Best four of Indian cinema- 2015

The four films that earned my applause and repeated viewing in 2015.

  1. Uttama Villain (The good villain)
Cast: Kamal Haasan, K Balachander, Andrea Jeremiah, Urvashi, Pooja Kumar, Parvathy
Director: Ramesh Aaravind
Plot:
Manoranjan is an alcoholic middle aged South Indian superstar. At the premiere of his latest film, he discovers that he is suffering from a brain tumour and also discovers that he actually has a daughter from a previous affair that ended tragically.
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Now married with a son while at the same time maintaining an affair with his family doctor, Manoranjan confronts his mortality by returning to his cinema mentor to make one last movie, while at the same time reconciling all the relationships in his life- including his long estranged daughter who resents him.
My take:
Uttama Villain wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But for those who had taken a liking to the film, it is highly likely to feature high in their list if they were ever to make one such list for 2015. Written by the ever versatile Kamal himself, Uttama Villain is an unique cinematic experience, there is an intense family drama, a deconstruction of fame, and a half-satire about mortality all rolled into one film.
This is something South Indian stars had almost never done before, deconstructing their own fame to a human level and even putting out their flaws out there for everyone to see. Uttama Villain was almost a self parody of the enigma that is Kamal Haasan himself and how he views his own life story- with ambiguous, albeit very personal, spiritualism.
And the way the screenplay weaves in all the relationships he has- with his wife, with his son, with his family doctor, his mentor, and also his past love affair which resulted in a daughter, is subtle and poetic, and the same time without judging or preaching about a flawed man’s life.
Easily the most delectable piece of work in Indian cinema for 2015.
  1. O Kadhal Kanmani (O love, my dear)
Cast: Dulquer Salman, Nithya Menen, Prakash Raj, Leela Sampson
Director: Mani Ratnam
Plot:
Aadhi and Tara are two South Indian youths plying their trade in India’s financial capital Mumbai. They hit it off immediately after meeting at a friend’s wedding and their whirlwind romance ends up with them living together under the same roof, albeit sharing the space with Aadhi’s middle aged landlord, who cares for his wife, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
But as time passes by, Aadhi and Tara must confront the realities of living together in a largely traditional society, while at the same time choosing between chasing their individual dreams or staying with each other.
My take:
Mani Ratnam, the man credited for revolutionising Tamil cinema, has not had pleasant outings with his last two movies- Raavan and Kadal, even though the former remains an all time favourite for me.
OK Kanmani, in so many levels, is Ratnam going back to a turf he had not touched since his timeless romantic drama Alaipayuthey, which was made 15 years ago. But it also completes an unique romance trilogy that displayed his mastery as an auteur.
In 1986, Ratnam broke into the scene with Mouna Ragam, which explored the relationship between a couple who had got into an arranged marriage half heartedly and how they try to make it work. 14 years later, with Alaipayuthey, the central theme was about a couple who elope to get married without their parents’ consent.
With every movie, Ratnam had documented the changing societal landscape in India, which is still largely traditional. OK Kanmani explores live in relationships in the context of India, and also brilliantly juxtaposes it with the relationship of an older couple who are devoted to each other.
It also raises a crucial dilemma for the youths of today- being torn between chasing individual dreams and trying to reconcile them with a partner. Of course, above all this, is the ability of the 59-year-old master filmmaker to capture the pulse of the young generation in the way he develops the romance between the two leads. The dialogues are minimal yet exquisite, the shot compositions are typically masterful, and the overall mood of the film are in the hallmarks of a legendary filmmaker.
Mani Ratnam is back.
  1. Tanu Weds Manu Returns
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, R Madhavan, Jimmy Shergill
Director: Anand L Rai
Plot:
Four years after Tanu and Manu’s marriage, their romance has petered off, leading to consistent fights. Manu finally has a meltdown, resulting in him being admitted in a psychiatric ward. When he does get discharged, he is ready to divorce Tanu and in the process meets Tanu’s doppleganger, Kusum.
Things between Manu and Kusum proceed quickly and ends up in them being set for a marriage, but Tanu is not prepared to let go so easily, even though she initially starts dating other men in her effort to get over him.
My take:
If Tanu Weds Manu was sweet, twisted, and funny, it’s sequel is just double in dosage, thanks in no small part to Kangana Ranaut, who plays a dual role in this film.
She again steals the show as Tanu, but this time, she is not competing with with any other actors but herself- the other role- Kusum. And by the time credits roll, it’s difficult to tell which role packed a bigger punch.
TWMR is also packed with brilliant, quirky subplots that makes you feel like you are watching a Shakespearean stage comedy play. The pacing is brilliant, the acting exceptional, laughter aplenty, and a fitting ending to go with the tone of the rest of the movie.
TWMR is a pure, classy riot of an entertainer.
  1. Tamasha ( The spectacle)
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Plot: 
Ved and Tara meet in Corsica during vacation and their romance takes off. They make a pact never to meet each other again post the vacation, but Tara could not get him out of her head despite four years passing by.
She tracks down the man she fell in love with in Corsica, who is a sales manager by professions, but is slowly confronted by the reality that Ved in Delhi was not the same Ved she had longed for from the French trip.
At the same time, Tara’s presence reveals Ved’s struggle with his inner creativity, his childhood frustrations, and his yearning to come out of a box.
My take:
The most beautiful movie of the year. Tamasha had the best music of 2015, by the timeless AR Rahman, and of course a filmmaker, Imtiaz Ali, who had made a glowing career by making each and every film with an element of self discovery.
Tamasha is the crescendo of what Ali has been building up over the years- here, he sheds conventional, methodical storytelling traditions, and weaves the screenplay like a stage play- divided into acts.
It is also a musical, filled with gorgeous music that flows seamlessly with the narration.
Ranbir Kapoor is immense as Ved, as the sales manager and the creative storyteller yearning to express himself. Deepika Padukone’s Tara shares excellent chemistry with Ved and holds her own in the scenes she is involved in.
Tamasha is just a beautifully made movie. And a movie that was made right from Imtiaz Ali’s heart.

Uttama Villain- An immortal work by a mortal

Uttama Villain is Kamal Haasan cementing his intellect and his love for the medium that made a man out of a six-year-old boy.

Uttama Villain starts in a very unconventional way for a vehicle carrying one of the biggest stars in Tamil cinema in a supposedly comedy caper. We are immediately introduced to a middle-aged superstar Manoranjan (Kamal Haasan), not in his fame alone, but also behind his fame.

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He is an alcoholic trying to stave off consistent headaches.

He owes much of his financial success to his father-in-law, who is a film producer.

His teenage son is busy trying to make out with his girlfriend during his father’s film screening.

He himself has an extramarital affair with his family doctor Aparna (Andrea Jeremiah).

He has fathered another child with a woman named Yamini and has just discovered about this.

All this is revealed within the first 30 minutes or so of the movie.

Doesn’t make for a very pretty picture about the man behind the stardom. But that was what the title implies- Uttama Villain. There is no grand introduction here for Kamal Haasan, because this is a story about a man, not a hero. A man with all his flaws, who realises that he is dying and wants to make one last film with mentor-director (K Balachander) to immortalise himself beyond the limited time he has left on earth.

There is no judgement of bad or good. It’s a humble, at times too honest a portrayal of a movie star who tries for one last hurrah, to do justice to his own existence. And as expected, while exploring a topic as deep as life and death, Kamal Haasan, the ever renowned atheist, does not try to justify it with religion, but leaves the justifications, vague, almost open to interpretation.

In the final scenes of the movie, Manoranjan will be wheeled to the hospital as his illness finally gets the better of him. But even in his final moments, he would be begging KB to allow him to take one more shot of a song they were shooting. KB acknowledges that Mano would never be happy until the final edit, but tells him, “listen to me this one time.” There was no retake. The superstar did not get to see the final edit, of what, poignantly, is the montage of his best performance to date.

As his family, from his long lost daughter, to his estranged wife, all gathered to cheer at his performance in a hospital, he breathes his last under surgery. He has done his part.

Then there is the recurring theme of the movie- “There is nothing sadder than immortality. There would be no listeners to an endless story.”

This was not a Ramesh Aaravind-Kamal Haasan comedy gala. Yes, the final movie Manoranjan ends up making is a comedy caper involving a folklore story involving a 8th century street artiste. Here, we are treated to generous dosage of laughter fits while admiring Kamal’s stunning eye movements and graceful Theyyam performances.

But the mainframe story, which runs parallel with the comedy film being shot, is as serious as it gets. While the comedy film tells of king who wishes immortality, in the mainframe, we have superstar who is trying to face his own mortality the best way he can. The way he interacts with his son, his wife, his love, his long-lost daughter, is not upscaled drama alone- it’s real, it’s imperfect, it’s full of human interactions. If you wear your heart of your sleeve, it would be difficult to keep your eyes dry in any one of these moments.

Kamal Haasan displays five dimensions here- first as the raging superstar, almost being a self-critical parody of his own self, which takes plenty of guts, as the comedic street artiste, as the Theyyam performer with an amount of grace so unreal for a 60-year-old (the finale Iraniyan Nadagam was epic), as the poet-singer (he wrote and sang most of the songs and you’d be hard pressed to find better theatre modulation and lyrics in any other album), and finally, as the man who wrote a parallel screenplay with such finesse.

Adding another dimension to the two dimensions existing in the movie, this is Kamal Haasan in an indirect way trying cement his own immortality while facing his own mortality at the age of 60. He’s not trying to appear young anymore, he’s trying to accept that he is middle aged.

Pooja Kumar at times looks out of place in the folklore setting, but it’s difficult to find chinks in a film with such heavy emotional performances. This movies does not have a cameo from K Balachander, in fact, it has the most extensive supporting role KB has ever played in a movie. And he is brilliant in every single frame he appears alongside his most prised disciple.

Andrea as Aparna shines in a grey role, who unconditionally loves Mano despite being unable to be formally recognised to the public as the wife. Urvashi is also brilliant as Mano’s wife who suffers from her own mid-life crisis. MS Bhaskar steals the show, however, as his manager, and it’s such a great pleasure an actor of his known calibre was given such a central pivot to the story.

Then there is the prodigous Ghibran with his stunning array of musical compositions. Uttama Villain is high on quality in the music department, though it must take a keen ear and an understanding of the folklore history to comprehend the amount of genius that flowed through the music department here.

But as the final montage says- “Love and intellect” are the immortal elements, one with which you cement your own immortality (said while juxtaposing with a legion of stars on the sky).

Uttama Villain is Kamal Haasan cementing his intellect and his love for the medium that made a man out of a six-year-old boy.

But it is an immortal body of work- not made for today alone, or tomorrow’s entertainment, but maybe for decades to come, for the times when there will be no Kamal Haasan peering over with his own genius smile and his impeccable love and experimentation of the medium.

The only question is if this depth resonates with the audience of today. But if there is anyone questioning their own mortality without any religious twist to it, UV is as inspirational, real, and close to heart as it gets.

There are movies and then there are movies. This is the latter.

I’m glad to be part of the crowd who resonated with the love and intellect of this particular galaxy of stars. The thing is, this legion of stars forms one personality- Kamal Haasan, in his many hats.

Multitasking didn’t always work well for Kamal, but when you make a honest movie, it all falls into place. It did.

UV is a movie for the shelves. It will come again handy someday. It celebrates death. It celebrates going away with a bang. It resonates with a man who had lost his guru

KB sir must be beaming from wherever he is. In Kamal Haasan, KB’s intellect has been immortalised.

Thank you Kamal, for being on the dais, for daring to write this.

O Kaadhal Kanmani- Music Review by Ram Anand

OK Kanmani’s music has nothing on Alaipayuthey’s music, it instead has something completely different, unique, and inventively mesmerising on its own.

It is difficult to be generous with my words on a keyboard when you only have one and a half hands to function with. But I guess that is how much I owe my will to persist to my inspirations- Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman, that I have to review their latest offering, OK Kanmani.

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Many comparisons have been made between OK Kanmani and Mani’s 2000 film Alaipayuthey, owing to the fact that the film retains the same youthful romantic spirit last seen in a Mani film 15 years ago. But knowing Mani and AR Rahman well enough and having followed their careers together over the past 23 years, these two never offer a repeat dish on a platter. OK Kanmani’s music has nothing on Alaipayuthey’s music, it instead has something completely different, unique, and inventively mesmerising on its own.

Kaara Attakara (Dinesh Kanagaratnam, Saasha Thirupathi, Darshana)

The theme song that had accompanied the trailer for the film, the album starts as refreshing and breezy as we had expected, with a full-on whacky rap number interluded with melodious breezy renditions in the middle.

Dinesh is in top form, while Darshana gives him great company. Shashaa Tirupati comes in with dialogue based whispers in the middle. This is like the Endrendrum Punnagai of Alaipayuthey, breezy, and trend setting.

And of course, it looks like it will go with the image of a young man in love riding a Royal Enfield in the middle of a massive city. (rings a bell?) This song will definitely run through the movie.

Ya man!

Aye Sinamika (Karthik)

Bring in those light touches of guitars strumming, Karthik behind the mic, and AR Rahman orchestrating the whole arrangement to lyrics penned by Vairamuthu, then well, you have- a gem.

With minimal use of instruments, Aye Sinamika is an unique expression of love just like the masterful Usure Pogudhey from Raavanan. Though not the same intensity, it is another demonstration of Karthik’s talent of owning and handling an entire number like this with perfection and restrained intensity in his voice.

This song might take some time to grow on you-but once you get used to its irregular qualities, you won’t stop being hooked to it. A perfect song to be imagined along with Mumbai’s coastline. Redefining and full of soul, and what other combo can bring such an effect?

Nee ennai neengadhe.

Mental Manadhil (AR Rahman Male Version, Jonita Gandhi Female Version)

Like-a-like my Laila!

The most groovy, youthful number of our times, of course, has been doing rounds for sometime now since it was released as a single. AR Rahman is in top form as both singer and composer in the the energetic male version of the song. A definite chartbuster!

The female version by Jonita Gandhi is sung using Jonita’s own talents and unique voice modulation. This is Jonita having fun with a stripped down version of the instrument heavy male version. Equally catchy, equally appealing, and added with with some class too. Equally, and uniquely, good.

Parandhu Sella Vaa (Karthik, Shashaa Tirupati)

Just like that- what a composition. Masterpiece in simplicity. Paced ever so subtly, sung with such clarity, almost seductive voices, Parade Sella Vaa is the diamond of the OK Kanmani album. The minimalistic vocals at the background are accompanied with stunning variety in the modulation for both Shashaa and Karthik. We knew how good Karthik was for over a decade now, but to see the quality Shashaa offers on the vocal range is nothing short of pure magic.

Karthik brings the song to another level by enlivening it with a second half ballad accompanied ARR’s genius touches that brings you to a zen mode.

An absolutely stunning piece of work. The Pudhu Vellai Mazhai reinvented with a modern touch, 23 years later.

Naane Varugiren (Shashaa Tirupati, Sathya Prakash)

Again, Shasta’s voice immediately grips you with its class and she owns this number throughout. Laced with contemporary touches based on very classical raagas, Naane Varugiren is AR Rahman at his inventive, fusion best. The song takes its own sweet time to pick up, but two minutes in, the quality is splattered all over it, before Sathya Prakash comes in with beautiful classical notes in the interludes.

Naane Varugiren reminds one of Snekithane from Alaipaayuthey on so many levels- only that they don’t sound the same, at all.

But the effect and the quality of it is pretty much at the same level. This is musical beauty in its purest form.

Threera Ula (AR Rahman, Nikita Gandhi)

Probably the only song in the album that is filled up with mostly electronic touches, but even in that Nikita Gandhi comes in with classical interludes making this another fantastic fusion number. This song sounds more like a situational number than one with lengthy picturisation, but it is very good nevertheless.

Malargal Keatten (Chitra, AR Rahman)

Remember the Alaipayuthey Kanna number from Alaipayuthey? Just like that, this sumptuous number starts with complete classical notes before ARR weaves in his magic with his brand of fusion. It is refreshing to hear Chitra sing a song for an ARR composition after a long gap. The touches of the flute in the middle is the work of a genius.

Vairamuthu’s lyrics are also brilliant for this song. AR Rahman has a small bit at the end, and at times, this number also reminds one of Enge Enathu Kavithai from Kandukondein Kandukondein.

Truly classical.

OK Kanmani is another inventive, ground breaking offering from Mani and ARR as they attempt to define modern day romance set in a metropolitan city in 2015.

AR Rahman is in top form, as he always is for a Mani Ratnam flick, while the lyrics are sumptuous. There some gorgeous vocals from Karthik and Shashaa Tirupati especially, not to be missed.

I would pick the whole album for a complete experience, but my personal favourites are- Parandhu Sella Vaa, Naane Varugiren, Mental Manadhil (Male), Malargal Kaetten, Aye Sinamika, and Kaara Attakara.

Er, that’s pretty much the whole album, isn’t it?

Rating: 9.5/10

A Reality without a Shadow- The unexplainable

The mist glided slowly, and the chill caught Maya unaware. She shivered all of a sudden, and felt a sheepish rush of blood in her body, a rush that also indicated the first ever traces of true fear. She closed the final page of the book. It’s 5 am. She has never been much of a reader, but for extraordinary circumstances, she has decided to become an avid reader, finishing Yuva’s novel in two days- which is quite an achievement for her. She stretched herself and laid her feet against the wall, pushed against it, in an attempt to stretch her leg. And before she knew what happened, she crushed on the floor, the last page still clutched in her palms. She yawned. “Ouuuuccch!” she yelled. Yuva came rushing out from his room. “What happened?” he asked urgently, trying to control a small giggle that appeared on his face as her saw her on the floor, having fallen down from the chair.

“Where’s the last page?” she asked, repositioning herself to sit on the floor. “It happens, leave that aside,” she brushed off Yuva’s concerns about the toppled chair, the strewn papers of his novel, and the fallen Maya herself. “Where’s the last page?” she continued her question. “Or a few pages, I mean, where is the ending part?” she said. Yuva blinked. “That’s it,” he said. “This is it?” she asked back, and repeated that question again.

“Yeah, that’s it,” he said. “This is not an ending Yuva, or has the way novels changed so much since I last read a book?” she asked. “I did not write an ending,” he said. “And the last thing you read was Rapunzel,” he added, with another giggle.

“Noo! The last thing I read was the first book of Harry Potter,” she said back.

“Wow, what an improvement from Rapunzel,” he remarked. She frowned at him.

“So there was no ending?” she asked.

Yuva sat down on the floor with her. “Nope,” he said. “Why?”

Yuva could not find an answer.

“Because nothing seemed natural. It just stuck there,” he said.

“There is a flood coming, you have this saadhu who is trying to unite people to build a dam, and yet until now they haven’t built it, so the answer is simple- either they build it or not,” she said.

“We don’t have two choices, Maya, I think,” he said.

“What you mean?”

“I think the saadhu appears, and is tormenting us, because there is no happy ending in the story,” he said.

It did not make sense to both of them. They are actually pondering a possibility that a character from Yuva’s book is somehow coming alive at times and its mere presence, which correlates to Yuva’s presence in places, can kill people around them.

But they did dot disagree or brush it off. Maya did not know how else she can explain the headache she had a few days ago, and the image she saw on the mirror.

“I’m becoming more conscious of his presence of late,” he explained. “I think this is the only explanation. He is an angry character. That’s how I made him be. He will not be at peace until the dam is built.”

“Or until he dies. Even if there’s a bad ending, he will die like the rest of the characters right?” she asked.

Yuva nodded, there was a spark on his face. “Do it. Try it,” she said. There was hope and a solution, even without an explanation of what is actually going on.

Yuva became a man obsessed for the next three days. He was writing simultaneously, both a good ending and a bad ending. The tale will end. The saadhu will end. Yuva felt like he knew the saadhu so well, as if he is attempting to kill someone who resides within Yuva. And then he finished his writing and went to bed that night.

Maya however, was cautious as to what was going to happen. She stayed up that night, in heady hopes that everything will be alright, and it will be a night with no disturbances. There weren’t any. Another three days went by. The pair jubilated, celebrated. No more murders. Nothing. Maya went back to work. They did not know what happened, but at least the nightmare was over.

Maya had her smile back. Prakash enjoyed seeing the old Maya again.

And Yuva was ready for work again. He folded the sheets on his bed, and shed a couple of tears seeing the empty bed where Priyanka was supposed to be lying down. He regretted not finishing the book earlier. If only he knew the solution to a problem so big would be as simple as writing a couple more pages. He decided he will not publish the book. Or maybe he will, and dedicate it to Priyanka. He couldn’t even figure how he got the idea to write the story that he wrote.

He dressed up and looked into the mirror for a while. And he did not see himself. He saw the saadhu. There was no shock. It was not an unfamiliar face to Yuva, Yuva knew this person, he created this person through the realms of his imagination.

“You think you can kill me,” it was not a question that the Saadhu was asking. It told Yuva everything he had to know. The saadhu is not a cheap imagination. He is an imagination that has somehow been embedded into the reality. But Yuva did not remember what happened next.

When he opened his eyes, he saw Maya sighing while sitting near him. There were almost tears of despair in her eyes. “He’s back,” she said.

“I know,” he said. “How you knew?” he asked back.

“Three murders,” she said. “In this very colony we live in,” she added. He felt angry.

At that moment, it felt better if they have indeed died, because they do not have to live with this haunting mystery. If there’s nothing they can do about it, they might as well just give up. Yuva however felt responsible, since it was all his imagination.

“I’ll figure a way,” he said. “I’ll figure a way of explaining everything,” he added. Maya wasn’t confident, but now she knew the saadhu can’t be erased with a pen or anything such, he is just as real, and has to be taken seriously.

To be continued…

A Reality without a Shadow- When morning comes

The glass coffin was being laid off on the ground floor, as the people stood watching silently; Priyanka being the only one whose eyes weren’t open, seemingly etched in a deep peaceful sleep. The pain is not hers anymore, Yuva thought. It’s all his. But there is another problem that he needs to address as soon as possible. He turned to his right, where Maya was standing. It’s still early in the morning, the sun is just beginning to show itself, and Maya’s eyes were red due to the lack of sleep she had last night. He is unable to explain what happened last night, in fact he is unable to explain anything that has happened in the last 12 hours. His life and everything didn’t make sense anymore. It all seemed and tasted like a bad nightmare full of haunting riddles, only that he knew he wasn’t dreaming. This is all real. But that’s how he is surviving this nightmare. By convincing himself that it is all, afterall, a dream.

Priyanka’s body was place in the coffin and the funeral house workers carefully closed the coffin. Priyanka’s parents were flooded with grief, sitting by her coffin, watching their daughter motionless. Yuva needs to know. He needs to know what went wrong, whose fault it is, and everything related to it. He needs to find out, even if not for his own sake, at least for Priyanka’s sake, because she died without having the faintest idea what is causing her death.

“We’ll talk after this,” Maya patted on Yuva’s back. She knew this was not the right time to discuss what has happened last night, even though she is eager as ever to find out more about this sickening mystery that has descended their lives into a living nightmare.

Prakash was busy tending to the funeral works. It was something he didn’t have to do. But he felt like doing it for Maya, to help all three of them recover from these haunting murders, to be able to recover and finally find the culprit who is behind all this. He knew neither Maya nor Yuva would be able to do it. Yuva is broken into pieces, and Maya needs to be there by his side in order to put him back together. They needed his help. And he is more than willing to do it for them even though they never asked.

Priyanka Raj was buried that very morning, before noon came upon, at a small graveyard at the outskirts of Chennai. There were people from the film fraternity, the police force, her parents, her one-day husband, her one-day sister-in-law and few others who attended the funeral. Her death was classified as sudden death due to severe brain damage. The medical practitioners are still split as to whether she was murdered or whether there is a natural cause to her death. They do not know the murder patterns that have been happening of late. Only Yuva, Maya and Prakash were all aware of them. The funeral was an incomplete one. Yuva did not dare to face her parents as their looks itself told the story that they demand answers for her death, and that they suspect he might have done something to cause her death.

Yuva held his head down, only occasionally looking up to see her dead body. He felt as if everyone else who came to the funeral want answers, want to know this and that, and in fact many of them asked questions aplenty, but Prakash was quick to send them away under the reason that everything is being investigated and no further questions should be asked. Forensics were not allowed to see the body; none of the normal procedure took place. Prakash used all the authorities that he and Maya together possessed to make sure Priyanka is buried and not used as a specimen to aggravate the grief that they are already suffering from.

Yuva sighed, and slowly looked up. Maya was looking at him. Yuva not only felt like a suspect, but instead he felt like he was the criminal. Now the closest person to him will tell him that he indeed that the best clue as to what is actually going on.

“Maya,” Prakash said slowly, exhausted, and he strolled over in almost slow motion towards the table they were seated at. “I did some checking, and a lot of tracing,” he added, sweat pouring profusely, something that he clearly wasn’t used to being the normally elegantly dressed man that he is. He let go a sigh himself. Yuva and Maya looked at him eagerly.

“Yuva is somehow connected to all these people who died. Of course Priyanka is the closest, but that guy Pritam is the one who shot Maya a couple of years back,” Prakash said.

Yuva was looking for words. He needs to defend himself. He didn’t even know the identity of Maya’s shooter.

“I’m not accusing Yuva,” Prakash explained before Yuva would come to any conclusions. “There’s something we need to figure here. I know something happened last night as well. You need to explain to us,” he added.

What will Yuva explain, when he does not know anything?

“The figure I saw,” Maya started. “Was a bearded saint-like person, something like a saadhu, he had a stick on his hand, he had a very cynical look on his face,” she said. She was struggling to explain his appearance, but there was a glow on Yuva’s face as he spoke.

“One of the dead guys, Pritam, apparently called one of his friends before he died, and asked him whether the friend had sent any saadhu to his house to do any rituals,” Prakash said.

“And what Pritam said on the phone matches, somewhat, to what Maya has said,” he added.

Yuva looked stunned. But he wasn’t about to make a deduction.

“Then you know how the culprit looks like. Do I look like you friggin’ saint to you?” he asked.

“He went away when you woke up Yuva. And I could only see a reflection of him on the mirror. He did not exist in real,” Maya said.

Yuva felt a surge of ridiculous thoughts. He did not like it. These didn’t make sense. But it’s time he starts considering aspects that don’t make sense. They might all make sense at the end of the day.

“What color was his cloth?” he asked, after two minutes of utter silence to regain his composure.

“Orange,” both of them answered simultaneously. Yuva was exasperated. He is indeed living a nightmare.

He turned around and looked at his desk, on where he had been doing an abundance of writing work of late. Maya walked to desk, intrigued. There were a stack of papers clipped together, all written on, about a 100 pages.

On the cover, in Yuva’s scrambled handwriting, there was etched- ‘A Reality without a Shadow’.

“A Reality without a Shadow,” she said. “This is the novel you have been working on,” she added. He nodded.

“This sounds ridiculous, but that book might have some answers,” Yuva said.

All three of them were dumbstruck. This is impossible. But nothing that has happened so far seemed even remotely logical.

To be continued..

A Reality without a Shadow- Deep into the night

It was at least a different privilege for Yuva as he was being escorted not in that dusty, old khaki jeep that he despised so much, and that he was not having handcuffs. Innocent till proven otherwise, he told himself. There was a cold silence that was sweeping through the respectable Hyundai they were travelling in.

Maya, his best friend, the best woman of his wedding, Yuva couldn’t believe it was just yesterday that the mysterious murdering maniac who has wrecking hell in Maya’s professional life seemed to have nothing to do with their happiness, at least not when Priyanka sneaked in ten minutes before the traditional proceedings begun, and hug him so tightly, and said ‘I will never let you go’.

She has let go. Probably it was him who let her go. He did not hold onto her tight enough. She disappeared; fell on the floor like a beautiful rosebud that was just contaminated with poison. Tears swelled in his eyes. That rosebud deserves a proper sending off, at least. And what is he subjected to, being escorted to the police station. All those dead bodies don’t matter to him. Four rowdies. Do they matter? No, Priyanka matters, because she doesn’t deserve all this. Probably he should have listened when she said she didn’t want an American-bred boy. He lured her, and tried so hard, all so that she could meet an end the first day of their marriage?

There was another call. Prakash, by now, was tired of answering these calls. The car stopped, and he let out a big sigh. Maya was quiet all along. She didn’t like looking at Prakash like that. He has given up, exhausted. The charm that comforted her has finally disappeared. He is vulnerable. And for the first time, she did not ask what happened. That did not matter. And for the first time again, she reached out, patted him in the back, in a reversal of roles for what has been happening in the past few days.

They pulled up in front of another secluded area shortly later. Prakash decided he would do this alone. He walked in. Pritam was there- eyes wide open, his mouth wide open- just like how a fat lazy henchman like him would open his mouth when presented with a pack of briyani. No external damage. No blood. He lied there, just by his bed- lifeless. Prakash had been on the phone just moments before with him. And now he was also swept by the haunting bug.

Prakash got back into the car. “I’m trying to make sense of it,” he finally spoke . “Prakash,” Maya called out slowly. “Drop the two of us back home?” she added.

Prakash looked back at him. “We left Priyanka alone,” she added. Yuva tried hard to fight back tears.

The door creaked open, and both of them walked in slowly. Maya decided to stay away from the body as much as she could. Yuva might be a suspect, but she will not let the humane aspects be lost in pursuit of a mindless murderer or whatever that is taking these lives away. It will not rob her off her humanity, it will not take away the person who is able to be compassionate, be loving, and above all, trusting a lifelong friend. She doesn’t care about professional wisdom. Yuva deserves to say his goodbye to her, no matter what- even if it means Maya getting sacked.

She mixed a couple of drinks for him. She wouldn’t drink hers. It was a ploy, to at least make that grieving man have something in his stomach.

Yuva was kneeling down in front of Priyanka’s body. Maya did not plan to move the body anytime soon. She did not know how to call Yuva for a drink without sounding so ignorant either. She walked slowly towards Yuva. She kneeled down behind him. She raised her finger to touch him, but like a small boy who was waiting for his mother to come back just so that he could cry to her, he grabbed her shirt and buried his face in it. He had been cheerful, jovial, happy. The only times he ever got angry was when anything happened to Maya or someone did anything to hurt her. But she never saw him cry before. She still haven’t seen him cry. She can only hear. But that is already bad enough.

They carried the body and rolled her under a blanket later, toughening themselves. Maya decided she would let Prakash rest before he drops by in the morning to help cremate Priyanka. She managed to have him drink, and later decided she would sleep beside him. She never saw him this vulnerable, and she wouldn’t take the risk. What this grief might drive him to do- she didn’t know.

She slept in some peace that night. She managed to stop crying. Because if there is a devil out there that is on a killing spree, it would know that neither she, Yuva or Prakash are spending any time talking about the devil. It’s time to talk about the humans. About Priyanka. She preferred it this way- don’t talk about it. It doesn’t matter. She closed her eyes.

Like a pre-set alarm she opened her eyes every now and then, checking on Yuva. He seemed exhausted, he was rambling. But at least, he was asleep. She made a point to sleep with her back straight. She did not flinch, did not roll over to her right or her left. She wanted to keep her guard.

And then, late into the night, she had a headache. She woke up. A searing pain through her head, as if someone was squeezing her brains. She struggled. She shouted. But she knew nobody was hearing her. Everything seemed muffled out. She did not try to look at Yuva, she just felt that she is going to die. And then something happened.

The room has a huge life-sized mirror located right opposite of Maya. And in that mirror she was a man, a sage, a saint, or something along those lines. He was bearded, charismatic, with a synical smile. He was looking at her. She still did not turn away to check on anything. She was dealing with her pain, with her disappearing resolve to fight back and live, and the other part was occupied with this image. She knew, she has to hold on to this image. Every detail of it. It would unlock the mystery. But first she has to live.

And, with one final push, She kicked Yuva. And like waking up from a deep, disturbing dream in which you are dying, she felt relief all over her body. She gasped for breath. Yuva had fallen on the ground, and woke up to see her panting. She took her time to regain her composure. She looked at the mirror. The man was gone. And he was gone when Yuva sprung awake.

She did not know where this will head, but a clue is something she will accept. To end all this, this is a start.

A Reality without a Shadow- The Chilling Night

Prakash ran all he could, as fast as he could to his car and started engine. On a silent Chennai street, his car skidded through, rushing as he felt that he had finally gotten his tabs on the person who had been wreaking havoc in the professional lives of both him and Maya for a considerable amount of time now.

There were no cars and yet he was speeding through as if a glimpse of light could make the mysterious killer disappear.

Pritam placed his phone on the table nearby, and jumped on the bed with his fat belly pressing against the bed. The bed frame creaked a little. “Amazing,” he repeated.

For Pritam, that has been the case for him. He never commits a bout of serious crime, yet he becomes a fan of any serial killer or any goon who goes about killing people in the utmost stylish, fashionable way.

He started to slowly snore a little, reciting an old Tamil song which has always been one of his favorites.

Beside his little old Nokia handphone was his gun. He opened his eyes and looked at his gun again, looking at it peculiarly. He decided to take the gun, and slowly caressed it. He had hassled and parried for the gun his whole life.

It took him five years to gain proper confidence from the don to be able to get a gun for his own usage. However, the only time he ever used the gun was in an old shack on a rainy day sometime bag.

He was nothing but someone who does what he is asked to do. It was heavily raining, and the meeting took place in an old building that is just waiting for its ruins. All of them were met while making their way to the meeting. Drugs were being distributed, and Pritam listened to the instructions carefully.

“Pritam bhai,” the don stood up and put his hands around Pritam’s shoulders. He felt a surge of importance.

“You asked for something,” he said.

Pritam felt a prickling sensation on his tummy, and he looked down. The don was pointing a black gun right at Pritam’s ribs. He pressed them further, Pritam could hear the creaking sound of the trigger about to be pulled off.

“Boss, but I didn’t do anything,” he said.

“Take it,” the don said.

“What?” he asked back.

“I said take it,” the don pressed the gun against Pritam’s ribs again. That’s when Pritam knew what it meant. He was getting the gun that he had always been asking from the don.

Pritam took the gun.

“It’s fully loaded, use it carefully,” the don told Pritam.

As the don wore his coat and started walking out the small room in which the meeting took place, a gunshot sound reverberated in the house. In an instinctive reaction, the don, who is at the door, drew out his own gun, and took cover behind the walls, starring angrily at Pritam.

“You mother…,” the don started.

Pritam looked blur. He was still standing, and the gun was still in his hands, but he had not released any shot, he was merely looking at his gun. The don knew what was going on.

“You lucky bastard,” the don said.

“You can’t choose a better time to get a gun. It’s police idiot, go downstairs and take cover. And shoot any police dick that enters this place,” the don told him sternly.

Pritam didn’t know hoe to be cautious. He walked his big fat body down and saw, from the top floor, a hoard of police cars perched in front of the building, many aiming for a shot, and many more seemingly prepare to enter.

A little fear triggered inside him, but he was rather more excited with the prospect of being involved in something important this time. At least, now, with a gun in his hand, he matters.

He took hide at the ground floor, at a corner that he realized was the darkest in the whole building, but a corner corresponding very well with the entrance into the building. Faint gunshots could already be heard around. Pritam realized he couldn’t be aware all the time regarding who is where. He could only keep his eyes on the entrance, and gear up for whichever police officer walks through it.

Pritam closed his ears to help his concentrate from the surrounding noise, and then saw two figures entering through the door, each with a gun in their hands. He knew what he had to do. He took his fingers off his ears, and aimed. He never shot before. He never aimed before. But he had to shoot. And he did.

All he saw was the figure crashing on the floor, and letting out a scream, holding her legs. It was a woman. It was not someone with a dick.

“Maya!” There was a guy nearby. He shouted that word. That must be her name. A couple of Pritam’s friends covered him up and the shooting escalated. But he never got another piece of the action.

Pritam was arrested, and that was how he knew Prakash, who was a normal inspector back then. This was two years ago.

Now he is in a special branch, working for a lady who is the police chief. All Pritam knows is that the police chief is one hot lady. He rubbed his belly, and let out a burp.

He heard a sound, and his house door sprang open. “Who is that?” he asked, still with his face against the pillow, refusing to get up and have a look. “Who?” he asked again.

There was no answer from whoever or whatever that opened the door. Pritam finally got himself to sit and up and have a look for himself. There is a person, but someone whose face cannot be seen in the darkness of night. But there the person is, standing silently at the door.

Pritam looked silently at him. “What are you, a saint?” Pritam asked. The person had a beard. Pritam’s face reaction changed. This is something else altogether.

Prakash got down from his car, and there were already police lights flashing around the place. Maya looked worn out, worryingly worn out that she had ever looked.

“How many?” he asked.

“Four, four freaking dead bodies,” she said.

“This is getting insane,” he added. He knew he had missed the killer.

“All the same?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

Wrapped around with a warm cloth in the middle of the chilly night, sitting at a corner, was Yuva. “How is he?” Prakash asked. “Horrible,” she was being very honest. These were not good times.

“Including Priyanka, with these four dead at this freaking dumb street here, it has been five people tonight alone. What the hell is going on man?” she asked, increasingly frustrated.

“Raj!” Prakash called after the forensic expert, who was busy looking at the bodies.

“I know Prakash. There’s ever going to be only one answer. No external damage. Only brain damage, all internal. I have to tell you nobody invented a killing method such as this, as far as I know. Unless it involves something beyond human,” Raj said, sighing.

“But you have not examined these people at the labs yet,” Prakash exclaimed.

“I know when I see them by now Prakash, this has been going on for two months now,” he added.

Prakash sighed and turned around, looking at Yuva, who was hugging himself in the cold. He looked at him, and then at Maya. Maya knew what he meant.

“Yuva,” Maya called out. Teary-eyed and shivering, he looked at her. “We need to bring you under our custody,” she said.

These are very bad times indeed.

A Reality without a Shadow- The shadow creeps up.

“I chased, I chased, and I chased,” Yuva said. That’s the know-how. That’s all there is to say. Maya allowed herself to direct a sly smile at Yuva as she passed by and over heard Yuva blabbering about the science of enticing Priyanka to fall in love with him to Prakash.

Maya knew there is trouble around the corner. It is just a matter of time before the media and higher authorities would come after their department for their apparent inability to trap or catch the serial killer who has been at large among the public for a considerable amount of time. No profile was ever gathered on this purported killer, and they are as clueless as the people around them are.

But today is Yuva’s day- Maya has no right to ruin his day by leveraging on these issues. “You look tense,” Prakash said as she passed by him in one of her fervent rushes up and down the stairs to prepare for the wedding. “Don’t worry too much, we have time to worry about all of that, you should just be content today,” he added in a whisper, before she continued.

Maya had done almost everything. Negating the details of the wedding; and also convincing Priyanka’s parents that Yuva is the right choice for her. She refused to be identified as his elder sister when people tried to label her as such. She was his friend, and a very good friend at that who grew up together with him. There is no reason to find a new name to their relationship just so that the general public would feel convenient in reference to it. A friend is a friend. Nothing changes.

If Yuva put so much energy in pursuing Priyanka over time, she put almost an equal amount of effort to make the wedding happen as his only representative, well-wisher and family member. “I’ll do it even better when your turn comes,” Yuva said, as she sat exasperated on the stairs, feel uncomfortable with sweat making her feel uneasy in the well-decorated, expensive saree. It is the first time in Maya’s life that she is wearing the traditional Indian outfit. “Don’t worry, I am not getting married,” she said, wiping away the little sweat that dribbled from her forehead. Yuva sat beside her, himself dressed in a decorated groom’s outfit. “Well, I think you do have a suitor,” he said. His sight was pointing in Prakash’s direction.

“Stop it,” she said and walked away. She walked away because when she thinks about it, it does seem like a good idea. Except that she is superior to Prakash in terms of rankings and she strongly believes the ego of an Indian man wouldn’t suit such a situation.

The wedding commenced and ended successfully thereafter. Maya took a few more rushed steps up the stairs and ended up with a sprained ankle, to which the doctor had advised her to an extra day or two off duty, to which Prakash duly repeated his advice- ‘The time is not ripe to worry yet. Now you deserve to rest’.

And when the night fell, all of whom were involved knew something has changed and something is changing. Unsolved mysteries tinged curiosity.

Pritam is a local mob leader, a henchmen who can gather people to throw flakes of flames into shops or the streets to create chaos, under the orders of a bigger power that be around the area. He was courted to be arrested by Yuva a couple of times when Yuva was still in the force, but slipped from his grasp. Tensions run high between those two. Maya and Prakash have been keeping tabs on him ever since.

And it was his old, cranky Nokia phone that rang that night- at around 2 am. He struggled to get up from his bed, with his fat belly making things difficult for him. “Ayye,” he grumbled, as he stuttered to recall which button should he press to answer the call. “Pritam?” it was the polite, professional voice of Prakash at the other end of the line.

“Yes,” he continued in his grumbling tone.

“There is a word on the street. One big bhaiyya has been going around, killing people at his own whimsical wheel. And obviously the bhaiyya’s ways of doing it is so smart we don’t even know how he does it,” Prakash said. Pritam did not say anything. He knew he is speaking to a  police officer. An introduction is not necessary.

“Bhai, I don’t involve in killing people,” Pritam said.

“I know, we are not fools to call you if we suspect it’s you who are doing it, wouldn’t we?” Prakash retorted.

“I want possible names.”

“At this time? Are you for real?” Pritam asked.

“I want names Pritam bhai,” he continued sternly.

“Tell me the full story first,” Pritam demanded.

“Someone’s doing it smart, bhai. No external damage. The person just falls off and dies, holding the head,” Prakash said. Pritam rubbed his eyes to make sure they are wide open.

As Prakash was busy probing into the issue at his home, Maya massaged her ankle, looking solemnly over the view at her balcony. She needs to make a decision- she needs to move out. She needs to allow Yuva and Priyanka to have the privacy that they deserve as new couples.

Priyanka couldn’t sleep. For all her pessimism about finding the right guy, she is right here, sleeping beside the man that made her feel treasured for the first time in her life. She kept her eyes open, running her finger on Yuva’s nose as he was fast asleep, almost on the brink of snoring.

“Bhai, I never head of something like this before,” Pritam said, now wide awake, as a stern, interrogating conversation meandered into a personal conversation. Prakash was yawning, as he received a message in his other phone.

“I don’t know anyone who can do things like this, I swear,” Pritam insisted.

Maya continued glancing at the moon outside, when she heard a shuffle at Yuva room’s door. She turned around, and blinked. She was taken aback by the sound, but she remained in her seat, not doing anything.

“Shit!” Prakash said, upon reading the message. “Got to go,” he blabbered off to Pritam and ended the call.

“Amazing stuff,” Pritam whispered to himself once Prakash ended the call.

Maya heard the noise again, and she shuddered. It seemed to have gone up a notch. She walked to the door, and knocked it.

“Yuva, slow it down,” she said, almost feeling embarrassed about the whole episode. The door, the traditional wood types which opens like a gate, was now slanting rather untowardly towards Maya. She tried pushing it back so that it will be straight, but to no avail.

She realized the door is on the verge of opening up from the inside. She gave it a slight nudge and it parted ways.

Lying on the ground, perched against the door was Priyanka. Yuva was seated on the bed, shirtless, panting, but looking blur as if he could not comprehend what had happened.

Maya placed her fingers over Priyanka’s nose, and checked her pulse. Maya stopped bending down and just sat down on the floor. Priyanka’s dead. She looked up to Yuva in a perplexed manner.

The story begins after this

A Reality without a Shadow- Cupid in the town

“How long has it been?” Maya asked, pushing another mouthful. “How long since what?” Yuva asked. It was an amazing contrast, and a weird one at that. Maya, being the woman, was galloping down her food merciless while Yuva wasn’t doing any justice to the food’s existence as he scribbled at every grain of rice and hardly ate any of them. “Your love story…I can’t believe you hid it from me,” she said.

“No, we are not together,” he said.

“Then?”

“Well..,”

Maya blinked and stop eating.

“Wait…what have we got here?”

Yuva looked down on his plate and sighed. Maya drank a little water, and choked halfway seeing his reactions.

Thoda,”

“What?” he asked.

“One-sided love? Oh my…what has happened to you? What’s up American boy? What’s with suddenly being filmi?” she asked.

“Please, it’s not one sided, don’t underestimate me,” he said.

“Oh, then, what are you waiting for?” she asked. Now Yuva looked at her, and carved a smile on his face, a very wide, cheesy one.

“Here?” Maya asked, looking at the studio from outside. Yuva nodded. They walked slowly inside. “I’ve got nothing to do with this place,” she said as they were walking.

“Neither did I.”

“What made you come here in the first place then? You knew you were going to fall in love the only time you would ever venture to cover an entertainment news?” she asked.

“Please don’t tell me you believe in destiny now?” she continued before he could react.

Yuva chose against his urges to react to her mockery. He had mocked her one too many times to make a fuss about this. He pushed open the door to the almost-empty studio, and there, at one corner, practicing dance with her colleagues, was Priyanka.

“I suppose this isn’t an official meet?” Maya asked Yuva. Yuva still chose to remain silent. He even chose to remain silent by not interrupting Priyanka from her dance. Both of them looked at her from a distance until she noticed their presence and froze in her tracks.

“Hi,” she said, sweeping her sweat using a considerable large towel as she approached them. Maya smiled. “Not bad macha,” Maya said.

“Remember I told you that I have someone that has to say okay after meeting you first before we can go ahead?” he asked to Priyanka, while putting extending his arms across Maya’s shoulders.

“She?” Priyanka asked.

“You didn’t tell her?” Maya asked.

“I think I’ll leave you guys to it,” Yuva said, and started walking away. Both of them tried calling him to come back, but decided against it as they started to open their mouths, before looking at each other and releasing an awkward smile.

“You want to go first or…?” Maya asked, realizing there is something they need to clarify each other with before they can continue with their casual conversation, which has been going surprisingly good for the past half-an-hour.

“Do the honors,” Priyanka said. “He hadn’t told me much, except that he is from the US, and wanted to be a cop and ended up a journalist,” she continued.

“Well…we are not actually Americans. Both of us are Indians. We were born in India,”

Priyanka started reacting with interest.

“We were adopted by the American government because of an arrangement they had between these two countries back then. We were guinea pigs basically. They wanted to train us in the US, breed us as cops, and send us to back to India at a certain age, with a set of skills that can be better than local Indian cops. So basically we were at our foster home all these years, and now we have come back to home. Only that it hasn’t quite felt like home yet,” Maya explained.

“And he didn’t end up being a journalist. He resigned. He was pretty good at what he did, but there was plenty of attention on us, in a negative way, especially when your colleagues are jealous of your special position, it isn’t easy. He cracked, and he resigned. I’m still here, weathered the storm, and am the police chief now,” she added.

“Well, that basically means the program did work then. I mean, you guys came out good,” Priyanka said.

“Not necessarily. He was there for barely months. It’s a failed program anyway, they have decided against continuing it after I wrote an official latter making it public,” Maya now looked intently at Priyanka. The tables have turned for the storyteller role.

Priyanka smiled.

“Well, I can’t believe he is asking me to meet you and approve you before he wants to start a relationship with you,” Maya said with a grin.

Deep inside, she is flattered by how important Yuva had considered her to be in his life that would to put a relationship on hold so that she could give her stamp of approval.

“Did he say its about making me his girlfriend?” Priyanka asked curiously.

“Yeah, about being together,”

“I thought it was supposed to be for marriage,” Priyanka said.

Maya looked stunned.

“What..?”

“I would have killed him if he had said wait, someone needs to approve before we got into a relationship. I mean, he was literally chasing and wooing me all over. I thought I can never trust someone of American lifestyle that easily so I wanted him to commit further. And, here we are, for that reason, I guess,”

“That son of a…,” Maya started.

“Please, no bad words,” Priyanka retorded.

“Oh my, he found himself a damsel,” Maya exclaimed.

Priyanka mustered a smile.

“Oh my god, you two are going to be so mushy,” Maya added.

To be continued..

A Reality without a Shadow- The Punch

Beyond these files, a truth out there is still left untold. Missing. Escaping and sliding out of their views and their comprehension, as if making a mockery of them.

It was the first time in her life that Maya felt incompetent. Hapless. Unable to do anything. She felt like everyone in the office should stand up and take a bullet to their heads. Somewhere, someone, was laughing, giggling. There was a smile somewhere. How could they? How is it possible for them to do so? How ignorant are they to do so?

She cupped her face in her palms, as Prakash stood watching quietly, not quite knowing what to do next. And then she stood up with a spring in her step, she looked rejuvenated, almost too energetic for her own good. And as Prakash guessed, the spring wasn’t a good one.

Nas took slow, assured steps as Prakash guided him into the office. His previously dark hair now have shades of gray, and most of them have fallen off as time seemed to have caught up with him within a blink of an eye. “Cancer, selfish bitch,” Nas said meekly as Prakash seemed to almost blatantly analyze him as they walked side by side. “It sucks out everything from you, you have to beg for it to spare you something at least,” he added. Nas left his post as chief once he was diagnosed with leukemia nearly two years ago. He felt life outside the office was too valuable to spend the remains of his life confined to office spaces, or even carrying a gun and hunting down a criminal. “Here?” Nas asked, seemindly indecisive whether to turn right or left when they reached a corner in the crime lab. Prakash was surprised. This is Nas, his and also Maya’s mentor, who seems to have forgotten the way to get around what was once his own sanctuary. How much he has changed, as he seemed frail, almost too human, rather than the assured leader he once was in these spaces.

Prakash guided him all the way to where Maya was now seated. “Hi Nas,” Rajeev greeted with a formal handshake as Nas came close. Maya was still shaking her head in utter refusal. “Maya?” Rajeev is more occupied with getting Maya to agree with his suggestion. Another shake of the head. Maya would not comply to his request and what nots. “Let’s give Nas a chance, shall we?” Prakash interrupted. There was a momentary silence. Both Rajeev and Prakash looked at Nas. Nas is now supposed to play the doctor, the psychologist. To the toughest woman that has ever walked into this office in years. As far as the conscience of these three go, they have not met a woman like her. Nas seemed busy fondling the depths of his mismatched khaki pants for something. He seemed clumsy. And finally he took out what he was looking for all along. It was his taqiyah. Slowly, he placed it on his head. He made sure it was in place, neat and tidy. The same can’t be said for the manner in which he was dressed at the time. “So,” he cleared his throat. Prakash and Rajeev already were smiling at each other. Here was a man who would skip Ramadan for his favorite briyanis, now seeming all pious. It was unfathomable for the two who have known him for so long. However, for Maya, it was not the same case. Having known him personally, and having kept consistently in touch with him over the past one year since she was promoted as the new chief, in Nas’ place, she knew how he goes about his business nowadays.
“Jhansi Rani,” Nas said. Her popular nickname. That’s how she was known in the office during his tenure. All three of them let go a burst of giggle. She smiled broadly, looking at him dotingly. It seems like she always saw this tender, frail man beneath all those strengths he portrayed when he was in office. Cancer changed everything about Nas. “Bitch,” he said again. That was the nickname he gave for his illness. He never uttered that word in his life before. The counseling had to start. But Maya knew it was already done. Prakash knew too. All Nas needed to do was to make himself present.

“You showed them who is boss,” Nas said, almost in a whisper. “Where is the golden boy?” he asked. Whether it was coincidence or not, Maya did not know. But Mukesh happened to be walking right into the crime lab as Nas asked that question. Maya looked at him and pointed. Nas looked at Mukesh’s face. There was a red bruise around his eyes, and his eyes were swollen. He threw a scathing look to Maya as he walked by. “Ouh,” Nas said.

“You are violent,” he said. Maya did not say anything. “You are the best there is, if you can’t solve this, nobody can,” he whispered to her ears. “And I have become so pious that I don’t lie anymore, not even to please anyone, so I’m telling the truth,” he added before she could react. The punch of Mukesh’s face afterall, did release a substantial amount of anger that she had within. She was unable to bear with his giggling, which was probably the only he did every day in office consistently. And if he thought it was okay to do so when your boss is fretting and breaking over an unsolved case with you doing nothing to help her out, he learned his lesson. Mukesh had gone to speak with Rajeev. Prakash, who has been speaking to Rajeev the whole time, came walking back to Maya and Nas. “He’s not going to do anything to you. You are too good to be found out for a matter like this,” Prakash said casually to Maya. He bent down and got close to her ears. “I have been wanting to do that to Mukesh for a very long time. Thanks for doing it,” he said and made himself stand straight again. Rajeev and Mukesh glanced at them from far.

“He only knew how to giggle, gossip, and eat. He has a humongous belly, thinks he is good, a sexist because he despises me being the boss, and is too happy at times when we are unable to solve cases,” Maya said eloquently. She needed to put forth her justification for punching Mukesh as such. Yuva starred at her. “Am I allowed to laugh and giggle in front of you?” he asked. “Help me Yuva, help me,” she cupped her hands together, and kneeled down. “Oh great man, please, I’m begging you,” she continued. Yuva signaled at her to stop. “I am, I am…,” he started. “Can you stop trying to stabbing yourself with cupid’s arrow and help me figure this case? Please?” she continued with her childish tone, still kneeling. Yuva nodded feverishly.

“I love her,” he said after a silence. Maya’s jaw dropped.

To be continued..