I rushed back from Bengaluru, on hearing the sudden demise of my maternal uncle Paramasivam. Despite his advanced years, he was reasonably healthy with no ailments. Lean and lanky, he never missed his daily walks till recently. His cook Sundaram, a bachelor, who has been with him for 30 years zealously ensured he ate limited but healthy food. My uncle treated him like a brother and their affection for each other was great but was muted not easily visible for others.
Paramasivam, a very wealthy man with huge landed property, several houses at Chennai, Coimbatore and Salem where he hailed from, unfortunately lost his wife in his late forties. He did not marry again but brought home a young woman, Selvi by name, from Salem, whose antecedents were not known. I have gathered from hearsay that her past was shady but somehow inveigled into uncle’s heart. She brought along with her a boy, who she claimed as her brother’s child. The boy was put in best school and college till he eventually became a pharmaceutical graduate presently working in Mumbai. He had come on a vacation when this sad event occurred.
My mother till she was alive never spoke to her brother angered by his living with an unknown woman. I had pleaded in vain with my mom that it was none of our business to judge what uncle did and with whom he lived. But, I maintained cordial relations with my rich uncle hoping it would be beneficial in the long run.
The spacious hall where his body lay was crowded with people. A few from his native place in Salem were also seen. Though there was a pall of gloom, no one seemed to be in great grief save the cook Sundaram who was seen wiping his eyes frequently with his towel. Selvi looked dazed sat in a cornet unable to digest the suddenness of the calamity. Somehow I had never taken a liking for Sundaram with his show of undue deference that I suspected was fake. The dislike must have been mutual. I was rebuked once by my uncle when I spoke something against Sundaram.
While the purohit was busy with rituals for taking the body for cremation, there was a sudden commotion when two or three policemen headed by an inspector entered the house There was a hushed silence with all eyes filled with unknown fear and an avid curiosity to know the reason for their presence. No one dared to ask why they had come on such a solemn occasion till the inspector announced after gently coughing that there was a call from an unknown person informing that there was something amiss with the old man’s death and needed an investigation. Everyone turned around looking at other faces for a clue about the informant. The eyes rested a tad longer on Sundaram and me. I wiped my face with kerchief unable to overcome this oblique insinuation. Sundaram on the other hand was cool as cucumber.
The samples of the blood and viscera were collected and the inspector asked the priest to defer the cremation till next day and keep the body in the freezer till then.
The inspector asked the inmates of the house and close relatives to stay back permitting others to leave. One could hear the people who left wondering loudly whether there was some mischief in Paramasivam’s unexpected demise.
Two constables were left outside the house and the inmates were asked in stern tone to remain within the house till next day morning when the lab results would be known. Uncle’s bedroom was locked. The purohit was asked to come next day. I did not like the stentorian and authoritative manner of the inspector but avoided rubbing him on the wrong side. An attempt by the cook to fetch vegetables from outside failed as the sentry did not allow him to go out.
The next day morning Selvi was called inside the study by the inspector first. She was asked, it transpired later, what her relationship with the deceased was like, whether she was married to him secretly in any temple and why her brother’s son was with her instead of brother and whether she was aware of any will made by Paramasivam or discussions held regarding disposal of the property after his death.
She had replied though not married legally despite her many requests to him they lived like a married couple and that he had indicated he would not leave her in lurch. She confessed she was a sex worker before she met Paramasivam. She did not know whether he had made a will but he had a lawyer friend. Her answers about brother’s son were vague, neither helpful nor did she know about her brother’s whereabouts. She discussed freely about Paramasivam’s nephew and the cook expressing her opinion about them. I know of her deep dislike for me. A police doctor collected blood samples of Selvi and her brother’s son despite their protest.
It was my turn next and I went in with some unease as I have had no such experiences in the past. The Inspector asked after some pleasantries, “Gopal, I hear you are close to your maternal uncle despite your mother’s staunch dislike for him. What was it that brought you close to him? Were there any common interests like hobbies, games, literature or politics?”
“Nothing like that. It was a natural affection. He was my only uncle and led a lonely life. He had helped me financially for my studies. He was a good and pleasant natured man bearing no grudge even against my mom,” I said
“Do you visit him often and did you recently bring eatables like sweets and confectioneries?”
“Why do you ask? Was there anything wrong with lab results?” I asked rather jolted by the implied question.
“Answer my question,” he curtly said
“Yes, I visit him once in a month or two. I do not fetch him any eatables except multi vitamin tablets for his general health. He would not otherwise buy for himself saying it was unnecessary. But he took them when I brought them. Is there anything wrong in the results? “I asked.
“Where do you buy the tablets?”
“In a reputed pharmacy of a well-known hospital.” I replied.
“Okay, please do not leave the house till I permit you. I will call you later after talking to other members of the family,” he said.
Sundaram was called in. The inspector came out alone and talked to a couple of his men in hushed manner. All members were asked to remain seated in the living room. When he went in, everyone heard a long wail from Sundaram bemoaning his loss. “He was like my elder brother and brought this orphan up with utmost affection. I have been orphaned again,” he went on grumbling loudly till Inspector asked him to stop.
“Tell me who gives him his food daily. Does he come to the dining hall or food taken inside?”
” Earlier he used to have his meals in the hall. Of late all things are taken to his room by me. He does not walk much complaining of tiredness”
“All thing means, what?”
“Morning coffee, breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner,” he replied
“Does he take any medicines?”
“Yes, Sir, I give him a vitamin tablet after breakfast. Gopal brings couple of bottles of these tablets once a month or two.”
Meanwhile one constable entered and said “We made intense search of the kitchen but could find only these medicine bottles deep inside the bottom drawer of a cupboard.”
Turning to Sundaram, “These seem the vitamin tablets we were talking about. Why are they kept in kitchen when the medicine is intended for the master?” asked the inspector.
“It is easy for me to take it with breakfast without forgetting,” he replied. The inspector did not ask him why they were kept deep inside the bottom shelf.
“I understand your concern for your master. What will you do now? Where will you go? “asked the inspector in a sympathetic tone.” Do you think the master would have left something for you?” he added.
“He told me once not to worry about my future after he is gone and that he would provide enough for my comfortable living.” he replied.
Ï am not so sure as you are. These rich people often forget those who had served them sincerely. He might have left the entire thing for the woman and Gopal,” said the inspector provoking him to react.
“No sir, he will never do that. He is a kind hearted man and a philanthropist. I once overheard his speaking to his lawyer recently how much to provide for each. I could not hear fully as Selvi amma suddenly came” Sundaram said
The next day the inspector had Selvi and her son, Sundaram and me brought to the police station. He had already discussed with the lawyer about the details of the bequest. It seems that Paramasivam had left 75% for charitable purposes,15% for Selvi,10% for Sundaram and 5% for me with balance for miscellaneous
Sundaram was taken inside and told the tablets contained slow poison that made him weak and kill in due course.The inspector said," I learn from Gopal that the bottles are given with seals unbroken. It is evident that someone in the house had tampered with medicine." Sundaram put on a show of injured innocence professing his gratitude for his master and pleaded ignorance about their being poisoned. He could not explain satisfactorily why the bottles were kept hidden when the tablets are intended for daily use.
A mild treatment by the constables inside a cell in the lock up was enough to break his will power and he began to sing. Selvi and her son (not brother’s as already corroborated by DNA test) along with Sundaram hatched a plan to get the money quickly. Her son brought from Mumbai the poisonous drug that resembled the vitamin tablet. Sundaram also confided after another beating to his amoral relationship with Selvi.
When accosted with such evidence, Selvi broke down and confessed her complicity. The three were arrested and I was asked to go home urgently to attend to the final ceremonies of the departed uncle.
Police were tight lipped where from the initial call came and passed the buck to lawyer to reveal to whom and in what proportion would the wealth go if Selvi, her son and Sundaram were very likely convicted for murder.