Murder By Way of Dante
Murder By Way of Dante18 mins 446 18 mins 446
Dante Alighieri was and still is one of the greatest poets of classical Europe during the early medieval century. His greatest work ‘Divine Comedy’ has been one of the finest classical works of his time which portrayed the life, culture, society, traditions, religion, and customs of the place where he was born. The whole poem is divided into 3 parts called: ‘Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise’.
The Divine Comedy is still classically referred to as the epitome, the supreme expression of the Middle Ages. By this, it means that many medieval attitudes prevalent at the time are present in it. It is also referred to as the ‘Supreme Glorification of God’, and also as how humans thwarted the ‘The Supreme Divine Plan’ and were eventually had to pay for their crimes in the portion aptly called ‘The Inferno’.
I have also based my following story on Dante’s Inferno, more specifically on the punishment given to souls for particular crimes committed by them when they were alive.
I hope that I can do justice in this endeavor and all mistakes are solely mine.
So here it goes.
Shrabani Roy was a very pretty &famous television and film actress in Tollywood in Calcutta. She used to live in one of Calcutta’s most elite colonies and she was also adored by millions of her fans. She was so popular that she was also getting offers in Bollywood and according to gossip; some offers were in the works in Hollywood also.
Everywhere she went people thronged in hundreds of thousands just to catch a glimpse of their favorite actress. She deserved all this popularity and adoration because she had struggled to reach where she was now. She was also the fantasy of all the males and idol for all the females, as she was single again after her divorce with another celebrity film writer Samrat Sen. Samrat & Shrabani’s marriage was a much talked about and celebrated event and everything was fine, until 2 years ago when they suddenly declared that they were getting separated with mutual consent and that was that.
Though Samrat himself was also a very handsome man, he was tall, fair and had perfectly chiseled features that people also and especially girls adored him as a ‘Greek God’. Though the public and media knew that their divorce was of mutual consent but it was because Shrabani had an extra-marital affair with one film producer, who she was openly dating now and they were planning to get married.
One day when Madhoo, Shrabani’s maid came in a bit early she found that the door to her house was slightly ajar. Getting curious Madhoo went in the house calling out her name ‘Shrabanidi........ Shrabanidi...... where are you?’. When she did not get any response her curiosity turned to apprehension and she started calling out her name loudly. Still, when she did not get any response she started going through the rooms as it was just not a house but rather a huge mansion, so it took some time for Madhoo to reach Shrabani’s bedroom.
With trepidation mounting and her heart banging loudly she slowly opened the door to Shrabani’s bedroom. The first thing she saw was that the room was dark as the curtains were all drawn and there was no light in the room. The only sound was that of the ceiling fan slowly whishing around like whish.......... whish............. Madhoo then thought that Shrabani must be sleeping as she had a very hectic shooting schedule the previous day. She again called out her name and asked ‘why are you sleeping so late? it’s time to get up’.
There was still no answer and when she switched on the light, Madhoo gave a scream and fainted on the spot. As passers-by and nearby people came rushing into the house hearing Madhoo’s screams, the first thing they saw was that Shrabani was hanging by the revolving ceiling fan and blood was dripping from both her hands. They also saw that something was written on the wall with red ink and Madhoo lying unconscious on the floor. The initial reaction was a collective gasp coming out of everybody present there. Then somebody sprinkled some water on Madhoo’s face and the police were informed about the murder.
When Madhoo regained consciousness she immediately started crying and was inconsolable. While everyone was paying attention to Madhoo and scene in front of them when suddenly one of the neighbors called out loudly and pointed his hand towards the wall where something was written in red ink. Everyone immediately turned their gaze towards the wall where it was written in the bold letter:
‘And this, I learned, was the never-ending flight Of those who sinned in the flesh, the carnal and lusty, who betrayed reason to their appetite’.
Seeing this writing on the wall, everyone was surprised and curious as to who might have done this thing. By the time the police had also arrived and they took charge of the crime scene and started interviewing everyone present there. Their first suspect was no doubt Madhoo and the Police officer-in-charge was Amitava Bose and he was known to be a go-getter and also possess a keen analytical mind to problems. The first thing that Amitava had to handle was Madhoo’s incessant crying and start asking her questions.
Somehow Madhoo managed to stop crying and the first thing she was asked was at what time did she first notice the body?. She replied that ‘I come to work every day at around 9:30 a.m. and that is when I found the door unlocked and there was no sign of Shrabanidi’. Amitava then asked that did she find anything amiss, like anything stolen, or any sign of struggle, etc. Madhoo was silent for a while as if thinking and then she said no. The police then asked her that was Shrabani’s mood during the previous day, was she pensive, upset, angry or normal.
Madhoo said that she was fine but a bit tired as it was a very hectic day. When the police asked her that when was the last time she saw Shrabani alive, she replied it was around 10:45 p.m. as she had just come in from the shoot and Madhoo was about to leave. Amitava then started questioning the other people about Shrabani and her interactions with the people around here. Everyone said that she was the nicest and caring person. She stopped and chatted with everyone with a smile on her face.
One thing important to note here was that there were no CCTV cameras installed on the whole of Shrabani’s property and that seemed a bit strange to Inspector Amitava. As it is a popular trend to have cameras installed in celebrities’ homes where people can see them coming and going of everyone. When Amitava saw the writing on the wall, he was taken aback and he started asking that who might have written this with blood, as now it was clear that what people thought to be red ink was blood. Meanwhile, the Forensics team had found out and analyzed that the writing on the wall was done by someone learned and well educated and also that the person had a grudge.
Also according to the autopsy, Shrabani had been dead for at least 10 hours now. During the investigation, Shrabani’s ex-husband Samrat, her current partner with whom she was planning to get married producer Dhananjoy, and her driver Sanju were also called in for questioning. Inspector Amitav found striking differences in the trio’s initial reaction when the news was broken to them. Samrat was stunned and shocked, but he maintained his poise; whereas Dhananjoy, a short and plump man but pleasant face took the news in a way that seemed a bit too melodramatic and he started crying hysterically in front of everyone. Sanju was on the other hand very calm and took the news with a straight face, though his initial reaction was that of shock and grief. When Amitava asked Samrat that ‘were there any arguments or heated discussions between him and Shrabani the previous night’.
Samrat replied no and that their divorce was of mutual consent and they had become very good friends since their separation. Even Dhananjoy also said that Shrabani was always cheerful and joyous and there was not a single moment that there had ever been an argument in a loud voice. This seemed a bit odd to Amitava but he chooses to let go for the moment.
As the investigation went on and the media was hyping the case every moment, pressure started to build on Inspector Amitava to catch the killer as soon as possible.
Meanwhile not far off from Shrabani’s residence is an ashram where people go for meditation & peace and also to cleanse themselves spiritually. It was run by a Swami, a Swami Nityanand, who had come from Orissa 20 years ago to this place and had established his ashram here. It was a very famous ashram and people from all across the state and country and from all walks of life came to him for spiritual guidance and counseling. His ashram had grown rich in just a few years from the donations of thousands of devotees.
When one fine day, one of his disciples, Atmanand, went to talk to him in his inner sanctum where he found a foul stench as he entered the room. As he entered the room, he encountered a grisly scene; which was that Swami Nityanand was buried upside down with just his head covered in a hole and rest of his body was outside and the worst part was that his feet were completely burnt and were giving a foul smell stench of burnt flesh. This time also there was something written in blood on the wall. It said:
‘From every mouth, a sinner’s legs stuck out
as far as the calf. The soles were all ablaze
and the joints of the legs quivered and writhed about.’
Swami Atmanand took in the grisly scene and raised the alarm and was quite scared and nervous when the police arrived on the spot.
When inspector Amitava arrived on the scene, he was already looking haggard as the Shrabani murder case was not making any progress and it had already been 3 weeks. Inspector Amitava was under a lot of pressure from the media and also his superiors to solve this case when this second murder takes place. As usual, the autopsy report and Forensics team analysis were the same as before that the writing was done by someone who was a scholar and also that he had a grudge.
The autopsy report also had the same report that Swami Nityanand was dead for around 10 hours. Again when questioned by inspector Amitava, Swami Aatmanand had gone in for a quick talk with the Swami Nityanand at around 8:30 p.m., and Viswa, one of the attendants in the ashram had taken the dinner to Swamiji's room at around 9:00 p.m. Since then no one had seen anything or anyone entering Swamiji's room.
The media this time again hypes up the case despite efforts by the police to keep it under the lid and now there is a sense of fear and panic amongst the populace that no one is safe. This is further compounded by the fact that both of the murders were of well-known and respected public figures.
As tension mounts, the police are constantly harangued by the media and the public to solve the cases. Amitava on the other hand now starts looking for someone who understands the language written in both the places and hopes that this might give him some clue. His search does not take long and as he is discussing the case with his officers in the station, there enters a tall man with greyish hair and his demeanor speaks volumes of him. When asked he introduces himself as Professor Prasenjit and he was a professor of classical literature at Calcutta University.
He further states that his interest sparked from the moment he read in the newspapers that writing had been found in the first murder spot. He further stuns and surprises everyone thereby declaring that the particular writings have been taken from the famous Poet Dante’s classical work ‘The INFERNO’. When Amitava asks for clarification, Prof. Prasenjit says that the writer/killer is a scholar of ancient classical literature and he has specifically taken excerpts from Dante’s very famous classical work entitled ‘Purgatory, Inferno & Paradiso’.
He further warns Amitava that the killer is not going to stop as he has made it his mission to cleanse the world of all kinds of sinners. He claims that the killer looks at himself as some kind of crusader for a holy cause. Still, Amitava looks confused as he cannot find a link between the writings and the killings. It is then that Prof. Prasenjit explains that:- ‘Shrabani was killed for sinning in flesh and Swamy Nityanand was murdered for spreading false statements about god and collecting material wealth in the name of god’. Hearing this Inspector Amitava and the rest of the policemen were too stunned and surprised to react.
Meanwhile, Sanju, Shrabani’s driver had disappeared all of a sudden and this had cast the suspicion on him as, during the investigation into the murders, police had found out that Sanju had also worked for Swami Nityanand sometime before working as Shrabani’s driver. This had led to a massive manhunt and search for Sanju. All this while, the killer was planning on his next victim and he had also come to know that Prof. Prasenjit was working as a consultant with the police on these two murders. So he decided to test Prasenjit’s mental abilities and sent him a letter written in letters cut out of paper and then pasted in a larger sheet. The letter was again an excerpt taken from Dante’s Canto VII :
“Here, too I saw a nation of lost souls,
far more than above: they strained their chests
against enormous weights, and with mad howls
rolled them at one another. Then in haste
they rolled them back, one party shouting out:
“Why do you hoard?” and the other “why do you waste?”
Prasenjit was quite surprised when he received this in his post and wondered ruefully that the killer knows that he is a professor of classical literature and also that he is helping the police. The professor accepted the challenge given to him by the killer with the utmost poise and started planning to outwit him. This much he knew that the killer was getting ready to strike again and he informed Inspector Amitava accordingly.
Hearing this Amitava was alarmed and he wanted to know who could be the next victim and how to warn him. Prasenjit seeing the dilemma in the inspector’s eyes explained to him that: ‘If you carefully examine each word; it means that the killer’s next victim would be some businessman or shopkeeper at some upscale market. As the Canto in Dante specifically points out to the sins of hoarders and wasters’.
Amative was flustered because he knew that it was impossible to protect the whole of Calcutta’s business community with limited manpower and resources. He even discussed this with his superiors, who also agreed with him that it would be a gargantuan task to protect each businessman in such a large city and beyond. Prasenjit, on the other hand, had started his investigation by visiting all the colleges in the vicinity and Calcutta also as by now he had deduced that the killer had to be one of the academic kinds and also from an academic institution.
So he started meeting up with college students, professors, deans of various colleges and institutions to try to get a clue. This had resulted in a lot of arguments, conflicts and general uproar arising in the academia due to Prasenjit’s actions and which were embarrassing for the police as well.
Anyways the police started setting up meetings with the members of the business community and also with business organizations to appraise the situations and also asked for their support and co-operation. The business community at first was nervous and scared of hearing, especially the Chairman of the Board of businessmen in Calcutta, a Mr Bhanu Singh, who was a jeweler and had a huge jewelry fashion showroom in one of the poshest markets of Calcutta.
At the same time, Prasenjit convinces Amative to keep an eye on one of the professors in a college, whom he finds to be a bit odd during his interaction.
Inspector Amative gets irritated and shouts at Prasenjit that as it is he has done a lot of damage to the investigation, and he doesn’t want him to cause any further trouble. Prasenjit calmly listens to him and then says that ‘this gentleman, a Professor Indranil Mukherjee seemed a bit odd as when I went to talk to him, he just started shouting at me and behaved suspiciously on his exit from the place and also he kept on giving furtive backward glances towards me’. This convinces Amative to give it a try to whatever the professor is saying and they plan on visiting him.
As they are planning to visit Professor Indranil, news comes to them that Mr. Bhanu Singh has been strangely murdered in his showroom. When they reach the scene of the crime, they find that Mr. Bhanu Singh has been murdered and his body is propped up against a metal chair with all heavy jewelry adorning his body and a huge almirah stacked up against his back at an inclined position.
It seemed that Mr. Bhanu Singh was trying to push back the almirah into its original position and also the same words written on the wall as were sent to Prasenjit in the letter. This reminded Prasenjit of the specific Canto in which it is mentioned that how the sinners had to push back gigantic weights of their chests; just to see it coming rolling back on them.
Now the latest news of murder turns the sense of fear and panic into hysteria amongst the public and they start clamoring for protection. This also brings the heat on Amitava and he starts getting berated by his superiors that the first two murders are not solved and another murder has been committed. Amitava and Prasenjit are convinced that Prof Indranil is the culprit and they convince the police authorities to put a tail on him and also decide to give him a visit. The lucky break comes into the investigation when one day Sanju, who was missing for a long time is seen meeting up with the professor. As soon Amitava gets to hear this news, he makes the police team tailing Prof. Indranil to sweep in and arrest Sanju.
It is while under arrest and after a long and arduous interrogation that Sanju breaks and reveals that Prof. Indranil is the actual murderer. When asked that how did he know the professor, Sanju says ‘I used to work for babu a long time ago and he was the most kind, compassionate and nicest persons I have ever met.’
The authorities immediately arrest Professor on charges of murder and during the interrogation he reveals that Shrabani was one of his brightest students and he had high hopes from her. When Prasenjit asks that ‘why did you kill her?’, he replies it is because she sinned the flesh; which was the ultimate carnal sin. When Amitava asks that why did you kill Swamy Nityanand and Mr. Bhanu Singh, he says that his wife had left him a long time ago and it was because of this swami that his wife had left him as she was so enamored and influenced by him. So he had to take his revenge and he had been planning this for a long time. As to Mr. Bhanu Singh’s murder, he simply says that Bhanu Singh was a bad businessman and a lot of people had suffered because of his actions and he was too greedy and selfish also.
When Prasenjit asks a final question that ‘how did you carry all this out?’, Professor Indranil replies with a smile: that ‘I am also a professor of Classical Literature like you, and I knew my Dante.’ ‘I also knew that you would deduce this from the fact, that’s why I sent you that letter’. As to how did he carry this out, he said that “I had planned this for a long time and that is why I had sent Sanju to first work for Swamy Nityanand and then Shrabani”. It is he who passed on all the information as to their comings and goings and all the people they met etc. So I could figure out the best possible moment where they would be alone.
Hearing all this both Prasenjit & Amitava felt elated that at last their killer had been caught and the case solved, but also felt a little saddened for Professor Indranil. As the professor was being taken away, Amitava turned and thanked profusely Professor Prasenjit for all his help in solving this case. Prasenjit just shrugged it off and said that “just wanted to test my mental faculties in other areas”.
With that, both of them parted their ways and it was also the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the two of them.
I hope you like this story.
Note: The specific excerpts have been taken from Dante’s classic ‘The Inferno’. I have taken some literal liberties with them and all the errors are mine alone.