“There is no way she could have known about the blog? The ‘I am Duryodhana’ and that audio clip of my voice haven’t common knowledge, have they?”
“Absolutely not. We’ve kept a lid on the Duryodhana thing,” I say. “Not a single paper or channel has carried it. Not one.”
We’re in the AC section of Umdaa Biriyani Palace. Pavitra Chatterjee and I are sitting across from each other. It’s twelve-thirty in the afternoon and a part of me is wondering why we are meeting here again, second time in a week. He had texted me this morning: “Umdaa Biriyani Palace? Lunch?” I was at the station with Siddhanth. I had taken my phone out when it had buzzed. Siddhanth had looked at me, and I had lied, “Home loan bastards.” I wonder why I did, lied that is, and I also wonder why the text had seemed like a note one squeezes into another’s hand during geography class.
I told Pavitra Chatterjee the whole Bipul Banerjee story over lunch, and he had dipped his naan into dal makhni with studied deliberation and without interrupting me once. He is easy to talk to, knows how to keep quiet and yet throws in enough cues to let you know he is listening to every word you are saying. I guess that’s what makes him such a good politician.
“So Bipul Banerjee could see the future?”
“That’s what his mother says,” I say, conscious of the drop of dal makhni at the edge of my mouth. I feel like such a slob in front of Pavitra Chatterjee, who is impeccably impeccable as usual in white, not a strand of hair out of place, and whose teeth seem to clean themselves, so spotless even when he’s eating.
“It makes sense,” Pavitra Chatterjee says, “that our Duryodhana would choose Bipul Banerjee. And it’s not just because he is good-looking. That would be almost too mundane. He is a handsome man, who also has the sight. That makes him like Nakula. The most beautiful of the Pandavas. And he could tell the future.”
“I didn’t know that,” I tell him. “Not just Nakula, Sahadeva could tell the future too.”
“Well, all I know is that our Sahadeva drank blood. Anything in the Mahabharata about that?”
Pavitra Chatterjee shakes his head and we go on eating, engaging in small talk between bites. Suddenly he stops chewing, slaps the side of the table and reaches for his phone. “But of course, but of course,” he exclaims after typing into and staring at his iPhone for a while, and then holds the screen of the phone to my face. It’s an old article, an interview of Prakash Sharma, from two months ago.
He starts reading from the article: “So the interviewer asks him, ‘What are you working on now?’ and Prakash Sharma replies, ‘Just the biggest project of my life.’ The interviewer then asks, ‘Well, can we know what it is?’ And he says, ‘You hear a lot of buzz about big data, predictive analytics, but so far that’s all it has been. Buzz. Hype. I have developed a prototype, with my very own machine learning algorithms, that I am confident can outperform anything that’s available in the market. It takes its data from multiple sources, from the weather to the stock prices to the headlines to social media buzz, and it uses this data to predict what will happen tomorrow. I know it sounds like a lot of bullshit but so far, I have had success rates of eighty-five per cent for everything that happens in India for the time range of a day.’ So the interviewer asks, ‘Can you explain that, in English, for people like me?’ He says, ‘What I mean is that I can tell you what will happen tomorrow in India, the main events that is, correctly eighty-five per cent of the time. Once I get to ninety-five per cent, I will make it public. I have a name for this project.”’
Here, Pavitra Chatterjee stops, and looks at me and says, “The name for the project. Project Prophetica. I just remembered that name, he had talked about it the last time we had met and I thought he was, to use his own words, bullshitting, but...”
“Our man believed him,” I say. “So, Nakula and Sahadeva. One handsome and the other intelligent.”
“Both can tell the future. One, the old-fashioned way, and the other, using computers.”
“What about you?” I ask. “Why don’t you tell me the different ways you are Yudhistira? Maybe that is one way of understanding the killer’s mind. Easier finding out from the living than from the dead.”
That line was particularly clever, I tell myself.
“Of course I am not Yudhistira. One can’t be in politics, or for that matter, doing anything at all, without having slipped in a lie here and there,” he says with a shy smile. “It’s just that I am more transparent than your average politician. Which isn’t saying much. I have declared all my assets on my website and so have my party leaders, I don’t make election promises I know I can’t keep, I have consistently stood for probity and the names of all my political donors are public, no dark money for me.”
“But that’s not why they call you Yudhistira,” I interrupt. “It is because you were so honest that you busted your father.”
I know I am pushing Pavitra Chatterjee. He is obviously not the kind used to being stopped mid- sentence. In a way, I want to get him off my back, and in a very small way, I also want him to get me on my back.
The way I am talking to him, I am going to get neither.
“True,” he says, seemingly unoffended, “that was a label given by a TV channel. It just stuck.”
“What happened,” I ask, “beyond what’s on Wikipedia?”
“If you are in the mood for scandal, I guess I will have to start with the man himself. My father. There isn’t much to say about him, except he was very rich because my grandfather was a big zamindar, a Rai Bahadur, and unlike other zamindars, he hadn’t thrown it all away on dancing girls and wine. My father inherited factories, jute and iron, and he invested the money we made in newspapers, real estate and, of course, politics.”
“You loved your father?” I can’t help but compare every father to Abbu. No father, so far, has ever measured up.
“Love? Well, I don’t know. I was very scared of him, that much I can say. Everyone in the house was, me, my younger brother, my sister, my mother. If there was anyone who was a little less afraid of him, it was Abirlal-da, but that was because he was older and he wasn’t his son. Well, I guess I did love him but it was the way people love God, because we are scared of what will happen if we don’t.”
I think about Abbu, with those liquid eyes of his, kind and gentle and a heart full of love or mohabbat as he called it – it sounds so much better than love, that word – putting on his lawyer’s coat and taking his legal bag from the steel almirah and I cannot think of even one time he raised his voice at any of us. Not once. And we deserved it. That we did.
Excerpted with permission from The Mahabharata Murders, Arnab Ray, Juggernaut.