Mullatharackal Karunakara Menon’s face looked impassive as he sat on a chair in a spacious room of Chempakamittathu House, listening keenly to the mustachioed man opposite him. Pichangottu Shekhara Kaimal, seated at the other end of the table with his arms resting on its top, was paying close attention to their conversation.
Karunakara Menon was one among those who had gained renown in Kerala very early in life. He had resigned his government job in order to start a business of his own. His enormous intelligence and success in the new venture earned him a lot of good will and people showered encomiums on him. He looked cruel so much so that there were few who did not feel frightened on seeing his jet-black hair and gleaming, blood- shot eyes. But Menon was a kind-hearted person.
He was there to find out why Chempakamittathu Padmanabha Kurup had summoned him so urgently. Shekhara Kaimal was Menon’s close friend who accompanied him everywhere. Ten minutes after their arrival, Padmanabha Kurup entered the room. He had an urgent bit of news to tell Menon, his friend. Kurup was the mustachioed man mentioned earlier.
Kurup: I’ve seen as well as heard about your sharp brains on several occasions and I have great respect for you and faith in your abilities. That is the reason why I decided to bother you and bring you here urgently to solve a murder that took
place recently. It has become the talk of the town. Surely, you must have heard about it . . .
Menon: Indeed. But I don’t know the finer details of the case. I did hear that Anandavadiyil Unnikandan Nair died in his farmland of a bullet wound on his forehead and that some time before the incident there had been a squabble between him and his nephew, Kumaran Nair.
Kurup: In that case, let me tell you what I heard . . . briefly . . .
The old man Unnikandan Nair’s house is nearly one-and-a-half miles from here. Though he was modern in outlook and quite well- known, he was not much liked in the locality. The only people he had a nodding acquaintance with were Dr Rama Paniker and myself. He was a bachelor. The sole heir to his unlimited wealth was his nephew, Kumaran Nair. Unnikandan Nair brought him up with great love and gave him modern education too. After passing his B. A. course, Kumaran Nair returned from Madras and stayed in his uncle’s house. One evening, when he went out for a walk, he happened to see a beautiful young girl. He immediately fell in love with her and, on private enquiry, found out that she belonged to a very poor family. Although his uncle opposed it strongly Kumaran Nair married her. And there was a quarrel over it. In the end, Kumaran Nair stated that his uncle would soon regret his action; then, taking whatever money his mother had in her possession, he bought a house nearly a mile away and settled down there with his wife.
Unnikandan Nair was a heart patient. Two weeks before his death, he had a severe pain in the heart. He immediately went to Dr Kunjirama Paniker. The doctor, after examining him, said that he had only a month more to live and that he could die suddenly any moment. Maybe Unnikandan Nair did not believe what the doctor said. He immediately went to Madras to consult a brilliant physician there. But when that doctor too made the same prognosis, Unnikandan Nair returned in disappointment to his house at Anandavady. On the eve of his death, he went to his nephew’s house in the morning but as Kumaran Nair and his wife had gone to visit a friend, Unnikandan Nair returned home. He went back that evening and, I understand, they spoke for almost an hour. Unnikandan Nair forgave his nephew his wrongs and left, promising to
settle all his future plans the following morning. The next day, as planned, Kumaran Nair went to Anandavady at two in the afternoon. Unnikandan Nair was at home. Both of them stepped out into the garden and sat under a tree for half an hour, talking about various matters in a very friendly manner. Later they walked towards Unnikandan Nair’s farmland. A girl who was going that way towards the village saw Kumaran Nair slap his uncle on the face and later patch up their quarrel. Three hours later, a maid servant spotted a dead body near a tree in Unnikandan Nair’s farmland and cried out loudly. Needless to say, the corpse was Unnikandan Nair’s. The bullet wound was at the centre of his forehead. From this we can presume the murderer stood right in front of him. There was a small knife in Unnikandan Nair’s hand, a type that is used in hunting, with its tip resembling a barber’s knife. Several feet from this place the handgun that sent Nair to the other world lay in the mud. Kumaran Nair’s name was engraved on the silver strip stuck to its end. It is this evidence that is used against Kumaran Nair. But he claims that he is innocent. In the course of their conversation, his uncle had made slighting remarks about his wife without any reason. In his rage, Kumaran Nair had punched his uncle but that did not cause any bruise. Later they settled their quarrel and spoke to each other for ten minutes. But when Unnikandan Nair spoke disparagingly about the nephew’s wife once again, Kumaran Nair returned home, wishing to avoid another fight.
It was four-thirty when he reached his house. There was a worker at the farm. Although this was what actually happened, people say that Kumaran Nair will be in the dock.
Menon: From this clear account of the case, I think there are two factors that favour Kumaran Nair. Firstly, people in the locality do not usually carry any weapons with them. So it is possible that whoever killed Unnikandan Nair might have come armed for the purpose. Secondly, as the gun has a name on it, the criminal will not abandon it in that same place. He will be afraid of being caught. Whatever that be, what did Kumaran Nair say about the gun?
Kurup: He said that his gun usually lay among several things in his reading room. He has no idea who took it from there and when.
Menon: What about the hunting knife?
Kurup: It had been in Unnikandan Nair’s possession for a long time. It is not clear why he took it with him that day. The case appears to be a complicated one. Now that you have learnt all the details, what’s your opinion?
Menon: The case is interesting indeed. But it’s not yet time for me to voice my opinions. First of all, before the corpse is removed from that place, will you send with me someone who was at the spot earlier?
Kurup: I was there myself. So I shall accompany you and do the needful. The carriage is ready. The driver was the man who found the gun.
Kurup ordered the driver to bring the carriage.
Menon: I have one more question to ask before the carriage comes. Has Kumaran Nair’s income increased subsequent to Unnikandan Nair’s death?
Kurup: Not even by a cent. When their relationship began to wane, Unnikandan Nair willed all his property and wealth to a distant relative. Moreover, on the night before he died, he gave away tiny sums of money to a few casual labourers and promissory notes for small amounts to a couple of his servants. One among them is Govindan.
Menon: Wait a minute! Did this Govindan know anything about Unnikandan Nair’s health or promissory notes?
Kurup: Maybe not much about Unnikandan Nair’s health, but certainly something about the promissory notes. Because in return for Govindan’s sincere services all these years, when Unnikandan Nair gave him another promissory note for Rs. 500 in front of two witnesses, Govindan summoned up enough courage to ask him whether he had forgotten the younger master, Kumaran Nair. The reply was that both of them were planning to mend fences and that Unnikandan Nair intended to give Kumaran Nair a gift to remember him by forever.
Menon now expressed his desire to see Govindan.
Menon: Can Govindan be asked to come to the place of the accident?
Kurup: Of course. I shall immediately send a note to Govindan through a servant. But let me warn you – if you suspect him, all your efforts at ferreting the finer details from him will be in vain! No threat will make him talk. His loyalty is absolute.
Menon: I don’t have suspicions about anybody at the moment.
The carriage arrived and Menon, Kurup as well as Kaimal left for the accident spot. The squeaky sound of the wheels made any conversation impossible. The horse, that was being whipped to run faster, was tired. The passengers soon alighted and started to walk. The driver tied the horse and joined them. The spot was barely half a mile away. They walked all around. Menon carefully examined the place where the corpse had lain and asked Kurup, ‘Where was the gun found?’ Kurup led them to a muddy area where an object in the shape of a nest made of twigs came into view. When Menon peered through them, he saw the shape of a gun imprinted in the mud. He looked in all directions.
Menon: Driver, you found the gun, didn’t you?
Driver: Yes, sir. Nearly an hour after spotting the dead body, when I walked that way, I found something glittering there. On going closer, I saw it was a gun. What shone was a silver plate at its end.
Menon: Are you sure this is the place?
Driver: Yes. I wanted the gun to be there till the police came and I was the one who covered it with twigs.
Menon: But we found another impression nearly twenty feet away…
Driver: I too saw it. Maybe the murderer had two guns and threw them both while on the run.
Menon was too busy to listen to him.
Kaimal: Mr Kurup! You may not suspect Govindan. But couldn’t he be the murderer?
Kurup: But no one has had suspicions about him so far.
Kaimal: That may be so. But the police of this place usually draw their own conclusions even before investigating the case. They don’t do a thorough job. What did Govindan do that afternoon? Can’t we assume that it was he who took the gun from Kumaran Nair’s house?
Kurup: That’s possible. Anyway, he’ll be here as soon as he gets my letter. And then he will have to answer Menon’s questions.
Menon did not hear their conversation. He was examining the spot all the time.
Menon: There’s nothing more to be learnt from the driver. Let him go.
Kurup sent the driver back.
Menon: I’d like to re-examine the spot where the corpse lay. Kurup: Do you think there’ll be anything special to see there? Menon: Yes. I feel something’s missing.
On reaching the place, they found a man approaching.
Kurup: That’s Govindan. You may ask him whatever you want. But I doubt whether you’ll find his answers satisfactory.
Govindan came to where they stood. But as soon as he saw Menon, he withdrew his step and held his breath. He looked terribly uneasy. But Menon was unruffled.
Kurup: This is Govindan, Unnikandan Nair’s most trusted servant.
Govinda, how long did you serve Unnikandan Nair?
Govindan: Sir, I stayed there for seven years. When I joined his employment, the younger master had just come back from his studies.
Kurup: I see. This is Mr Menon, my friend. Very adept at solving intricate cases. He wants to ask you a few questions. That’s why you were sent for.
Govindan: I’m ready to answer them.
Menon: Isn’t it true that the young master had a gun in his house?
Govindan: Yes. He had three. One was a British handgun. The other two were imported from America.
Menon: Fetch me the British gun and the six bullets if you find them.
Kurup: Mr Karunakara Menon! You seem to have come to a definite conclusion.
Menon merely nodded his head in reply.
Kurup: The expression on Govindan’s face made me feel that you know him. How frightened he seemed on seeing you!
Menon: Ten years back, I got him punished for breaking into a house. He has been involved in several other crimes too. He looks a lot different now but I could identify him immediately.
Kurup: If he has committed so many crimes, why did you send him to fetch the gun? Wonder whether he’ll return at all!
Menon: How long will it take him to get back here? Kurup: Ten minutes should be enough.
Menon: If we allow him five minutes to search for the gun, he should be back in twenty-five minutes. Or, at the most, half an hour. In the meanwhile, there are other details to collect. Let me try to get them.
Although Kurup and Kaimal offered to accompany him, Menon declined their help. The two men sat below a tree, watching Menon.
Menon walked slowly, carefully examining both sides of the path. On reaching the muddy spot, he stood still for some time and then retraced his steps thoughtfully and cautiously.
Kurup: What’s he examining so closely? Is the case solved already?
Kaimal: I’ve known Menon for a very long time and am yet to see a more intelligent man. Look! He’s picking up something from the ground.
Menon picked up an object that lay in the mud at some distance from the path, examined it for a while, put it in his pocket and returned to his friends.
Kurup: Did you find something? Menon: Yes.
Kurup: Was it something you expected to see?
Menon: Yes. Remember, I told you an object was missing? Found it now.
Kurup: Any objection to our seeing it? Menon: Not at all.
Menon took the object from his pocket and gave it to Kurup. Two pieces of thread roughly eighteen inches long and half as thick as a man’s little finger had been knotted together. Kurup looked hard at it.
Kurup: I don’t understand what role these threads have in the case. Menon: If you can wait till Govindan returns, I shall tell you.
Kurup: You mean to say that you’ve already found the criminal? Menon: Do you doubt it?
Kurup: I hope it’s not Kumaran Nair.
Menon: Kumaran Nair has no role whatsoever in this case. Kurup: May God protect him! I love him like my own son. Mr
Menon, do you think Govindan should be punished?
Menon: I have no right to punish him. I’m not here as a government official, you see.
Kurup: You sent Govindan himself to fetch the gun. What a pity! Will he come back? If at all he does, his gun will be loaded. Wonder what he’ll do with it! God alone knows!
Menon: (glancing at his watch) Two more minutes to half an hour.
Govindan is not here yet!
Half an hour passed. Five minutes later, Govindan returned with two guns.
Menon: You were asked to bring only the British gun. Why did you bring two?
Govindan: I felt it would be better that way. You’ve told them everything, haven’t you, sir?
Menon: Yes. Kurup and I were talking about you. I told Kurup about your house-breaking case. But you seem very respectable now.
Govindan: What you say is right, sir. If you suspect I’m involved in this case, you’re thoroughly mistaken. I could easily kill my master if I wished to. But I’m not of that kind. Ever since I was spared punishment, I’ve been a decent man.
Govindan gave the guns to Menon without any show of emotion.
Menon handed them over to Kaimal.
Menon: Govinda! I’m not going to punish you. For one thing, I don’t have the right to. Secondly, this case doesn’t involve you in any way. I did mention your house-breaking case. Now we are convinced you are a good man.
Kurup: Govinda! Swear that you have nothing to do with this case. Govindan: In the name of God, I’m totally innocent.
Kurup: Mr Menon, we didn’t think you suspected anyone except Govindan. And you told us that you’ve found the criminal already. It’s not proper to conceal the truth any longer.
Menon: I shall prove everything without much delay. Where is the thread I gave you?
Kurup handed it over. Menon undid the knot and tied it back loosely in the same manner. Then, taking the gun from Kaimal and after examining it for the bullets, asked them to follow him.
All of them stopped under the tree where Unnikandan Nair’s corpse had lain. The tree had a branch at a height of five feet from the ground. There was a smaller tree ten feet from there. One of its branches could be bent and made to touch the bigger tree. Securing that branch tightly to the tree with a thread, Menon placed the gun on the branch so that it faced the muddy spot. On merely touching the thread, a loud almost metallic twang was heard. Kurup looked at Kaimal.
Menon: Friends! Now you’ll see who was responsible for Unnikandan Nair’s death.
Menon took a small knife from his pocket and examined its edge. Although it was not as sharp as the hunting knife used in the murder, he decided to go ahead with it. Menon then asked Govindan to cut the thread as swiftly as he could. Govindan did as directed. Immediately a shot was heard, the gun flew and fell into the mud; the tree branch regained its original position and the knotted thread fell on the ground. On examining, it was found that the gun left impressions at two places, just as had been reported in the case.
Kurup: Now I understand the finer details. How intensely the sinful Unnikandan Nair would have hated his nephew to do such an evil deed. The doctor had predicted that he would not live for long. So he saw nothing wrong in committing suicide, especially if he could implicate the innocent Kumaran Nair in the process and thus take revenge. What a deplorable deed! If we didn’t have Menon’s help, we would never have solved the case.
Menon: Although the case was an unusual one, finding evidence was not as difficult as you imagine. I got a rough idea on seeing the spot where Unnikandan Nair’s corpse lay. My doubts cleared as soon as I saw the impressions of the gun at two places. That was when I said an object connected to the case was missing. The knife in Unnikandan Nair’s hand was used to cut the thread. Do I make myself clear?
Kurup: Of course. My goodness! Unnikandan Nair was a really wily fellow! It was done deliberately to trap Kumaran Nair. But how did he get Kumaran Nair’s gun?
Menon: Do you remember hearing that on the day previous to his death, Unnikandan Nair went to Kumaran Nair’s house? Kumaran Nair was away then and Unnikandan Nair remained there for some time. Couldn’t he have taken the gun then? The same night he told Govindan he would give Kumaran Nair a gift that would ensure he’ll remember Unnikandan Nair’s name forever. Isn’t that evidence enough?
Kurup: We’ll be grateful to you always for unraveling all the details of this case. Let’s convey this piece of good news to Kumaran Nair.
Everyone went to Kumaran Nair’s house. His joy, on hearing the details of the case, was indescribable. After tea, they left for Chembakamittathu House and spent the night there. The next morning they informed the police. The police were shamefaced and declared that Kumaran Nair was innocent, beyond all doubt. Thereafter, Kurup, Menon and Kaimal returned to their houses.
“Oru Kolacase” (Adhyakala Sthree Kathakal. Comp.
M.M. Basheer. Kozhikode: Lipi, 2004 : 48-60), translated by P. Radhika.