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The next morning, when Shalini's mortal remains were brought to Akashdeep, it was drizzling but that did not stop the estate workers from the nearby estates, who came in droves to pay  homage which I felt was solely because of Mahesh Anna who was well known and was liked by all, from what I had seen. Shalini hardly had spoken nor cared about anyone either from Akashdeep estate or other neighboring estates. She largely lived and remained in a world of her own make belief. Shalini's parents were inconsolable, remaining close to where her body had been placed. Along with them sat my mother and a few other relatives who had come from nearby places and Vidyakka. Rohit too sat quietly at a distance watching the rituals. Mahesh Anna looked as if he was beyond care or grief. He just moved around like a zombie doing whatever  was asked of him, by the priest. By evening Shalini's body was taken away to the nearest town and cremated. But,Shalini had left behind many many unanswered questions and doubts in all our minds.

The police Inspector had come late in the afternoon, asking all of us to be ready next morning for questioning and inquiry. That included my mother and Shalini's parents too. My brother went back, so did the other relatives. To me it seemed to be an endless night as it stretched before us without any clue as to what the future had in store. I hardly slept because I had many confusing thoughts in my mind and unexplained fears that gripped me. It just wouldn't go away no matter what. The next morning proved me right .

After The Funeral

Inspector Ganesh and two of his subordinates were promptly there at 8 in the morning. They wanted to question Mahesh Anna first but it so happened that he was nowhere to be found but later we came to know that he had gone on his estate rounds along with Arvind and Nanjappa as was his routine, probably to forget the distress of losing his wife by keeping himself busy. So, they began to speak to Shalini's parents and I and my mother sat in the hall and although we could not hear what was being discussed, it looked as if Shalini's mother had a lot to say, which was very evident by her tone and raised voice. Her husband kept protesting every now then, with little success. Rohit and Vidyakka too came just then since they too had been summoned by the police for questioning. So we sat together along with Rohini aunt, wondering what could Shalini's mother be saying ?

After nearly 30 minutes the Inspector and his team came out of the office room along with Shalini's parents and the look my aunt gave to all of us was venomous and scary. The Inspector next wanted to speak to Rohini aunt, who went into the office room and was questioned rather interrogated by the inspector for about 15 minutes. After that it was Geeta's turn and I sat with my mother, Vidyakka, Rohit and Rohini aunt, who gave me worried looks. Geeta too after the questioning went back to the kitchen without saying a word but giving me and Rohit an odd look. My mother who noticed the whole thing asked Rohini aunt what  the matter was? Rohini aunt sighed and said that truth will prevail in the end and  not to worry but face the consequences bravely, this, as she looked at me. It was all too much for me to take in and my worry must have reflected on my face because Rohit who was watching all this slowly moved to my side and held my hand just for a brief second before letting go, just as Mahesh Anna and Arvind walked in.

Inspector Ganesh asked Mahesh anna if he was ready to answer some questions to which Mahesh anna readily agreed. Later, the Inspector questioned Arvind too. He spoke briefly to my mother and wanted to ask her some more details in private but was called away by his office on some other work. Just before leaving he told us to be ready for questioning the next morning. I felt very disturbed by the look he gave me and Rohit. It was almost as if he was accusing us of crime and I spent the entire evening wondering about that look.

Early next morning we had a pleasant surprise and a momentary relief from the oppressive atmosphere and gloom that prevailed  within the house. As we woke up we could see  the garden, the surrounding trees and the entire estate was filled with the twitter and sing song sounds of migratory birds of various kinds and colors, which I was told happened every year during that time.In fact some of the birds were perched up on the balcony railings too. I walked round the gardens and went up the hill behind the houses and could see birds everywhere. It was the most amazing and heavenly sight I had ever seen. My mother, Arvind and Rohini aunt too came later and joined me. Rohini aunt said that although it happened every year she had never come out that far on the hills to witness this glorious and wonderful sight that nature had bestowed on us. As we walked back, I wished we could be as carefree as those birds without having to worry about things that rob us of peace and happiness...but, the sight of Akashdeep was enough to remind me of the  tragedy that engulfed the house, weighing heavily on all of us.

As we were nearing the house, Arvind came closer to me and told me to be careful while answering the questions that Inspector Ganesh asked. He said that he himself had been asked  many details about me and also been warned not to divulge any details , again asking me to be careful.This was an added worry to me along with others. Every time Rohit came into my thoughts, my heart ached thinking of the distance this tragedy had created between him and me, we were so helpless. I sat on the veranda and focused my thoughts on everything that happened before and after Shalini died , failing to see how the Inspector or anyone could have any suspicion on or about me. Just then my mother came and sat with me and when I spoke about my fears and what Arvind had just told, she was thoughtful and silent  for a minute... " I feel any doubts the Inspector may have would be because of Rohit and your closeness to him. Shalini too was connected to both of you so probably the Inspector is suspicious. But I feel that you must speak truthfully without any fear and not hide anything from the Inspector because all said and done he is here to solve a crime," and with that she hugged me but I could see that her eyes were worried.

That day was going to be hectic with the priest coming to perform some of the ceremonies with Mahesh anna, that is normally conducted before the Shraddha ceremony which is normally conducted on the 11th or the 13th day after death. The Inspector had called Mahesh anna telling him that he would come in the afternoon after lunch which was as well. Morning passed by quickly and just as we finished lunch Rohit came and Inspector Ganesh too with two of his subordinates made their appearance and straight away called my mother into the office room for questioning . She was there for almost 30 minutes and when she came out she looked a bit shaken, she came directly to me and said to me "My child, be brave and don't hesitate to speak the truth and only the truth because I know that you can never harm anyone knowingly or unknowingly .."

I looked at Rohit  sitting outside in the veranda watching us keenly. He too looked worried and I had a lump in my throat as I looked at him and our eyes met, thinking  of the times we had spent together. It made me realise a fact of life - " We never really appreciate nor value the happy moments until they become memories..." And I very much wondered whether the few moments that had made me feel so close to Rohit were only going to remain cherished memories? I looked away feeling forlorn and depressed at the very thought.

Just then Inspector Ganesh came out and went to where Rohit was sitting and after speaking a words to him, asked him to go with him for questioning and as he passed us I heard him tell Rohit to call Vidyakka and ask her to come since he wanted some details from her as well. Then Inspector Ganesh looked at me and said that he would question me last after finishing with Rohit and Vidyakka ..

( to be continued )

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