MAKING A ‘FELINE’ TO SOLVE SOME MYSTERY
The snowflakes fell with a little more intensity as Sudipta walked on the dark footpath with two fairly heavy bags in her hand. Here, in York, the winter was severe this time. She paused to adjust her bags in her hand when she noticed a few kittens scamper to the dark end of the road. One dark grey kitten remained and stared at her with his green eyes blinking occasionally. An animal lover that Sudipta was, she muttered, “So you’re the brave devil! Next time I pass this place, I’ll get some biscuits for you.” She was tired after the gruelling day at the University and a busy weekend stared at her. She reached her compact apartment and as she had expected an envelope was waiting for her. “It must be from Dasbabu. Who else has the patience to write such detailed letters in times of emails and whatsapp?”
Another three months to go for her management degree to come around and then she would be off to Odisha! Her mom Sanjukta hailed from a small royal family-one among so many in the State. The patriarch, Shom Dev of Giribhanj, had walked the planet for almost eight decades and still actively ‘looked after’ his erstwhile state. Dasbabu was his trusted aide who had remained with him while many among the retinue had sought different jobs elsewhere. Shom Dev’s son Raj Kunwar had moved to Bhubaneshwar with his family and was a lobbyist of sorts. He got many political wannabes into the fold, got big contracts done from New Delhi and was handsomely rewarded. He did visit Giribhanj occasionally. But the real pillar of strength was Sanjukta who dutifully came to the small palace that was derelict in many parts and sorted things out for her aging father. The old man was particularly fond of Sudipta who he felt had a fantastic sixth sense. Her being away for higher education did not go down well with Shom Dev but he hoped for her early return.
Sudipta opened the envelope which contained about five pages of detailed reports of what was happening in Giribhanj and how all of them were eagerly waiting for her to come back. She sighed. Towards the end, Dasbabu said that her grandpa felt that Sudipta knew where all documents regarding a huge property were kept. The old man could not recall at all. Those were crucial papers. Even if he could sell half that land, he could renovate his palace and make it commercially viable. Well. That was the main message in the letter, smiled Sudipta.
Two days later she noticed a picture of the kittens she had seen at the roadside in a local newspaper. The prominent one among them was the grey one which seemed to have posed specially for the camera. Strange. That evening she carried some cookies and on her return stopped at the spot looking for the kittens. The grey one emerged from the kerb and sat blinking before her. She bent a little and placed the cookies at the side. “Now you little munchkin, feast on these,” she said audibly and walked away.
As per Sudipta’s instructions, her mother had carefully gone through all papers and thrown away the clutter. When the former ruler told his son about his plans to renovate the place on lines of ‘haveli stays’ of Rajasthan, Raj Kunwar remarked, “I must say that at this age too you have a vision! Keep your fingers crossed.”
Sudipta arrived without any halts at her friends’ places as she wanted to do. Grandpa was waiting with open arms and the joy was mutual. After listening to the history of the papers and that there was no registration in the local land records office, the old man had become panicky. He was just blank about where he could have stowed the papers- perhaps so safely that they were as good as lost.
For a couple of days, Sudipta went around the place searched dusty filing cabinets without any breakthrough. While walking in the slightly wooded back yard of the palace, she noticed a black kitten! “Oh! Here too I see a cat!” she said with a surprise.
She then asked Dasbabu to get her grandpa to the ante room which had an access from outside too. With a heavy bunch of keys, neatly labelled, Dasbabu came and opened the rusty door from outside. Just behind the door was a small storage in the wall which would go unnoticed by any anyone. Sudipta asked Shom Dev, “Is there anything in here?”
“ No. Some odd toys and presents given by people,” came the discouraging reply. None the less Sudipta opened the wooden door which hung loosely on rusty hinges and noticed a black paperweight in the shape of a cat! “Pick that up, Dasbabu,” she said with excitement.
Below the paperweight was a fat file that could not be easily seen. He took it out and cleaned the dust. There it was! The old man could not contain his joy as he clapped like a child. *