Vidyavihar, a dusty little suburb of Mumbai, is named after the Somaiya Vidyavihar College, which is one of the most important landmarks of this area. Apart from the college, there is not much else in Vidyavihar besides a suburban railway station, factories and the ubiquitous slums. The Somaiya institutes have hostels inside the large campus, but students also take up paying guest accommodation in the outer rooms attached to the flats in the nearby housing colonies in Rajawadi, especially so in the government colony near Shastri Nagar. The people living in the colony are serving government employees who were allotted quarters. But in order to earn a few extra bucks, many of them let out the additional, independent room (normally meant to function as the servant’s quarters) to students.
It was in one of these independent-access rooms in the government colony that the body of Kshitij Bhatia was found by a curious neighbour. Kshitij, the son of an Old Delhi oil trader, was a student of the Somaiya Institute of Management and was generally considered a loner. He had spurned the hostel accommodation on campus and decided to rent the room where he was murdered. The residents of the colony generally maintained familiar relations with each other—some would say too familiar, considering the fact that most people knew what was going on in the others’ house, right down to every meal that was cooked. However, in Kshitij’s case, no one really knew much about him. Perhaps they didn’t care, as he diligently attended his classes all morning and returned to sit in front of his computer to type away till the wee hours of the next day. But today there was a rush of excitement among his neighbours—the middle-class suburban gentry of the colony had never really experienced a crime so close to home, let alone a gruesome murder.
And gruesome it surely was, even though to Virkar it just seemed like a repeat of the murder at the Blue Nile Resort with only a few differences—Kshitij’s body had its penis intact but his mouth hung open as if he had frozen while screaming. What chilled Virkar to the bone was that Kshitij’s open mouth was missing its tongue. To a casual observer, it might have seemed like the tongue was snipped out mid-scream. But on closer examination, Virkar realized that Kshitij’s mouth had been pried open to get adequate access to the tongue which had been cut out with a sharp blade. This seemed to have been done only after all life had left the victim’s body, his death brought on by the multiple stab wounds on the chest.
Virkar quickly measured the wounds, this time with a plastic ruler that he picked up on his way from a nearby stationery shop. The wounds were of a similar depth and the cuts in the flesh clearly indicated that it was the same weapon that had been used on Rajesh Chawre. The killer had obviously been let into the small room through the only door that led in from the stairs. Stepping outside, Virkar noticed that the door to the main house was padlocked. The sub-inspector on duty let him know that the resident of the flat, Tapan Mazumdar, was away on a holiday to his native place in Burdwan, West Bengal, with his family.
As per his notes, the sub-inspector had information that no one in the colony had seen anyone enter or leave the building. To Virkar this seemed extremely suspicious, as he had seen how the residents of the colony had gathered all around him. He went back into the room and stood in a corner, taking in all the details. The blood spatter on the wall and on the floor gave the room a macabre feel. As he stared at the sparse furniture that comprised a single bed and a study table with a large-screen computer, Virkar felt that the room had a certain kind of similarity to Rajesh Chawre’s bedroom. Something bothered him but he just couldn’t put his finger on it. He stood looking at Kshitij’s body and realized that he looked vaguely familiar. His eyes settled on the computer on the table but although it was brand new, it was entirely different from the one on Rajesh Chawre’s table. Virkar walked to the cupboard and opened it, half hoping to see a collection of shoes, but all he saw was a pile of neatly ironed clothes on various shelves. He looked under the bed and saw two pairs of shoes and one set of sneakers.
‘What about his mobile phone and wallet?’ Virkar called out to the sub-inspector who stood in the corridor outside the door.
The sub-inspector popped his head in and said, ‘No wallet and no phone, saheb.’
‘Are you sure the boy was studying at Somaiya?’ Virkar asked.
The sub-inspector looked incredulous. ‘Saheb, everybody in this area goes to Somaiya.’
Virkar turned thoughtful, mulling over the information in his head. The two victims lived in two very different parts of Mumbai, far enough not to ever come in contact with each other. They studied in two different colleges. In fact, one of them was not even from Mumbai. What could be the connection between them that would have lead to them being murdered by the same killer? The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he had no real answers.
As he looked around the room once more to see if he had missed something, his eyes fell on a portion of the wall in the corner. He walked a few steps forward to examine the spot on the wall up close, wondering if he was imagining things. At a height of about a foot and a half from the ground, the chalky pale yellow chuna on the wall displayed a faint shape of the back and head of a human figure where it had rested itself. Virkar knelt down and examined the wall more closely till he could clearly make out the outline left behind by the sweat of a naked body. What’s more, a few strands of long straight hair were snagged on the wall. Virkar’s pulse quickened as he reached out for the hair and scraped them off using his plastic ruler. He tapped the ruler on his open palm and examined the strand of hair. He knew that he had been right all along. The girl had sat against this wall after killing Kshitij Bhatia, perhaps sitting there through the night, waiting for the right moment when she could make good her escape.