When Charulata Ramachandran’s brother, Ravi, dies in an accident, she returns from the US to Mumbai. She soon stumbles on something that suggests a more sinister game is in play. An excerpt from Farside by Jai Krishnamurthy and Krishna Udayasankar.
On any other day, Charu would have wanted to call Ravi, her older brother, a pig for the mess that was his cupboard. She thought for a moment and then whispered the words nevertheless: ‘Messy pig.’
It had been two weeks since she had received that midnight call, flown at once to Mumbai, signed for her brother’s enshrouded body at a mortuary and cremated it at the break of dawn, all in the span of what felt like a dream. She had not even seen Ravi’s face. They had said there was little left to see.
When the lorry had rammed Ravi’s car, his head snapped forward and hit the steering wheel. The impact, the report noted, had shattered Ravi’s neck. In the hours that followed, the remains of his face had grotesquely swelled up and the cold contents of burst veins bled out from the eyes and nose. Of course, it need not have happened that way. It need not have happened at all, if only Ravi had not been driving completely drunk.
Charu could not understand why the doctor and others would share that piece of information as though they expected it to somehow heal the pain or lessen it. Yes, the accident was Ravi’s fault. Yes, he was a stupid fuck for drinking and driving. But that did not change the fact that he was her brother and he was now dead.
It also did not change the fact that there was nothing to do but pick up the pieces and move on. Or at least, try to.
Charu studied herself in the rust-dotted mirror of the cupboard, making a point to notice that her jaw was strong and firm, her shoulders were pulled back in defiance. She was not, she told herself, a weak person. No. She was actually stronger than most, braver and more independent. Ravi had made sure of that. Oh, hell. Those were tears in her eyes, after all.
Charu turned away from the mirror, wiping off the errant drop sliding down her cheek before Shakuntala, her mother, could catch sight of it. She paused, making sure that Shakuntala was indeed in the kitchen, seasoning the sambar in her own search for a semblance of normality. Then, Charu got back to packing Ravi’s possessions—the more mundane ones—to give to a local charity. Placing a final blue checked shirt in the box, she closed and sealed the carton with brown tape before carrying it out to the living room, where she added it to a neat pile.
‘Here.’ Shakuntala passed her a cup of tea, her efforts to ignore the growing stack far more heartbreaking than any admission of her loss. Even as Charu feared the awkward moment would lead to yet another breakdown—she was not sure whose—they were, quite literally, saved by the doorbell.
Charu opened the door to find a tall man in a well-cut suit standing outside.
‘Hi, I’m Jitesh,’ the man introduced himself, though Charu did remember meeting him at her brother’s funeral. Jitesh was . . . had been . . . wait—what was the right term to use anyway—Ravi’s boss at the television network, where he had worked as a reporter.
Charu invited Jitesh inside. He entered the house, revealing behind him another man, far less elegant and far more stricken by grief. Raju, the office boy at XTV Productions, was someone Charu did not know by name, but would never forget for the way he had sobbed at Ravi’s funeral.
The question prompted a sneer from Charu. David. The sneer became a sigh as Charu admitted to herself that despite the WhatsApp forwards and weekly phone calls, she had lost track of Ravi’s life over the past four years, of how he had managed work, their ailing mother, his own love life. Hell, did he even have one? She could not say. She knew near nothing about his friends, especially his best buddy David.
It was, she supposed, typical of her brother, that he rarely talked about himself. He had always been the over-protective type, the paternal figure she had needed when their father had died. He had made sure that it was always about her and her happiness.
Ravi had barely been nineteen or so and she on the brink of her teens, when Appa had passed on. Ravi had dropped out of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur without a second thought and begun working to support them, making sure that Charu got everything he did not, including the engineering degree that he had hato give up. Through it all, Ravi had remained a cheerful, unresentful man, flitting from one job to another to make ends meet till finally, XTV Productions had realized that degree or not, Ravi was a whiz with visuals. They had offered him a job, which he had taken, only to then accidentally discover his love for reporting.
Excerpted with permission from Farside by Jai Krishnamurthy and Krishna Udayasankar, Penguin Books India.