The Deadly Diamond (Raktamukhi Neela)
The Deadly Diamond (Raktamukhi Neela)22 mins 73 22 mins 73
Joanne had put up his legs on a table and was fidgeting his feet restlessly. The newspaper was open on his lap. On this monsoon morning, we were spending an idle day at home. The last four days had been spent similarly. We were feeling depressed about spending this day in the same way. The constant movement of his feet, did not disturb his concentration. He was reading the paper. I was smoking a cigarette — none of us was exchanging any words. But how long could we keep quiet? Just for the sake of talking, I said, "Is there any news?"
Joanne spoke without lifting his eyes from the paper, "The news is serious. Two culprits have been released." Hopefully, I said, "Who are they?"
"One is Saratchandra's Charitraheen — he has been released in some cinema halls. The other is Ramanath Neogi — he was released from the Alipur jails. It is a ten day old news — and Kalketu has kindly published it only today!" He turned the paper in frustration and got up.
I realised that he had lost patience because of this dearth of news. It was unfair that on such a rainy day there was no crunchy and hot news. I asked, "Who is Ramanath Neogi?"
Joanne began pacing the room. He looked out of the window towards a dull and wet day and said, "Neogi is not an unknown person — a few years back his name was published in large print on newspaper."
"You have not answered my question — who is he?"
"He is a thief — not a petty pilferer but a jewel thief. He was as intelligent as bold and daring," Joanne heaved a sigh of regret, " Nowadays one doesn't find such great criminals."
I said sarcastically, "It is really the misfortune of our country. But why was his name printed in large letters?"
"Because at last he was caught and tried in a court of law." Joanne picked up a cigarette from a tin and lit it carefully, relaxed in his chair and said, "I still remember the incidents although it was ten years ago. I had just started my work - it was long before I met you.
I noticed that though he had started talking casually, he was gradually becoming animated as he recalled the past. I thought that it was better to listen to an interesting story on a dull, lazy, rainy day, rather than be bored. So I said, "Tell me the story."
Joanne said, "There is no story — but the whole incident is a mystery to me. The police had worked very hard and showed some success too but could not retrieve the real thing."
"What was the real thing?"
"During that year, there was a sudden spate of jewellry theft in this city of Calcutta — today Jawaharlal Hiralal was robbed, the next day Dutta jewellers was burgled — in fifteen days at least five large shops suffered great losses, mounting to lakhs of rupees. Police started investigating.
"Then, there was a burglary in Maharaja Ramendra Sinha's house. I won't insult your knowledge by telling you who he is. There are very few Bengalis who are not acquainted with his name. He is as rich as he is benevolent. There are few like him nowadays. He is in a bit of trouble now — but let that be. He was a collector of precious stones. The stones were displayed in a glass case in a room in the second floor of his house. The room was guarded continuously — and very well. But even then there was a break in. Two guards were found lying unconscious and quite a few jewels were stolen.
"Maharaja had a blue diamond in his collection — he treasured this stone because he thought that it brought him luck — he wore it in a ring. But lately the stone had become loose. So he had kept it in the room and was thinking of calling a jeweller to reset it in another ring. This blue diamond was also stolen.
"I don't know how much knowledge you have of diamonds. But blue diamonds are rare and exquisite stones. The value of blue diamonds doesn't depend only on their weight but are priced, especially in our country, on their powers of changing the fortune of a person. The blue diamond is supposed to be the stone of the planet Saturn. It is common belief that if a blue diamond is worn and it suits the person — he can rise from rags to riches and if it does not suit a person, he can become a pauper. The effect of the blue diamond is either very good or very bad depending on the person wearing it, and whether it suits the person. So the value of these blue diamonds is not determined by their weight. I have seen a Marwari gentleman paying thousands for a tiny piece of blue diamond. I am not superstitious by nature but even I have been forced to admit the powers of this particular stone.
"Anyway, when this diamond was stolen from his house — the Maharaja raised a great hue and cry. Although he had lost thousands of rupees worth of precious stones he was most concerned about this particular diamond.
He announced that even if the thief was not caught, and if anyone could give him back the diamond he would reward him amply. The police started investigating with great gusto — they even employed their detective Nirmal babu for the job.
"Nirmal babu is unknown to you, but he is really very intelligent. I was fortunate to know him, he has retired now. Within seven days, Nirmal babu recovered all the stolen jewels with the burglar — who was no other than our Ramanath Neogi. Although all the stones were found after searching his house, the blue diamond was missing.
"Later, Ramanath was consigned to the jail for twelve years after a long court case. But still the diamond was not found. Ramanath refused to speak. But Maharaja Ramendra Sinha began pressurising the police to retrieve his diamond. So much so, that after three months of imprisonment, Ramanath's cell was searched by no other than Nirmal babu. Police spies in the guise of prisoners, had informed that they had seen the stone on Ramanath. But nothing was found. Ramanath was in Alipur jail at that time — but where he had hidden the diamond in that small cell, was a real mystery.
The police gradually gave up the search."
Joanne was silent for a few minutes, then spoke to himself, "Strange problem — where could a prisoner hide a stone as big as a cardamom pea. If I was investigating the case, I may have found it and could have won the reward,"
In the middle of Joanne's soliloquy, we heard footsteps on the stairs outside. I sat up, "That must be a client, Joanne." Joanne listened attentively and said, "Old man, costly shoes, they can be heard even on this rainy day. Probably roams around in cars — so he is wealthy. He limps a little...."
Suddenly in an excited voice, Joanne said, "Ajit, look out of the window and see if a huge Rolls Royce is standing at our door — yes? Then I am right. What co-incidence, Ajit, the person we were speaking of, Maharaja Ramendra Sinha has come to me — do you know why?"
I said excitedly, "I know, I saw the news in the paper. His secretary Haripada Rakshit has been murdered recently — maybe that's why...."
There was a knock at the door. Joanne welcomed the visitor warmly and reverentially. Although I had often seen his photographs in newspapers — this was the first time I had seen him in person. There was no pomp or grandeur surrounding him. He seemed a simple, frail person. There was some problem in his leg for which he limped a little. He was over sixty but his skin was not wrinkled - he had an air of calm dignity.
Maharaja smiled questioningly at Joanne, he was a little surprised too, "It seems from your expression that you were waiting for me. Did you guess that I was going to visit you?"
Joanne too smiled, "I can't believe my good fortune. But when the police could not solve the murder of your secretary, I hoped that you might ask for my help. But first, please take your seat."
The Maharaja sat on a chair and said slowly, "Yes, five or six days have already passed.The police have been able to do nothing. So I thought I would pay you a visit, hoping that you might be able to help. I had gradually become very fond of Haripada — besides the way he died was terrible."
The Maharaja stopped awhile, "Of course, he was not a saint. But you must be knowing that it is a fancy of mine to bring wayward people on the right path. If you consider him from all angles — Haripada was not a bad person. He was very good at his work. Moreover his heart was full of gratitude for me — I had received proof of that too."
Joanne said, "Excuse me, I was not aware that Haripada was not a good man. What evil deed was he involved in?"
The Maharaja said, "According to the man on the street, he was a hardened criminal. He had been sent to jail several times. The last time he came out of prison, he met me."
Joanne said, "Please start from the very beginning. I have read the news in the papers but it is so inadequate that I could not come to any conclusion. Please assume that I know nothing and relate every detail — that will help me to understand the case."
The Maharaja said, "All right, I will do that." Then clearing his throat, he began, "It was about six months back — about the middle of February that Haripada first came to see me. He had come out of the jail the previous day, he disclosed everything to me and concealed nothing. He told me that if I gave him a chance to live an honest life he would never go back to his criminal ways.
"I felt sorry for him. He was below forty but already he had visited the jail four times. The last time he had been caught on charges of theft and forgery. His sentence was a long one. I found that he was sincerely repentant. I asked him what he could do. He said that he did not have much chance to study because he had been sent to jail several times after the age of nineteen. Even then he had managed to learn shorthand and typing. He assured me that if I employed him, he would serve me faithfully.
"My heart softened towards Haripada, the very first time that I saw him. For some reason I cannot ignore the appeal of this type of people. So, although I did not need a shorthand typist, I employed him. He rented a small house nearby, as he had no relatives.
"Soon I noticed that the man was very efficient and intelligent. He did things which he was not supposed to do, very perfectly. He did a lot of my work in advance. Within two months, his services became indispensable to me — I couldn't do without him.
"Just at that time, my old secretary Abinash babu died. I appointed Haripada in his place. My employees were not happy about this appointment — but I did not bother. I knew that Haripada was the most suitable man for the job.
"For the last four months Haripada had dispensed his duties of a secretary very efficiently. Other employees complained about him, but I ignored them. It is true that Haripada was a jailbird but I can assure you that at the end he was a changed person. I think that poverty had turned him into a criminal and as soon as he overcame that problem, he turned over a new leaf. In fact we should try to reform criminals who have gone to the jails for similar reasons.
"Anyway, what happened last Tuesday was unthinkable. You must have read about the incident in the newspapers. I got the news in the morning that Haripada was murdered. I informed the police and went to his house myself. He was lying on the floor of his bedroom — the whole room was bespattered with blood. The murderer had cut his throat so mercilessly that even now I shiver to think of it. His windpipe was torn to shreds. You could not have seen a murder committed with such bestial violence."
Maharaja stopped for some time and shivered when he tried to recall that moment.
Joanne asked, "Was there no other wound on his body?"
The Maharaja said, "Yes, he was stabbed to death. The doctor said that his throat was cut after he was stabbed. So the murderer must have stabbed him fatally and then cut his throat. How cruel it was! I can't imagine how human beings behave like senseless animals."
Everyone was quiet for sometime. The Maharaja was probably thinking of animals called human beings. Joanne was deep in thought, too.
Suddenly I noticed Joanne's half-closed eyes. I became excited at once. That same expression — I had seen it often — there was no mistake! Joanne had found a clue.
The Maharaja broke his silence and said, "I have told you whatever I know. I want you to work together with the police to solve this case. I feel that this cruel murderer should not be allowed to roam freely in society — it is everyone's moral duty to catch him. I hope you don't mind taking up this case."
Joanne said, "I have no quarrel with the police — we will surely work together. Can you tell me the duration of Haripada's last term in jail?"
Maharaja said, "Haripada had told me that his last term was of fourteen years but because of his good behaviour, he was released after eleven years."
Joanne said happily, "Can you tell me anything else about Haripada?"
Maharaja said, "What exactly do you want to know?" Joanne said, "Did you notice anything unnatural in his behaviour a few days before his death?"
The Maharaja said, "Yes, three or four days before his death, Haripada was doing his work near me one morning, when he became very ill. Looking at him I felt that he was terrified for some reason."
"Was there no one near you at that time?"
The Maharaj thought for some time and said, "I was going through the applications of some people who were asking for alms. One petitioner was present there."
"Haripada took ill in front of that man — did he?"
After a minute of silence Joanne asked, "Can you think of anything else?"
Maharaja thought for some time and said, "I remembered a small incident. I don't know if you remember that a few years back a blue diamond had been stolen from my house."
"Yes, I do remember."
"You must be knowing then that I had announced a reward for its return."
"I know that too, but I don't know if the reward still stands."
The Maharaja said, "This is the question Haripada asked me when he first took the job of a typist. I was surprised because I had given up all hope of even getting back the diamond."
"What answer did you give to Haripada?"
"I said that I will certainly give the reward if I get back the blue diamond."Joanne sprang up, "If I ask you the same question — will your answer be the same too?"
The Maharaja looked surprised, "Yes, of course — but—" murderer?" The Maharaja was stunned, he said, "I can't understand anything. Do you know the name of Haripada's murderer?"
The Maharaja was stunned, he said, "I can't understand anything. Do you know the name of Haripada's murderer?
"I know the name but it is not my job to gather evidence against him — that is the job of the police. I will only tell you his name — then the police can search his house and find the proof. I don't think that will be difficult."
"This seems like magic, do you really know the name of the culprit?" the Maharaja asked, overwhelmed.
"Right now I am just assuming — but I know that my assumption will not be wrong — the name of the murderer is Ramanath Neogi."
"Ramanath Neogi? — the name sounds familiar."
"Of course it will sound familiar. Ten years back, he had stolen your diamond — he has just come out of jail."
"Yes, I remember, but why did he kill Haripada? — What was the relation between the two?"
"There is a relation between them — if I go through old documents in the prison, it will become clear. But it is now nearly eleven, I won't detain you here any more. If you please come back here at four in the afternoon, everything will become clear to you. Maybe you will also get back your diamond — I will see to everyting."
After bidding good-bye to the stunned Maharaja — Joanne started getting ready to go out.
I asked, "Where are you going out so late in the day?"
He said, "I will have to go through some old papers in the jail office. Besides I have other things to do. I don't know when I will return. If I get time I will have lunch in some hotel." Saying this, he went out with his raincoat and umbrella in the pouring rain.
He returned at about three in the afternoon. While opening his shoes he said, "I am very hungry — I haven't eaten anything. I will have a quick bath. Putiram, please prepare something for me. At four, the matinee show will begin."
Surprised, I said, "What show? Where?"
Joanne said, "Don't worry. The show will be held here in this room. Ajit, please place a few more chairs for the spectators." He went in to bathe.
While he was eating, I asked, "What did you do the whole day long?"
Joanne put a large chunk of omlette in his mouth. Chewing with great relish, he said, "I have a friend in the jail department, I went to him first. There I went through the old records and found that my assumption is correct."
"What was your assumption?"
Joanne ignored my question and continued speaking, "After finishing my work there I went to Buddhu babu — sorry — Bidhu babu the police inspector.
The area in which Haripada was murdered falls under his jurisdiction. The police officer in-charge of the murder is Purna babu. I explained everything to Purna babu. Then I buttered Bidhu babu sufficiently to get my work done."
"But, what work?" I asked desperately.
"The work is to find Ramanath Neogi's present address, secondly, to arrest him and search his house. It was easy to find his address but the search was fruitless. The only thing discovered in his room was a huge, sharp knife. It has been sent for forensic tests to find traces of human blood. But what I hoped to find was not there. The man's gift for concealing things is just amazing."
"The Maharaja's diamond."
"Now what will you do?"
"Some acting. I will strike at the root of the superstitious fear in Ramanath — lets see if I get any result. There! The Maharaja has arrived. The others will soon arrive too."
"Who are the others?"
"Ramanath and his custodians."
"They will come here?"
"Yes, that's the arrangement I made with Bidhu babu. Putiram, remove these dishes."
I did not get a chance to ask any more questions. The Maharaja entered the room as the clock struck four. He was punctual, just as expected from a person of his stature.
As soon as he sat down we heard the footsteps of others. Soon, Bidhu babu, Purna babu, two sub-inspectors and Ramanath entered the room
There was nothing unusual about Ramanath. Probably his non-descript appearance was a good foil for his profession. He had closely cropped hair, a narrow forehead, a sharp chin and shifty eyes. He wore a very old multicoloured, leather buttoned sporting coat (made probably before he went to the jail). He wore a pair of unexpectedly large rubber boots. He looked a comic sight. Never would one imagine that he was a dangerous man.
Joanne pointed towards Ramanath and asked the Maharaja, "Do you recognize him?"
"Yes, he was the one who came for alms, that day."
"Now, all of you please take your seats. Bidhu babu, you know the Maharaja — please sit next to him. Ramanath, please sit here." Joanne pointed to a chair next to the table. Ramanath sat down without a word. The two subinspectors sat by his sides. Bidhu babu glared at everything with a superior air of gravity. He could not accept the fact that something unofficial was about to happen in his presence. His expression and behaviour showed that he was very uneasy and indignant about the whole thing.
Joanne sat in front of the table when everyone was seated. He began, "I will tell you a story today. It is not an imaginary story like the ones that Ajit writes, but a true story. I will relate it as truthfully and correctly as possible. If I make a mistake Ramanath will correct me. Another person knew this story besides Ramanath — but he is dead."
After this introduction, Joanne began his story. Ramanath's face was expressionless. He neither looked up or spoke. He kept on scribbling on the table with his fingers.
"I will begin my story after Ramanath was sent to the jail. Though he was sent to the jail, he did not part with the Maharaja's diamond. How he did this is unknown to me and is not important to my story. Ramanath can disclose it, if he wishes." Ramanath glanced for a second at Joanne and continued moving his fingers on the table, with an inscrutable expression. Joanne said, "Ramanath had stolen many other precious stones — which were retrieved by the police, with the exception of the blue diamond. He always kept it with him. In all possibility, the stone has a magnetic power, besides it was beautiful to look at — a blue diamond with a red streak in the center. He couldn't resist keeping the stone with him. He also thought that the stone was lucky. But he did not know that it could prove unlucky for some. When misfortune follows a man — he is often misguided by it.
"Anyway, Ramanath was kept in the Alipur jail. After some time the police got to know that the diamond was with him. His cell was searched. He had another companion in the same cell — that man was also searched — but nothing was found. Where was it?
"The second prisoner in the cell was Haripada Rakshit. Haripada was an old criminal. He had spent years in jail right from his childhood. He knew many tricks. Those who deal with jailbirds, know that many criminals can make a kind of pocket inside their throats. It sounds strange but it is a fact. The prisoners cannot take money into the jail. But most of them are addicts of some sort, they need to bribe the wardens to bring drugs from outside. So they keep the money in these bags inside their throats. Those who have served jail terms from an early age, are experts in this. Senior police officers are aware of this.
"Haripada had made a pocket inside his throat. When Ramanath began sharing his cell — the two became quite friendly. He got to know about Haripada's special trick.
"Then the police raided the jail one day. There was no place to hide the diamond. Ramanath, you gave the diamond to Haripada and asked him to hide it in his throat. Haripada was very attracted by the stone — so he swallowed it quickly. The diamond remained inside his throat. No wonder, the police found nothing.
"The very next day, Haripada was transferred to another jail, according to the prison records. Haripada thought himself to be fortunate. He betrayed his friend — he did not return the diamond to Ramanath. Ramanath could not complain to anyone. A thief cannot cry for goods stolen from him. It was from then that Ramanath planned his revenge on Haripada."
I noticed at this point that although there was no change of expression in Ramanath's face, nerves in his forehead were throbbing and his eyes were red. jail. He came straight away to the Maharaja after his release. His intention was to get acquainted with the Maharaja and return the diamond for a reward. He knew that if he tried to sell the diamond outside, he might get caught.
"But the Maharaja was so kind to him right from the beginning that he was in a dilemma. Even then he brought up the subject of the diamond with the Maharaja. But later he felt ashamed to produce the diamond and take the reward from a person who had been so good to him. It is remarkable how the Maharaja's kindness infused a sense of gratitude in the mind of a hardened criminal.
"But Haripada's days were numbered. A few days earlier Ramanath was released from jail. He did not know where Haripada was but as fate would have it, within four days of his release he saw him in the Maharaja's house. It was after seeing Ramanath that Haripada became ill, there was no other reason why he should suddenly become so sick."
"The spark of revenge which was burning in Ramanath's heart for the last ten years burst into flames. It was easy for him to find out where Haripada lived. Then that fateful night, he went there ....."
Till now Joanne was facing all of us — now suddenly he turned on Ramanath. Ramanath was staring at Joanne with unblinking eyes, like that of a snake. Joanne pointed at him with his finger and said in an intense, low, magnetic voice, "Ramanath, that night you tore apart Haripada's throat in search of the diamond, where is it now?"
Ramanath could not look away from Joanne's hypnotic gaze. He moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue, tried to stand up and then with great effort tried to break away from Joanne's magnetic control. He said in a cracked voice, "I don't know, I don't know. I don't know Haripada. I have not murdered him. I don't know anything about a diamond. It is not with me." He looked at Joanne with red, rebellious eyes and held his arms tight across his chest.
Joanne's finger was still pointing at him. I felt that we were witnessing the climax of an intense and exciting drama. Two tremendous will powers were fighting a dual. We were waiting in stunned silence to see who would win the last round.
Joanne's voice took on a terrible, foreboding note. He bent close to Ramanath and spoke in the same low, intense voice, "Ramanath, you don't realize the curse of this diamond, that is why you are not able to give it up. Just think, till the time you had not stolen this diamond, no one was able to catch you. As soon as you stole it, you were caught and sent to the jail. Then think of what happened to Haripada. He had hidden the diamond in his throat. Look what happened to his throat — no one knows it better than you. If you want to live, give back that terrible diamond. It is not a diamond but poison from cobra. If you wear the diamond in your hand then your hand will be chained. If you wear it in your neck, you will be hanged. That diamond will make you hang in the gallows."
Ramanath stood up with an indistinct sound. We did not realize the terrible storm that was brewing in his heart. He looked around like a madman then tore a button from his coat and threw it away. He screamed with terror, "I don't want it, I don't want it! Take away your cursed diamond — let me live." Saying this he heaved a great sigh and fell into a swoon.
Joanne wiped the sweat from his brow. I saw that his hands were trembling. He had won in the fight of wills — but it had taken a toll on him, too.
He picked up the button thrown away by Ramanath — tore away the leather covering and said in a trembling voice, "Maharaja, here is your diamond."