Enigma

He spoke rather exasperatedly, “This is a matter beyond your understanding. It is too technical for you, surely not as simple as it might appear.” He picked up his packet of cigarettes from his desk. I was rendered speechless.

He lighted a cigarette and leaning back spewed out of his mouth a cloud of smoke which thinned away slowly, filling up the room. Purged of its acridity, the smoke now became air, mingled with the air.

Breaking my train of thought, he said, “Listen, the body is not important. What matters is the head. What have I to do with the skin and the flesh? In which direction did the head lie? This is what concerns me. This, in fact, is the crux of the issue.” His tone was emphatic. I thought, what indeed was the worth of a man without his head or brains? All vanities reside in the skull. Pulling myself together, I broke the silence, asking for the mere heck of it, “Don’t you know, sir, in which direction the head lay?”

“There’s nothing that is not known to us,” said he, clenching his teeth. “They are big oafs if they think they can bangle the issue and beat us out. We are no novice but a maggot, unlike those folks who have just finished college and after paying bribes, maneuvered their way to a thanedar’s position. For the past thirty years we have been drawing out sustenance from the police department. So, no hanky-panky with us!”

How true! One can not defeat a maggot. He who is preyed upon by two maggots has his fate sealed and should prepare to make his exit from this world. A maggot is, after all, a maggot. Once it gets stuck to a limb, you just cannot remove it from there, do what you will. This is exactly what had happened with the corpse sucked off by the two maggots.

Whatever little I know of the matter was based on hearsay. The details I didn’t know. Of course I wished to get to the heart of the matter to satisfy my curiosity. I must admit that I have no flair for mediation, and am little interested in sorting out the question for me. Only diamond cuts diamond. However, to get the picture clear, I said, “The information must have reached you late. Else, how could the thanedar of Khanpur have outpaced you?”

I could see that this flattered him, for the muscles of his neck relaxed a bit and a smile played upon his lips. His eyes shone with a devilish glint. Knitting his brows, he said, “The Devil take constable Amma who messed the whole thing. I wonder if you know him”, asked he.

“Yes, I do,” I said, although I didn’t know who the devil he was.

“The bloke didn’t hold up the man”, he said. He didn’t even send in word for me. Otherwise, I should have been able to know what was what. But I saw to it that my records were put straight.”
“Sir, what man was it?” I said to have more information on the matter.

“There is no knowing that, thanks to the accursed constable Amma”, he said in a surly tone. “These ragamuffins can’t make their livelihood even from begging which is why they enlist as constables. Brainless lot! They hardly perceive the delicacy of a situation. The numb skull came to tell me, after the man had vanished, that it was a rider who had said that he had come across a dead body under a chinar at Poshmarg. Now, what do you do with such an oaf? You ass of a man, how did you let the man go away? Who was he? Where did he belong? What if he himself had slain the person? Well, anything is possible. Do you agree? A thanedar must consider various aspects of a situation, mustn’t he?”

“What you say is perfectly sound, more so because it comes from a thanedar like you. Now, what is the difficulty about the case?”

“What is the difficulty? You ask.”

He opened his eyes like an owl, and took off his cap with his left hand and put it down. Then raising his eyes, he said, “There is no bloody difficulty about the matter. We have gone through such situations. Our papers are perfect. They can hold water, you see. I will make him see his worthlessness as a professional. My papers will speak.”

Saying this, he burst into a guffaw. I felt tempted to laugh with him but restrained myself, not knowing why he was laughing. So I didn’t take a hazard.

He picked up, from a plate on the desk, something like a little ball of sugar and threw it into his mouth. “Try this, it is such a sweet thing”, he pointed to the plate, making me a generous offer. I took a ball and put it into my mouth. It was indeed very sweet. “The stuff has sweetened his mood. So I can draw him out”, I said to myself.

“The thanedar of Khanpur will not sit still. He must have thought out a strategy.”

“Who cares? He will only knock out his own brains. When had he a head for strategies?” He stretched up his arms in order to relax. Then he put on his cap, and went through the act of yawning. “The mischief he wanted to do has been done. What else can he do now? We are watching out.”

“What kind of mischief has he done?” I asked naively.

“Well, I will tell you”, he said, giving a jerk to his head which suggested that he would let the cat out of the bag.

“As soon as I heard that a dead body has been spotted under a chinar at Poshmarg, I proceeded there, taking my men with me. It took us some time to arrive there. Our thana, mind you, is not like the thana of Khanpur, which is worse than a shanty. Ours has vast jurisdiction. As we arrived, I found that he was already there with his scraggy constables. The body lay there under the chinar. I sensed his mischief. No duping me. I wouldn’t let the apprentice outsmart the master.” He helped himself to another sugary ball and munched it.

I wanted to know why two thanedars did have to rush to the spot of single dead body. It was the funeral of the thanedar in whose jurisdiction the body lay. So I asked him somewhat in astonishment, “Sir, in whose jurisdiction did the corpse lie?”

“It lay in the jurisdiction of neither but on the demarcation line between the two jurisdictions. So we had to be there. The other party had to be there too. It would be unwise on our part to question their presence there. We will never say a thing which is illogical.”

Craning his neck he looked out of the window; down below constables were roughing up some one. The spectacle was within my sight too.

“Even then only one of you should have instituted the inquiry”, I said straightforwardly.

“Whatever do you mean?” he asked with a sneer. “The right to investigation belongs to him for whose jurisdiction the victim was headed for.”

“But, sir, didn’t you say the body was on the demarcation line?” I said.

“Fair enough. But the point is in which direction did the head lie? That is the issue to be sorted out.”

I was at a loss. He had made a remark earlier about the head but I had taken it casually.

“Sir, what has the head to do with the matter?” I asked.

“There is a vital connection between the two”, said he emphasizing each word. “I have already told you that such technical matters won’t sink in your head. If a body is found on the demarcation line between two police stations, the matter is investigated by the station in whose jurisdiction the head is found to lie.”

I was flummoxed. “Well, sir, in which direction did the head lie? This point came up earlier too but I didn’t realize then how important it was.”

“That is precisely where the whole villainy lies”, he said, shaking his head. “The scavenger of corpses from Khanpur had already appeared on the scene at Poshmarg. The devil of a man! But I am quick to see through stratagems. He had turned the head of the body towards his own jurisdiction as to give himself the right to investigation. But being an old-timer I didn’t let him have his way.”

The whole thing was clear to me. Only one thing remained. So I asked him, “What action did you take?”
“I would be the last man to let him have the body. I had his lousy men charged with batons. This generated a controversy. But I don’t care. The papers are there to speak. So the matter is pending now.”

I fancied the dead man getting revived, rising and walking in the direction of his home. But another thought crossed my mind. I said, “But the corpse…Lying there it will rot. How long…?”

He didn’t let me finish. “Let it rot. The moot point is that of the head. In which direction did it lie? Until this matter is resolved, the case shall remain pending.”

I couldn’t utter another word.

Story by Amin Kamil and translated from the Kashmiri by Mohammad Amin. Published in Best Loved Indian Stories of the century Vol II (Penguin).

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