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Aaradhana Agarwal

Thriller


4  

Aaradhana Agarwal

Thriller


That Abstract Painting

That Abstract Painting

10 mins 236 10 mins 236


Charu was informed her grandmother was seriously ill. It had been six months since Charu started her studies at NYU Law School, which she had joined amidst many refusals and objections.

She took the immediate next flight from New York to her native place Fort Kochi and landed at Cochin International Airport.

Charu never liked her life at Fort Kochi. The old home, the ancient traditions and the old lifestyle. She lost her mother when she was 12 and it was her grandmother who raised her. Her father, Mr. Mani Oomen, was a carpet exporter. He has two stores at Fort Kochi and one at Ernakulam. When Charu disclosed her interest to study law, he refused her decision outright. And now she is going back to the same place. Her mind was full of thoughts and she was in no mood to think about anything else except her return date from India.

From the airport, she took a self-driven taxi and drove to Fort Kochi, 20 k.m. away from the airport. It was 7 p.m. and the lights were all lit. She directly went to her grandmother's room and saw her, there were many machines attached to her. There was a nurse beside grandmother's bed. Charu went to her room and slept soon, as she was exhausted.

The next morning, she took a stroll to David Hall Road. The weather was breezy and the birds were chirping good. On David Hall Road, she saw the library open. There was a bookstore attached to the library.

'Old books for sale. Rs. 250 per KG,’ a board declared before the gate. She grinned. An avid reader that she was and since had nothing to do, she went inside the store. She picked seven books, paid for them at the counter and headed home.

The maid gave her a cup of coffee. Sipping her coffee, she started checking the books. The fifth book's cover intrigued her. It was a beautiful abstract painting of a woman with no eyes but had tears, nose and lips.

She skimmed through the pages. At page 67 there was a polaroid photograph of an old villa. She took out the photo and examined it. On its backside there was an alpha-numeric code written with a small map that showed directions to the villa. The code read: The map had a starting point at 'Hotel AB*** and extended till the villa. The end point was a drawing of the villa that read ‘Home.’

The photograph created a bug in Charu's mind. She was thrilled. She turned the page and surprisingly found nothing related to the code and the map. She saw the page number and was upset to find ten pages were missing. They were torn so perfectly that none could realize until reached page 67. She became restless and her adventurous streak encouraged her to go to the villa, decode the code... She called her maid and asked about the villa as her entire life has been spent in that place. She saw the picture and like an expert presented her view, “Akka this is a 16th century built Portuguese villa.” Charu was impressed. She showed her the code if she could decode it. She put on her thinking cap again and murmured,” It seems some name, house number or street number.” 

Charu finished her coffee and decided to have a walk over there. Before that she went to grandmother’s room, spoke to the nurse about her health condition and left the house. If to trust the maid MV could be Martim Villar 2nd February at K09 villa. Uff! What a confusion!

She went to the bookstore and enquired about the torn pages and the author Sheryl Varghese. The bookseller was unaffected by the accusation as he had sold the books in bulk. His knowledge about the author was also negligible. She asked if he had other books of the same author. He searched and found a thriller crime story written by the Sheryl. She bought that and turned the page. The page had a description of Home. She leapt with joy as that book was the continuation of the same story, the part II. 

At home she searched phone directory and got 10 Sheryl Varghese. Her task was to dial all the numbers to find author Sheryl. The fifth trial was a lucky one as she got connected with the correct person. Sheryl was happy to hear that someone was desperate to meet her. She invited Charu at her residence and the same evening the duo met with each other. Sheryl was a gorgeous lady. Her personality was so electric that Charu found her search was not a waste, it was fruitful. First time she didn’t feel bad about her visit to hometown. 

The conversation started. Charu introduced herself as a law student and her purpose to visit the author. Sheryl was ready to answer all the questions asked by her admirer. Charu was cautious not to divulge the secret that she had bought her book from the old book shop. It might hurt the author. She was direct in her questions to save time. She raised the query “Ma’am the cover page is so unique. How did it get connected with the story? What made you to choose that abstract painting? “

Sheryl took a long pause as if she was wandering in memory lane and searching the inspiration. After few minutes she said, “It’s a long story. In a college near Kovalam beach in Kerala I developed friendship with a Bengali girl- Vaishali. She was an excellent artist. Her beautiful sketches, sweet voice and graceful dance captivated everyone’s heart. She was a diva. In the college, she fell in love with a Keralite boy Mani. Mani was just two years older to her. Both were deeply in love with each other. He was working in a carpet factory as an assistant supervisor. He didn’t know Bengali and Vaishali was also illiterate in his language. 

Daily they met each other near the Kovalam beach in evening. Their medium of communication was English language. Both were teenagers and looked beautiful together. She once allowed me to meet Mani. I was an outsider and so she never shared details of their secret meetings with me. Her parents were traditional and wished their only daughter to marry in the same community. Mani’s family was little liberal and was glad to have Bengali daughter-in law who was such an amazing girl.  

Vaishali left her study and eloped with Mani. After two years she invited me at her residence. It was a nalukettu house. She was living with her in laws. She happily showed me the four blocks, doors, windows, wooden granaries made with teakwood and anjjli (jackfruit wood), cattle shed and what not. I saw no remorse in her for leaving her study in middle and got married at the tender age of 16.

I didn’t start writing by that time as I was not sure of my writing talent. After that meeting Vaishali and I never met. Four years later I received a parcel in which she had sent me painting of a woman without eyes but tears rolling down to her cheeks and a nose and pursed lips. And there was a letter inside saying her shifting to a new house at Fort Kochi. There was a map of the house. She also mentioned about her 12 years old beautiful daughter and you’ll be surprised to know her name is Charu. This is also the reason why I have accepted your request. I was in Kerala so could not pay visit to her. Just for memory sake I wrote in code date of her shifting to new house ‘Manni Vaisahli’s second house at Fort Kochi in 2009’- MV02FK09.  

After six months I had decided to pay a surprise visit to her. I followed the map and reached her home. Mani couldn’t recognize me but when I narrated stories of his courtship period with my friend, he welcomed me. I was curious to know where Vaishali was. I met her mother-in law, her daughter was in school so couldn’t meet her. One hour passed, I was wondering why Vaishali was not coming out. I was dying to hug my friend tightly and spent hours in chatting with her. By that time, I was also a married lady and had a lot to share with her. I couldn’t control myself and asked about my friend. 

Mani in low voice informed she was dead. I was shocked to hear that she was no more. She had committed suicide. Nobody knew the exact reason why she had taken that extreme step. What troubled her? Such a vibrant personality ended her life so tragically! That day I realised the meaning of the abstract painting. Her invisible inner pain was depicted in form of tears. The same night I began penning a crime thriller and as a tribute decided to use her painting as my book cover. The book has nothing to do with her life. It’s a pure fiction. I have used MV02FK09 and the map to bring suspense in the story.”

Charu was numbed. Sheryl was unaware of the fact that she had unknowingly answered that question which Charu wished to ask her father and grandfather. Charu remembered the morning when the Sun was spreading golden rays for everyone except her. Her day was a no moonlight night for her. She was bereft of her mother. It was hard to believe how a cheerful artistic lady singing song, drawing pictures, teaching her dance steps could die all of a sudden. She remembered the conversation of the previous day when her mother embraced her tightly and said, “Don’t marry too early. Be an independent lady, learn about your rights and if possible get settled in abroad.” She replied, “No Amma, I am not going anywhere without you. Who will teach me so many skills if I move out of the country?” Her mother smiled faintly and said, “I want you to be a powerful woman.” 

 Charu’s awkward silence made Sheryl uneasy. She asked if she had anything else to ask related to the book. Charu asked permission to leave and reached home. She went to her father’s room who had left for the shop. She opened her mom’s almirah and searched frantically old memoirs. After wife’s death Manni never touched her articles. It was kept as it was. Raising Charu single handedly was tough for him. So he transferred the responsibility to his mother and immersed himself in expanding business. Charu’s maid entered the room and was unhappy to see the mess created by Charu. 

Charu ordered her to stay out of the room. After few minutes she found a diary. With no delay she began reading it and finished it in an hour. Could it be true? The diary said,

Date 07.03. 1999 “Today I met Shubendu. What a magical voice! “

Date 15.06.1999 “I am so happy. Shubendu has allowed me to sing with him in the event. Very soon I shall be a recognised singer.”

Date 25.09.2008 “Today I am in dilemma. Shubendu has proposed me. How can I leave Mani?

Date 05. 04. 2009 “I am unable to forget Shubendu. I can’t continue with Manni. I am lonely in the new town.”

Date 15.07. 2009 “Bye Mani. Forgive me. I can’t live without Shubendu.”

Next pages were blank. As everything was written in Bengali, none could read it. 

Charu was not a kid. She understood her mother’s feelings and forgave her. Suddenly the maid entered again and informed grandmother had taken her last breath. Charu’s return ticket was of next week. After the rituals she found her father sitting quietly in a dim lit room. First time in her life she went near to him and held his hand. With tears in her eyes she said, “Appa, Don’t feel lonely. I am always with you.”

Crumbled Mani couldn’t hold his tears and cried for almost half an hour putting his head on her shoulder. Charu didn’t move from her father’s side. She was no more his daughter only but was his guardian and strength. 



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