The Newspaper Photograph
Arun wondered why they had protected him. His uncles, his grandmother, his cousins. They had all rallied around him after his parents died, after his little brother died. Even after he told them that he had killed him. They protected him even though they believed him. That was obvious in the way they behaved when around him…as if he were some sort of pariah. As if he were crazy. But still, they didn’t tell the police…it was some crazy thing about family honour, he was sure. That he knew.
Personally, he had no regrets. Two years had passed since The Time but he didn’t miss them. His father, his mother, his little brother. He was just relieved that they were gone. And he had done it.
He had always been good with cars. What the hell, he had been all of nineteen and who wouldn’t know how to fix a brake? He had even hung out at a garage for a few days, to make sure he would get it right. And then he had done it at the Right Time, at the Right Place. They had been on a holiday in Matheran. When he has seen the narrow hairpin bends, the loose gravel, the steep inclines he couldn’t help thinking of that this was the perfect opportunity to make an accident happen! And he had made it happen! The car had plunged into a deep ravine…he could see it in his mind’s eye as it careened down the slope trying to avoid an oncoming vehicle until it skidded off the edge. He could still hear their earsplitting screams as the Maruti van tumbled over and over and went down, smashing itself against a rock.
Arun sighed. Years had passed and the memory was fading now. What surprised him was that his uncles and aunts kept telling him that it was time to move on. Maybe it was Time to move on. But how could he explain to them that it wasn’t the death of his parents and brother which bothered him, but the time before that?
The memories still haunted him. His mother screaming at him the whole day long, without reason, and for little things like his coming late, his watching television, reading, sleeping. Dammit, everything! Then there were his father’s crazy demands. Demands that he top the college, work with him in the business…that he not wear that pink shirt…that he not see that movie…that he get up at six…do this do that, the whole bloody day! God, how he had wished that he were dead. That his mother and father were dead. He had felt bad thinking it. But he couldn’t control what he felt.
What had driven him over the edge was his brother Tinku. Tinku they called him, although his name was Tanmay! They had been crazy about him since the day he was born and Tinku had loved them back …loved them with a sickening intensity that had revolted Arun. They hadn’t seen what a little monster he was turning into. If Tinku had shown even a little love for him, a little respect, then he might have spared him. After all, he had been only eleven. But Tinku had never shown any respect, and just the day before the accident had hidden a book of his called “Repair your own car” in a tree! It had rained all night, and the book had been ruined. That was when Arun had decided that enough was enough. They all had to die.
It was over now. Tinku was dead. Dead, DEAD. Like them.
The idea to murder them himself had been ignited by a photograph in a tabloid which the kids in college were circulating. It was a picture of a girl in a red bikini that everyone was excited about but Arun had hardly glanced at her. It was the other photograph at the bottom of the page that had caught his attention. It was face of a man…a criminal. The police had him in custody for murder. The man’s hair was rough, tousled, and his expression was akin to something that Arun had never seen before. It was the man’s face which stunned him. Incredibly, it was his face. Arun’s.
Arun had surreptitiously taken the newspaper home and studied the photograph for days afterwards. The more he looked at it, the greater seemed the resemblance. To check it out, he stopped applying oil to his hair and let it become rough, like the hair of the man in the photo. He even tried to mimic the expression on the man’s face…the vacant look in the eyes, the sullen turn to the mouth, the defiance in the way he held his chin. Arun changed his style of dressing as well. He started to wear his oldest clothes, torn jeans and faded T-shirts. He attempted to talk differently, a little loudly, a little rudely, the way he imagined the man would talk. Then one day he took a photograph of himself in his new avatar and compared the two pictures. There was hardly any difference! The man was his twin!
His family had noticed the change in him. They became alarmed. He saw that and it irritated him. They asked him whether he was on drugs. They came to his college. Talked to his teachers. His class-mates. He had been attending classes as usual. True, his grades had dropped but Arun knew that his teachers didn’t know him well enough to say anything of substance. And as for his class-mates, no one cared. He had no real friends.
He didn’t tell his parents about the photograph. How could he? If he accused them of what he suspected they had done to him, they would deny it. They could hardly admit now that he was adopted and that they hadn’t adopted his twin, could they? They wouldn’t admit it even though it was obvious that he wasn’t theirs. He didn’t look like them…he didn’t behave like them…he looked and behaved like his twin.
Arun had gone to the Santa Cruz lock-up and located the man. He had seen him from up close and managed to exchange a few words with him…but the police hadn’t let him stay.
Raju. That was his twin’s name. Short and simple Raju. Raju the murderer. Raju had killed his father, mother, and sister, in a fit of rage. With an axe. Arun felt a strange empathy with him. He too felt like killing his family. He could never be as violent as Raju ofcourse…it had to be something discreet, something seemingly accidental …and he would protect himself.
One day it had happened – his dream had come true – and it was all because of Raju. Raju’s photograph had revealed to him who he really was. Someone who would not take things lying down. Someone who would fight back. When it was all over Arun had confessed to the police, hoping that he would share a cell with Raju.
It didn’t happen that way. The family – his father’s brothers, sisters, his cousins – had protected him, surrounded him. It was like being under house arrest. They took him out from college…and monitored his calls. In his presence they were careful not even to mention the accident. He knew they talked about it, but it was in whispers. They wanted him to forget everything. They didn’t want him contact Raju. Arun realised that if he wanted to get out of this prison that they had made for him he had to cooperate with them. So he did. He kept living his life at home, quietely.
He got his chance one day when his Uncle Jai came to visit. It was not the first time his uncle had some to see him after the killings.
“Arun, you need to get back into college. What happened was terrible, but it’s been over two years now,” said his uncle.
True, he should get back to college, thought Arun. But he knew they would want him not to talk about the killings. They also wanted him to forget Raju…but he couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Perhaps this was the Time then. Time to try and pretend to have forgotten.
“Arun, are you listening to what I’m saying?” his uncle asked.
Arun looked at his uncle. Uncle Jai looked a lot like his father, and that was why he had always hated his Uncle Jai. However, today he looked different. His voice was softer and his expression kinder, and in his eyes there was a sadness. Maybe he really wanted to help. And then it was Time.
“Arun…” his uncle pressed on. “You have to talk to me…”
“Yes, I want to go back to college,” said Arun quickly, before his uncle changed his mind about helping him.
“Good. I’ll talk to some people and when you meet them please don’t mention the accident. This is very important. Don’t talk about the accident…say that you’ve coped with it…say that you didn’t kill anyone…then they’ll know you’re improving.”
Arun nodded. “Otherwise I won’t get admission into college…”
“This is not about admission. Listen to me, listen carefully. You’ve been ill …”
“I know.” Arun had heard them saying he was Depressed.” He nodded. ‘That’s why I have to take pills…”
His uncle seemed relieved. ‘Yes. Your cousin Reena, my daughter, had the same problem. She used to take the pills too but I think she still wasn’t okay. She killed herself yesterday…”
To Arun’s shock Uncle Jai had started to cry. ‘She was ill, like you…I couldn’t help her, but I can help you. I don’t want you to meet the same fate.”
“But I won’t kill myself even though I know I did a bad thing,” said Arun.
“You didn’t kill them either! In the investigation the brakes were found to be fine! Besides, you were in the accident, with them. Your father tried to avoid a collision with a truck, but lost control…it was a miracle that you survived. Did you imagine you killed them because you hated them dead? I don’t know, tell me why Arun. I know you had problems at home, I know.”
“No.” Arun felt panicky. This wasn’t right. He had killed them. He had done something well. He had been successful. “I killed them. You should have told the police.” He wanted to also tell his uncle that he wasn’t like Reena. He was evil. He was bad. His mother had told him so many times. He hated people and if you hated someone you had to do something about it. His father always told him. Act. Do something. Don’t be lazy. And he had finally done it. It had been the Time.
“Listen to me! You are a schizophrenic, not a murderer, and it’s hereditary. I keep telling you this but you refuse to listen! Your cousin Reena was a schizophrenic too, the poor kid. Once you realise you haven’t killed anyone, then you can start to heal. It’s the first step towards getting you out of this damn mental hospital…”
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