Of Pebbles, Politics, Mind, and Matter: Chapter 2
The story so far:
A reclusive and scholarly young man formulates a theory of thought and develops a computer algorithm to mimic the decision making processes of people about whose backgrounds he is well aware.
It is quite often that one finds well-meant and well laid out plans going awry, and their outcome manifesting in a manner that one never imagined. This is what happens with young Charuchandra when he finds himself to be the focus of his uncle's wrath. Read on to know about the world of intrigue and power-play that he unknowingly steps into.
If you wish to revisit the first chapter at this point, please click on the following link:
If not, please scroll down to read the second chapter titled "Experiment and Reality".
Chapter 2: Experiment and Reality
Many grandiose ideas fall by the wayside, when they come to the stage of implementation. In the case of the two intrepid researchers - one official and one real - it wasn't a drastic case of termination of their work, but was restricted to a change of strategy.
To speculate about the possible information that would be stored in the unconscious and subconscious databases of a person, the researchers needed to know a fair deal of intimate characteristics and traits of the person being analyzed. Biographies did provide a glimpse of the persona of individuals in some detail. But both Charu and Parsvanath felt that the primary intention of any author and publisher would be to make a saleable product, and information and incidents - even if true - that may mar this prospect, would find themselves conveniently deleted from the manuscript. They believed that the need was for a live subject that they knew well at a personal level. The choice was obvious. It was to be Svamicharan Chimalgi the councilor. Having been associated with his uncle all his life, which was almost thirty years, Charu was familiar with almost every aspect of the elder Chimalgi's personality. Even very private ones.
The uncle and the nephew were exact opposites. While passive contentment was the nephew's forte, unbridled ambition was that of the uncle's. There were exceptions to these primary and defining traits. Charu's mind would boil over with the desire to know how things work; to dwell upon them endlessly - if possible; to analyze everything that went on around himself, and fit them into a general theory that he would evolve for each class of activity. If such analysis involved some physical exertion beyond throwing pebbles into the waters of his favorite pond, the entire process of his mindful investigations would come to a standstill.
Svamicharan Chimalgi's body would boil over with the desire to act immediately on any provocation. However, even the thought of thinking would be sufficient to give him the jitters. He had been through ten years of schooling in a government institution, on the sheer strength of his reputation as a toughie, and had the frame and figure to bolster it. The marks that he was allotted for promotion to the next higher class each year was in direct proportion to the level of intimidation that the particular teacher experienced. That he got a first, second, or third division, was a measure of the emotional robustness or frailty of the teacher, rather than Svamicharan's proficiency at his lessons. His manipulative influence not having reached beyond the confines of the school at that time, he had failed in the tenth standard examination, which involved writing it at a different location, observed by strict, vigilant, and seasoned examiners, who had the means and experience of handling pressures of the kind that the young Svamicharan would attempt to heave upon them. Expectedly, he had flunked and never bothered to enter the portals of an educational institution again. But call it sixth sense, subconscious ability, luck, or what-you-will, he could unthinkingly read a situation in a jiffy, and take appropriate action - if the situation allowed - that would always be to his advantage.
Charu surmised that his uncle had this peculiarity of having much of the decision making processes that normally occur in the conscious part of the brain in a representative individual, transpiring in the unconscious section of his. His model only symbolized a general setting. Deviations, and extreme ones at that, were certainly possible in reality. It was such divergences from the norm that defined the uniqueness of an individual.
The imaginative unofficial researcher had evolved an interesting convention for recording attributes of an individual to simulate the subject's decision making process. Attributes assignable to the unconscious section were documented in physiological terms. Those of the subconscious were in engineering terms, while the features of the conscious part were in normal conversational parlance.
On the top of the list of unconscious traits of Svamicharan Chimalgi that Charu had drawn up was Explosive Anger Disorder induced by Hypoglycemia, which was caused by the pancreas releasing an excess of insulin into the blood stream. This generally happened, when the man had too much to drink, which was his weaknesses, and therefore a frequent occurrence. As a result, the listed disorder too was a common happening, and most of his decisions were taken in this specific ambience, liberally laced with violence and of a vengeful nature.
There were two corollaries also to this listed entry, which may not have modified the decisions that he made in any way, but would have had a bearing on the elapsed time between pre and post decision recesses.
As most of Svamicharan's thinking processes occurred in the unconscious or subconscious state, it was invariably accompanied by the onset of Absence Seizure, a state that takes the form of a spell of staring, involving a brief loss of awareness, accompanied by blinking and mouth twitching. Svamicharan would be in this state for upto fifteen minutes, but when he regained normalcy - and after the effects of the second corollary had played out its effects - there would be a spate of orders bandied out to his subordinates that would brook no delay, doubt, or modulation, in its execution.
The second corollary listed referred to the Irritable Bowel Syndrome, induced by anxiety. The disquiet caused by the sudden realization of having to oversee the execution of so many decisions unconsciously taken, while in the state of Absence Seizure, caused him to rush to the loo to empty his bowels, which resulted in a slight delay in the subordinates being invested with them for execution. Generally, the delay of a few minutes not being a critical factor in Svamicharan's domain of activity, this peculiarity did not cause any serious disruption to the intended objectives.
There were many more entries in the list that described the unconscious working of the subject's thought process, but the first one with its corollaries dominated the rest. There was one that found a parallel in the subconscious list as well. This described a movement disorder called Akathisia, characterized by the inability to keep still. Those with this disorder would constantly be moving their limbs. Keeping with his resolve of using engineering terms to identify them, the corresponding entry that Charu made in the subconscious list was "movements of limbs in sinusoidal progression for no specific purpose." The rate of limb movement appeared to be proportional to the level of anxiety.
The list of traits associated with his conscious state was primarily dictated by overriding selfishness with not a shred of altruism, unconcealed and rampant desire for self-promotion, and the yearning for power and wealth. It was a heady mix. As with the other two, this list too had many other minor entries, which would sway and color the decisions to an extent within specified limits. In reality, these so called "minor" non-corporeal details truly charted the specific direction and content of decisions. Those at the top of the lists were the more visible and glamorous ones that indicated the physical manifestations of the decision making process and its conclusions.
Charu then jotted down as many incidents in the life of his uncle that he could remember in detail, along with the happenings that preceded and followed it.
The two researchers were now equipped with all the necessary data to begin experimenting, to see whether their model would work, which required them to compute the decision taken by Svamicharan during each of the incidents based on the stimulus that triggered it, and the traits that made up his persona.
Expectedly, Parsvanath was the more passive participant in the exercise, his passivity sometimes extending to the level of being excessively drunk and sprawled upon the bed, while Charu went hammering away on the keyboard of his laptop or desktop, depending on where he worked.
Charu preferred it this way. The two researchers complimented each other perfectly. Parsvanath was the one who arranged for all external necessities that went into sustaining the research activity, chores that would appear intimidating and impossible to Charu. They made rapid progress and were soon able to reach a stage where all the recorded incidents were in a position to be accurately simulated by the model.
It was a little more than a year since they had started work and felt that it was time to make a peer group presentation. They still needed to test their model on a few more individuals, before they could claim that it was a reasonably infallible one. The hitch with this proposed step was to find contemporary political administrators who would be willing to bare their lives and traits to researchers. Their guide had long abandoned his endeavor to keep up with their style or pace of work. He did feel being snubbed and sidelined, but the combined weight of academic and political pedigree made him swallow these comparatively trivial assaults on his pride. The thought of the possible critical assault on his person if he were to express his annoyance, particularly from the easily excitable councilor, made his job of swallowing rather easy.
It was about this time that Svamicharan, forced by situational compulsions, made up his mind to make his nephew fight the ensuing elections as his proxy. A reluctant Charu had initially opposed the idea, citing his involvement in the research project that only paid him but was also an undertaking that he was thoroughly enjoying. Svamicharan had assured him that he would be disturbed in no way in this activity and had prevailed upon a superior in the party hierarchy to convince his nephew.
The superior was wilier than his junior colleague Svamicharan was, in subtle people manipulation techniques. Obviously, that is why he was a superior. After having learnt about Charu's pursuit, he offered to be one of the volunteers for his experiment, and also convince some of his other colleagues to do so, if Charu agreed to his uncle's proposal. The party benefited greatly by Svamicharan's sway in his domain, and they did not want it to slip into someone else's hands.
The deal was clinched and Charuchandra Chimalgi the unofficial researcher became the official candidate of the party for councilor-ship.
Every story has one big villain, or a range of little ones, who pop up occasionally, or once too often, to bestow color and pep to it, as the narrative approaches a milestone or a crossroads along its path. Gangadhar Ghatgay was the little villain, who rose to the occasion and fulfilled this role, as Charu's life reached a decisive turn, unknown to him or to anyone else.
Gangadhar had been considering himself to be the second in command of the elder Chimalgi's fiefdom. His boss had neither made a declaration to this effect, nor did he have any conscious thought in his mind towards such an eventuality. He had no thoughts in his conscious self anyway, all of them being stacked up in the subconscious and unconscious sections, according to his nephew's research model.
The self-styled second-in-command greatly resented the idea of Charu being selected to represent the constituency, as a proxy to his boss. That privilege was rightfully his, while an utter misfit, who had not even one trait suitable for the job, was taking that right away.
During the course of his data collection on the life of his uncle, Charu had casually interviewed many of those who worked for the councilor, in his private as well as public capacity. He had conversed with Gangadhar many times on this matter due to his special position among his uncle's staff. Svamicharan had in his employ two sets of people. Members of one set were the well groomed and courteous kind, who appeared to be doing all the right things - under the guidance of the councilor - in the openness and splendor of daylight. To them belonged the privilege of doing the deeds that always appeared in the newspapers and television channels, invariably accompanied by the picture of the smiling councilor. It was a well kept secret that the smile on the photograph had been computer generated; the owner of the original face that was, never having had complete voluntary control over his facial muscles that made an individual sport a smile.
Members of the other set always operated in the darkness of the night, and indulged in deeds that were better never seen. They were attired in garbs appropriate to their occupation, and spoke a language befitting it. Their manner of behavior was an insult to the term, "discourteous."
Gangadhar had a foot in both domains. He could change his manner at will and act his part to the letter. What he lacked was original thought and decision making ability, which his boss had in abundance, unconsciously.
It must be said that it was by sheer luck, that this all-weather actor had the imaginative idea of making out a case against his perceived rival and the usurper of his occupational right - Charuchandra, based upon the fact that he had been collecting sensitive information about councilor Chimalgi.
Anything looks better and is more acceptable, when it is bedecked with appropriate adornments. Insinuations are no less. It was a highly decorated and bejeweled set of accusations that were presented to the impulsive and reckless uncle against his cautious and conscientious nephew, a few days after election to the seat vacated by Svamicharan Chimalgi had been notified and campaigning by various parties whose representatives were contesting it had started to warm up.
The dethroned councilor was predictably incensed. He went into his customary Absence Seizure mode, and after a bout of intense eye-blinking and mouth-twitching, became his normal conscious self. This was followed by a quick rush to the loo.
After having conveyed a message that started the whole process, his subordinates, who were used to the ritual, would leisurely have a cup of tea or a swig of liquor followed by a smoke, and laze about, until their boss was through with it. They would get a minimum of a quarter of an hour, which could stretch to about half an hour for this indulgence, depending upon how serious and important was the message that they had conveyed.
When Svamicharan returned, wiping the perspiration off his face, he was flush with decisions. The self-appointed deputy was ordered to raid Charu's den and obtain unassailable evidence to support his accusation. Had the accused been someone else, his decision would have been much harsher - summary elimination of the offender without trial, which is what Gangadhar had been hoping for and was obviously disappointed. However, he believed that it was only a case of delayed justice and he would, ultimately, have the last laugh.
While Gangadhar Ghatgay set out to accomplish his sleuthing mission, Svamicharan Chimalgi was in a high state of anxiety, which was discernible from the greatly enhanced manifestation of Akithisia. His body was in a constant state of agitated motion. He would pace his dingy room for a while, stand at one place and keep lifting his feet as if he was marching at one spot, shift to another spot and rock his body from side to side to an extent beyond which he would have lost his balance and fallen over, or sit on his exclusive couch and keep crossing and uncrossing his legs, shaking his knees and ankles rapidly. Packet after cigarette packet was being consumed, and cigarette butts lay strewn all across the floor. Swirling smoke had reduced visibility in the room to almost nothing. In this atmosphere, Svamicharan would have been chain-smoking for a long while, even without having to light a cigarette.
Gangadhar was a great actor, but an appalling sleuth. Since it was yet daytime, he decided to don a daytime garb for his first attempt at this undercover venture, for he knew from his past record that there would certainly be many attempts before he succeeded. Transforming himself into a well-dressed salesman with an accented manner of speech dealing in computer accessories, he made his way to the dilapidated house on the pond bank, only to be informed by Charu's aging mother that he was at his friend Parsvanath's place. The make-believe sleuth had this inherent failing of losing his self-confidence in proportion to the time he spent doing a role. He would begin with a bang and end with a whimper. He had found an impeding agent for this debilitating effect in a preparation made from crushed betel nuts, tobacco, catechu - an extract of a species of Acacia, lime, and sweet flavorings. Popping a pinch of this heady mixture restored a little of his confidence for a while. He had a fondness for a particularly pungent flavoring, which was favored by very few others. The result was that he could be sniffed much before he was seen, and those who knew Gangadhar once, knew him always.
When he reached Parsvanath's quarters, which was an outhouse a little distance away from the main mansion where the budding academic's parents and other senior family members lived, and rang the bell, it was Charu who answered it. Parsvanath was sprawled as usual in his bed, drunk. Today, he had another bearded friend for company, in a similar state beside him. Charu had been at work on his laptop at the table.
Gangadhar had a quick glance inside and noticing the state in which Parsvanath was, decided to utilize the situation to his advantage.
"I am Sarang, a computer accessory dealer and Mr. Parsvanath had ordered for a few pen-drives to be delivered. Could I please test them out on your system and leave them with you. You can give it to Mr. Parsvanath when he wakes up," he said in the accented manner that he had rehearsed for this role.
Charu stared at him for about a minute. When he had opened the door, the overbearing odor of the betel nut mixture had delivered a devastating punch upon his nostrils. As he stood stunned for a moment, he was pretty sure who the person standing in front of him was, though he looked very different. The minute's calm scrutiny had slowly revealed the person behind the faÃ§ade.
Charu burst out laughing. "You almost had me fooled, Gangadhar! What is this in aid off?" he asked.
The beaten and crushed sleuth sighed heavily. "How did you know?" he asked in a small voice.
"That is my secret. But tell me what were you up to?"
"Nothing," said Gangadhar, turning back and walking away crestfallen.
Charu continued to laugh for sometime thinking about the short encounter, but an unexplainable fear began to gnaw at him. Such behavior was strange indeed. The man would not make such an effort to conceal his identity for nothing. There must be a purpose behind it. What could it be?
An hour later, the doorbell rang again. Charu answered it. His eyes saw an old man with a slight stoop. His ears heard a quavering voice ask for Parsvanath. But his nose could strongly sniff the betel nut mixture. Charu had no doubt about who it was, but decided to play along. But for the odor, he would have been really fooled this time, so good was the makeup and performance of the man standing before him.
"Parsvanath is asleep, sir. I am his friend Charuchandra. Why don't you come in and have a seat?" offered Charu, stepping aside to let the old man in, who slowly hobbled over to the seat indicated by his host, making an effective and convincing use of the cane that he held for support.
"I am a distant uncle of the boy. He mentioned to me about the exciting research that he was doing, and had invited me to have a look at it. I had been a researcher myself in my younger days," said the old man, his words interspersed with painful coughs.
Charu marveled at the man's acting ability.
"Yes, Parsvanath mentioned to me about you. He regards you very highly. Whose ideas did you adopt for your research - Freud, Jung, Nietzsche, Bach or Beethoven?" asked Charu, mixing up the names of psychoanalysts and musicians.
The old man hadn't heard any of them, yet sported a knowing smile and said confidently, "The last one."
"Gangadhar! The last mentioned name was that of a musician and not a psychoanalyst," remarked Charu, having decided to end this charade. "I immensely appreciate your acting skills, but please tell me what is it that you are up to. Why do you stalk me like this? Or is Parsvanath your target?"
The old man choked on his cough. He had been exposed yet again. "How could Charu manage to do this so easily?" he asked himself, and followed it up asking the bearded man sitting beside him the same question. "How did you find out?"
"The aroma of the betel nut powder that you chew. I can identify that from a mile away," replied Charu.
"Oh, I am sorry," mumbled the humbled actor.
"You better be! But you have not answered my question," demanded Charu.
"I was sorry for myself, not for what I did. That is part of my job," declared Gangadhar, getting up to go.
"What is your job? To spy on me and my friend? Has my uncle set you up to this, or are you working for someone else?"
There was no reply from the exposed agent, who walked away with long steady strides and his head bent in disillusionment, there no longer being any need to limp along with the help of a walking stick.
Charu stood at the door, looking at the man's back. He had a mind to call his uncle, and complain to him about his employee's pranks, but soon decided against it, hoping that he had seen the last of Gangadhar Ghatgay for sometime to come.
About sunset, the doorbell rang for the third time. Parsvanath and his friend had finally awoken from their liquor-induced slumber about an hour back and staggered out of the outhouse, on their way to the main mansion to have a wash and freshen up. Charu had continued to plod on with his experiments on the laptop. The fatigue of having been working continuously for almost eight hours at a stretch was beginning to tell on his level of concentration. A little programming glitch that he was attempting to tackle was thwarting all his efforts at overcoming it, which made him a bit irritable too.
Believing it to be his two friends returning to join him, Charu opened the door to find a man - an oversized attire of a valet enveloping his torso, a big moustache straddling his upper lip, and a big mole adorning his left cheek - standing outside with a dome covered serving tray.
"Mr. Parsvanath asked me to deliver this to you," he said, in a gruff office.
Convinced that it was Gangadhar in another garb, even though the tell-tale odor of the betel nut powder was not in simultaneous attendance, Charu yelled at the man.
"Haven't you had enough fun for the day? What do you take me for? I will lodge a complaint with the police and have you arrested, Gangadhar. There is a limit to how much of nonsense a person can take."
The unexpected belligerence from Charu made the man in a valet's attire take a few steps backwards.
"I am not Gangadhar," he said meekly and almost inaudibly, which to Charu, almost sounded like the voice and manner of the blundering sleuth when he was here the earlier time dressed as an old man, and enraged him further.
"A good hiding is what you need," growled Charu, picking up a cricket bat that stood leaning against the wall near the door, intending to the smack the moled and moustached man in an oversized attire.
The intended victim of the deliberated assault was terror-stricken and was rooted to the floor, his mouth open wide, which revealed another one of his identifiable traits - a missing molar.
Just then, the patter of running feet and the rustle of leaves and branches were heard behind the bushes a few meters away.
Both men turned their heads towards the source of the sound. In the fading light of day, they glimpsed a woman clad in a flowing dress, rush away towards the gate. Half way to it, she stumbled and fell upon the sidewalk. The dress fell off her waist, revealing trousered legs; the wig that she wore got displaced revealing a balding head. Even from a distance and in the reduced visibility, Charu could discern the contours of his tormentor, Gangadhar, who picked up the fallen wig and the dress that had refused to cling on to his waist, and ran for his life.
Not being one to give up so easily, the man had decided to don a new avatar - that of a woman. It was the first time that he would be doing so. But it was also the first time that he had been effortlessly recognized and uncovered, twice within one day; from what were almost flawless masquerades. One "first-time" occurrence demanded another to neutralize it.
He had had a shower and rinsed his mouth clean to purge himself of the give-away odor, transformed himself into a pretty woman, though a bit too tall compared to prevailing standards, and walked all the way to the venue of his performance. The ogles, sighs, whistles, and catcalls that blossomed at his back, convinced him that he had passed the test. It was now time for the final step and completion of his mission.
As he approached the outhouse, he saw the moustached man with a mole on his cheek, reach it before him from another direction and ring the doorbell. Being fairly certain that it would be Charu who would be answering it, and hoping to overhear the conversation between the moustached man outside and the bearded one inside, he concealed himself behind some bushes. His position would have been easily compromised had it not been for the gathering darkness, which enabled him to blend with the silhouettes.
The door opened and he heard Charu yell. His place of concealment being almost in line with the direction that Charu faced, Gangadhar believed that, the odor of the betel nut mixture had somehow persisted, despite his best efforts at exorcising it - first with a shower and mouth rinse, followed by a liberal application of some giddy perfume, which had been so successful in eliciting all that amorous attention to himself on his way here - and had carried to the man at the door.
He didn't wait to confirm whether it was really so. Seeing Charu with a cricket bat in hand and in an extremely threatening posture made him lose his confidence completely and take to his heels.
The comical sight of a woman metamorphosing into a man while running away, made the moustached and bearded men relax and recover from their tensed states.
"Who was she? Or was it a he? I saw her walking in from the gate when I approached the door," asked the moustached man.
"A prankster. I thought you were her," replied Charu.
"Then it was really a woman! How could you mistake me for her?" asked the moustached man, alarmed.
"No, it was a man. And one who is great with disguises. It is a long story. Please don't bother. But I am sorry that I yelled at you. It was actually meant for her . . .er . . . him," explained Charu.
The other man found the happening as well as the explanation a bit too weird, and quietly walked away after depositing the tray that he brought along to be delivered, upon the table, and conferring strange looks upon the bearded man, who still stood with the bat in his hand and in an aggressive posture.
"They come in all varieties," the moustached man mumbled to himself, when he was out of earshot of Charu.
* * *
The never-say-die spirit in Gangadhar Ghatgay, revived him within a quarter of an hour of his third failed attempt, and egged him to plan and execute the fourth. The change in the day's character spurred the sleuth to adopt night-time strategies. He dressed himself in all black - vest, skin-tight pants, socks and shoes, overcoat, beret, gloves and goggles. He picked up the one tool that he was very good at using, a set of master keys - that could open any conventional lock, and put it into his coat pocket. After viewing himself in the mirror and being satisfied with the image that it reflected, he set off yet again in the direction of the now-familiar-outhouse.
His subconscious mind kept telling him that he could not but succeed in this attempt, while the conscious one insisted on heaping humiliation on himself for the three failed daytime efforts. To counter the barbs of his consciousness which had begun to nibble away at his confidence, Gangadhar decided to chew his favorite powdered betel nut mixture. It was packed in handy sachets and he carried at least ten of them in one of the deep overcoat packets. Withdrawing one from the depths, he slit the sachet at one end and raised it towards his mouth to empty the contents. There was a slight pause in the movement of the powder between the opening's tip and the lip, when his conscious mind reminded him about the consequences of chewing it, in the context of his current mission. Gangadhar brushed aside the cautionary thought and downed the sachet's contents into his mouth, in the process negating the possible slip between the tip and the lip. And he felt better. The plan of action for this mission did not include confronting Charuchandra Chimalgi in person.
While he was inside the outhouse for a brief period in the garb of an old man, Gangadhar had made a mental note of the positions of the windows and relative positions of the furniture within the room. This had become second nature to him, as his profession demanded it.
It was to the open window to the side that faced the street beyond the compound wall that he directed his steps and slowly peeped into the room through a corner of the window. The room appeared empty. A lone night-lamp glowed from the centre of the ceiling, permeating the room with its subdued and hazy light. Charu and his friends had gone for an evening stroll, the former to shed his tiredness-induced-lethargy and the latter to shed their lethargy-induced-tiredness.
For the thrice-vanquished sleuth, there couldn't have been a better opportunity. He quickly rushed to the door, used his set of master-keys to open the lock in no time, entered the room and closed the door behind him. Going to the windows, he drew the curtains. Awakening the snoozing computer, he quickly scanned the file directories. It didn't take him long to locate what he was looking for. The name of the folder said it all. It was labeled, "Events and thoughts in the life of Svamicharan Chimalgi." Browsing through the contents of the files within the folder, Gangadhar was astounded to find that Charu had been able to computationally justify every decision of his uncle, given the input that triggered the decision making process, and link it to the event that followed. He had also worked out a few hypothetical situations linking possible stimuli, the decisions they were likely to trigger and events that might follow. He couldn't have asked for more incriminating evidence to substantiate his accusation that Charuchandra was out to destroy his uncle's reputation, undermine his position, and permanently takeover the mantle of councilor-ship from the elder Chimalgi.
The folder, which was habituated to residing in the sparsely inhabited expanse of the hard-disk, found its contents being copied to the narrow confines of a pen drive, and pitied its clone for the life that it was going to lead in such stuffy and stifling environs, with the added nuisance of having to bear the overpowering odor of the betel nut mixture at close quarters, for Gangadhar always carried the pen drive and his set of master-keys wherever he went.
Mission accomplished, the sleuthing intruder cautiously opened the door and glanced around to see whether the coast was clear. He seemed to be fourth-time-lucky. Everything seemed to be perfectly setup for the success of his endeavor, as if compensating for the disastrous results of the three earlier attempts. Locking the door from the outside - an unnecessary step, which he did more out of habit - he jumped over the compound wall, exactly as he had gained entry an hour ago, and walked away, whistling a merry tune. He would, after all, be the proxy councilor very soon.
* * *
The three friends - two bearded and one clean-shaven - returned to the outhouse after their stroll. Charu could discern long before they reached its vicinity that there was something in the air, so strongly was the signature of the offending odor imprinted in his mind. As they neared the door, the odor and its discernment only got stronger, as it was bound to.
"That pest is around again. I am going to call my uncle, as well as the police," remarked the infuriated butt of the felonious whiff. He had already narrated the three episodes of the afternoon to his amused companions.
"Relax, Charu. You take things to heart. It can't be anything serious. Pranksters usually pick on people who get easily agitated. Ignore him, and he will trouble you no more."
"I can understand, if it is just once or twice. Such persistence has me worried. There is certainly more to it than what meets the eye. I am sure that he is after something in our room. I can't think of anything that fits the criterion other than the data in my laptop."
"Everyone knows about the research that we do, and he is your uncle's employee. What will he do with the data, unless he intends selling it to some other researcher elsewhere? Do you think he would dare to cross your uncle's path, knowing, as we all do, his . . . umm . . . reputation and manner of settling scores?" asked Parsvanath, his reasoning acumen fully operational after the long stroll in the freshness of the evening breeze that had carried away the vestiges of the hangover with it.
"Your angle of thought only adds to my uneasiness. My uncle is certainly aware of the kind of research that we are doing, but is not in the know that he is our prime specimen, unless someone has informed him. If he were to discover this fact, then his reaction could be unpredictable," replied Charu.
"I disagree with your last observation, Charu. How can you say that his reaction will be unpredictable when you have devised the very tool to predict it? We have been able to accurately simulate every decision of his to the stimulus that triggered it and every event that followed the decision, in the past. Feed in the necessary inputs. Let us find out what the model has to report. It will be a true test of your model," declared Parsvanath.
Greatly disturbed that he was, this obvious possibility had not occurred to Charu. They had now reached the door. Charu used his key to open it and the three friends walked in. The detestable stench assailed them with full force.
"That critter was here, while we were away!" exclaimed Charu.
"Now, this is serious indeed. Indulging in harmless pranks is one thing, but forcing entry into private property is quite another, which constitutes a criminal offense. I suppose you should inform the police," said Parsvanath, concern creasing his forehead also.
"Look what I found," said the other bearded friend, holding up a pen-drive cap. Is this yours?" he asked Charu.
"No, it isn't. That must have been the intruder's. It implies that he has been scouring and copying data from my laptop. Let me see what it is that he was after," said Charu, and rushed to his computer.
Scanning through the activity log, he saw that the entire folder that had his uncle's activities recorded in it had been swiped. He set his model that represented his uncle's thought process to work and input the stimulus of being told about the contents of the file. The three friends stared at the screen in anticipation, their eyes blinking in sync with the cursor.
A minute is all that the computer took to wade through the recorded traits of the specimen, evaluate possibilities towards achieving the objective of survival and self-promotion with the least effort, and spewed out its decision, which said, "Physically eliminate involved individuals. Get the job done by a third party. Personally eliminate third party, so that no investigative threads lead back to you."
Sans the onset of Absence Seizure, the eye-blinks and mouth-twitches, and the rushed visit to the loo, this would have been the time taken by Svamicharan Chimalgi too, to arrive at a similar decision, given the stimulus, circumstances, and purpose.
"Are you sure that you have developed the logic of your algorithm properly?" asked Parsvanath, his voice quavering.
"Only a short while ago, you seemed to have more confidence in it than I did," retorted Charu, equally shaken by the import of what they saw displayed on the screen.
"What are we to do now? Do you suppose we should make our decisions based on what the model says, or should we wait to see how events unfold?"
To Charu, their dilemma highlighted the need to include the element of self-doubt as an unconscious trait for specimens that they may later analyze, if they survived the likely result of his uncle's probable decision. With his uncle, however, he was convinced that the non-inclusion of this trait would have made no difference to the result, for ex-councilor Chimalgi never had any self-doubt. It was his congenital asset.
"But all this is likely to transpire only if our primary assumption were to be true, which is that it was your uncle who sent that prankster and had the data stolen," remarked Parsvanath. He was frantically trying to find ruses to convince himself and his friend that the computer's analysis was an impossibility.
"No theoretical conclusion works exactly as it is envisaged," added Parsvanath's friend, to add his might to the confidence-building exercise. "Deviations are the norm and invariably so."
"There is no harm in taking precautionary measures, is there?" asked Charu, not swayed by the arguments of his friends.
"Go ahead. But I have decided to treat it as an unfeasible outcome," declared Parsvanath, his mind already having reversed his earlier resolve of remaining sober that night. He believed that a bottle of liquor was the panacea to all debilitating thoughts.
Charu pondered over his choice of possible defensive actions. The only practicable one seemed to be calling his new well-wisher and Svamicharan's superior in the party hierarchy, Ratan Gordhandas. While his friends were busy organizing for their new drinking binge, Charu walked out of the room to put through his call. He didn't want any suggestive interference from the other two during his talk with the senior politician.
Charu searched through his list of contacts and selected Ratan Gordhandas' name. The number being called flashed on his mobile's screen. He had been calling this man quite often lately, but had never bothered to dwell on the number closely. Today, they popped up at him like big, bold, blobs. The number started with a double six and ended with a double six.
Before the sensation of bewildering surprise could settle, Ratan Gordhandas' voice answered from the other end, "Yes, Charu? What is the matter?"
"Sir, I sense trouble," said Charu, without any preamble.
"From whom and for whom?"
"From my uncle, for me and my friends."
"Can you explain yourself in more detail?"
Charu went on to describe all that had happened since that afternoon.
There was a long pause from the other end, while Gordhandas assessed the scenario from his point of view. He had always been uncomfortable with the ways of Svamicharan Chimalgi. But the man had been indispensable so far and needed to be humored for the sake of the party. Lately, however, his seeming invincibility had begun to wear off, and Ratan Gordhandas, as well as other senior party functionaries, had begun to see the need for a change. The situation that was building up portended a good opportunity to strike at Svamicharan's roots and install another more pliable and reasonable person in his stead.
"Charu, start immediately, and reach my place. Bring your friends along too, if you want. Do not tarry. I will speak to your uncle, if possible, in the meanwhile," said Gordhandas. There was a sense of anxiety and urgency in his voice.
"Sir, do you then believe that my uncle is capable of taking such a decision and seeing it through, if my assumptions are correct?"
"I haven't been to your residence yet, sir. Could you please give me directions?"
"It is house number six, on the first street to the left after Metro Theatre, when you come from the university end. It would be very easy to locate."
"Sir, do you have a liking for the number six? Your house number is six; so are the first two and the last two digits of your mobile number," asked Charu perplexed.
"Don't give in to such superstitions, young man. You should know better. But this is not the time to dwell on such trivialities. Rush to my place."
"Yes, sir. I will be there very soon."
Charu hurried back into the room and told his friends about his dialogue with Gordhandas and urged them to go with him. The two, however, had already downed a gulp of the fiery liquid from the open bottle in front of them, and bravado had started to edge out reason from their minds.
"I am not a coward to run from my own house. You go, if you want," declared Parsvanath.
Charu knew better than to argue any further. He packed his laptop, took his leave, and started for the door. As he opened it and stepped out, he saw two cars pull up at the gate and three men step out purposefully. His sixth sense warned him to avoid them and unconsciously directed his steps towards the row of bushes, where Gangadhar had concealed himself earlier in the evening.
* * *
When Gangadhar Ghatgay had returned to Svamicharan Chimalgi's smokey den, shown his boss the booty from his sleuthing exploit, and explained its ramifications, the ex-councilor had no more reservations about the veracity of his subordinate's accusations. The possibility of Gangadhar faking these reports did exist, but Chimalgi believed that such a feat was beyond the capability of this thespian in his employ.
He had immediately and unconsciously relapsed into his decision-making mode with all its accompanying outwardly manifest renderings, while Gangadhar had withdrawn into a conscious mode of relaxation awaiting his boss' return to normalcy. And when that finally happened, it was a highly agitated, but extremely determined Chimalgi that he perceived, who would have brooked no insubordination or failure.
"Ganga!" the boss bellowed.
"Yes, sir!" said Gangadhar, with alacrity.
"Call that land-shark who has a property dispute with Parsvanath's family. Tell him to come here and meet me immediately."
The call was put through and the man promised to be there in ten minutes.
Parsvanath's father had been instrumental in having the land-shark put behind bars for a few years for his attempt at illegally occupying the former's ancestral landed property. The jailed man had sworn vengeance, and had sought councilor Chimalgi's help in the matter. The then-councilor had refused, as his decision making procedure had indicated that such a step would tarnish his public image and compromise his position, particularly so, because Parsvanath's family was highly regarded in society.
Conditions were different now. The elder Chimalgi too had a stake now in the non-wellbeing of one of the members of that apparently illustrious family.
The land-shark was punctual to the second.
"What is it Chimalgi? You wouldn't have called me if there wasn't something in it for you as well."
He was also precise to the point.
"I want you to eliminate Bhandari's son, Parsvanath and his friend. You will have my backing, support, and protection in this deal.
"Who is his friend?"
"But he is the one who is going to be your proxy in the ensuing election," exclaimed the land-shark, his jaw dropping in surprise.
"I know what I am doing."
"You are not even a councilor now. What kind of protection can I expect from you? Administrative powers are beyond your grasp."
"I am still Svamicharan Chimalgi and that is enough protection. I have the party's support and by default, the government's as well."
"Wrecking vengeance for my long incarceration is only one of my goals. I want that disputed property too. Will you help me get it?"
"Yes, I will."
"When is the deed to be done?"
"I carry no weapons."
"That is a minor detail, which can be addressed. The question is whether we have a deal."
"Yes, we do. What is the plan?"
The two men exchanged quiet, dark words in the confines of the smoke filled room that even their shadows couldn't have overheard.
Chimalgi ordered Gangadhar to accompany him on an important mission without mentioning anything more. He handed the land-shark and his employee a pistol each, with silencers. He himself carried no weapon.
Being asked to escort his boss and also being given a loaded weapon made the thespian decide to shed that sobriquet and refer to himself in his mind as the to-be-councilor.
Chimalgi took the wheel of his vehicle and led the way; the land-shark followed in his. As they drove past the clock tower situated in the center of the main park of the city and not more than a minute's drive from their destination, the huge minute and hour hands of the clock reminded them that it was just about an hour before midnight.
Having parked their vehicles near the gate of the Bhandari mansion, the three men walked briskly to the outhouse door. Gangadhar forced the door open with his set of master keys for the second time that evening and the three men barged in. Charu watched the proceedings from behind the bush, fright having got his tongue and paralyzed his movements as well.
Parsvanath had switched off the main light. He preferred his drink in a dimly lit ambience. The night lamp from the ceiling with its hazy glow was all the illumination available within for the huntsmen and the hunted to view each other in.
The huntsmen did not care for a thorough identification. They had come looking for a bearded prey and a clean-shaven one, and the pair was there, waiting for their deaths. The hunted did not have the time or the clarity of mind to observe and analyze who it was that had forced their way in.
The deed was accomplished quickly. Two accurately aimed bullets sped from the pistol in the land-shark's hand in quick succession and pierced each face between the eyes as they desperately strove for comprehension.
When the three men turned to leave, another bullet issued forth from the land-shark's pistol and pierced Gangadhar's skull. The man hit the floor face down and was dead before he did so.
The land-shark-turned-assassin, frisked the body at his feet, retrieved the unused pistol and the pen drive, tossed them across to Svamicharan Chimalgi, and placed the pistol that he had used in the hands of the dead man. As he straightened up, a fourth bullet was fired, which unerringly hit the assassin's heart sending him sprawling beside his last victim.
The ex-councilor surveyed the scene with satisfaction. His plan had worked to the last letter of his script, and the period that followed it. At least that is what he believed.
As he was walking back to his vehicle outside the gate, he thought he heard a muffled gasp, which made him spin around and hurry back to the scene of crime. Perhaps, one or more of the victims still lived. If it were to be so, then he would be in trouble. A methodical examination of the four bodies reassured him that the victims had truly joined the ranks of the departed. What he had thought to be a gasp, must have been a noise made by some nocturnal animal or bird. Freed of immediate worry, Svamicharan sped away in a relatively happy frame of mind, which was a rare occurrence for him.
But the gasp had been real and human made. Charu lay senseless on the grass behind the bush, terror having got the better of his conscious self.
* * *