There was a time when we were the best of friends.
In fact the word that comes to mind was 'inseparable'.
Rudra and I did everything together. We were born just five days apart -
on the 2nd and 7th of September 1985 with me being the older cousin.
Oh I forgot to mention that our fathers Uday and Pratap Singh were twins
and our mothers Ruhina and Anandi were best friends too.
We grew up in the lap of luxury in a large and beautiful Haveli called 'Umang'
(Hope) in Rajasthan as our fathers were Princes- nobody actually called them
Rajas or Maharajas any more after the titles were abolished by the government
in the 60's but to the common people of the state, royalty was as blue blooded
as ever and it would certainly take at least one more generation before that
feeling of loyalty, some actually called it " reverence' , departed forever.
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Growing up in the eighties had a very special charm, enhanced further by the
fact that we lacked for nothing.The best of cars, bikes, dogs and horses
and of course clothes and travel were things we took in our stride and now that
I think of it , it clearly occurs to me that we were so well protected from
the harsh reality of the real world by our doting parents that we no clue
whatsoever of what lay ahead.
So do I blame anyone for that? No one except myself- I really should have seen
it coming- that huge financial crash when our fathers died at the young age
of 45, in a short span of just over two months. Yes, I remember reading
somewhere that twins when separated by death or disaster tend to pine for
their lost sibling and in many documented cases, follow them to the grave
as well. So while the death of my Uncle Pratap who had pancreatic cancer
was expected sooner rather than later, that of my father Uday Singh, of a
massive cardiac arrest two months later, was entirely unexpected.
And soon after that came the series of events that shaped the rest of our
lives in so many different ways.
Before I continue with the story, I must tell you a little bit about myself.
I'm Jai Singh and just like you might have seen in the movies, I look a lot like
everyone's idea of the quintessential Indian Prince- tall, dark and handsome -
add to which a Mensa verified IQ of 148 and that is probably the reason that I
even thought of undertaking what I did.But to know more about that you will
have to wait just a little bit longer.
After my father died, I learnt that the Haveli I thought would be our home
forever had been put up as collateral to the bank and if I didn't arrange to
pay back huge loans which my father and his brother had taken from the
bank in order to keep up the foolishly affluent lifestyle that we had grown so
accustomed to over the years, our home would be taken away in a matter of
months. If we were really lucky, the bank might decide to extend the
grace period to a year.
It took me some time to understand the exact implications of what would
happen if we lost the Haveli.While we wouldn't exactly be homeless since
there was one house in Delhi as well as another country home near London,
this grand house was virtually our ' Pehchan' or if you will, our identity.
It truly defined who we were and even more, what exactly we stood for, our
ancestral lineage, in front of the world. As my mother Ruhina told me in the
deep depths of her despair- the first over the very real loss of her dearly
beloved husband followed by the very likely loss of her home, "Without Umang,
I too might as well be dead!"
And if I thought her statement on that particular day just a wee bit exaggerated
,I really didn't think so a couple of weeks later as both she and my Aunt Anandi
seemed to be pining away at an equally rapid pace. From vibrant, beautifully
maintained middle aged ladies before the passing of their husbands, they seemed to be slowly, but surely, aging, and very rapidly at that, right in front of our eyes.
But what of Rudra in all this? It came to me as a stark and very uneasy
realization one day that he really couldn't care less. It was all hunky dory as
long as he had the unlimited funds that his rich father had provided him with
and he could squander away much as he pleased - wining, dining and leading
the good life all over the world for as long as he could. But on the day that I
decided that something had to be done to raise the huge amount of money
we needed to have to pay back the loans our fathers had taken from the bank and started a discussion with him, hoping that he would come up with something that would help me out, he just laughed
.Laughed out aloud - then looking at my sombre expression decided to change tactics. " Or one of us could marry a billionaire."
Followed by a wink.
For some reason that I really cant define, I found that statement and that wink
And yet, I tried to be reasonable- or as reasonable as I could be under those
very trying circumstances.But for all that I tried, I might well have been talking
to a brick wall. In fact, in a surreal moment, I actually saw myself from up above-trying to plead with someone I just didn't seem to know at all. Could that really be my best friend, my cousin and someone who I had looked upon almost like a twin?
Until another agonizing thought overtook that one.
Maybe I had just never known him... at all?
Time passed - it must have been just over a week after that day and I was
upto my ears in trying to sort out the family finances. Running from pillar to
post is not how I would normally like to refer to anyone's condition, least of all
my own, but that would probably be the most accurate phrase to describe what
I was going through. It was exhausting and it was also very disappointing.
But even worse was the realization that of the many friends that I thought I
had, it was a really bitter pill to swallow when I saw how little support we had
among the other Rajput elite- it was as if all that warmth and affection that
had been the hallmark of all those people who we met and partied with on a
regular basis, seemed to have evaporated.
Just like that...Poof!
My mobile rang and I looked at it impatiently- I really didn't want to talk to
anyone just then as it had been a particularly exhausting day with everyone I had spoken to coming up with one excuse or the other in order to avoid helping us out and the term ' fair weather friends' had never been so meaningful as it was that day.
Then my mood changed almost instantaneously - on the screen I could see the
image of the stunningly beautiful and even better natured Seerat. Seerat, the
love of my life and someone who had shared a great deal of it till three years
ago when she had gone to London to study Law. But not before sealing our
relationship with a secret engagement- so secret that no one, not even Rudra
knew of it. And the only reason I chose to keep it that way was because she
was convinced thar her parents would never let her marry me .
You see, our fathers had been rivals. Rivals not only in life but also in love-
both vying for my mother's hand and it had been a bitter pill for Jamsher Uncle
( which is what I called Seerat's father ) to swallow when she had chosen to
marry my father. Even though he had gone on to pursue Seerat's mother,
the very beautiful and talented British artist Ruth Walker, he had clearly never
been able to put that episode out of his mind. And it may sound odd if I spell it
out, but the fact of the matter is that self respect and pride ( Izzat) is very
important to a Rajput. Be it man or woman, we are acutely conscious of who
and what we are and any slight- real or imaginary, has to be dealt with and
handled- sometimes discretely and sometimes...
"Hello ' I said with a smile in my voice and Seerat responded likewise.
" Hello my love. How are you managing? " I had communicated with her soon after my father's death and she was aware of the financial crisis that I was in the midst of.
" Swimming against the tide," I replied as honestly as I could and she
understood exactly what I was saying- we had this perfect equation where we could pick up exactly from where the other had left off and sometimes even the thoughts inside each other's heads.
" Which is exactly why I'm coming back to India- I will be in Delhi tomorrow and with you the day after. And we will deal with all of it together. As you always said, two heads are better than one".
I felt a huge surge of relief wash over me- it was just so good to be able to
share. All I told her was" I'll be waiting."
Two days later my dreams turned to reality and Seerat was with me in my arms
where she belonged and it was almost as if she had never gone away. It felt so
good just to be able to touch and feel her- the bottled up anger , hurt and pain
that I had been grappling with after my father's passing seemed much less
acute and I knew-It was all because of Seerat.
" Its high time we got married " she announced and I gaped .
Laughing at my expression she continued- " And do I need to propose as well? "
That was all that I needed to hear before reaching out and holding her close to my chest -so close that I heard her say, with a half smothered laugh,
" If I'm still alive by then."
I laughed out aloud at that- and it felt so good- i just couldn't remember the last time aid laughed so much that the tears ran down my eyes.
And was convinced-Things were going to get better .
But as it happens that wasn't quite how it turned out.
Because Rudra came in the way.
It was on the very next evening that he ran into Seerat at the Club and
decided in a split second that she would be his meal ticket. I must add here
that Seerat had come into a very large sum of money when she turned 21-
money which she had inherited from her maternal grandfather, Lord Andrew
Walker and was a very rich young woman by any standards. Not surprisingly,
word had filtered down even in Rajput circles and with her reappearance after
three years, tongues had started wagging more than ever.
Which was exactly how Rudra had got wind of it and his Machiavellian brain( or so I began to think of it) had started ticking.
And so he walked into my study the morning after Seerat had sat at exactly that same spot and told me with a smile, " Ive got my meal ticket who will get us out of this mess."
Then looking at my very obvious surprise, he continued,
" Her name is Seerat and I dont mind saying that shes as beautiful as she's
rich..And one of these days I will make her my wife and use some of those billions she's reputed to have inherited to get this house of the bank's clutches."
All I saw in the aftermath of his words was the colour red.
And my mind was made up - Rudra must die.
Leads me to think as I sit down to write this story- Are we all murderers in
waiting or are some of us more wired to commit the ultimate sin- that of
taking away another human being's life? I also know that there are no real
answers to that question at the moment, nor are they likely to be so at any
point in the near future.And that is something that I would like to leave to the
philosophers to debate about.Or then maybe you, the reader , to think about it seriously and come up with your own theories on it.
Its really difficult to recall my exact response to Rudra's bombshell. I do
however remember thinking that I should wait for Seerat to be able to break
the news about us to her parents before I could tell him anything about my secret engagement with that very same Seerat. All the while, a horrible little voice whispered in my ear, " Do you really think it
will be a cake walk? Particularly after the history that Seerat's and your father
" You really cant be serious", I responded
" Oh but I am", Rudra replied. " Absolutely and totally. Watch me get into
the act, starting tomorrow. I'm fairly certain that I've managed to create a
good impression about myself last evening so just give me a week and you
will probably see my ring on her engagement finger."
Without waiting for anything further from my side, he turned and headed back
towards the door but not before I heard him say, " I guess, I'll drop in at our
family jewelers today and start checking out a few options. You know, I really wouldn't want Seerat to tell our kids later that their father didn't even let her choose her engagement ring."
The sound of his cheery whistling was the only thing that echoed around my study room and I could hear the sound of my heart pounding. And behind my eyes, all I could see was the colour red.
Something good happened later that day. When I was feeling a little calmer-
of course after a long phone conversation with Seerat, I decided to call
Mr Mehra, our local branch GM and have a general chat. In the course of that conversation I was able to convince him to call his CEO in Mumbai and see if we could get a loan extension.
And to my very pleasant surprise, the tele conversation concluded
satisfactorily with him agreeing to do the needful.No promises were made
and none were asked for but I certainly felt a little more hopeful than a
My mother came in just then and asked if I would accompany her to her friend
Suhasini's home for lunch if I didn't have any fixed plans and I agreed. The fact
was that I hadn't been very social lately and today was as good as any to
start getting out and meeting a few people. And I doubt if anyone could have been more pleased than my mother when I said." Sure, I'd love to. When would you like to go"?
" How nice, " she replied. " We will leave at sharp 1 pm" With that she was off
and I couldn't help but see the look of happiness that I clearly had been the
Must confess that the lunch hosted by Suhasini Aunty who was one of my
mother's oldest and best friends, was a very pleasant change. Wine and
laughter flowed in abundance and their home looked absolutely beautiful.
I found myself enjoying the afternoon and just as I reached out for a bowl of
nuts to have some, I saw my mother talking to an attractive young lady in
chiffon and pearls. Before long she brought her over to introduce me and it was
then that I realised that this was Shalini, Suhasini Aunt's daughter now all
I also realised one other thing- my mother and Suhasini Aunty were clearly
hoping for something more to come out of this meeting but what they hadn't
factored in was the fact that Shalini and myself had never really looked at
each other that way. In fact, when we were much younger she had been a bit
of a tomboy and happiest when climbing up a tree, running around in shorts
and swimming in the pond close to her house. Given that background, her
transformation to this svelte young lady attired in chiffon and pearls was a
very major one but xxxI guess that is what growing up is all about.
Back home and in my office I sat down and went over my books- it was
becoming an arduous task to balance the accounts and though I hate to
repeat myself, Rudra was of no help whatsoever.With the added complication
of what I had to do now.
Its strange that when you know someone as well as I knew Rudra, you also
know every little habit and nuance of that person. And so when I actually began
to think of ways and means to kill Rudra, all I had to do was think about all that he liked to eat and drink. That would be the key to all of it and that would also help me pinpoint exactly how I would accomplish
my goal. In all fairness, I spent some time thinking about why I should not do
it, or then what if Rudra failed in his attempt to woo Seerat and make her his
wife- or as he had put it so crudely, his " meal ticket." But reality soon
re asserted itself itself and I knew that if Rudra set his mind on anything- good, bad or ugly- he would accomplish it and damn the collateral damage if any.
And so it was that the plan began to form in my mind- slowly but surely and I
knew that I must do it. It was difficult to imagine life without Seerat and in
some strange way I believed that if Rudra wasn't removed from the scene, I
wouldn't be able to make Seerat an important, correction, the most important
part of my life.
Considerable research later, I zeroed into the poison that I would use. It had to
be non fussy, efficient and impossible to detect- and my choice was methyl
alcohol. Methyl alcohol is distilled from fermented wood, unlike ethyl alcohol
which is distilled from fermented grain and is considerably more toxic.
Commonly found in perfumes, antifreeze, paint removers and varnish,if
ingested, it metabolises into formaldehyde in the body. Once the formaldehyde
enters the body, it can cause fatigue, headache, nausea, vertigo, backpain,
severe abdominal pain, dizziness, vomiting and blindness.All this results in
rapid and shallow respiration, cyanosis, coma, falling blood pressure and finally
death occurs from respiratory failure.A person can ingest methanol and not feel
any symptoms for twelve to twenty four hours after which it is too late to save
them. And this is exactly what I was banking on- a time lapse of such a large amount would make it impossible for anyone to pinpoint the cause of death.
I knew exactly how I would do it- next time Rudra visited me, I would ensure
that I offered him a drink. Top that up with some cheesy bites and savouries
and the a job would be done! Accomplished and to be forgotten after that day.
all, Rome wasn't exactly built in a day and it was going to be job to ensure that the status quo remained that way.As for Seerat, I refused to think of her at the time and that was probably for the best.
She was my dream girl and nothing and no one would come our way. Next morning I woke up with a single point agenda- procuring the methanol
and let me tell you that for a man of my position and stature in society
( whether real or perceived) it was easy - so easy that it left me seriously
wondering how easy it was to buy poisonous substances in India- but then you
really wouldn't know just how easy it actually was, until you had a real need to
procure something on those lines.
And it was all do easy after that- Rudra walked into my office just before 7 pm.
He was dressed to the nines and was wearing his favourite cologne . I learnt
that he was heading to the Club and knew that it was now or never.Some
casual conversation later he gloated, I guess I'll see you tomorrow then.
And don't be surprised if you hear that Im engaged to be married by then."
" How about one for the road? " I asked.
And it all went according to the plan."
Why not? "
"I'll just use the washroom before that- if you don't mind," he replied and I
used exactly those moments to put in about 10 drops of my newly acquired
bottle of Methanol. True to our family tradition he gulped down the drink that I
handed over to him and with a flourish in less than 30 seconds!
I observed him carefully as he walked to the door.
I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch.
I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath..
Ten, nine, eight seven..