My flight was delayed by 55 minutes from Kolkata as a result by the time I reached the city, the Sun has already said adieu for the day. I got down from the taxi in front of Hotel Nandan, Guwahati and looked around. It’s been almost seven years that I am coming back and the place around Nandan has changed a lot. It is much more crowded than what I last saw. I paid off the cab and went inside the hotel where I had stayed for good three weeks, the first time I came to Guwahati. Later, I found small but comfortable flat near my office, the Central Bank of India, where I was transferred from the Kolkata. Immediately, the memories of Paromita Prasad came flooding to me.
You must be wondering, what is all this about!!!
Well, I am Param Purkait (actually Purokayastha), a software engineer and part of the IT Project team at Central Bank of India (CBI). Eight years back the bank was making all their branches IT enabled that would reduce work load of its workers, therefore, I was sent to Guwahati as Project Head for transforming the laid back branch into a modern banking hub. Paromita had just joined as a Trainee Officer and was my go-between and coordinator. We hit it off very well, both being young in those days.
Paromita, was a convent school followed by Presidency graduate and most importantly very independent and carefree woman. In all of One year & four months of our affair (that’s what the rumour was around), she never spoke of her parents or family. Even when I tried to venture into the subject she would smile or get irritated and change the subject. As if she had no family at all and she was born out of no womb. She too was staying alone as a paying guest in the suburbs and used to commute quite a distance in Guwahati parlance, to the bank. So after about 4 months, when I casually said, “Why don’t you move in at my place, I have two bedrooms, you can take up one”. She quite readily agreed and came over the following week. The arrangement suited me as she was a good cook and my days of eating out every night finally came to rest.
Life was great, the workflow of digitizing the data at bank was moving fluently and I guessed if everything was in place, then the final commissioning can be advanced to an early date and I can go back to my beloved Kolkata. However, destiny had other ideas. One day as we entered our flat and was going into my bedroom, Paromita said, “You know, I think there’s ghost in this apartment”. I turned to see if she was mocking or sarcastic but her face did not show any signs of either. I said, “Why, what makes you think so? I don’t believe in ghosts or god, it is all creatures of human mind.” “You do not believe me but I am telling you there’s something in here,” Paromita said before going in her own room.
There were no further discussions in the matter and I thought the ghost bit has died down on its own. I was wrong in a sense. The monsoon had arrived at the valley and it has been raining incessantly for days when the ghost of our apartment came alive once more. It was end of July; the rain gods were busy pulsating down throughout the day and evening. We came home and Paromita suggested, “Let’s have Khichuri & Dim Bhaja, the weather is perfect for this.” I readily agreed.
We finished our dinner and were sitting on the balcony enjoying the monsoon rain. I lighted my cigarette and inhaled deeply. Suddenly, Paromita looking behind me shouted “Hey, who are you and how did you get in?” I was shocked and immediately turned around but could see nothing. Taking a deep breath, I said, “That was a great manoeuvre to give me a heart attack but remember I will pay you back.” She was still in shock and said, “No, I am serious, I just saw a man standing behind you.” “You are working very hard and this last leg of the project is giving you lot of stress that’s why you are seeing things that are not there. You need good rest, let’s go and sleep,” I said, trying to calm her down.
I woke up with a startle, there was banging on my bedroom door. I opened the door and Paromita was standing outside, dishevelled. She was saying something which I couldn’t make out in that half sleepy state. She pushed me aside and entered my room.
I went to check her room, which to me was perfectly in order, nothing amiss. I drank water from the jug lying on the dining table and came back to my room. “What happened? “ I asked her. She said, “I took Avro-something pill which is a stress buster and sedative before I went to bed and was sleeping soundly. Then all of a sudden, I felt warm breath upon me and could feel human presence in the room. First, I thought it was you and was about to rebuke you when I woke up completely and realised there is no other human in the room except me. I also thought you have done the prank and hiding somewhere inside the room.” “But I was sound asleep and it was you who woke me up with loud banging on the door,” I protested. “Yes I realised that it wasn’t you, because my room too was locked from inside.” Paromita said, clearly still shaken. “I am not sleeping in that room again,” she said after a while. “Well in that case, I will go and sleep in your room,” I said when realised she is not going budge from the bed she is perched now. Immediately, she said, “No you will also have stay in here, I cannot sleep here alone.”
And that’s how our live-in relationship began till that eventful day.
It was a gloomy winter day with Sun not making any effort to appear and cloud/ fog having a field day in the entire valley. I was in my office at the back side of the bank in the basement with my assistant Pobitro Phukan. The workload was heavy as a number of bugs in the system had to be cleared and both of us were immersed in our work. Probably that was the reason we did not hear the gun shot or any of the ruckus happening on the floor above us.
We heard the pounding of footsteps coming down the stairs and in a moment there were dozen men in Para-military & police uniforms in the basement. The Inspector from the local station spoke first, “Hello, I am Inspector Sarma. Where were you guys in the last one hour?” I was shocked to see so many uniformed figures but somehow managed to say “Both of us have been here at our desk since morning.” Now another person in BSF uniform said “Did you hear any gun shot or shouting?” “What gun-shot & what shouting?” I countered. Even Pobitro was looking completely dumb-struck.
Then we were told, that a group of men and probably one or two women had raided the bank upstairs in the broad daylight, looted somewhere around Rs.20 lakhs, shot & killed Ram Prakash the Guard and have taken two hostages along with them. “Who have been abducted?” I asked. The Inspector said, “They have taken Ms. Paromita Prasad & Mr. Ranjan Borthakur.” My whole world started spinning around me and I somehow managed to find a chair and sit down. The Inspector went on, “We believe, Ms. Prasad was to staying with you, Sir, by any chance did you notice any change in her attitude in the recent times?” “No, she was fine.” I blurted out, without thinking. The Inspector and the BSF person came closer to me and said in unison, “Think deeply and then answer, did you notice any behavioural change in her in the last few months/ weeks or even days?” Now I started thinking and playing out the scenes of our life in my mind and as I thought over the last few weeks conversations between us I realized, Paromita had been little aloof over the past few weeks. The love making had been on halt as she was not in a mood and in fact she had started sleeping in her own bed for last one week too. I told the Inspector everything I could recall except the last bit.
The Inspector said, “Well, we have reason to believe that she was a Commando of an extremist organisation and had been planted here in this bank with the sole purpose of robbing this bank. Since she was also part of your group in the IT, she may have details to hack the net banking system for a larger chunk of money. This is the most common operational method the extremists are using these days. I suggest, you work out some safe fire walls or change the coding immediately. Meanwhile, you are being provided with 24 hours security as we suspect, she may try to harm you.”
I was rendered speechless. How can I or we change the coding overnight which has taken over a year to create? But more perplexed at the revelation that I have been sleeping with an extremist for almost a year or more!!!
My reverie was disrupted with the knocking at the door. I got up and open the door. As soon as I opened the door, there was a soft ‘thud’ sound and everything went black.
I opened my eyes and saw a familiar but somewhat different face, that of Inspector Sarma. Before, I could say anything, he silenced me, “Mr. Purkait, you are a lucky man to have survived a gun shot from that close range.” Then he explained.
“We were aware that you have come to Guwahati. No, not because we had a watch on you but on some other suspected people. And our hunch was correct. You were followed from the airport to your hotel and then that person foolishly enough used a landline phone to communicate to his masters. We then, without letting you know, put up surveillance at your hotel. There were three people that came to eliminate you. But fortunately, we were ready for them and with our current motto of NO PRISONERS TO BE TAKEN, all three have been eliminated. Yes, Ms. Paromita Prasad as you know her was part of that group and she was the one who fired at you.”
Inspector Sarma said that there were no immediate danger to myself anymore but still he would deploy two guards, just in case.
I was discharged the following day from the hospital, finished my work with the bank within the week and returned to my favourite place on earth, Kolkata.
The above has been dramatised, keeping my promise to a childhood friend whose phone was busy for almost half hour when I tried calling him. Later he said he had been talking to a female acquaintance from his bank in Guwahati, I teased him about this and promised him to write a short story on this. All characters in this are my imagination as is the plot and any resemblance to any living person is purely coincidental.