Two A. M. Darjeeling has a weirdly fascinating charm to it.
“Silence cannot get eerier than this, can it?”, asked Mr. Chatterjee to the gentleman sitting on the armchair across him in the parlour. The fireplace was spitting every now and then, but that was probably the only sound that could be heard.
“I cannot disagree, but then why disrupt it by making conversation?”, said the gentleman in an off-ishly curt manner.
Mr. Chatterjee, looked slightly offended but it stayed on his face for a second before he smiled again and said “Bengalis and unnecessary conversations go hand in hand, my good sir. We are neighbours for the moment and getting acquainted wouldn’t cause any harm, I suppose.”
The man looked reluctant but forced a smile, “Dr. S. Mukherjee”.
“Doctor? From Calcutta?”
“Doctorate in Criminology. Born in Calcutta, settled in London.”
“Criminology? That is highly interesting. Are you a detective?”
“No, I write books and sometimes interview convicted felons for my research.”
“Loveaduck! Who would have thought that the person loving right next door would be such an interesting man? Tell me about a few of your interviews! The very thought is so intriguing!”
“Some other time perhaps?”
“Surely. How long are you staying here?”
“I leave on the day after tomorrow“
“Then you have to tell me one of your stories tomorrow night! Do you prefer whiskey or brandy?”
“I am not much of a drinker, but whiskey sounds fine.”
“It is on me! Tomorrow it is, then?”
“Let’s see, I came here for an interview with a felon. It’s tomorrow, I may join you at night.”
Mr. Chatterjee left the parlour and headed for his room, “Goodnight!”, his voice drifted back.
“Goodnight”, murmured Dr. Mukherjee, with a sigh, took out a cigarette, lit it and looked outside the large window overlooking the town. The valley was illuminated with hundreds of tiny orange and white lamps, all the windows were asleep and so were the people hiding behind them. He got up after a while and retreated to his room.
Mall Road was as usual a concourse, filled with all kinds of folks. Dr. Mukherjee was not someone who stood out in the crowd, so he made his way down the road and entered Glenery’s, an English café-cum-resto-bar and bakery, one of the finest and grandest places of the town. He set down his tea and sandwich on an empty table at corner of the balcony. He started reading something from a small diary kept on the table.
“A very Good Morning to you Dr. Mukherjee!”.
It was Mr. Chatterjee, beaming from ear to ear, dressed in a fluffy coat and earmuffs.
“Morning”, came the reply, “Why don’t you join me?”, he asked with a smiling glance and went back to the diary.
Mr. Chatterjee sat down with his tea and toast, beaming as usual, when he suddenly remembered something.
“Yesterday you mentioned that you came to Dajreeling for an interview, who is this person?”
“A Mr. Pradeep Shaw. He pushed a group of friends off a viewpoint twenty years ago.”
“What?! My Goodness! Why?”
“He didn’t give any reason. He pled guilty but said that he would do it again if needed.”
“This man is surely a psychopath. Where will you meet him? Be careful.”
“That’s alright. I’ll be meeting him at his shop. It’s the first curio shop to your right when you’re walking from down the mall.”
He paused for a while.
“You could join me today. I can keep your request from last night but on one condition.”
“Join? I am not too sure… I am a little worried about this man. Anyway, what condition?”
“You cannot utter a single word during the interview.”
“Uhh… I guess I may join you.”
“Five pm. I’ll meet you in front of the chowk, I have to buy a few things. See you”
He took his belongings and left a very worried Mr. Chatterjee and went out of Glenary’s and walked down the road.
The two men met in front of the chowk at five pm. They entered Shaw’s Curio Shop a few minutes later. It was a crammed up shop with curio everywhere, even the ceiling could not be seen clearly. A small television set lay on one side of the counter and it’s viewer was a balding man with orange hair flying from behind his ears. He had a salt pepper beard, his left eye was opaque due to cataract possibly. A part of his earlobe was missing. He smiled when they entered the shop to reveal most of his teeth were missing.
“Pradeep Shaw?”. He nodded. “I’m Dr. Mukherjee, I had called.”
“Yes, come into the back of the shop, we can sit there. Who is this gentleman with you?”
“He is a friend of mine, Mr. Chatterjee.”
Mr. Chatterjee gave an awkward smile, he was looking extremely pale.
The shop owner turned towards Mr. Chatterjee and asked him in a very grave voice, “Do you like animals?”
The question caught him unready and he fumbled a “yes”.
“Good, I don’t like humans who don’t love animals. I love animals, I hate humans.” he said to a very taken aback Chatterjee. “Anyway, come inside.”
Mr. Chatterjee who stood rooted to his spot very weakly said, “Excuse me Dr. Mukherjee, I have been feeling a little feverish since afternoon. I was thinking of going back to the hotel to rest for a while.”
“Oh that’s bad, you must go and take rest. I will meet you once my work is done. Let us go to your office, Mr. Shaw.”
Mr. Chatterjee came out of the shop and headed straight for the hotel. He went to the his room, opened a bottle of whiskey and poured himself a glass. He went to the parlour and sat down, looking into the fireplace. The flames danced and played around. It felt like hours until Dr. Mukherjee returned.
“Are you alright?”, he asked concerned.
“Yes, I’m just a little disheveled. What did he mean?”
“I apologize for this discomfort. It was just a childish prank I tried to play on you.”
“What do you mean?”, asked Mr. Chatterjee bewildered.
“Mr. Shaw is just a crazy old antiques dealer and I wanted buy a few things from him, but I couldn’t help but play prank because I was amused at how interested you were in my field of work.”
“But why did he say that? About animals?”
“Oh that? He says that to everybody who goes to his store. I love animals, I hate humans. He’s been telling me that since 1988.”
Mr. Chatterjee stared at the smiling Dr. Mukherjee, confused.
“Now, about one my interviews”, said Dr. Mukherjee, he looked around,”where’s the whiskey?”