No Illusions In Xanadu
Pallavi was at the office of the India TV channel, discussing the format of a new chat show that she was planning to host.
It was an exciting venture – something never before seen on Indian television.
The producers were hoping to create an Indian Oprah Winfrey of sorts.
They had roped in Pallavi for a large sum, hoping that her public image and the success of her previous television show would pay off for this one too.
It was win-win for everyone involved.
“But we will have to Indianise it completely,” Pallavi said, as everyone watched an episode on paedophiles on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
“Right. But I think Indian audiences are just about ready to lap up such discussions,” one of the producers said.
“Yeah, and it will cater to the voyeuristic instinct of the audience,” his colleague commented.
“Yes, I suppose you are right,” Pallavi concurred.
Her cell phone tinkled delicately. She ignored it. This meeting was important. It could be the beginning of something new and exciting. A glorious second innings for her.
The mobile continued to tinkle. Irritated, she snatched it up. It was her housekeeper, Rose. “Why are you disturbing me?” Pallavi spoke curtly.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but … but you see … er, Sir, Sir is, er … perhaps, dead,” Rose spoke falteringly.
“Are you mad!” Pallavi was shocked. For a moment, her brain went blank. This could not happen. This was not possible. Perhaps Rose had lost it. But then Rose was a most efficient woman, and unlikely to say anything bizarre.
The producers noted the sudden widening of Pallavi Kapoor’s pupils, even as she struggled to keep her face expressionless.
Gathering herself, Pallavi spoke into the phone, “What are you saying?”
“Well, yes Ma’am, when, when, Sir did not come out till late, we – um ̶ I, went into his study to wake him and saw … saw that he seemed to be dead,” Rose spoke in a voice that was barely audible.
There was no doubt about the veracity of her words, Pallavi realised.
Blankness enveloped her again.
Involuntarily, she began twisting the rather large diamond ring on her right hand ring finger, as she tried to assimilate what she had heard.
Was her husband really dead?
No, perhaps Rose was mistaken.
But then, Rose was not the sort of person to make mistakes – especially mistakes of this nature. If she said Rajvir was dead – then he must be dead.
She felt her heart constricting. A pain-like sensation rose from somewhere deep inside, reached her throat, and began choking her. Feeling short of breath, she opened her mouth to breathe.
She caught sight of the producers looking at her with concern.
No, this would not do.
She was Pallavi Kapoor.
Nothing fazed her.
Instantly she regained her composure.
Rose was still at the other end of the cell phone. “Well call Dr. Singhvi. Don’t talk to anyone else. I’ll soon be there,” she instructed.
Dr. Singhvi was their family doctor and lived near their home.
Pallavi had some doubts.
It was best for the doctor to examine Rajvir first.
Before, before, she believed anything. Maybe, maybe, Rajvir was just unconscious, or something.
Switching off the cell, she murmured apologies to the producers and explained that there was a sudden emergency and so she would continue the meeting later.
Pallavi took care not to reveal anything.
The producers could sense that something serious was amiss; but they did not have the guts, or the familiarity, to ask her anything.
She saw the question on their faces, but ignored it.
If what Rose said was correct, then soon everyone would know and there would automatically be tremendous public curiosity and media hype.
All the better for her upcoming show, a mercenary thought arose, shocking her. Ashamed, she firmly squashed it.
The death of Rajvir Kapoor – the reigning superstar of the Hindi film industry! This was nothing short of a national tragedy.
But first, she had better reach home and see for herself what had happened.
Could he have really died?
There was nothing wrong with him.
Had there been an accident?
A sudden anger rose within her. Seriously! Just when things were going her way, Rajvir had to go and die on her, she thought.
She never could have anything easy in life she reflected, as her BMW raced to Xanadu, her swanky new home.
Pallavi had no love for her husband – not had, since quite some time. Perhaps she had never truly loved him … he was just a means to an end … a profitable end, no doubt.
She wondered idly how much profit his death would bring to her.
“Are you sure?” television journalist Vimal spoke into the phone.
Minutes later, switching off the cell phone, he looked towards his cameraman, his eyes shining. He could barely contain his excitement.
“Well?” the cameraman prompted.
“It seems that there has been an accident, or something. Perhaps, perhaps Rajvir Kapoor is dead!” Vimal’s voice was hushed.
“Wh …What! The legendary superstar Rajvir Kapoor?” the cameraman exclaimed.
“Hush….” Vimal gestured for him to keep his tone down.
“This is the scoop to beat all scoops. And we are the only ones to know about it. Let us go with our cameras to Rajvir’s brand new home, Xanadu and quietly film the comings and goings. This way we will be the first to break the news on national television,” Vimal tried hard to keep his excited voice level.
“But how do you know?” the cameraman was mystified.
“I have my sources,” Vimal gave his superior smile.
The cameraman knew better than to further question Vimal. The latter never revealed his sources. “Are you sure it’s true?”
“Of course! Have you ever known my information to be wrong?” Vimal was irritated.
“Rajvir had it coming to him, you know. Building a 30-floor home pretentiously called Xanadu, in the middle of Mumbai. What does he think of himself? Is he some kind of king? To live in such luxury whilst we scramble for crumbs?” For a moment Vimal’s mouth twisted in hate.
During the housewarming party of Xanadu, there had been numerous protests at such an ostentatious display of wealth in such a poor country, the cameraman recalled.
“Yes, one of our poor brethren must have done him in, out of spite, no doubt,” Vimal continued.
Was it really true? The cameraman wondered. If so, this was a great tragedy. How, why, and when did this happen, the questions clamoured within him as they drove towards Xanadu.
“This will ensure maximum TRPs for our channel, at least for the next couple of days – maybe even a couple of weeks, if we play it right. This could be the break that gives me my next promotion,” gleefully Vimal broke into his reverie. The cameraman looked askance at the greedy expression that had crept upon Vimal’s visage.
“We can milk this for all it’s worth and ensure that we get maximum mileage. The channel must immediately set up a special team to put together various programmes dealing with the life and films of Rajvir Kapoor. All his hits, flops, awards, love life and all, should be used to create separate programmes. And all these programmes must touch the emotional chord of the viewers. Gosh, this is exciting! We must not lose our first-mover advantage! I had better discuss all this with the boss,” Vimal seemed to be speaking to himself. Immediately he called up the channel head.
As he listened to Vimal on the phone with the boss, the cameraman wondered whether he was really cut out for the mercenary world he found himself in.
Unmindful of the cameraman’s disapproving expression, Vimal continued over the phone and outlined the framework of various programmes that could be created based upon the superstar’s life. Clearly, content for more than a month’s worth of programming could easily be produced. And since no one else knew of the tragedy, they had a head start and would have Rajvir-specific content ready before anyone else. No doubt, these programmes would earn them crores through advertisements.
As soon as Pallavi reached her home Xanadu, she rushed to her husband’s study. The study was located on the thirtieth floor adjacent to the rooftop terrace garden and helipad.
The study no longer exuded the warm vibrations it normally did. Her senses told her before anything else that death hung in the air. She stopped in mid- stride, unwilling to approach the large mahogany desk that dominated the luxurious room.
Rajvir Kapoor’s head rested sideways on the varnished desk-top, as though he was asleep. His thick, unruly hair lay on his forehead in artful disarray.
The Pallavi of twenty years earlier would have been tempted to run her hands through the hair and push it away from his smooth, broad forehead.
Now, she simply stared at him. From what she could see of his face, he seemed peaceful. His eyes were closed, as during a nap, and the expression on the visible half of his handsome face was normal.
She looked towards Rose standing respectfully at some distance from the table. Her expression was inscrutable; then ̶ for a millisecond, her eyes shifted.
Pallavi followed her line of gaze. Next to the table, almost adjacent to one of its carved legs, lay a pistol. It looked identical to the one Rajvir had, she thought.
Was it the same?
Yet, how had Rose concluded that Rajvir was dead? There were no signs of violence – no blood, no injury, no nothing. He seemed to be sleeping; and just because a gun was lying there, it did not mean….
Hesitatingly she walked up to the desk and tremblingly stretched her hand to touch her husband’s cheek.
Instantly her hand recoiled at the touch of the deathly cold skin.
Simultaneously, her eyes settled on the barely visible small wound at the back of her husband’s head. Along with it, she took in the barely-visible pool of congealed blood that had seeped underneath his inert head and body.
Horrified, she sank into the settee next to the table. Her heart began palpitating uncontrollably. Bile rose up in her throat. Her stomach seemed to hollow out. She opened her mouth, drew in a large gulp of air, and forced herself to become calm.
Several minutes went by.
Rose waited, her face expressionless.
After taking several deep breaths, Pallavi gathered herself and asked, “What did Dr. Singhvi say? When is he coming?”
“Ma’am, he must be about to reach,” Rose spoke softly.
“I suppose the police will also have to be informed … and everyone else too,” Pallavi half murmured to herself.
A little later, Dr. Singhvi entered the study. Wordlessly, he went up to the desk.
He was their family doctor – had been one, for the past twenty-five years.
He did not have to be explained anything.
His eyes took in the scene, and the wound at the back of Rajvir’s head. There was no doubt it was a gunshot wound.
After checking the pulse, breathing, heartbeat, and eyes, he shook his head.
In spite of years of training, he was not able to mask the sorrow that crept upon his face and took a firm grip over his eyes.
Over the decades, he had come to regard Rajvir as a friend. They shared an easy camaraderie, despite the difference in their backgrounds and chosen profession. Perhaps, it was the similar age and some sort of indefinable chemistry that had led the two to share a warm and deep friendship, one that only grew stronger with each passing year.
It was hard to believe that this had happened.
Just last night he had been here at Xanadu, to be part of the grand celebratory bash that Rajvir had organised. The occasion was to celebrate the star’s thirty years of successful innings in the film industry. Everyone who was anyone had been at the party.
Images of the flamboyant and vital Rajvir greeting the guests last night flashed through him. How could this have happened in the span of one night?
Yesterday, he had been sharing a drink with the actor, and today, he was looking at his life-less form.
This was more than he could bear. Tears threatened to spill over his face.
Quickly and firmly, Doctor Singhvi took control of his emotions. This would not do. He was a professional, and witnessing dead bodies was part of his job.
“Do you want me to inform the family members?” he spoke gruffly.
Pallavi shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. She was more shaken than she had expected.
There was silence, whilst Pallavi debated the next course of action.
Dr. Singhvi waited patiently.
After a while, Pallavi gained some semblance of control.
“I, I, need to tell Amar myself. This will be too much of a shock, and, and…I have to make sure he can withstand this. I have, have to be with him…and comfort him, as best possible….” her voice seemed to break.
Amar was her only child, her only son.
Five floors of Xanadu had been especially furbished keeping his interests in mind. Pallavi had spared no cost or effort in ensuring that Amar was happy in his new home. There was an entire floor with state-of-the art gaming technology, another floor that housed his private gym because Amar hated to share his gym with anyone else, a floor with an Olympic sized pool, another which was a discotheque complete with computer controlled light and sound effects, and one floor comprised his living quarters.
All these floors were strictly off limits for his father, Rajvir.
Pallavi felt a searing pain rise in her as she thought of how Amar would be able to handle this traumatic tragedy on top of everything else that was wrong in his life.
The more she tried to make Amar’s life tranquil, the more arduous it became.
She wished she could live his life for him and take all his pain upon herself.
Shakily, she turned towards Dr. Singhvi, “Please, could you inform the others,” she requested.
Mutely, Dr. Singhvi nodded. He knew what to do. Rapidly he made calls to all close family members and to the Inspector General of Mumbai Police, who was a close friend. Given the circumstances of the death, the police would have to necessarily be brought into the picture.
As Pallavi took the lift to go downstairs to Amar’s living quarters, she wondered at the circumstances that had lead to Rajvir’s death. It was plain that the single gunshot was the cause of death. Had Rajvir shot himself? No–that was not possible. Rajvir was not the kind of person to commit suicide. He had such zest, such a voracious appetite for life. And there was no reason for him to do so either. He was in his prime and at the pinnacle of success.
So, then, was it murder?
Well, it was for the police to decide.
Rapidly she strode into Amar’s bedroom.
All her love for her son overflowed as she took in the tousled top of Amar’s head, as he lay sprawled across the opulent four-poster bed clad in silken pyjamas. In sleep he looked like her adorable, innocent little boy of yester years.
Her eyes strayed to the bedside table. There was the mandatory empty liquor bottle and rolled joint.
Tears threatened to overpower her. It wasn’t his fault really. It was hers – no it was Rajvir’s.
Hate rose to replace the sorrow.
Taking a deep breath, she took control of herself. This would not do. She had to be strong — for the both of them.
Gently she shook Amar.
He murmured and turned to the other side.
He was heavily intoxicated.
“Wake up beta,” she bent and spoke softly as her breath grazed his right ear.
“Wh, what?” Amar tried hard to open his eyes and look at her. He loved her. Loved her with an intensity that was surely unearthly.
She stroked his hair and tried to find the right words.
Amar looked at her in bewilderment.
His mother never came to wake him up. There had to be something wrong, very wrong.
Panic started to rise in him.
Even in his drugged state, the anxiety got his heart pounding uncontrollably.
An unknown fear took him in a vice-like grip.
“Your papa is no more,” Pallavi spoke softly.
“Oh,” Amar looked at her blankly. The words did not register.
“What?” he asked again.
“Your papa is dead,” she repeated.
Amar could not fully comprehend the import of what she said.
He only knew that he felt relieved.
Relieved that there was nothing wrong with his beloved mother.
Seeing her waking him up, his first thought had been for her safety.
Instantly his mind had conjured up the frightening thought that she had come to tell him that she had cancer or some such thing and had only a few days to live.
Thank God! Thank God!
She was safe. Yes, nothing could happen to his adorable mother. This was the least that God could do for him.
Instinctively he buried his head into her lap. Pallavi stroked his head, willing her energy to flow into her son’s body, in a vain attempt to strengthen him.
Words were unnecessary.
They remained like that for a long time.
Ruby Gupta is the author of eight books, including the hugely popular Maya, and a literary critique of Khushwant Singh’s fiction. She is based amidst the misty Himalayan foothills where she loves to concoct heady mixes of mystery and emotions. She is currently penning her next thriller.
Excerpted with permission from No Illusions In Xanadu, Ruby Gupta, Bloomsbury available online and at your nearest bookstore.