“Are you going to sit down?” she asked.
Shravan shook his head. He realised he’d been staring.
“I’m sorry,” he apologised. “I’m here from Bansal and Irani, ma’am. Sir sent me –”
“Please. Call me Nandita,” she said. “What’s your name?”
Her voice reminded him of honey. In person, it sounded richer, each word glistening with charm and warmth.
“Ma’am, sorry, I mean, Nandita.” Shravan wondered if he was blushing, and if he was, why was he? He had to pull himself together.
“You’re here to get me bail.”
“Yes, exactly. As in, we’ll get you bail at once, but that’s if they actually arrest you. They’ve only brought you in for questioning at the moment, right?” Looking at the room they were in, Shravan felt something tighten in his gut. This was not a waiting room. The walls were soundproofed. There was a mirror that looked suspiciously like it might be of the two-way variety. There were cameras in every corner. This room screamed interrogation. What had Nandita Rai got herself into?
The woman in question smiled at him. “I still think you may want to sit down.”
Now Shravan was certain he was blushing. He sat down and took out a few sheets of paper.
“Could I ask a favour, Shravan?” Nandita began. “Can I make a call using your phone? They’ve taken mine.”
“Of course.” Shravan fumbled for a moment and then handed his phone to her.
He looked through the documents he’d put on the table, trying not to overhear her conversation. Was she talking to her husband? She was speaking very softly, but he caught a few fragments that suggested she was telling the person at the other end that she was fine. She “hmmed” in agreement a few times. The lady constable sitting in the corner didn’t even look in their direction and Shravan wondered how sharp her hearing was.
The call couldn’t have lasted more than a minute. She handed the phone back to him. Taking it from her, Shravan asked, “I hope the police have been okay with you?”
“They were quite cordial, yes. The inspector who was here before you came in even offered me green tea.” She smiled again.
“I’m guessing he was here to question you?”
She nodded. “I didn’t say anything to him.”
“That’s good,” Shravan said. “Not that I think you have anything to worry about. I’m sure there’s some explanation to all this.”
“The simplest explanation is usually the right one. Didn’t someone say that?”
Shravan smiled vaguely. “They might look smug, but I don’t expect it’ll be too much trouble to get you out of here.”
“Tell me a little bit about yourself, Shravan.”
Shravan stopped himself from doing a double take.
“I’m sorry, ma’am?”
“It’s Nandita, remember? You’ve been given a file on me,” Dr Rai said with a twinkle in her eye. “It feels a little lopsided to not know anything about you. Are you from Mumbai?”
Shravan suddenly felt like he was at a job interview. “No, I’m actually from Pune.”
“And you like it here?”
“What’s not to like?” Shravan asked in response, smiling uncertainly. How could he politely but firmly get back to the case?
“It must be a bit of a coup, to get a job with one of the best law firms in India. How did that happen?”
“They came for campus recruitment to my college and I guess it all worked out.”
“Bangalore. I was in NLS.”
“So you beat your classmates to the job! That’s lucky.”
“Well, I did top my year and have offers from pretty much everyone. So yeah, I think there was a lot of luck going around.”
Dr Rai laughed. “Th smug arrogance of the gold medallist. I like it. I think I had a little of that myself when I was in medical school. So has Bansal and Irani lived up to your expectations?”
Shravan wondered about the point of all this. “It’s been great,” he replied.
“Really? You’re not hatching plans of doing pro bono cases on the side to make up for all the slimy big shots for whom you’re building defences?”
Shravan felt another blush rising. He really needed to get the focus back on their case. “It takes all sorts,” he said, hoping he sounded calm and she wouldn’t tell his boss that he wasn’t interested in the work he had been given. “Should we –”
“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
“I’m not. I just think I should get this paperwork done ASAP so that you can get out of here.”
She gave him a strange look. “You think it will be easy.”
“Well, these claims of you doing sex-selective abortions are obviously trumped-up charges.”
“It’s obvious, is it?”
Something at the back of Shravan’s neck prickled. “Isn’t it?” he asked.
“Have you seen what the police say they have against me?”
He hadn’t. To be fair, he hadn’t looked at anything in detail because the moment he’d heard the basics, he’d known the case was bullshit. “They’re claiming Hope Fertility Clinic has conducted four sex-selective abortions.”
“That’s not true. I’ve aborted at least fifteen. In the past three months, I mean.”
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
She shrugged. “I can tell you the exact number. I’d need to look at my files.”
“Just a second. You have paperwork to prove this?”
“Not in the sense of a file labelled “Illegal Abortions 2017–2018”, obviously. I’m not a fool, Shravan. But there’s obviously got to be a code. Otherwise, how would I keep track?”
“Of the abortions?”
“Yes. Of the fetuses I’ve aborted because of their gender, if we’re going to be precise, and I do think we should be precise. This is a legal case after all.”
Shravan stared at the woman sitting opposite him.
“Ma’am, are you saying that you carried out fifteen abortions on your patients because they were carrying baby girls?”
“I’m not sure if the number is fifteen precisely, but it’s in that ballpark area. And really, Shravan, I don’t like being called “ma’am”.”
“Ma’am, did you say any of this to the police when they questioned you?”
She tilted her head and looked at him for a few moments.Was she really not answering him because he’d called her ma’am by mistake again?
“Nandita, did you tell the police any of this?” Shravan asked again.
“I’m trying to figure out whether you think I’m stupid, or if in fact you’re the one who’s a little dull,” she replied conversationally. “You seemed sharp enough when we were talking about you. Are you in shock? Is that why you’re asking silly questions?” Her head straightened and she directed a gaze as unwavering as radar at Shravan. “I’ve said nothing to the police. They’re groping around in the dark, grabbing blindly at things and hoping to hit upon something. They have no idea.”
“But you actually did it? Like, seriously?”
“Read the file and get me bail, Shravan. Here’s your silver lining: I don’t think my case will be boring for you. Oh, and Shravan, whether or not you can get me bail, please get me my phone.”
Shravan stepped out of the room, walked down the staircase and out of the building. Surrounded by traffic noises and striding pedestrians, he came to a standstill and took a deep breath. He looked at his phone’s call records. She’d deleted the details of the number she’d called. Opening up his address book, he found the Big B’s number and dialled.
“Sir, it’s Shravan. No sir, I haven’t got started on the bail process because they haven’t formally arrested her yet. Sir, she says she did it.”
Dr Nandita Rai was right. He was definitely not bored.
Excerpted with permission from Hush A Bye Baby, Deepanjana Pal, Juggernaut.