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Prey on the Prowl - A Crime Novel
Next day, Dhruva woke up earlier than usual to Radha’s thoughts, and sipping the bed-coffee in the portico, as he thought about the inimical twists and turns in her chequered life, he had a gut feeling that it was she, who came to see him the other day. What with his earlier fascination for the alleged murderess coming to the fore again, he was seized with an urge to see her. While he was lost in his thoughts, as Dicey began to bark, he looked towards the gate, and seeing a fascinating dame, he seemingly lost his heart to her, but bitten once, even as she approached him seductively he subdued himself. Just the same, when she introduced herself as Radha, he couldn’t resist holding out his hand to her, but as she offered her services to him, he wanted to have her resume, before he made up his mind.
Radha was the only child of her parents, who pampered her much beyond their middle-class means. She was rather studious and methodical and even excelled at her studies that is relatively speaking, and to the delight of his parents, she was on expected academic course to be a Chartered Accountant. However, when she crossed eighteen, her life went awry, as she lost her heart to a newcomer in their locality, whose identity she preferred not to reveal, as the world was small after all. What with love ruling her head, she failed to apply her mind at her studies to end up at the bottom of the class, and her father, who entertained visions of seeing her in the ‘Brahmaiah’ mould, was aghast at her poor showing. When he wanted her to explain her low scores, she spilled the beans, and that left him with no choice but to approach her lover’s father, who roundly condemned her for enticing his gullible son and outraged by the slur, her father prohibited her from meeting her lover any more.
However, as her lover assured her that he would prevail over his father, blinded by love, she carried on with him on the sly, but as her escapades came to her father’s notice, he restricted her movements, and started looking for a suitable boy for her. While the prospect of her marriage with another alarmed her, and as her lover too was averse to losing her, they eloped, when she was barely nineteen. While that made her scandalized parents disown her, her lover’s parents were engaged in weaning their son away from her.
Her lover’s will to stick to her through thick and thin began to wane as he came to wilt under the emotional blackmail of his parents, which forced her to remind him of his own vows never to part with her. When she was thus hard-pressed to hold her lover, his father upped the ante by pitting his son’s mediocre life with her against the rosy future as the son-in-law of a well-heeled man with a vivacious daughter. While the parent-induced insecurity played upon his mind and the envisaged beauty of the bride-to-be blunted her own charms in his vision, her lover came to perceive her as a source of his own undoing. As if the prospect of losing her lover was not nightmarish enough, she missed her periods, regardless of which, he chose to desert her, and that sealed her fate. Left in the lurch, as she burnt her bridges with her parents, so she thought, she in desperation, tried to contact her childhood friend, her full-soul mate her half-namesake, as she put it.
Seeing a twitch on Dhruva’s brow then, Radha felt that some namesake of hers might have stirred his heart before, while he, staring at her, wondered what if she were to be as soulless as her half-namesake who had just then jilted him.
When she learned that her friend, having married in the meantime, moved out of town by then, Radha recapped her life and times; she had to turn to an elderly neighbor to help her find a job. But as he tried to snare her into being his keep, which made her realize the pitfalls of a single woman in the man’s world, swallowing her pride, she, a prodigal daughter, approached her parents, who took her back into their fold. As she was keen to bear her child, which proposition her mother supported, her father had to find a groom for her on a war footing, and that brought Madhu, an Engineer in the Civil Works Department, into her life.
While Madhu jumped at the prospect of marrying her, as she found him not to her liking, she dragged her feet, but her father asked her to choose between aborting her child and marrying the Engineer. With the lurking danger the bulging belly posed, she bowed her head to let Madhu tie the knot and he, blinded by his adoration for her, not only turned blind to her reticence in the bed but also failed to grasp the import of the early arrival of her son, Raghu. While she doted upon her son, more out of a sense of guilt than any affection for the man who fathered him, Madhu was never enamored of him though not out of suspicion.
However, it took the seven-year itch for Madhu to get wind of her conjugal indifference towards him, and that hurt his ego and crushed his heart. She always knew that she had to involve her body and mind to save the nuptial tie, and yet she couldn’t bring herself around to obey the dictates of cohabitation. Maybe vexed with her cold embrace, Madhu sought to pep up his sex-life with call girls, whom his bribe money fetched in their scores, and even as she thought that life couldn’t get worse than that, fate had other indignities in store for her.
When Madhu’s assistant died in an accident, Mala, as his childless widow, with a brother to support, got a job in the department on compassionate grounds, he lost no time in ingratiating himself with her as a neglected husband, deprived of woman’s affections and all. Succumbing to his falsity, owe be to the vulnerable woman, Mala agreed to become his mistress, to be set up in a chinnillu and supported by his vasool money. While Madhu lavished his attention on Mala, as if to add insult to the injury, he used force Raghu to run errands for her, and when Radha chided him for reducing his own son as a valet of his mistress; he implied that she herself being so cold to him; her boy, for all he knew, could be a bastard.
Worried about her boy’s future in that setting, when she raked her brains to save him, she thought of his biological father, who so cruelly ditched her to hitchhike with a moneyed dame. However mean he might have been, she thought, won’t he come to his boy’s rescue by putting him in some boarding school? So she tried to locate him, more out of desperation than in hope, for she knew how mean he was. When she managed to find him, though after a long haul, as she pictured their son’s plight, he painted himself as a lovelorn, paying the price for his betrayal in his wife’s cold bed, which left him childless in that marriage. As that triggered her innate empathy she has had for him, and with no love lost for her spouse; she had no qualms in bedding with him, though in the hope of propping up their son.
At the end of a weeklong rendezvous in which he overwhelmed her with his passion, she set aside her past bitterness and asked him to take her as his second wife to give their son his due. But lo, the bastard made her feel ashamed of herself; what cruelty to say that she was a first grade maal all right, but she should’ve known that even for a second wife, he wouldn’t have a third grade slut. Slighted though, she swallowed her pride and tried to impress upon him about his obligations to his own offspring, but he inflicted the cruelest cut on her body soul - if she could recall correctly, why she never forgot his words, he told her that the plight of a bastard was not something for him to lose sleep over. When she retorted, what if she told his wife about his past, he warned her that she might as well forget about her future whatever little it might have held for her, as he would engage a supari to eliminate her without anyone ever getting wiser about it. How disgusted she was with the man she once loved and compromised with again, she only knew.
However, things came to a head when Raghu questioned Madhu as to how he could reduce his own son as an errand boy of his mistress, he callously retorted what proof he had of his own paternity, and rubbed salt on his paternal wound with the adage that maternity was a fact but paternity was only a faith. Given Raghu’s premature birth, he said that he didn’t think that he was indeed his father, and unable to bear the humiliation, her boy committed suicide on the railway track. Madhu though saw in the tragedy an opportunity to slight her further, and so he began bringing Mala home, as a prelude to a ménage a trios, as he put it. But Radha decided to call a spade a spade, and sought divorce, to which, he was averse, as his sexual interest in her had resurged, as a byproduct of his passion for his mistress. Moreover, adding insult to injury, he said that not counting alimony; a house maid could be more expensive than a wife, but as she refused his demands for threesome orgies, he further debased himself as a wife-beater.
When Radha was all set to press for divorce regardless, tragedy struck her that fateful day; as he tried to force her to have a drink with him and his mistress, as she refused to oblige, he necked her out of the house in a fit of rage, forcing her to turn to a friend for a shelter as her parents were dead and gone by then. When a neighbor called her the next day to tell her that Madhu and Mala died of poisoning and the police were on the look out for her, she rushed to the police station to clear her name, but to be locked-up as the main suspect. How Shakeel the inspector on duty had abused her, she only knew, oh, what a diabolical character he was!
Though Shakeel failed to book the real culprit to date, she always had a hunch that Pravar, the awara brother of Mala, would have been the killer, and so with a little detective work, she gathered that he became an object of ridicule because of his sibling’s conduct and all taunted him on that score. While that could be a motive for him to murder the illicit couple, he had a criminal background to boot, though not on the scale that Shakeel tried to picture on the TV screens. Well, it smelled something fishy really; whatever, she knew that the poisoned drink the couple drank to their death was a present from Pravar for their cherished occasion, and as she was going through an old issue of Eenadu that she missed earlier, coming across Dhruva’s ad, she turned hopeful.
Finishing her tale of woes and looking into his eyes directly, she said enticingly that she hoped that at last, her hope won’t turn out to be a dupe after all, and that he would set things right for her while she herself assisted him in his endeavors.
As her version matched Pravar’s account, Dhruva felt it was indeed a poetic justice that Pravar, who tried to implicate her in a murder she didn’t commit, found himself in the dock for a crime that he had nothing to do with. Besides, he felt that her account of her lover illustrated that love and lust alike are manifestations of sexuality in that while love begets affection through sexual union, lust might remain barren in spite of sexual fulfillment.
While she looked at him in hope, he asked her what she thought could have been behind her lover’s refusal to part with a penny being in a position to do so; she said that in hindsight it was clear to her that besides being a mean-being, he was money-minded as well. Whatever, the way he used and reused a trusting woman, wouldn’t that make him a regular bastard after all?
When Dhruva extended his hand to her in anticipation, as Radha held it a little longer before releasing, he recalled Ranjit’s Rupees twenty-thousand gesture against the promised million Rupee bonanza.
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