The Red Bindi | Lipsa Mohanty
Ved and Arohi were college sweethearts. Love had blossomed when they met during their MBA days in Kolkata. Their togetherness culminated in marriage and fate blessed them when they both got job in the same firm. It had been six months since they moved to the city of dreams-Mumbai, to start life together.
Ved who was very close to his mother had lost her during his grad college. So he instantly fell for Arohi due to her caring and affectionate nature. The void of love left behind by his mom was filled by Arohi.
That evening as Ved unlocked his home and sneaked into the bedroom, he saw Arohi sitting in front of the dressing bay. She looked elegant in a black bandhini saree with hair tied into a messy bun and temple jewellery adorning her neck and ears. Her eyes wore dark kohl and lips had a brown matte finish.
Ved was looking at her, when she nudged him, “Ved, come on, get ready! We are already late for the party. I have ironed your maroon kurta and dhoti.”
“Arohi, I really don’t like these theme parties, behaving like kids getting dressed up in traditional attire”, Ved said a little irritated.
“Now don’t be a spoilsport Ved. I know you would not want to upset Varun and Sarika, it’s their anniversary after all”.
Ved knew it was no use arguing with Arohi, so he went to get ready.
The hotel wore a decorated look with white lilies and fairy string lights. Light music played in the backdrop and guests sat and enjoyed drinks and starters. The aroma of smoked chicken kebab and tangy paneer tikka blended with the music creating a perfect party set up.
Ved and Arohi went up to wish Varun and Sarika, “Happy anniversary guys!”
Ved and Varun got busy talking and Sarika took Arohi to meet her other friends.
“Arohi, meet Sneha, a very dear friend and colleague”, Sarika introduced her to Sneha who looked beautiful in a white saree with red border, golden jhumkas and a big red bindi.
“Hi Sneha, you look fabulous in this Bengali attire!”, Arohi complimented her.
The party was on and while the ladies discussed fashion, home, cooking, the men sticked to gadgets, stock market and cricket.
Suddenly a shrill scream broke the aura, alarming everyone. When they reached the poolside, they saw Roshni pointing to the pool and screaming.
The ghastly sight of Sneha’s body floating in water and her white saree swaying along with the waves shocked all.
The hotel manager immediately called the police who cordoned off the area on their arrival and detained everyone for interrogation.
The prime investigating officer ACP Shashank Dave questioned Roshni, “So you were the first one to see Mrs. Desai’s body right?”
Roshni still trembling with fear meekly answered, “Yes, I had come to the poolside to make a call when suddenly I saw Sneha’s body”.
ACP Shashank further queried, “Did you see anyone else around?” to which she replied in the negative.
After a few more rounds of questioning, Shashank consoled Sneha’s husband, “we can confirm after the autopsy whether it is a murder or accidental drowning”, and left the place.
That night, Arohi could not sleep. Ved had already dozed off, so she kept staring at the ceiling trying to think why someone would murder Sneha.
Days went on and so did the investigation, and it was declared that Sneha had died of accidental drowning due to lack of any murder angle since Sneha and her husband were a happy and respected family and everything came out clean in the case.
A month had already gone by post Sneha’s death.
The city now wore a festive look. The auspicious “Krishna janmashtami” had just ended and people welcomed “Ganapati bappa”. Ved and Arohi too were busy decorating their respective office spaces, with paper crafts and rangolis to mark “Ganesh Chaturthi”. Men and women flaunted their ethnic outfits full of enthusiasm.
Arohi looked mesmerizing in a cream anarkali suit paired with a golden dupatta and matching danglers; her eyes twinkled when Nisha, her best friend complimented, “you look fabulous Arohi, I love your danglers and your hairdo”.
Arohi too replied gleefully, “you too look ravishing in this mustard yellow paithani and specially the big red bindi. Omg! I just noticed your bracelet, that’s such an exquisite piece of work! I loved it. Where did you buy it from?”
Nisha, overwhelmed, replied with a big smile “I got this online, will order one for you”.
Both friends smiled and got busy.
The common area beamed with employees when suddenly people started rushing towards the lift. Arohi started looking out for Nisha and then tried calling up Ved. But he too was not reachable, so she followed others. What she saw in the parking lot was unbelievably scary.
Nisha lied on the concrete floor in a pool of blood. Arohi was about to rush towards her when a strong pair of hands stopped her. She turned around to see Ved holding her tightly, “what are you doing Arohi? That’s a suicide case”.
Arohi shockingly replied, “Suicide? How do you know that? Why would Nisha commit suicide? She was so excited about her wedding. Why would she suddenly end her life?”, Arohi cried badly. She continued, “Where were you? I had been trying your number”.
“I went out for a smoke”, Ved said.
The police and ambulance arrived and sealed the area immediately pushing the crowd back.
Ved and Arohi were surprised to see ACP Dave again. Shashank started inspecting the entire place looking for clues. Nisha’s body was sent for post-mortem and the crowd was asked to disperse from the site as it hindered the investigation.
Ved, Arohi and their other colleagues went back to their bays still bewildered with what had happened minutes ago. Arohi kept crying inconsolably and blabbering amidst her sobs, how Nisha looked so cheerful and happy in the morning. Her friends and Ved tried to console her when Inspector Dave intervened, “who is Arohi Patel?”
“Hello Inspector Dave, I am Ved Patel. Arohi’s husband, what’s the matter?”, Ved asked politely.
“Mr Patel, as per our investigation, Nisha was last seen talking to Arohi, after which she was found dead. So we need to record Mrs. Patel’s statement”.
Shashank continued in his grave tone, “Mr and Mrs. Patel, I expect you to cooperate with us since this is a standard procedure”.
Ved was waiting impatiently outside when Arohi came, “Are you fine? What happened? Did they ask too many questions?”
“It was a routine interrogation. Everything was ok except for one thing!”
“What?”, Ved asked enquiringly.
“When Inspector Dave showed me Nisha’s post demise photos, I noticed that her bracelet was missing while everything else was intact on her body. Also Inspector Dave said that they did not find any such bracelet near the site”.
Ved seemed a little relaxed, “Oh, ok.. it’s such a small thing Arohi, it might have fallen off somewhere”.
By the time, Ved and Arohi returned home, it was already late. It had been a long bad day for both and sleep embraced them as soon as they hit the bed.
The next morning’s newspaper brought with it the tale of Nisha’s suicide and the speculations attached to it. The reporters had published the news with all the sugar and spice. Arohi was too upset to read about all that. She had taken off from work and kept on browsing Nisha’s last updates on Facebook feed about her engagement. She looked so enthralled and excited and it was too hard for Arohi to believe that she could commit suicide.
The police could not reach any rock solid conclusion but the investigation was still on. Gradually this case also had taken a backseat just like Sneha’s case.
Arohi eventually came out of the trauma and started work. She obviously missed her dear friend in office but life had to go on.
Ved was worried for Arohi and hence planned a surprise dinner. As usual he waited in the parking lobby. Arohi came in sometime and hopped on to his bike. When Ved didn’t take the turn to their home, Arohi looked at him in the rear view mirror and questioned, “Ved, where are we going?”
“Have some patience Arohi!”
Finally Ved parked his bike in front of their favorite restaurant and walked inside, holding Arohi’s hand.
“Ved Patel, I have a booking for two!”, Ved told the manager who walked them to a corner table.
Ved pulled the chair for Arohi and took the opposite seat. The table was covered neatly with an off-white satin cloth and on it was placed a bucket of rose petals and floating candles.
Ved and Arohi looked into each other’s eyes, rekindling the love which was enshrouded in fear and worries of the recent mishappenings in their life.
Life went on fast and it was already two months since Nisha’s death. Ved and Arohi too got busy. Soon it was time for the much awaited festival “Dusshera”. Since, it was Ved and Arohi’s first Dusshera they decided to keep a small get together for just close friends on the eve of vijaya Dashami.
Varun and Sarika along with their other couple friends graced the occasion. Even the newlyweds Raima and Karan were invited. The house wore a festive glamour.
Arohi was dolled up in a peacock green banarasi with traditional earrings and necklace set. Sarika looked beautiful draped in a chanderi silk while Raima had opted for a yellow and red Mysore silk. Being married just three months back, Raima looked the most attractive with gold jewellery, a thin strip of vermillion adorning her hairline and a big red bindi.
Everyone seemed to be in true party spirit and the dinner menu added to the extravaganza. Crispy pooris, aromatic pulao, chhole masala, nargisi kofta and kheer; tickled everyone’s taste buds leaving them wanting for more.
The post dinner gossip was on, when Sarika who had gone upstairs shrieked out loud. When Arohi reached her room, Ved was already there which surprised her.
“Ved, what are you doing here? I thought you were in the garden”, Arohi said a little confused.
“I had come to get a bottle of wine”, Ved replied.
Turning towards Sarika when Arohi asked her, she pointed her hand towards Arohi’s dressing bay. Arohi’s face turned pale when she saw Raima sitting with her back against the wall, her head tilted to the right and blood oozing out from her right wrist. A puddle of blood had already formed on the floor and a nail filer lay strewn on the floor.
Varun and Karan had also came and seeing his wife, Karan suddenly lost his balance when Varun held him. Varun quickly dialed the ambulance.
Raima was pronounced dead and the police informed.
Once the police arrived and permitted, Karan accompanied the doctor in the ambulance and went to the hospital. To everybody’s shock and astonishment, ACP Dave was in action again. He addressed them, “So here we meet for the third time Mr and Mrs. Patel; Oh! Mr and Mrs. Varun Sethi are also here. Jokes apart, what exactly was going on here and who saw Raima’s body first?”, he asked a little sternly.
Sarika, still stunned, timidly replied “I had come upstairs to use the washroom when I saw Raima lying with her wrist slit. I screamed and that’s when Arohi came. And yes Ved was here before Arohi”.
“So Mr Ved, you too heard Sarika’s scream and came?”, questioned Shashank.
“Yes, I was in the adjacent room when I heard Sarika shout”, Ved answered.
After an hour of thorough searching, recording finger prints and collecting proofs, Inspector Dave and his team left, “Mr Patel and Mrs. Sarika, you might be called for interrogation”.
Once in the police station, Dave ordered his subordinate Shinde to get the files of Sneha and Nisha’s case. After spending almost three hours going through the case details he commented, “Shinde, it’s not what it looks like. We are definitely missing out on something. These are not suicides, these are surely murders. I am sure there’s a common ground to all these murders. It would be interesting to solve this triple murder mystery”, he smiled smirkingly.
When Ved and Sarika were summoned for the routine interrogation, Shashank noticed a very strange thing. Ved was continuously playing with his keychain which was completely weird as it was not like the ordinary ones. It had a small but sharp knife, a bottle opener and a pen attached to it. Shashank remarked, “Unique key chain Mr Patel!”.
Later Dave re-visited Ved’s house to re-investigate the incident site. After leaving, he stopped for a smoke a little away from Ved’s house with Shinde. He was discussing about the case when he heard few rag pickers fighting over something. He send Shinde to hush them when Shinde called out, “Sir please come here, I have found something”.
Shashank was completely taken aback when Shinde handed him a silver bracelet, which the kids had been fighting over. When Shashank compared the bracelet with the one in Nisha’s photo, it was the same. He turned towards Shinde, “this cannot be a coincidence, this bracelet was found in the garbage yard just a few meters from Ved’s house. The key chain in Ved’s hand already made me suspect him since it was confirmed in autopsy that Raima’s injury was not a nail filer injury and her death was because of cardiogenic shock. And now this bracelet. I think we are very near to the end of this mystery”.
A search warrant was issued taking Ved into custody. Arohi could not breathe in this horrendous revelation about her husband. Later at the police station, she was agape when Ved didn’t utter a single word in defense. She cried badly and left the place, “I hate you Ved, I didn’t know I had loved a murderer, a criminal. Please don’t ever show me your face”.
Ved was completely heartbroken as Arohi left him. The only person he loved more than his life, after his mom was Arohi. This broke him and he requested to meet Inspector Dave. When Shashank came, bursting into tears Ved mumbled, “Inspector, I want to confess!”
The small room was poorly lit with a single bulb hanging over a wooden table kept in the center with two wooden chairs on either side. Ved and Shashank sat facing each other.
“Why did you do this Ved? As per my investigation you don’t have any criminal history, in fact you are a very hardworking software consultant. What compelled you to commit three murders, that too your friends’ wives and your wife’s friend?”
Ved looked down to his wrists which were held captive in a pair of hand cuffs. Without facing Shashank he started, “yes I only killed Sneha, Nisha and Raima. I didn’t kill them because I held any rancour against them. When I saw them, I could not tolerate them in that “red bindi”. The same “red bindi” I had been hating ever since my mom committed suicide”. And my wrath took over and I murdered them.
Shashank was startled. He intrigued further, “red bindi? What about that?” What does the red bindi have to do with the murders?”
“My parents were the ideal couple for me and I was immensely close to my mom. I loved her more than anyone else. But my happy world started to crumble when my dad got into an affair with his colleague. He used to bring her home and take her to his study, saying they had work. I believed him till one day I saw them in the study. The door had not been shut and I could peep in through. The lady sat on my dad’s lap, holding his hand and caressed his cheeks. I could see her “big red bindi” which she always wore. Then every time dad brought her home, I would quietly sneak to his study and see them together and see her big kohl smeared eyes and the red bindi. Her face with the bindi would often flash in my dreams scaring me out. Mom too came to know about his affair and when she confronted him, he abused her and hit her. Suddenly one day, when I came back from college, I saw a large group of people gathered outside my house. Entering inside, I got the shock of my life. My mom had committed suicide and left me all alone in this big bad world.
That night when I saw Sneha with that “big red bindi”, I could not control myself and when she went out to attend a call on the poolside, I drowned her into the pool.
The same rage triggered on the day of Ganapati. I overheard Nisha asking someone to meet her in the terrace. I followed her and pushed her down. The only glitch was that while pushing, her bracelet slipped out of her hand into mine.
Raima’s “red bindi” arose the demon in me. When she went upstairs, I followed her and slit her wrist with the key knife. I was not in my control. The fury took over me. I killed all these women who wore the “red bindi” to avenge my mother’s death!”
Shashank was speechless. The room turned silent and the only noise that was heard was the ticking of the wall clock.
Ved was pronounced guilty and sentenced to imprisonment. On Inspector Shashank’s request, he was sent to a rehab centre for his psychic illness.
Arohi is in a state of shock since Ved had never shared all this with her. Had he opened up, their life would have been in a better shape.
People are not born criminals. They fall prey to circumstances. Some learn to cope and others like Ved, take the wrong.