Sunday, November 20, 2016

Vine : Chapter 7: Is this the end?

[Previously: Year 2001, Rohit Verma and Neha Gupta (Raj Gupta’s wife) meets a fatal accident on Pune - Mumbai highway. The same day Rohit’s wife Sohini Bose commits suicide in their mumbai residence. Raghav Bose Verma (son of Rohit and Sohini) is left to the care of Sohini’s brother Pradip Bose and his wife Piyana Bose. Present day: Raghav who was settled in US with his maternal uncle, decides to come to India for selling his parental home. Getting a sudden call from Raj Gupta claiming he knows the truth about his parent’s death, Raghav meets him in Pune. Raj Gupta, Sriram Iyer (Rohit’s friend) and Dr Madhukar Bhonsle talk of their versions of what happened on that fateful day and why. Tanya Iyer (Sriram’s daughter) has been Raghav’s voice of reason in the last couple of days. Under his uncle’s pressure, Raghav decides to return to US prematurely]
He got out of the car to stand for one last time in front of his childhood memories, the building where Raghav used to live in Chembur. This trip turned out to be much more than what he expected. In all the commotion, he was happy to have found a friend in Tanya.
“You know what, you are probably the first person who hasn't said that Tanya is an unlikely name for a Tam-Brahm”
“And what is a Tam- Brahm?”
“Tamil Brahmin”, said Tanya rolling her eyes.
“Clearly I missed this acronym when I was reading about 10 things you must know before you land in India”. Tanya’s sarcasm was becoming contagious.
As they entered the main gate, a middle aged guard walked up to them, asking for their purpose of visit.
“We used to stay here on the 5th floor, long back. I have just come to take a final look at the flat”, Raghav explained. Guard let them in and took them to their flat.
It was a mid sized two bedroom flat. Definition of space has always been very different in Mumbai from other cities. After having lived in suburban New Jersey for years, these flats looked like small match boxes, but he distinctly remembered that back in the day, this flat was big enough for all his dreams. May be as we grow up, imagination needs the crutch of ambience to build anything significant. The flat was completely bare bones. No one had lived there since Raghav had left for US. Tanya noticed that even the verandah door latch, which looked half broken, had not changed in so many years.
“It is you Raghav, isn’t it?”, the watchman asked.  
“Yes”, Raghav was amazed that he remembered. He clearly didn’t.
“My name is Nathuram. I had come in as the replacement for your old guard that week when your mother passed away. And I almost got fired in the first week itself!”
Tanya was intrigued, “Why?”
“Madam. I was new here. The old guard suddenly went back to his village, and I was brought in to fill in for him. I must have made some mistake or maybe it was just my luck that on the same day two major incident happened in this building and that too on the same floor.”
“Two major incident?”
“One was the unfortunate incident with Raghav’s mother, and second the same day their neighbor's flat was broken into. Fortunately for me, the thieves didn’t get enough time to steal anything from them, or I would have surely lost my job.
Tanya, went out on the balcony and pointed to the adjoining flat, and asked, “this one?”
Nathuram nodded.
Tanya went back in the room, started inspecting the door. Raghav, who was all this while lost in his old memories, noticed that Tanya was onto something.
Tanya came closer to Raghav and spoke in a hushed voice, “this door, looks like it has been forced into. Neighbours were broken into but nothing was stolen. Police of course didn’t bother looking for anything else as it was an open and shut case for them. Do you remember Dr Madhukar’s theories. It does look odd when you think about it.”
Raghav didn’t offer much of a reply and started to leave. Tanya was a bit surprised, but she followed him out. Once they were back in the car, on route to the airport, she couldn’t hold back, “That was weird, wasn’t it? Why are you ignoring Dr. Madhukar’s theories? Isn’t this your duty, to find out the truth!”
Raghav was unusually quiet and kept looking outside the window, as if trying to make up his mind. “Yes. It is odd”, He finally said. “It is odd and so is everyone else and everyone else’s theory about what happened fifteen years back. For the last few days, my brain has been churning out scenarios after scenarios. What if Raj’s story is the truth? What if he was lying completely? May be he killed them or gotten them killed. Anyone could see his jealousy and gauge the madness underneath. Or may be nothing was related. May be Neha (Raj’s wife) was having an affair with someone else as your dad said. Dad was probably just trying to help her out when she found out that she was pregnant. May be he had called to tell my mother that. What it still doesn’t explain is why my mother committed suicide or if she did that at all. May be there is a grand conspiracy theory after all. May be both my parents were killed and Neha was just a collateral loss. But here is the clincher - there is no absolute proof of anything. All of this happened fifteen years back and all of these scenarios are built on circumstantial evidences at best and wild imagination at worst. There is no easy way of finding out the truth”
“Yes, but there is just one truth and not many. Don’t you want to find out?”
“Yes and no. Yes, because if someone killed my parent, then I would want nothing more than to avenge them. But, if it was the other way around, then I would be putting at stake whatever little bit of sanity that is left in my life. The choice is between sacrificing my future life in search of the truth, or sacrificing the truth for a normal life. Right now, I am undecided. I don’t think I am ready to take a step in either direction.”
Both of them sat in silence for the rest of the journey. Over the last few days, Tanya had been a source of strength to Raghav. She had in ways eased out the blow of over information and speculation. He knew what Tanya was thinking, it was plain to see. Selfish! Selfish of Raghav to go back and not dig deeper to find the truth. But Raghav was certain that his time here was done, and was hopeful that he still had some more time left with Tanya- more than the remaining few minutes of their journey.
Tanya was never very good at handling goodbyes. Bidding someone goodbye with so many mixed emotions, was a first even for her. May be time will help decay this wild oscillations in her mind. She went back in her car, once Raghav had entered the airport departure gates.
As the plane touched down in New York, Raghav’s phone began buzzing with everything that he had missed in last few days. One caught attention more than the other. It was from a friend who worked in NSA, with a harmless suggestion for a catch up next friday. Was this a sign!? He will have to wait to find out.

To be continued? May be… :)

Vine: Chapter 6: The old man

[Previously: Year 2001, Rohit Verma and Neha Gupta (Raj Gupta’s wife) meets a fatal accident on Pune - Mumbai highway. The same day Rohit’s wife Sohini Bose commits suicide in their mumbai residence. Raghav Bose Verma (son of Rohit and Sohini) is left to the care of Sohini’s brother Pradip Bose and his wife Piyana Bose. Present day: Raghav who was settled in US with his maternal uncle, decides to come to India for selling his parental home. Getting a sudden call from Raj Gupta claiming he knows the truth about his parent’s death, Raghav meets him in Pune. Raj Gupta and Rohit’s old friend Sriram Iyer, tells Raghav conflicting stories. Raghav is unable to make up his mind. Sriram’s daughter Tanya decides to accompany Raghav in quest to find answers]
As Raghav sat opposite to Dr Madhukar Bhonsle, sipping a cup of tea and hearing about how his mother was a brilliant scientist and one of the best he had ever tutored. Tanya sat next to him. Her generous dose of sarcastic humor and love for coffee helped him find a center in this turmoil of emotions. Having her alongside gave him some sense of relief and sanity. He had booked himself on a return flight for the day after. His uncle heard all about the Raj episode from Sriram and was adamant that he doesn't spend a day more in India.
“You know Raghav, you look a lot like her. She was my best student ever and the day she passed away was one of the saddest days of my life. I knew your father as well. Rohit was a nice man. It is so unfortunate when so many cruel things happen at the same time. It makes you wonder if it is just fate or is it someone pulling some strings from behind the curtains.”
Tanya was first to catch on to old man’s hint, and quickly asked him - “do you think someone was pulling strings? what do you mean, really?”
Dr Bhonsle looked at them one by one, and was carefully measuring every word he said next. In the last 10 years he had been ridiculed in his family and in his office for his outrageous conspiracy theories. While he had learnt his lesson about not sharing them as vocally or in public, he never wavered away from his belief or the lack of it. He was trying to assess which category these two kids will fall into.
“Do you know how many scientists in BARC have lost their lives in accidents or have committed suicide in last 15 years ?”
Both stared at him blankly, and shook their heads to express their ignorance on the subject.
“10 in total. 5 of which were in my department. Either my department is a particularly accident prone department or something is wrong here. Your mother was the first to go.”
“What were you working on?”, asked Raghav.
“Do you remember your basic undergraduate physics class? Uranium is used for generation of nuclear electricity, however it is available in limited quantity and not even found across the globe. Electricity or power has long been the backbone of scientific and economic progress. Whoever has access to the cheapest power, has the potential to become the biggest power in the globe and naturally during cold war, both US and Russia had been relentless in harnessing nuclear energy. However the competition has always remained in Russia’s favour as they have one of the richest Uranium reserves. India on the other hand have had access to one of the biggest Thorium reserve. Now while this is a seemingly useless sibling of the radioactive brotherhood, our research for over two decades have been around how to harness Thorium to generate electricity. We have been working closely with some of the research teams in US and our progress in this field was very encouraging to say the least. Your mother was in fact part of a joint research team of US and India to work on this very project. And then one fine day, just a month before your family was supposed to move to US, she commits suicide. Now I have known her for sometime. She could be many things, but she wasn't a weak person and she loved you a lot. There was nothing which could make her take her own life. She was not a person who backs out of a fight. She wasn't a coward.”
“So what are you saying?”, Raghav asked.
“I am saying that your mother was killed by KGB or ISI or some such forces.”
Raghav’s first reaction was that the old man had lost it. He was clearly in his late 60s and might be beginning to imagine things. But surprisingly Tanya seemed fairly interested.
“What about the remaining four from your team?”, she asked.
“Good question. Two died in a road accident, one was electrocuted while doing repair work at home, and one person fell down stairs and died. All of them were critical to the research that we were doing. As soon as we neared some breakthrough, one of the key personnel associated would die”
“Why haven't the police investigated this?”, Tanya asked
“For one, they all looked like accidents. Two, they were scientists and not some silly celebrities. Three, all of this has happened because of internal leaks. I am sure they would have found ways to pocket the police as well.”
It was like a page out of a fiction novel. Raghav found himself laughing at what the old man was saying. “Raj is confident that my father cheated on my mother and that is why she took her life. Tanya’s father is confident that my father was a good man. Now you are saying that my mother was killed by agents of secret service or worse by her own government. You know what, I officially don't know what to believe. Thank you for your time doctor, but I don't know what to believe anymore.” Raghav got up and left the apartment, before Madhukar could say anything. Tanya got up to follow him as well.
“Sorry Dr Madhukar. He has been through a lot in the last couple of days.”
“That's alright. I don't blame him. At least he heard me out. This was the first time that I spoke about this to anyone. Ask him to look for signs. There would be signs of some random incident which happened along with these accidents. Something which doesn't add up. Most people just ignore it. We are so ready to put our heads in the sand and pretend there is no sandstorm brewing over our heads. We are so willing to take an easy answer that we give up on truth for convenience. Hope he has better sense than that.”

To be continued…