‘Something had really upset her but she had buried it deep inside. But I could tell that something was wrong,’ Naina said, with concern etched on her face. She was sitting across from Virkar at the Crime Branch Headquarters. After the incident at Willingdon, Virkar had made a quick trip to JJ Hospital to get his shoulder looked at. The doctor had declared it to be a flesh wound, which was a signal to Virkar to get it bandaged and plunge right back into work. He had summoned Naina and Richard in for a full statement on all that had transpired earlier that evening. Richard had already given his statement and left.
While taking down her statement, Virkar had mentioned to Naina that, before encountering Usman Teacher, he had been on his way to Willingdon College to find out more about Sagarika Purohit. Naina’s response was to give Virkar a detailed background on Sagarika, since Naina had been her counsellor. Sagarika was a girl from a middle-class family in Nagpur who gave in to her dreams of studying in Mumbai. Her parents had enrolled her at Willingdon as it was the only college that had a very strict girls’ hostel. Sagarika was an excellent student who had stood first in every class at school. In fact, in Naina’s assessment, Sagarika’s intellect bordered on genius. Unfortunately, in the recent past, Sagarika had fallen into proverbial ‘bad company’; drugs and partying had started affecting her attendance and the only thing preventing college authorities from expelling her was her stellar academic record. She had been undergoing compulsory counselling with Naina and was showing progress. She had revealed to Naina that she had recently found herself a boyfriend, but also indicated that there were some problems that had cropped up between them. Sagarika had not revealed the identity of her boyfriend, but had referred to him as ‘K’.
About a week ago, Sagarika had called Naina and told her that she was very upset because of something that had happened and she was going to tell Naina everything at their next meeting but, unfortunately, she had been missing since then.
Virkar pulled out a photograph of Kshitij Bhatia and showed it to Naina. ‘Could this guy be Sagarika’s boyfriend?’
Naina shrugged. ‘Could be, although I never saw anyone with her. She just told me about this guy in her life, K.’
Virkar sat back in his chair and said, ‘This person’s name is Kshitij. Do you think Kshitij could have been Sagarika’s boyfriend and Rajesh had somehow filmed them having sex and was blackmailing them? If Kshitij didn’t support her, or if he was in on it, it could have pushed Sagarika over the edge and led to her becoming a killer.’
Naina looked thoughtful. ‘That could be the case, although I can’t be certain.’
Virkar knew that his theory had weight as it seemed to be the most likely reason for Sagarika becoming a deranged killer. The counsellor had given him the lead that he was desperately looking for and he suddenly felt very grateful. For the first time, Virkar actually looked at her. When Naina fixed him with her melting chocolate-brown eyes, Virkar felt inexplicably drawn to them, to his surprise. His gaze travelled from her eyes down to her irresistible smile. To him, her lips seemed full and inviting. He shook his head vigorously, trying to rid himself of the surge of electricity that he suddenly felt coursing through his brain. Trying to steady his unsettled self, he reached for the glass of water on his desk and took a few quick gulps.
‘What about her parents? Were they aware of her mental condition?’ he asked, once again business-like.
Naina smile turned sad. ‘Inspector, in today’s world, the parents are the last ones to know anything about their children, isn’t that so?’ She stopped for a response from Virkar. Virkar, however didn’t say anything—her sultry voice was having such a dramatic effect on him that he was having difficulty concentrating.
Naina sighed and continued, ‘In Sagarika’s case, too, her parents were under the impression that all she was involved in was course work.’ She glanced at Virkar, whose eyes were fixed on the large round vermillion teeka on Naina’s forehead. Naina suddenly realized the effect she was having on him and the expression on her face turned to one of playful amusement.
Virkar caught her look and flushed with embarrassment. Finally, with some effort, he was able to control his wayward thoughts. Clearing his throat, he began, ‘Professor Rai—’
‘Please call me Naina.’
‘Theek hai…uhh…Nainaji, in your professional opinion, do you think that Sagarika could have killed these two boys?’
Naina became quiet, her suddenly serious look indicating to Virkar that her mind was considering all options. A full minute later, she finally said, ‘She could have, but I can’t say for sure.’
Virkar was about to ask another question when she continued, ‘As I already told you, Sagarika is extremely creative and a borderline genius. It has been found that these talents are more common in people who have a family history of mental illness and thus carry a greater risk of schizophrenia.’
Virkar nodded. ‘So, in your professional opinion, she could have committed the crimes?’
This time, Naina sounded a little ruffled. ‘She could have, but in my professional opinion, I’m not sure.’
‘Nainaji, it is a well-known fact that people who are susceptible to schizophrenia can go over the edge because of drug use, lack of sleep or if something stressful or traumatic happens to them.’
Naina immediately became defensive. ‘Inspector, I don’t want to spoil a girl’s life just by making a casual, half-informed statement like you are making right now.’
Virkar’s eyes flashed with indignation. ‘I’m not half-informed. I have a first class in a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, which means I know what I’m talking about.’
Naina sat back, looking a little sheepish. ‘Well…uhh…I’m sorry. I’m just worried that my statement might be used out of context and played up in the media. There is a girl’s life at stake here.’
But Virkar was in no mood to let up. He opened his drawer and drew out a thick box file. He opened it on his desk and flipped through the photographs of the two murder scenes, pulling out those that were the most gruesome. ‘This is what is at stake here,’ he said, thrusting them at her. ‘These killings are not the work of a stable mind, but the precision and intelligence with which each murder has been carried out clearly indicates that the killer is someone extremely smart and equally meticulous or criminally insane.’
By now Naina was gasping for breath—the photographs had done their job. Virkar rose from his chair and held her by the arm; she got up and followed him, still gasping. Virkar quickly led her to the washbasin where Naina proceeded to disgorge the remnants of her last meal. After retching a few times, she washed her face, looking embarrassed as she accepted Virkar’s handkerchief to wipe it clean. She realized that she was attracted to him—something she had felt even while he was interrogating her. He wasn’t at all what she expected a policeman to be. She wondered what he was really like and that thought gave her a little thrill. Virkar, on his part, felt a tinge of regret for what he had done. He smiled apologetically at Naina,
As if on cue, they both looked at one another and said, ‘I’m sorry.’