‘There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.’
~ A Study in Scarlet
‘Yes, I am mad about books. And for a bookworm like me, it is sacrilege not to have heard of Sherlock Holmes.’ I said.
ASI Ananat snapped his palm on the table in approval.
I felt happy for the first time since the morning. Then I remembered Hemant and tried to picture him wrapped and sealed in a white sheet, waiting for autopsy. It didn’t make sense. I closed my eyes and the face of a swaggering youth rushed to meet me, his lush hair parted in the middle and dancing at shoulders, quick, brown eyes, handsome as Satan.
And then another face welled up out of nowhere. Robin Rana, Hemant’s inseparable confidante with that rehearsed half-smile of Sylvester Stallone and who was rarely farther than 5 feet from his person, winked in my vision. Where was he now?
I thought hard for a minute before I spoke. This was no social banter or chitchat, nor was I fooled for one moment by the false floor I stood on. Whatever I said was going to congeal into rocks and have irreversible, lifelong repercussions. I scoured my memories with a clear heart before I wagged the accusing finger. But no matter how hard I tried, something in me howled that Robin could be waist deep into this gory mess.
The officer was watching me intently.
‘Sir?’ I looked up at him.
‘You can call me Inspector Anant’.
‘Inspector Anant, Hemant had a rather close friend of Nepalese origin, called Robin Rana.’ I said in a slow, determined voice.
‘I am aware of the fact.’
‘Has he been questioned already?’
‘He was admitted to Central Hospital for food poisoning early this morning.’ He said. Then looking at the sceptic shade of my face he added, ‘He kind of claims to have partied all night at the YMCA Hostel. He was wheeled into the emergency due to food poisoning early this morning. The shift doctor confirmed that the lout was loaded with beer and biryani.’
‘He could be the most significant bird in the flock you are examining.’ I said.
‘Samir, now I am convinced you can walk in that daunting footwear.’ He smiled. ‘We have stationed a man near the hospital ward, just in case. Anything that I must know before I grill that cool cat?’
‘You know the best how to go about it but I would like to go through his statement once it is recorded. But, yes, two things may help. Number one: don’t tell him you have questioned me and Ruby already.’
‘Never heard of you and Ruby!’ He said cheerfully.
‘Great!’ I liked him. ‘And number two: just pop in a question about his hobbies.’
‘What do you have on your mind exactly, if I may ask?’ He said.
‘I can see this faint jigsaw in my mind with fewest of pieces, Inspector Anant. And it would be best for us all if I were allowed to go out of the police station immediately. I need to check out a few things before it’s late.’ I said quickly.
‘All right! I can arrange to have you dropped wherever you wish to proceed. It is time I picked up that Robin Rana of yours –I was promised I could do that by 3:00 PM. And when can we meet next, please?’
‘Would you mind coming over to my room at the hostel, Inspector?’
‘Not at all!’
I insisted on going back alone. Ruby had already left for her hostel with the warden when I emerged from the ASI’s office. I promised myself I would find her out in the evening but for the moment all I wanted was to somersault my way to the British Council Library. Even my growling innards could wait.
Sometime in the January of the year 1988 I’d decided to refurbish my photographic skills. I had zeroed in on a guide titled SLR Photographers Handbook by Carl Shipman from the catalogue. But the member who had borrowed it in October the previous year seemed to have forgotten to return it. My weekly insistence drove the clerk crazy and he wrote a stiff letter to the Dean of the college who had recommended the membership. One day as I entered the library I came upon an agitated exchange between the clerk and the erring member who turned out to be none other than Robin, haggling over the fine to be paid. The clerk softened a bit when he saw me, ‘Here, your wait is over!’ Robin left in a huff.
Going through that lucid book at night, I stumbled upon a picture postcard tucked in its pages. It was sent from somewhere in Norway by a father to his son Robin. A lone polar bear sat brooding on an expanse of ice on one side. The other side held a small message, ‘Howdy Robin! It’s cool over here. Convey my love to Bela -that sly mom of yours. Your father.’ It was signed in a bold, cursive script by certain Stanley Martin.
I had almost felt repentant about the mess I had stumbled upon. But it was out of the question to restore the postcard to Robin directly and poke a needle in his myth. I once thought of dropping it in post under a cover but I got lazy.
However, there was something more about the book that had irked me. Someone had underlined a section on Depth of Field in red and jotted ‘f16 X f16’ at the end of the sentence. The ‘f’ had an unusual loop at the bottom, more like the sign of pound. Weeks later, when we organized the annual fête, all the invitations written out by Robin had this strange ‘f’ and I kept wondering where I had seen them before. Then Sonia refused to be part of the celebrations and Ruby had said cryptically, ‘The falcon isn’t flying anymore.’
I reached the section on photography at the library with baited breath. They seemed to have repopulated the shelf there but true to my fears, the book I was looking for was missing. The only option left to me was to find out from the records whom it had been issued to and go to the member’s place of dwelling. Unfortunately, the counter was being run by the surly lady we all feared. I figured even if she refused to help me, at the worst, that won’t be the death of me. Greeting her for the time of the day, I went on to explain how I’d be leaving in a couple of days and how I must have a photocopy of the chart of ‘Hyperfocal Distance’, and I’d be grateful if she could tell me the address of the member it was issued to. I couldn’t have read a thought from her face more than I could have read a feeling off the wall. But she turned to open the cabinet to her left and produced a box of floppies. She pulled out one of them after carefully reading the labels and inserted it into the desktop computer.
‘Write down!’ She ordered. ‘Neloy Das, C 37, Mandir Marg.’ Neloy was the guy who was in the cricket team with us.
“God’s in his Heaven
All’s right with the world!” I muttered.
I saw her smiling for the first time.
I repeated the story of Hyperfocal Distance to Neloy at his home. He fished out the book from a heap on his study table but he kept talking about the rumours of a murder of a college student in a blue Toyota car. We rode Neloy’s bike to the nearest photocopy outlet. I found out the section on ‘Depth of Field’ from the contents table and flipped to page number 46 and there it was, the sentence underlined in red ink:
“Any Lens has more depth of field when stopped down to smaller aperture.” And then Robin’s script in scarlet –‘f16 X f16’.
I also got pages 44 and 45 containing the charts copied to Neloy’s benefit. He was kind enough to drop me back at the hostel. But before he left, I put a question to him casually, ‘Who is this girl they keep referring to as the Falcon or F16?’
‘You must be living under an Everest! There is only one F16 and that is Sonia Singh!’ He grinned. ‘Incidentally, did you know that girl Ruby is Mirage 2000?’
When Robin had downed one peg too many at the New Year party this year, he had kept crooning how he could shoot an f16 at f16 with a canon. No one had given two hoots to his claim.
Inspector Anant appeared early in the evening with bottles of Thums Up and a packet of Samosas. We flipped open Robin’s statement soon. As I had expected, Robin had stated his father’s name as ‘Bikram Rana.’ We moved to the point where he had answered about his hobbies. His answers listed many things from taekwondo to yoga, numismatics to rafting, but no photography, his latest flame.
It was my turn to explain my doubts over Robin to Inspector Anant. I told him about the legend of the British mother and warrior father fomented by Robin and how even his ID Card said his father was Bikram Rana. And then I produced the picture postcard from Norway, of the lone bear remembering his family. It took me over an hour to elucidate the concept of Aperture and what f/16 stood for, to the officer. The nicknames that the duo had given to the girls, taken from fighter aircraft, were the easiest to explain. And lastly, the drunken chant of shooting ‘the f16 at f16 with a Canon!’ and what I thought it meant, and my strong hunch that Robin and Hemant were somehow blackmailing Sonia, which could have lead to the unfortunate happening.
‘Time to barbecue Robin Rana!’ Inspector Anant thundered away in his jeep.
Read the concluding part: ‘A Far Cry from Mr Darcy‘