Murder in a train – A short story

                                                Murder in a train

Kochuvelli express was approaching its last station, Kochuveli. Kochuveli literally translates as a second surreptitious wife.  And like a paramour visiting his secret liaison, the train too was hesitantly inching ahead. The station resembled the Malgudi station in the famous novel, Malgudi days by the legendary writer R.K.Narayan. It came to life only during those occasional arrivals of a train. Once the hullabaloo of the passengers getting down and the taxi drivers and hawkers shouting out for business died down, the station used to look like an empty carnival ground a day after the carnival.

Suku was on his usual look out for things people used to forget when they alight the train. Most of the time he used to get a cell phone if he was early enough to find it. People who forget the cell phone usually come running for it since they were so habituated with fingering with the phones. But on an average he ends up with a phone every week, which gave him a handsome revenue of two to three thousand rupees every week. Without knowing who were Sam Pitroda, Rajiv Gandhi or Steve Jobs, he thanked the guys who initiated a telecom revolution in India and the world. Kerala being a tourist hot spot, sometimes what he kept his hands on, were the phones left behind by foreign tourists.

The usual things people forget were books, spectacles, and ear-phones etc, which were not carrying much commercial value for a thief. Suku but never considered himself to be a thief, since he never stole things. He just picked up things which in all probability would have been picked up by somebody else. That way his conscience was clear. And to make it clearer he made sure ten percent of his daily revenue was deposited in the nearby Ganapati Kovil (temple). That way he pulled in God as his partner in business as well.

He was about to leave a reserved compartment when he noticed somebody was still asleep in an upper berth. As a thief he do not carry any such inhibitions to help people. But something unusual had struck him while he took a second look at the figure. It did not have a head.

Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala state, unlike many other Indian cities always wore an old world look. Sometimes, it gave a feeling that, if one could take away the Padmanabhaswamy temple and the state secretariat, then the city would be nothing more than a small town. May be that’s the way the Lord Padmanabhaswamy wanted to keep his city. As the legend goes, the princely state of Travancore (now Thiruvanathapuram) is owned by Lord, and the erstwhile king ruled it on Lord’s behalf. The country belonged to the Lord and hence the sobriquet of “God’s own country” to Kerala.

The chambers or vaults inside the Padmanabhaswamy temple had raised a lot of worldwide attention due to its enormous wealth, which was discovered off late. Since then, Government of India was working round the clock to ensure its safety. And the solace for the Government was that after the initial media frenzy the temple had limped back into normalcy and now the government was free to have its job done without any hassles and interference. Lot of speculation was there regarding the vault B, which had two snakes embossed on the door as a matter of caution. People after having been put their ears on the door spoke about either hissing sound of snakes or the hiss of sea waves, not able to ascertain what exactly they had. Rumours even tell about the doors if opened will bring the sea into the city thus drowning it once for all. It was said that the kings made it with a dual purpose. One was for their escape in case of an attack. Second was that anyone, especially the enemy who in hot pursuit, opens the vault B door, they will be engulfed by the waiting sea waves.

It was now a challenge for the government to protect vault from unscrupulous elements, especially if the story of the connection with sea was a possibility. Hence it was decided to hand over the security to CISF on a 24 hour basis. So when all of a sudden a human head was found floating in the Padmatheertha Kulam (the reverent pond of the Lord), the police was in a state of shock. More than the shock it became imperative for them to hide the incident under the carpet lest the media showcases it as a failure of security system. And the impending media scrutiny would make their job a sure nightmare.

The face was so defunct because of the fishes gorging on it, hence it needed a DNA test to ascertain that the body discovered in the train was in fact the same person’s. The reservation chart had shown that the coupe in the compartment was fully reserved by a Gujarati family, supposedly on a leisure trip to the “God’s Own Country”. But the police took no time to trace this family who were away in Kanyakumari enjoying the sunset on the Vivekananda Rock. Soon their dream trip to the “God’s Own Country” became a nightmare reminiscing “Devil’s Own Country”. Poor chaps expectedly had nothing to do with the murder, which police was also prima facie convinced. The profile of this murder and the unfolding intricacies were just not the cup of tea for a middle class trading family. But the police couldn’t afford to leave any loose ends, and they were just doing their duty.

India being India, somebody in the temple premises had leaked the information to the press, and in no time the issue was subjected to debates on national television. The television anchors bade for the blood of the Prime Minister, citing it as a failure of the secular state to uphold Hindu interests. The Prime Minster, keeping in mind the upcoming central elections and more so because of the rising and worrying clout of the right wing party, swung into action. The temple was handed over to the National Security Guards (NSG), which was the prime commando group in the country. The coast guard was put on high alert to prevent any getaway through the sea in case of a heist. The southern air command in Akkulam a suburb of Thiruvananthapuram was asked to do an air surveillance to prevent drone attacks on the temple.  In short the whole security mechanism, be it from the Central Government or the State Government was literally at the service of the Lord, everyone trying to prevent a possible heist of India’s greatest treasure.

Towards 30 kilometres north of Thiruvananthapuram city lied the Saint Andrews church. The church once was situated further towards the coast, but in a magnanimous gesture, the priests agreed to donate the building and space to India’s seemingly over-ambitious dreams of becoming a space power. The rest as they say is history. From the benign and baby steps then, the space programme of India has grown into one of the most successful programs the world over. It was in fact a matter of pride for the country but other nations frowned at it. Especially one neighbouring nation who was always in the news for the wrong reasons, could not digest this mammoth leap India was taking, despite the acute economic and political problems.

With the whole security mechanism shifting focus to a tangible treasure, the enemy was finding it easy to strike at the real treasure of India. And that was the Vikram Sarabhai space station near Thumba. The enemy had clear information that the satellite which can see the whole of south-Asia like the back of one’s hand is under preparation at this place. This satellite if launched would expose their nefarious deeds in front of the world community. The hitherto support they enjoyed from western countries would fall like a pack of cards, thus ending the millions of dollars that flowed in the name of various aids. The country’s economy which depended on arm exports and narcotics sale would go into a tailspin if not for the herculean aid that they received from West every year.

The only way they could prevent this was to stop the launch of this satellite. Reminiscent to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, a team of mercenaries were dropped off into a bunch of dingy boats off the coast of Thumba while the Indian coast guard was busy surveying the coasts of Thiruvananthapuram. The Dingy boats were deflated and buried the moment they took to the shores. Far away atop the Kodimaram (Flag Pole) of Saint Andrews church, Jesus must have smiled at the fallacy of enemy nation.

Nizar Ahmed was a new recruit into the Crime Investigation Department of Kerala Police. He was taking a survey of the compartment where they had found the headless body. Police had handed over Suku also to him for interrogation. After hearing Suku’s version of story he checked the mobile phone police had confiscated from Suku.  After having unlocked the phone with the help of experts he was scrolling the phone for anything specific. Suddenly he saw a message from UBER car Rental App which showed a booking from Kochuveli railway station to Thumba. This was an unusual route for somebody who must have come by train. Because Thumba was nearer to many previous stations and no one would get down at Kochuveli to go all the way back to Thumba.

In no time police had caught hold of the Uber driver who took the person to Thumba. Being an unusual trip, he had taken note of the traveller. He said the traveller was a bit erratic in his behaviour and dropped off mid-way, maybe a few kilometres before the designated destination. He had surprisingly got down in front of the church much before the hotel which was marked as destination in the App.

Nizar Ahmed had no other option but to go and meet the priest Father Jacob Pazhoor. The beauty of Kerala is that nobody is really bothered about what religion anyone belonged to. Father Pazhoor had no qualms in allowing a Muslim cop to do a check of his premises. Soon a battalion of forces with equipment for explosive detection arrived at the church. Even after threadbare checking nothing unusual was found. Though the church authorities were whole heartedly supportive of the checking, some local people obviously with political overtures started protesting against police presence at a place of worship. Seeing that the number of protestors was swelling in numbers, the police decided to vacate the area. But the cop in Nizar Ahmed still was not clear of doubts.

It was just a hunch that prompted him to check a dilapidated caravan, which usually came into life only during the annual carnival. Inside the caravan there were sure signs of somebody having stayed. Below the wooden floor of caravan there were remains of some assembly been carried out, apparently to launch rockets. The explosive team which rushed back confirmed traces of RDX, a deadly explosive. The news sent the whole state machinery into a frenzy.

The Space centre was cordoned off and not even a housefly could enter it without the security agencies shooting it down. Drones were on the sky to survey the landscape, all of them transmitting the visuals to a control room. Without getting hindered about the mayhem outside, the Indian scientists known for their integrity and commitment worked round the clock to honour the timelines of the launch.

Nizar had by this time became a small fry in the sea of high level police officials who had proliferated to prove their mettle. But something was bothering the young officer, a sixth sense that everything is not fine. From a distance he looked at the image of Jesus Christ behind the Altar of the church. The Lord seemed to tell him something. It was past the dusk and the last of the sun rays had dissipated. The sky was overcast which made it dark instantaneously. Suddenly there was a strong lightning and a deafening thunder followed it. The power went off making it pitch dark. Far away the light house was still showing its light around into the sea. In the faint light that it transmitted, again he saw Jesus Christ smiling at him. He did not waste any more time.

Running at a maximum speed through the sands of the beach, he reached at the bottom of light house. He had called up his superior and updated him about his gut feeling. One police officer never under- estimates the gut feeling of another officer, that’s what makes the police force over the world ticking. Help for Nizar was on its way, but he did not wait for it. Puffing and panting he climbed the stairs like a panther, without making the slightest of noise. On the top he could see the light house keeper lying in a pool of blood, his throat slit neatly. He waited with bated breath to over hear any conversation. In chaste Urdu, he could hear what they were intending for. He could count seven silhouettes all together. One fellow was speaking with a clear Malayali accent. Nizar had decided to catch this traitor alive. Far way he could see the approaching police vehicles. There was a sudden unrest among the culprits seeing the beeline of vehicles. They were starting to launch rockets before the police would spoil the party, Nizar could clearly hear their conversation. “Finish off the space centre first, then let them kill us”, the leader among the lot shouted at his guys. Before the guys could make out what was happening, Nizar had his gun do the talk. In a swirl action he had shot four guys down. The remaining two were in a state of shock. Before they could react Nizar had hit the fifth mercenary on his leg with the iron rod he had kept stock from the stairways. He could hear the bones breaking amongst the screams.

The remaining guy, the fellow Malayali was hit on his head in a typical police tactics and was brought down to captivity in no time. By that time he could hear heavy footsteps climbing up the stairs. Nizar Ahmed could see the beautiful church under the twilight. He smiled back at Jesus Christ.

After many days, Nizar Ahmed visited the grieving family of the deceased man whose headless body was found in the train. After handing over the money he received as a gift from government for his heroics, to the deceased’s five year old son, Nizar turned towards the widowed lady. He said “I wish I’d been there earlier. It might have made all the difference. So all I can tell you is why he was murdered”.

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