speaking and directed our attention to him. Feluda introduced himself and then us and told him the purpose of our visit.
“I haven’t seen him for a while now. It has been many weeks now since he had stopped coming to the temple.”, said the priest.
I spoke purely for conversational purpose, ” How often he used come?”
“Everyday, twice. During morning and evening offerings.”
“That must require a lot of physical stamina , for a man to walk all the way here twice a day with that stick.”, remarked Lalmohan babu.
“Stick? What stick?! Did he get into an accident? That must explain the reason for him not coming to the temple for so many days!”, reasoned the priest.
“Wait! So you mean Radhemohan didn’t used to use a walking stick..”, Laluda expressed his surprise and it was then when we realized that he walked with a stick not due to his old age but he had a bad foot. Left one.
Radhemohan arrived in next 5 minutes and Feluda asked him about how his feet was.
“It is again my age Mr. Mitter, I have problem in doing a lot of things and walking is one of them.”, lied Mr. Shukla without a flinch.
I start feeling uncomfortable with someone if I learn that they are liars. Had Radhemohan’s earlier impression not been good I would have doubted if he’s ever told us truth, so I gave him benefit of doubt for he might have any personal reason for lying about the foot. Probably he felt embarrassed about the incident in which he hurt it which might be a black-out or stumbling due to his age, who knows.
Feluda asked Radhemohan to ask everyone for their presence in his house in evening. He asked Kamal to be there too.
“I am going to give them their culprit today.”, announced Feluda during lunch, back in the hotel. I wasn’t surprised for this is how he always does it but Lalmohan babu asked,”When did you solve it, Felu babu?”
“The day of our midnight adventure at Radhemohan’s house. I was just waiting for the call that came this morning which confirmed the motive.”, said Feluda without lifting his head from his plate.
“Who is it!?”, Laluda couldn’t help his excitement.
“Wait for the evening Laluda for there is a lot to take in.”, Feluda said while sipping from his glass of buttermilk.
I was asked to call Police for their presence at Radhemohan’s house in the evening so I called them and informed.
I was excited but trying not to show it to Feluda, who knew it anyway so he asked, “Tapesh, who, do you think, it is?”
I wasn’t expecting such a discussion with him but he is Feluda, he is too unpredictable.
“I am not sure. First I thought it was Kamal but since I have met him I am unable to join loose ends as there are many. I’d rather wait for the evening than banging my head at the wall.”, said I and we laughed together.
A lot of people were present in Radhemohan’s study. I saw two policemen and the inspector from the corner of my eyes, they were standing by the door to block any attempt of escape by anyone, as instructed by Feluda.
Present, as asked by Feluda, were Radhemohan, his daughter-in-law and Pramod’s wife, Pramod’s 6-year old son, Radhemohan’s younger son Nishant, Kamal, the locksmith we saw the other day, the farm-worker we met at Radhemohan’s house that same day, priest of the Kali’s temple and a few other people from village.
Feluda stood up and walked to the center of the room. He looked at everyone before he started speaking.
“It must be hard for the people of this village to believe that their lives were being subjected to such difficulty. You are thinking why have you all been summoned here today. It is because today you’ll know who have made your lives miserable, but before I reveal the truth, I need to ask some questions to some of you present here.”
The room was in absolute silence. No one moved or spoke or whispered anything.
Feluda begin again, this time facing Nishant,”Nishant, are you a student at Kamla Nehru College?”
“Yes, I am. What has that to do with anything!”, he clearly wasn’t expecting this.
“I am coming to that Nishant babu. Would you please tell us what are you majoring into?”, Feluda waived aside his annoyance and objection.
“Very well.” Now Feluda turned to Radhemohan and asked, “Mr. Shukla, could you please tell us all how did you get your left foot injured.”
Startled by this sudden question, Mr. Shukla blurted out,”What! What did I..? How did you!”
Clearly there was something he had been hiding but it wasn’t as simple as I’d thought, this I learnt later for for the answer of this question he lied again.
“I hurt myself while trying to unleash my cattle for grazing, as I slipped in their byre, on the dung and my foot hit the bamboo pillar.”
“You are lying Mr. Shukla as Radhemohan has never been to the byre all his life. He didn’t like going in there. How do I know this, you ask? – Prayag here will tell.”
Everyone frowned as Feluda referred Radhemohan being a different man than Mr. Shukla siting in the room. Feluda asked Prayag to come forward. A man wearing a vest and dhoti, with another piece of cloth wrapped around his head, stepped out. He looked as if he was coming straight from the fields. Now I recognized, he was the man on the cycle that we met in Radhemohan’s home on our first visit.
“Prayag has worked here for more than 30 years. He is almost of same age as Radhemohan Shukla. Prayag, would you tell us if Radhemohan ever liked helping with the byre, and cattle?”
“No babu, he didn’t. He didn’t like unhygienic places.”
“Could you please tell what did he ask you to do a few days ago when he forgot the combination of his locks?”
Instead of answering this question, Prayag looked at his master.
“Please don’t be afraid Prayag babu, he won’t say anything to you. You have his full confidence as it is necessary to bring justice to the people.”
“He asked me to call locksmith as he couldn’t remember his combination and forgot where he kept keys as well.”
“Isn’t it strange that Mr. Shukla forgot his combinations, and left his keys somewhere he doesn’t remember, all in one day. While on the same day he could talk about the childhood of Pramod and Nishant with details.”
“The fact is, Mr. Shukla sitting in this room is not the same Radhemohan Shukla whom you all knew..”
Soon as Feluda said these words Mr. Shukla tried to get up and reached out to the door but policemen by the door caught him. Feluda knew this would happen.
“Make him sit inspector.” said Feluda in grave, authoritative voice.
“My suspicion fell on you since the day of our first visit. I saw that the walking stick you were using was new and varnished. Old people generally do not change their sticks for years and sometimes they even never do. I tried to look for a similar one in the market here but couldn’t find for it is not from here, you brought it with you from Delhi to please your father, Mr. Pramod Shukla.”
Everyone looked stunned. As Feluda swiftly reached-out and pulled the disguise off-of Pramod Shukla’s face as he revealed the truth.
I knew everyone wondered where old Mr. Shukla was, so did I.
Feluda continued, “You got me thinking how could a man forget about all about his keys and not remember any of the combination. You also didn’t know where to look if you have written these somewhere. It could only be if you never knew them let alone forgetting. To add flavor to all this, as Radhemohan Shukla, you talked about Pramod’s and Nishant’s childhood; of course you didn’t forget any details for it was your own childhood. It struck me again. I however had to confirm my suspicion so that evening I went to see around the house and pond. There was a trodden path leading from your house to the pond which was not a common one but this could be an exception as they happen all the time, but while looking around near pond, I found the bunch of keys that Radhemohan kept with him all the time. I presume something had happened near that pond and Radhemohan’s key fell into bushes. You got the bruises and broke your leg during this incident which you have no choice other than telling us about it.”
I leaned slightly to my left and saw that the bruises were there behind his ears. Pramod was the arrogant limping man whom I have seen in the hotel shouting at the waiter.
“…On the same evening I went to see the locksmith to enquire about the job Radhemohan has asked him to do. He told me how Radhemohan had tried to break-open the safes earlier. No one would do that if the safes were his own and if he cared about anything more than money. That same night I got into your house and investigated. Not only I found Radhemohan Shukla’s own old stick, that added to my suspicion, but I also saw that the chests were moved and were tried to force-opened. It was when I saw a family picture of Radhemohan Shukla and came to know about the uncanny resemblance in the Radhemohan and Pramod’s faces; with just a little make-up Pramod could easily turn into Radhemohan.”
Everyone in the room was startled but it was only the half of the truth. Feluda stopped for a glass of water and then spoke again. “The night I was investigating in your home, you rode a bike to the hotel to deliver me a message. It was you who broke the window of our room by throwing the stone with paper wrapped on it. You threaten me to back down as you knew I would catch you.”
I recalled that night when a man took off on a bike while we were hiding beside the wall. I remembered his funny walk and now I know it was Pramod, walking with his limping leg without stick.
“Rahemohan’s stick was old but not worn-out. This meant that he rarely needed it and that is why the priest of Kali’s temple never actually saw him with it.”
“But Mr. Mitter, that only shows that how Pramod despised all of us and betrayed his father whose whereabouts we still don’t know. What about the sadhu who stole our money?” asked an old man from the gathering.
Feluda had to oblige,”Pramod is that sadhu. I found his make-up and the saffron-cloths in his room. He was in dire need of money due to his expensive lifestyle and gambling. He owes a lot of money to people in the company he used to work and to his friends. They pressurized and threaten him to return money else face the consequences so he fled and came back here. He asked his father for money who denied so he turned to illegal means and thought of this disguise and looted people. He was making a lot but lies are not forever lasting. Radhemohan found out about him after he hired me to investigate but he didn’t get a chance to tell me as he must have confronted Pramod who is to tell what did he do to his father.”
Every piece was falling into its place, the expensive watch on Pramod’s wrist in the hotel when I saw him first, the call Feluda made to Delhi, to enquire about him and the fact that Radhemohan hired us but didn’t know until then that it was his own son.
Feluda continued further,”You must be wondering what does Nishant babu has to do with all this. He partnered with his brother in his crime. It was Nishant who came up with the idea in the first place and helped him with the chemicals from his laboratory from college. Nishant knew that mixing two parts of Potassium Nitrate with one part of sugar generated white fumes, he gave the chemical to Pramod to help the sadhu to appear and disappear from the scene of crime. Now Pramod babu it is your turn to tell the truth else police will force it out of you.”
Pramod sat there holding his head in his hands while Nishant cried sitting on the floor hiding his face between his legs.
Inspector approached and shook Pramod by collar to push him to speak and he did, – “All you have told is true. My father came to know about my fraud and he asked me to turn myself in or he would hand me over to the villagers and to police. I tried to convince him not to do so but he didn’t listen to me. We had a fight here, in his study, and I pushed him. He fell on the table and his head struck the corner. He never woke up again.”
“What did you do with his body?”
“It all happened a day before Mr. Mitter was to arrive. I didn’t have time to flee. Nishant got a chemical from his lab and we smeared his body with it and dumped into the pond to decompose. That’s when the keys from the pocket of his kurta fell into the bushes and I hurt my leg while looking for it. I am very ashamed of what I have done Mr. Mitter… I don’t know whom to apologize and how would I compensate the losses.”
People in the room, all were drained-faced. Some of them had tears in their eyes for Radhemohan Shukla, others were raged. Prayag was certainly in shock. For he fell on the floor with a loud thud. People helped him sat up. Pramod’s wife seemed lost and didn’t have any awareness of the place or time. She kept staring into space while emotions of rage, betrayal and loss passed her eyes to finally reach at numbness and emptiness. Her son tugged at her sari and tried to speak to her but she couldn’t and didn’t respond.
Feluda once again spoke, “The biggest loss you have caused is to your family, to your wife and son, who’s future you have compromized. You have been a brother no one would like to have and a son who betrayed the trust of a father. Law will only punish your tangible crimes but you have committed much more than you can make amends in many lives to come.”
Police took Nishant and Pramod into custody. Radhemohan’s body was recovered from the pond a few hours later.
Kamal babu expressed a desire to help Pramod’s innocent wife and son and appealed everyone to not cast their anger on them. Feluda encouraged and backed him for that.
On the way back to hotel I asked Feluda how did he arrive to the conclusion that it was Pramod who played sadhu and not Nishant or anyone else.
“His 6-year old son was refusing to sleep the night I went into their home looking for the proof. When his mother – Pramod’s wife, asked if he wanted to rather sleep with his dad or baba (his grandfather)? He said that he didn’t like his dad as he turns into a monster every morning. For a child of his age a bearded man certainly looks like a monster; he must have seen Pramod dressing-up into sadhu’s getup someday and ever since then he didn’t like being with his father.” – explained Feluda and lit another cigarette.