By Vineetha Mokkil
â€œMrs Kapoorâ€¦â€ The cop shouts, then lowers her gaze as if to apologise for her harsh tone. She has been questioning me for the past fifteen minutes. It is turning out to be a contorted dance because she is trying to get her job done without antagonising me, balancing the officiousness of her manner with a smile, watering down questions with polite riders, doing her best to give the impression that the interrogation is just a chat between a cop and a well-known industrialistâ€™s wife who happened to be a kleptomaniac caught in the act at an upmarket mall. The mallâ€™s chief of security â€“ a six-footer with a childish lisp, which clashed with his grim tone â€“ had handed me over to the cops. A rickety police van ferried me from the mall to the station and left me in my interrogatorâ€™s custody.
She questions me in a tentative tone. Fidgets in her seat and avoids making eye contact when she asks me about â€˜the incident.â€™ Her discomfort is palpable. Given a choice, she would go out and comb the manic streets of Delhi for terrorists or car jackers, instead of being cooped up in a dingy room with me. This heart to heart â€“ a chore her colleagues and seniors dodged — has been thrust upon her. Watching her squirm, I wonder how old she is. Probably in her early twenties and at least a good ten years younger than me. The age factor shouldnâ€™t unnerve her, considering she is the cop and I am the guilty party. Why should a shoplifter who brazenly waltzed out of a mall with a Louis Vuitton bag costing twice as much as a rookie copâ€™s salary make her nervous? She could easily gloat over my guilt. Flaunt it in my face. Instead, she skirts around it and keepsÂ Â stealing glances at her cell phone as if she is the one desperately looking for a way out of this mess.
â€œExpecting a call?â€ I ask.
â€œHmâ€¦â€she says, without taking her eyes off the phoneâ€™s fluorescent screen as if she is willing it to ring now, this very minute.
â€œFrom your boss? Boyfriend?â€ I lean back in my chair and take in the badly lit interior, the air conditioner plodding on with a malevolent hiss, the walls plastered with mugshots of runaways and an assortment of criminals. The interrogation room seems to be also a roguesâ€™ gallery of sorts. The Delhi police was making the best of its cramped office space.
â€œNot from my boyfriend,â€ my interrogator says, her eyes still glued to the phone.
â€œYou donâ€™t have to tell me,â€ I say, waving at her from across the table. â€œNot if it bothers you.â€
â€œActually, Mrs Kapoorâ€ she clears her throat awkwardly. â€œIâ€™m expecting a call from my boss. He is a good friend of your father-in-lawâ€™s. Heâ€™ll want you out of here before the press starts hounding you about theâ€¦the incidentâ€
Of course, the chief of police is a friend of my husbandâ€™s family. How could he not be? The Kapoors are famous for their generosity to the cityâ€™s police officers and politicians. Most of them are on the familyâ€™s payroll.
â€œYour father-in-law must have heard the news,â€ the cops says in a deadpan tone. â€œEither himâ€¦or your husbandâ€¦will ring up the chief any minute.â€
â€œNo, not my husband,â€ I correct her.
â€œWhy the hell not?â€ Her eyebrows shoot up like question marks. She has light, pebble gray eyes. They are opaque. Not easy to read. My mother used to call gray-eyed people sly creatures. â€œNever trust a person with catâ€™s eyesâ€ â€“ Ma warned anyone who was willing to listen to her. Ma had many such theories. She was generous with advice. Very good at doling it out, but not a success at following it. She ignored Babaâ€™s advice and made impulsive investments in the stock market. Nobody thought we would be bankrupt a year after he died. All the money heâ€™d left us was gone. There were no savings left. Nothing to fall back on. We sold the house and moved into a one-bedroom dump. The pay cheques the TV station made out in my name for anchoring news shows became our only source of sustenance. I dished out sensational stories to cable television watchers in the country every day. The station executives were good at blurring the lines between news and entertainment.
â€œIâ€™m sure your husband will be here soon,â€ the cop sniggers. â€œAny minute now.â€Â She fishes out a pack of gum from her pocket and tears it open. Her jaws work furiously on the gum. I see she is diverting her frustration on it instead of confronting me.
â€œMy husband, Naren, wonâ€™t be coming,â€ I explain. â€œHeâ€™s not in town. Heâ€™s gone to buy an island. In the Caribbean.â€
â€œA what?â€ She stops chewing the gum and leans across the table to get a good look at my face.
â€œAn island. Heâ€™s buying an islandâ€¦a piece of land surrounded by the sea.â€
â€œI know what an island is,â€ she snaps. â€œYour husbandâ€™s out island shopping?â€ Her tone oozes sarcasm. Every bone in her body is aching to point out the irony. Rich bitch, she thinks.Â Rotten trophy wife shoplifts while the husband divvies up the Caribbean.
I wait for her to spit the words out. But she says nothing. Why is she holding back? BecauseÂ insulting the Kapoor bahu is not the best career move to make? My father-in-law and her boss are golf buddies. They meet on Sundays for brunch and a round of golf. Her boss must talk about the game when he marches into office on Monday mornings. May be he likes to brag about his handicap. Or crow over the points he scores on the turf.
â€œNaren will get back in a week after he finds an island,â€ I say. â€œHeâ€™s planning on building a villa there. A holiday home. We have one in Bangkok and another in Mauritius. He also picked up a villa in Cape Cod last summer. He says that oneâ€™s the best buy so farâ€¦I havenâ€™t seen it. Not yet.â€
The cop drums her fingers against the table. I canâ€™t tell what she is thinking. Her stare could freeze the whole national capital in a second. Her face is a mask set in stone.
â€œThe house in Mauritius has an amazing view. Itâ€™s perched on a cliff next to the sea. The waves almost roll up to the porch. Almostâ€¦â€ I keep talking to her like I have just discovered the pleasure of human conversation. The words wonâ€™t stop coming. I havenâ€™t had a chat this long with anyone in weeks. My days are spent on handing out instructions to an army of maids and cooks and gardeners. I tell them what to cook or pull them up for not mowing the lawn or polishing the silver. I fire maids for breaking crystal vases and hire interior decorators to give the house a makeover. I tick people off. Set them ultimatums. Threaten them with dire consequences if they shirk work. But none of our exchanges qualified as conversations. No, they didnâ€™t.
â€œSo you owe an island in every ocean,â€ the cop says, staring at me like I am an exotic specimen splayed under a microscope. â€œSounds fucking perfect!â€ She gets to her feet abruptly, as if sitting still in the face of such absurdity is beyond human endurance. There is a ring of desperation in her tone. She knows this farce is a waste of time. The law will bend like a reed in the wind and I will be whisked away to the Kapoor mansion any minute. The charges filed against me are going to magically disappear. I will be declared not guilty and sent back home like a special guest, no matter what report she writes up. I understand why she is pacing up and down the room like a caged animal. I feel the need to apologize to her. But the right words are hard to find. â€œMy husband and I first met at a TV station,â€ I hand her this piece of information like an inadequate peace offering. â€œNaren walked into my office for an interview. We fell in love as we were taping the show.â€