He closed the door behind him and paused, holding on to the handle as he weighed the wisdom of leaving his mother in his office (where she was now free to snoop) with the prospect of throwing her out (whereby he would have to endure more of her ridiculous nonsense).
His indecision lasted but a couple of seconds, and he passed quickly through reception and down the stairs.
It would be up to Elizabeth Rani to evict Mummy from his office.
The prospect of this caused him to give a loud guffaw. 'Pigs might fly. Cows, also,' he mumbled to himself as he made his way through the bustle of Khan Market.
On the drive over to the Delhi High Court, Puri munched on his custard creams and tried to put his mother out of his thoughts. He checked his messages, looked over the Bhatt matrimonial case file, pondering what cause his former client might have to be unhappy about the investigation Puri had carried out on his behalf, called his tailor to ask when his new safari suit would be ready, though he already knew the answer, and checked his messages again.
Mummy-ji's words kept coming back to him, however, and soon, despite his best efforts, Puri found himself railing against her theory. Though as a Hindu he believed in reincarnation and the notion that the soul is eternal, he found the idea of someone recalling events from a past life preposterous. Clearly this Saanvi, the young woman Mummy was touting as Riya Kaur born again, was deluded or worse.
'Such a nonsense,' he cursed.
But for all his indignation, a voice (which perhaps belonged to the little boy who had once looked to his mother for support and guidance for everything and could not bring himself to accept that she might be wrong) whispered the possibility that maybe—just maybe—there might be something—some kernel of truth—in what Mummy was suggesting. Did it not warrant investigation? Did he not owe it to Papa-ji to find out?
This dissent from within fuelled his irritation still further and in retaliation Puri resolved to break his word and not get hold of the Riya Kaur case file for his mother. 'Final, decided, no discussion,' he said out loud suddenly, somewhat to the consternation of his driver, Handbrake, who gave him a brief, quizzical look in the rear-view mirror.
Puri checked his messages again, found yet another unsolicited SMS from a real estate company offering to sell him a condo in Goa, and stared out the window of his faithful Hindustan Ambassador. Though it was only four o'clock, it looked uncommonly dark outside, as if the city was experiencing a prolonged eclipse. He wondered if perhaps his window might be dirty—it did not take long for a fine layer of sand and dust to settle on everything in Delhi these days,
hence the common sight of private chauffeurs incessantly wiping down vehicles wherever they were parked—or whether the smog was gathering again.
In winding down the window to check, Puri was reminded of just how efficiently the new bulletproof glass he'd installed last year insulated him from the noise of the city's frenzied traffic. Turning the handle was akin to increasing the volume dial on a stereo system, and Puri winced as he was fully exposed to the full quadraphonic tumult of ragged honking and straining engines.
By now the Ambassador was edging through the congestion on India Gate Circle, a battle-scarred bus belching black exhaust on one side, a cluster of three-wheeler auto-rickshaws that moved like a darting school of fish on the other. Puri strained for a glimpse of India Gate, the British war memorial that had long since become a cherished landmark of the Republic and more recently a promised land for selfie-stick salesmen. The lights had not yet been turned on, however, and the monument was barely visible, merely an outline with no detail. This was more than could be said for the dome of the president's palace and the chattris of North and South Block, which, on a sunny day, stood sentinel at the end of the long imperial avenue known as Rajpath. The buildings had been wiped from the landscape by a dense bank of smog. Puri even had difficulty locating the sun, scanning the sky until he found what looked like its replica in a shadow-puppet play, a small mellow disc behind a gauze curtain.
Puri didn't have to check the latest air pollution levels to know they had gone through the roof. His eyes were beginning to sting and the pleasant aftertaste of the custard creams had been replaced with the bitter zing of lead. Possibly this was another ignominious record for Delhi, now one of the most polluted cities in the world. 'Gas Chamber' was a term that often featured in people's vocabulary these days and one that Puri did not find all that far-fetched. Diesel emissions from millions of new cars on the roads and thousands of polluting trucks moving through the city at night, particles thrown up by construction sites, tens of millions of fireworks lit on Diwali, and the burning of stubble in Punjab after the harvest were all contributors to the poisonous air cocktail. It didn't help either that every morning, without fail, in every residential area and market across the city, thousands of sweepers armed with stiff bristled jharus swept up all the smut that settled during the night, driving great clouds of it back up into the air.
This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis.