Friday, 26 September 2014

Team Alphabet Soup
Chapter-16
Tara’s train of thoughts were interrupted by her phone ringing.  It was Shekhar. She sympathised with his situation and uttered a quick silent prayer, praying for the end of all the chaos involving her family. She answered the call and before she could speak, her ears were deafened with Shekhar’s voice- “Why the hell did you take so long to answer the god damn phone? Don’t you know I’m desperately waiting for updates from your end?”  Tara silently listened to him ranting without interrupting him. Shekhar realised his reaction was not approved off by Tara - “Sorry Tara, it’s just that I am feeling so helpless here. This stupid village and the situation we are in are getting on my nerves”.
“I understand Shekhar; we just got back from Aryan’s store.”
Hearing this, Shekhar’s voice perked up, “So has he finished examining the idol? What is the outcome?”
“It is fake Shekhar.” replied Tara.
Shekhar was about to ask her something, but before he could speak, Tara said, “Shekhar, let us talk about it once I return there.”
“Well, when are you coming back?”
“ASAP”
As she cut the call, she noticed Jennifer clicking pictures of the antiques and the officer was busy on his phone, co-ordinating with a travel agent for their return flight.
That same evening, on their return to Vrajrakshipuram, all of them gathered in the temple office and Tara briefed them about what Aryan said regarding the Idol. Sudheeran Varma was shocked with the revelation and he began to pace up and down the room with a frown on his face. Jennifer who was sitting quietly all this while noticed Sudheeran’s expressions. She was trying to read into his expressions but there was nothing unnatural about his behaviour. He seemed genuinely tensed. Was it because he was worried that the idol was stolen? Or was it because, he knew there were too many of them involved in finding out and revealing the truth?
Her thoughts were interrupted by Tara’s voice, “We have to question all those who have had access to the idol in the last twenty years.”

Jennifer interjected, “So no one else has access to the chambers? What about the people who clean it?”

“The chamber is cleaned once every year. The priest does that too. No one else is allowed to enter there.”

“Do you have a key Mr. Varma?” Jennifer decided to take a chance. She watched his expression closely.
The officer said, “Miss JayaLakshmi, I think you’re crossing the limits. Have you any idea who this-”
Sudheeran spoke up, “As you already know, there are only two set of keys to the chamber. One is with me. My father handed them down to me a few years back. He is no more now. The other set was with the old priest. After he got paralysed, it was handed over to Memana Namboothiri here.”

Sudheeran smiled feebly. He knew they would doubt him at some point in time during this investigation.
He leaned forward to Jennifer and said, “People have tried to steal the idol and Amma has punished them for their deed. Since centuries, two set of keys have been handed over from generation to generation. There is no motive for my having a set of the keys. My father held them. So did my grandfather, great-grandfather and so on. Unfortunately, the theft happened in our era. If you still don’t believe me, I can understand. But, I’ve grown up here. My village knows me better.”

Jennifer looked at him intently. No signs of deceit. One moment he was volatile and the next, he was calm & composed. She couldn’t understand him at all. Either he was really upset about the missing Goddess. Or he was too good an actor.
“I believe we should go meet the old priest first.” Ravi said.
Tara said, “Can all of you meet the priest and inform me? I need to spend some time with my family.”
Ravi, Jennifer & Sudheeran decided to go to the priest’s house while Tara went to her hotel. She had not spent much time with Shekhar and Roohi after she had returned from Mumbai.
*****
Shekhar opened the door and kissed her. Roohi came running. There was a tirade of conversations. Roohi wasn’t letting them speak.
“Mumma Mumma! Pappa bought me a whistle. See?”
“I’ll show you my new glass bangles?”
“Mumma! I got a new friend. Her name is Chinnu. We played yesterday and today.”
“Mumma!-”

“Roohi! Roohi! ROOHI!” It was Shekhar.
“First get dressed. We’ll go out for dinner. On the way, you can tell her your stories one by one. Ok?”
“Ok Pappa! Mumma! 2 minutes. Don’t go away. Roohi is coming.”

*****

As they reached the priest’s house, the young boy immediately ran towards them asking if they needed help with Malayalam. He thought it was another opportunity to get some more money from the strangers in this village. He then noticed Sudheeran and ran towards the back of the old house, where the cracks in the back walls would enable him to listen to their conversation.
“I worked in that temple for 44 years. All those years, I was the only person who went into the chambers or knew about it. The priest before me, died many years back.”

Jennifer asked, “Was there any difference in the idol while you were the priest?”

“Difference?” he asked.

Varma saw the boy peeking from behind the walls and shooed him away.

Namboothiri, we want to tell you something. Are you sure you are alone?”

“That boy is my only frequent visitor. And the maid. Neither is here now. What is it?”

Ravi went and checked around the house, came back and nodded his head.

Sudheeran said, “No one else knows about this. Please don’t tell anyone. The idol in the chamber is fake. “

The priest was shocked, “Ammeee...! I can’t bear to hear this.”
A teardrop rolled down his eyes.

“Listen carefully. Do you remember if there was any difference in the idol, the last time you saw it?”

“I have seen Amma for years together. I would have known even if there was a little change. She was the same all those years.” He breathed heavily. He was shivering and his voice was barely visible.

Sudheeran gave him some money and consoled him. He kept whispering “Amme...” every few minutes. As he calmed down, they left his house.


Later on, Cyrus caught up with Jennifer and told her about his day. He had questioned many people in and around the village about what had happened on the day of the procession. But all he got was the same stories as mentioned in the investigation report. Jennifer informed him about the idol and its clever craftsmanship.

He went near the priest’s house and called out to the boy to help him with the translation. He had become his friend and his guide. He began questioning about metal smiths in the area. He spoke to a few in the village on the pretext of getting knowledge for his novel. He came across a few metal smiths. But he couldn’t find any connection between them and the royal family or the idol. He tried to cover every single family and shop in the village.

As he searched the whole town and was about to call it a day, he saw some people sitting near an old banyan tree just opposite the last shop he visited, playing cards and talking. He decided to give it one last try before heading back to his lodge.

An old man who worked for a Goldsmith many years back said, “Raghavan, Ramankutty, Thankappan chetan are the main Goldsmiths here.”

“Yes, I met them. You worked for?”

“Rajappan mothalali, but after some years, he was bed-ridden due to Rheumatoid Arthritis. I started my own shop.”

“Do you know of anyone else who was good at this around 15 or 16 years back?”

“In our village, many children are interested in this work. But most of them just have the initial interest. After a while they get disinterested and do other stuff.”

“So, only these main metal smiths did this kind of work here? All the other kids just gave up?”

“Yes. Not only gave up. One boy left the village. He was good at his work. He didn’t have anyone here after his mother died. So, he left the village to go to a far off place and earn. There was another boy. He was a quick learner. The old priest’s son. He was-”

“Hang on! The priest has a son?”

Cyrus wondered why no one, not even the priest had mentioned anything to him about his own son. He had a bad feeling about where this was all heading.

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