Book Extract

Book Extract: A cauldron of black money and a mysterious death 

In this extract from “The Moving Shadow: Electrifying Bengali PulpFiction” Bombay is rocked by news of suicide by a famous businessman, who was due to tell the media something on black money

Book Extract: A cauldron of black money and a mysterious death 

Premendra Mitra

I was shocked the next morning to discover how well-founded Parashar’s fear was. The news was in the papers. Prominently displayed.

The three-column headline read: ‘Business magnate commits suicide.’ An extended account of the suicide was given below the headline. It was particularly detailed because Mangaldas Advani was an important figure in Bombay’s business world. But still, the event would not have been given so much coverage had it not been for the presence of several journalists in his house yesterday. Even if they weren’t exactly witnesses, the incident could be said to have taken place under their noses.

The time of death was between six-thirty and seven-thirty in the evening. A group of journalists had been interviewing wealthy businessmen and industrialists on a particular topic over the past few days. The topic was how to bring all the hidden black money into the open. The journalists had made an appointment with Mangaldas yesterday to find out whether he supported or opposed the government’s recent move on black money.

Mangaldas had invited them home at six-thirty in the evening. His secretary, Rajinder Nigam, had asked them to wait in the hall outside Mangaldas’s room.

But Mangaldas hadn’t kept his word. When it was nearly seven, his son Jaysukh had pushed his father’s door open and entered the room. Before that he had assured the waiting journalists that he would remind his father of the interview.

But Jaysukh probably hadn’t got the opportunity. The door had shut behind him automatically, and the journalists had not heard his conversation with Mangaldas. However, they had realised from his angry exit that there had probably been a serious altercation between father and son. What Jaysukh had told his father loudly on his way out had made it easy for the journalists to draw their own conclusions. An agitated Jaysukh had practically been screaming, ‘I will certainly be ruined, but I’m telling you that it won’t be long before you are as well.’

Jaysukh had slammed the door shut behind him and stomped off, his face red with anger, ignoring everyone. He was so angry that the journalists had not dared to ask him any questions. It was ten past seven. They were considering leaving in vexation after their long and fruitless wait when Mangaldas’s secretary Rajinder appeared before them. He had seemed both surprised and embarrassed at the fact that they were still waiting. Apologising on behalf of his employer and promising to remind him at once, he had entered Mangaldas’s room, only to rush out in a state of panic. Overcome with fear, he had requested the journalists to accompany him to Mangaldas’s room. Not knowing what was going on, they had followed him in, but they had observed nothing unusual at first. But then, they had noticed the carpet behind a large table, on which Mangaldas Advani was lying, covered in blood. A pistol was lying nearby on the floor.

The journalists ensured that nothing was touched and called the police. They had also made enquiries of Jaysukh’s whereabouts. He had left home after the quarrel with his father earlier. One more person had rushed in on hearing the news. It was Mahinder Sambrani, Mangaldas’s childhood friend, who was originally from Sindh. He lived largely at Mangaldas’s house now, occupying the room next to his as a guest. He had gone out for his evening walk a short while ago, and had come running frantically after he heard the news.

The police weren’t tardy in arriving. The journalists had left after the police had taken control of the situation. They were convinced that it was suicide, even though the matter was still under investigation.

He had requested the journalists to accompany him to Mangaldas’s room. Not knowing what was going on, they had followed him in, but they had observed nothing unusual at first. But then, they had noticed the carpet behind a large table, on which Mangaldas Advani was lying, covered in blood. A pistol was lying nearby on the floor

This was roughly the account of events that I managed to piece together from several newspapers. We were no longer enjoying our stay in Bombay. Even the paradise that was Nanabhai’s flat was losing its charm. To leave Bombay in a week proved impossible. Although Parashar spent all his time in his room, absorbed in his own thoughts, he showed no inclination to return to Calcutta. And then came the summons from the police, which made it impossible to leave.

For a couple of days, I followed the results of the investigation of Mangaldas’s suicide in the papers. The evidence that the police had gathered supported the suicide theory. There was no doubt from the journalists’ testimonies that no one could have entered the room under their noses and committed a murder. And the pistol had yielded Mangaldas’s own fingerprints, although they were faint. A few days later, the police suddenly summoned us. The reason was the letter Mangaldas had written to Parashar. It had been found among the documents in his room. The police wanted to know why Mangaldas had sent for Parashar. The deputy commissioner took our depositions.

I discovered that Parashar knew Deputy Commissioner Hindelkar very well. He needed Parashar’s assistance. He had been forced to summon me because I had visited Mangaldas too. Hindelkar warmly welcomed us to his private office. He began by apologizing to Parashar, ‘I had to trouble you only because of protocol, Mr Barma. Please don’t mind. It was necessary to find out the details of your conversation with the deceased…’ There’s no need to explain, Hindelkar,’ said Parashar with a smile. ‘Far from being offended, I was eagerly waiting for your summons.’

‘Eagerly waiting!’ Hindelkar was astonished. ‘So you knew we were going to send for you?’

‘Of course, I did,’ smiled Parashar. ‘It’s not very difficult to conclude that the police are unlikely to ignore a letter to me lying in Mangaldas’s desk drawer.’

Parashar hadn’t said anything particularly remarkable. I could not understand why Hindelkar cast a sharp glance at him. After a few moments of stiff silence, he relaxed and said, ‘If you could tell us about your conversation with Mangaldas that evening? Whatever you remember, that is.’

‘I remember the entire conversation,’ said Parashar a trifle pompously, ‘and I would like to tell you everything.’

Parashar’s memory is truly extraordinary. I was astounded by his detailed recounting of the conversation with Mangaldas. Hindelkar looked worried when he had heard everything. Confessing as much to Parashar, he said, ‘All that you’ve told me only strengthens the evidence that Mangaldas Advani indeed committed suicide. But can we rationally believe in this business of a bat entering the room repeatedly and having the same dream constantly?’

‘All this lies beyond the realm of reason.’ Parashar appeared to be arguing for the other side. ‘And no matter how unreal it all sounds, Mangaldas’s suicide proves its dreadful significance.’ ‘That’s true.’ Hindelkar couldn’t seem to shake off his doubts. ‘Still, I find it hard to believe this is the only factor behind the suicide.’

After a pause, Hindelkar said with a guileless smile, ‘My official work is done, Mr Barma. I’m now asking you as a friend and fellow traveller for your personal opinion. You were in touch with Mangaldas at least once.

You must have drawn your own conclusions about this suicide. I would be obliged if you would share them with me.’

This extract has been taken from The Moving Shadow, selected and translated by Arunava Sinha, with permission from Aleph Publishing company. The original story is in Bengali

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