A Murder Mystery

It was all hustle and bustle in Kumar’s household that Friday morning. After all one more workday and then a much needed weekend break. licensed under Creative Commons.

The kitchen scene was a bit like an Aaron Sorkin TV Show. All four family members were there. They were moving around all the time, picking up stuff, passing them on, gulping some food, dropping a plate in the sink, carrying on the conversation… As if it was a fully choreographed scene.

Kumar shot a question in general. “Are we eating out tonight?”

“Yeah, let’s do it. Kids can suggest a new place. Anyway, the cook is not coming today and I forgot to tell you all. And I have a hectic schedule in the office,’ said his wife, Kamala.

Kumar supported that thought. “I heard there is a new Japanese restaurant in town. I always wanted to try sushi”. He looked at his son and daughter and continued. “You know, I can’t cook well and your mother is worse.”

Raj and Radha were listening but did not say anything. Both the parents paused. The son and daughter still didn’t say anything.

Kamala reached for the fridge to take some milk. “Oh, my. What is this? I don’t remember getting all this stuff.”

Kumar peeked in. “Oh, nice chicken and lots of fresh veggies. And the cook is not in today.”

Raj spoke. “My dear family, we are NOT going to eat out today. I am going to cook. We will have a nice family dinner.”

“My dear brother, our dear family has many blessings. But cooking is not one of them. Why do we want punish ourselves before the weekend? But on the other hand, Friday is a good day as we will have the whole weekend to recover from food poisoning.” Radha was pretty pleased with her sharp attack fully masked in a pleasant tone.

Raj didn’t retaliate. “Consider this. If we take a scientific approach, cooking should not be difficult. It is all chemistry and physics. And very predictable.”

Radha didn’t let that pass. “So all scientists are good cooks?”

Raj likes to be very precise. “If the scientist is competent and systematic, and uses a reliable knowledgebase, he/she can cook well. You will see it tonight.”

Kamala cut in. “Okay, Raj, what is the menu? Is it a surprise?”

“No, mom,” replied Raj. “We will have Chicken a ‘la Kiev, Toasted Herb Rice and Cumin-citrus Roasted Carrots.”

“Well, there is going to be a murder here tonight and everybody will blame the Russians,” observed Radha who was still in sarky mode.

Raj ignored her. “Mom and dad, there will be a surprise also for sure. I’ll talk about that later. He turned to Radha. “You little brat, pipe down. This evening will be interesting for you too. I am sure you will like it. I need your support. I’ll talk to you later about it. And, incidentally, Kiev is in Ukraine and not Russia.”

“Oh, no! I don’t want to be an accessory to murder. And Kiev was part of USSR when the Chicken Dish was invented” Radha pleaded. Raj was not sure of the details and made a mental note to check the history of the dish.

“Okay, let us brace ourselves for an adventure. In the meantime, duty calleth. Let us go.” Kumar tried to wrap up the conversation. Kamala was still not sure and she gave a strange look to Raj which was a mix of mother’s encouragement with a dash of concern.

She said, “I will go with you, Kumar. In the evening we can all meet at the Plaza and ride back together. 6 o’clock is fine with everyone?”

“No, mom,” said Raj. “I will come back a little early. I will come by myself. Any change in plans, I’ll call dad.” Radha was okay to finish her work and join her parents at the Plaza by six.

Soon after that, the house went quiet as they all left.

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At around four in the afternoon, Kumar got a call from his son saying his work got a bit extended and he would be able to finish only by 5.30 or so. He would join the family at the Plaza at six for a joint ride home. Dinner might be delayed by 30 minutes. Kumar conveyed it to his wife and daughter.

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If the morning was an Aaron Sorkin screenplay with hustle and bustle, the ride back home was totally opposite. Directed by Mrinal Sen. Total pregnant silence and a sombre mood. Everyone was tired after office work. Kumar was concentrating on the road. Kamala was worried not so much about the dinner but whether her son would do well with his plans. She didn’t want him to be disappointed. He was a sensitive soul. Her son was lost in his own thoughts, mainly on the many unknown reactions his family could give for his evening plans. So much depended on how things work out. Radha’s sarcasm tank was fully depleted and she just wanted to go home and relax.

It started raining as they approached the house. As the family opened the house door and entered, everyone was keen to get to their rooms for freshening up. Except for Raj. He wanted to get started on the cooking straightaway and headed to the kitchen.

He was a little surprised as he crossed the corridor to the kitchen. The kitchen light was on. Perhaps the cook had come after all. It was not like his mother to forget switching lights off.

He stepped inside the kitchen and what he saw there stopped him in his tracks. It was a not sight he wanted to see on the kitchen counter in the middle. He yelled out loud, “What the hell? Who did this?” His parents and sister were climbing up the stairs when they heard Raj’s loud voice and came running.

Raj was furious. His temper uncontrollable. “This is a real murder. Who did this?”

On the kitchen counter was a mess of burnt chicken and half cooked rice and vegetables. And smell was not pleasant too. One didn’t have to be a MasterChef to notice that it was a pitiful attempt and the person who did that didn’t know the ABC of cooking or chopping or cleaning up. Murder most foul.

“Radha, I don’t mind your stupid sarcastic comments. But a prank like this….” Raj was screaming and he didn’t find the words to complete.

Radha got angry but was controlled. “Why do you think I dunnit? It was not me.”

“Who else then? Who was making fun of my cooking and this idea of evening dinner?” Raj demanded.

“But I didn’t do it. Actually I was looking forward to it though I was a bit flippant in the morning.”

“Hey, kids, cool down. Don’t accuse someone arbitrarily.” Kamala tried to defuse the situation but she was also confused how all that happened. Then she looked at Kumar. “By any chance, is this your bright idea of forcing us go the Japanese restaurant? If so, I am not coming. I am very angry myself.”

Kumar was taken aback by this attack from his wife. “Kamala, your own words. Don’t accuse someone arbitrarily. I have nothing to do with this.” He was wise enough not to say aloud his suspicions. Perhaps the helpful mom tried to be helpful to her son and ended up helpless.

Instead, he said, “If this was murder, let us take it as a Whodunit. Who are suspects? What was the motive? Was there an opportunity?”

“Dad is right. We are all smart people. Let us work this out.” Radha found her voice and was calm. “I think all of us are suspects. Motives are different. The whole day we were out. Let us check our alibis.”

“What, I am a suspect myself? I wanted this to go well, dammit.” Raj was still seething with anger.

Radha continued. “Let us proceed, step by step. Let us rule out some possibilities.” She called the cook and cook’s husband informed her that his wife was out of town that day. She would come for work the next day. So it was not the cook.

“Stop this nonsense. How am I a suspect?” Raj who is normally smart and reasonable could become a little irrational when he got emotional.

‘Well, I have got two theories on that.” Radha was almost like Hercule Poirot. “You tried cooking to impress us and you failed. Your science failed you. To save face you could have staged this drama.

“And in support of this, we find that you changed your plan, called dad at 4.00 pm and acted as if you were held up at work and would take ride with us. Perhaps all that was to fool us.”

“No, it was the truth. I didn’t come home earlier and didn’t make this mess,” Raj was still defiant.

“Okay.” Radha was still in Hercule Poirot mode. “I have another theory but that shows you in a better light.”

Everyone was curious. Kamala was actually proud to see her little girl in such flowing form. Kumar was too.

“My second theory goes like this. You had the means. House key. Time. Now for the motive. You wanted a special evening. You designed this make-believe murder mystery for all the drama, role play and family adventure and entertainment. If that is so, I am very impressed by your performance.”

Raj was quietening down a bit. “Some other time, I would have been very happy about my little sister’s ability to reason out so well. Sadly, Radha, you are very wrong. I didn’t do THIS. Period.”
Kumar, just like others, was still perplexed. “So who did it? How do we find out?”

Raj suddenly perked up. He looked at his sister and said, “Your theories turned out to be wrong but your methods and approach were right. You were asking the right questions. And I think I know who did it and it is thanks to you, my little sister.” It was now his turn to play the detective.

Kamala spoke suddenly. “So what was the surprise, if this drama was not what you had in mind?”

“Mom, Dad, and my little sister, I wanted to invite someone this evening and introduce that person to you. I wanted all of you to be in good mood when I did that. I knew I could do this menu well and the food would come out well. I had even practised it when all three of you went out of town. So I had no doubt that you would appreciate my cooking as I was sure I would do well. But I was not sure how you would take to my girlfriend I was planning to introduce to you all tonight.”

There was total silence in the room as the doorbell rang.
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“There is your murderer. And the story has not unfolded the way I wanted it to.” So much water under the bridge and Raj didn’t care anymore.

Radha opened the door to let in the visitor. In walked a girl, a neatly attired but a little drenched in the rain and looking very nervous. She carried some rather heavy looking bags.

“Mom, Dad, let me introduce Sameera, my girlfriend.”
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“Mr and Mrs Kumar, this is not how I wanted our first meeting to be. I just wanted to give a pleasant surprise to everyone. Raj told me of his plan for the evening and the menu and everything, I thought I should surprise everyone including Raj. Sometime ago he cooked the same items and I was there. Looked reasonably easy and I had the recipes.

“I used the house key he had given me and started cooking. It was a disaster. I panicked. I thought I would slip out and get these items made by a friend of mine and bring them. I wanted to come early and clean up. Unfortunately, I got caught in the rain and was delayed.”

Sameera was in tears. “I apologise for my thoughtless behaviour and stupid actions. If you think, I am not good enough for your son, I can easily understand.”

Kumar looked at her. “You are not a scientist, I presume?”

“No, Mr Kumar. I dabble in painting and art.”

Kumars said almost in unison. “You are what our son needs.” Kumar explained, “Life is not all logic and reason and predictability. We need variety, little bit of mess and a lot of honesty. And of course aesthetics. You both would do very well with each other.”
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Here are some interesting tidbits referenced in the story. Click on the links for more.

Aaron Sorkin, is an accomplished, Academy Award winning screenwriter for TV and movies in the USA. His works include excellent TV shows like The NewsRoom, The WestWing; and interesting movies such as Charlie Wilson’s War, Steve Jobs, Social Network and others.
For a hilarious example of his signature style check out this Seth Myers parody”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzlQTeUzC4s

For all those interested in cooking here are the recipes for the dishes referenced. They are easy to make:
Chicken a ‘la Kiev
Toasted Herb Rice
Cumin-Citrus Roasted Carrots

The origins of the famous dish Chicken a ‘la Kiev is not clear. Some say Russia and some say France. But certainly not Kiev in Ukraine. Read more about it.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_Kiev

I am sorry if I was way too flippant in referencing Mrinal Sen, one of the greatest Indian movie directors. His movies are for connoisseurs only. As a viewer, you are expected to do your work if the movie has to make sense.
I was fortunate to attend a meeting when Mrinal Sen was on the stage answering questions about his movie Genesis. It was an allegory with three main characters, two men and a woman in an isolated desert. It shows a range of emotions moving from peace, quiet, corruption, jealousy and so on. In the movie you could always catch sight of a snake whenever one character entered the scene. This and the title would explain a lot to you. But not for one man in the audience. He asked the director what was the significance of the snake we often saw in the movie.
Could you guess what the great man said. “You see, it is a desert area and there would be a lot of snakes there, no? That is why.”
Anyway, here a documentary on Mrinal Sen. Sadly he passed away last month.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJbrf4JEqKo

Cover picture by Lukas from Pexels licensed under Creative Commons.

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Pandiyan Vairamani

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