Dal mein kuch kaala hai
by Akhila Rajan
Ramesh looked at himself in the mirror and gave a grunt of satisfaction. He sported a new look with his moustache and was tending to it with the greatest care. His wife Usha commented from the kitchen, “I wish you would take that thing off, it looks like fungal growth on your upper lip.”
Ramesh replied nonchalantly “My moustache is like Dhanush, Paartha pidikadhu, paaka paaka pidikkum” *. (You will not like it when you see it first, you will, as you continue to see it.)
She shrugged her shoulders in resignation, pouring out the dosa batter on the tava, “Whatever, come and have your breakfast now”.
Ramesh and Usha were a young couple married for a few years. Ramesh was a year senior in college and their love for mysteries and detective shows had brought them together. Romance had blossomed and they had become man and wife after a few years of courtship.
Ramesh had joined the police force and was now an Inspector at the E4 East Abhiramapuram police station in Chennai though his dream was to join the ranks of the CID. Inspired by his hero Hercule Poirot he now decided to grow a moustache .
Usha was apprenticing to be a lawyer. Her inspiration was Portia from ‘The Merchant of Venice’, which was one of her favorite tales growing up. Her Thatha (grandfather) had narrated the story to her many times and had always told her, “You must grow up and be smart and perspicacious like Portia”.
Finishing his breakfast, Ramesh headed out to work hurriedly on receiving a call. They lived in a modest two-bedroom flat in Mylapore, in a middle-class neighborhood. Usha was well-liked by her neighbors and would make it a point to engage in small talk with the other residents in the colony while Ramesh was more reserved by nature.
Usha usually looked forward to their dinner conversations together after their busy schedules. Goading Ramesh to talk about some of his more interesting cases, she would narrate some of her experiences at court and fill him in on some colony gossip. It was a good way to unwind.
That evening, she came home late since she was working on some affidavits. As she entered, the smell of vazhtha kuzhambu (spicy tamarind sambar) and potato fry wafted through the door, making her realize that she was famished. Ramesh had come in earlier and was doing the honors in the kitchen.
As she quickly freshened up and laid out the plates, she could sense that Ramesh was bursting to tell her something.
“I had an interesting day today. We had a breakthrough in a cybercrime case. Retirees were targeted and some succumbed to a phishing email and some have lost a few lakhs of their savings. The victims were all over the city and apparently had no connection with each other”.
Usha listened intently, savoring her hot meal said, “There must be some connection, right? A service provider maybe? Plumber, electrician etc?”
Ramesh nodded in agreement.
“The only thing common was, most of them were bed-ridden and had arranged for caretakers from a particular agency. On questioning, we were able to find a link to the agency manager’s brother. He used the caretakers to gain the trust of victims and gently nudge out the relevant information.”
He added with a grin, “The moustache gives me Gethu* (bearing). These days I get confessions more easily,” he chuckled as Usha grimaced.
As they were tidying up after dinner, he said “You know Rakesh who lives on the third floor, the one who has this lovely array of flowerpots; he just collapsed in his office car park this afternoon. His wife Rekha was quite beside herself when we broke the news to her. Poor thing”.
Usha looked up from the dishwasher and said, “Really, that’s really sad. It is surprising though. He seemed quite fit. Who found him?”
Ramesh replied “It was his colleague Anvi, she lives in our complex too I realized…”
Usha added thoughtfully, “Perhaps there is more than what meets the eye.”
Ramesh looked at her quizzically. “What do you mean? You knew Rekha a bit didn’t you?“
Usha replied, “I’ve met her a few times at society and book club meetings and it always struck me as a bit weird how she would gush on and on about her hubby. She’s constantly showing off her Facebook pictures. A lot of PDAs and blowing kisses at each other! ”
Ramesh smiled “But that’s the way of the world of today, isn’t it?”
“True,” added Usha, “but I sometimes feel when you try to project a particular image, it could well mean the opposite”.
Ramesh was stacking the leftovers in the fridge in see-through containers. He shut the door and listened to her intently.
“I have met Anvi a few times at the book club too,” continued Usha. “But she dropped out after some time. I could be mistaken, but in the last few meetings I kind of felt they were avoiding each other. “
“Interesting,” Ramesh nodded slowly.
The next few days flew by, each of them caught up in the humdrum of their work life, with minimal conversations between them.
Usha was able to wind up early on Friday and decided to rustle up some Bisibele bath for dinner while listening to some soulful melodies of Kishore Kumar, when the bell rang. She opened the door to a beaming Ramesh who held out a bunch of long-stemmed red roses to her.
“Wow, what a surprise! What’s the occasion?” she exclaimed.
Ramesh replied in an upbeat tone, “It’s a thank you, for putting me on the right track! On investigating further, we did find that all was not hunky dory between Rakesh and Rekha. It appeared that he had an affair going on with Anvi and Rekha had found out!”
On running a toxicology report in his postmortem, the pathologist found a significant amount of digitalis in his blood stream.
“We confronted Rekha with the evidence. At first, she denied it, but finally broke down and confessed. Rakesh was planning to leave her for Anvi, and she decided to take the extreme step. She put her foxglove plant to good use!”
He added excitedly, “This deceptive case might have been filed as a straightforward natural death, but for some diligent efforts by yours truly, who won the appreciation of the ACP. He has promised me a glowing recommendation for the CID post. Things look promising on that front!”
Usha gave him a loving smile as he hugged her and whispered in her ear, “So thanks again, all of this wouldn’t have been set in motion, without your observations. Ask me for anything!”
Usha looked up at him quizzically “Sure?”
”Of course, you have my word,” Ramesh replied confidently.
“Just a second then…”
She disengaged from him and returned with the razor and a disarming smile. Ramesh put his hands together in a sign of mock surrender.
“Ok, you win, off it goes!”
That night as she lay in bed Usha thought to herself, “Thatha, your Portia has done you proud today!”
This story was written as part of the Writer’s Gym program open to those who complete the Short Story Writing Workshop.
Pic: By Bharat Mirchandani from Mumbai, India – Dal Tadka 01, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91717442