Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Shocking Caper

By Sabrina F Ahmad and Azfarul Islam

Acesspool of dreams, mired in corruption, bubbling with desire. Where ideas converge for the future and green paper diverges thoughts, minds and hearts. Where the deepest, darkest bowels are now evermore, silent, metastasising. This is Dhaka City.

An abyssal blackness plunges all, from the delicately-coiffed baby squirming in his mother's lap to the restless student glancing guiltily at the papers on his desk, his pallid face basking in the glow of a forbidden read. The darkness even consumes the weary magnate, his fingers callused from all the zeroes typed in for the day. One can muse how 'zero' is but naught, a non-existent sum that feeds on others to gain stature. Like the shade now eclipsing all these tiny lives, stilling the beating heart of the City, clogged arteries and all.

Somewhere in Gulshan, 6:30pm
It was a sweltering evening, and the descending sun sneered down at the sweaty city, raising fiery fingers in a mocking salute as it gave way to the Darkness. With a great, shuddering roar, the generators fired up as the City prepared for yet another losing battle against the power-cut. Electricity was nowhere to be seen. The UPS beeped pitifully once or twice, and finally gave up. Damn.

Svelte and charming; with typing speeds to rival Hermes and a motherly nature hiding a real wildcat underneath, even the toughest of men have withered under the QWERTY of Sabs. She peered up from her well-thumbed copy of Rising Stars, every private eye's source for all that happens in the dark underbelly of Dhaka's teen populace.

“No sign of Electricity, then?”
“Nope. Been missing for freakin' half-an-hour now!” “Blast it!”

This from the quick-witted, flamboyant Az, whose words had a keener edge than Darth Vader's trusty light-sabre, and woe betide the poor soul that lit his legendary short fuse and faced the business end of his sarcasm. Electricity better turn up soon, or there would be blood. And none of it would be Az's.

Just then, someone's cell-phone rang, piercing the dust. “Hello? Is this the Rising Investigators? Oh, thank God!” Ah. When there's trouble, one can count on word to come crawling to the Rising Investigators. If anyone could get to the bottom of a story, it would be these two. They did chew out the Ghostbusters last year and send them crying, yelling something about the devil's own minions. The details weren't important.

“How can we help you, ma'am?” “My baby's been wailing non-stop since Electricity left us, and the IPS quit, and the mosquitoes are getting us and...” At this point, the batteries gave out. Typical. Electricity hadn't been there long enough to let us charge our phones. Still, it was a lead.

Crime Scene One:
A house in Dhanmondi

The victim, a baby, had gone purple in the face from crying. Even with the windows opened (thus the mosquitoes), the room felt like soup. The mother was frantically flapping a magazine, trying to generate some wind, while the ceiling fan overhead lay idle, mocking us. Az and Sabs exchanged looks: it was time to search for clues. They scoured the cupboard. They combed through the shelves...and then, they found it. Tucked away into an obscure corner of a mid-safe was a quaint artifact, a throwback from the previous decade...a nakshi hand-fan. With its smooth wooden handle and brightly coloured cloth border, it was just perfect.

“What's that? You found it where? In the mid-safe? Oh no! It probably belonged to my mother-in-law...which means it's cursed!” In the silence that ensued, a pair of incredulous eyebrows inched up a pair of incredulous foreheads. “You what?”

“Don't you guys watch Hindi serials? Oh, I see...” This last as Sabs slapped her own forehead in sheer frustration, and Az mimed puking motions. Giving up this ultra-modern urbanite as utterly hopeless, Sabs swished the hand-fan over the baby.

A gentle breeze issued forth and the baby hiccupped a few times, and was mercifully silent. The woman's flabbergasted exclamations of joy were cut short by the jangle of some annoying Bollywood number, which turned out to be her cell-phone ringer. “Hello? Yes...the Rising Investigators are here...what? Okay, I'll tell them.” The two didn't need an explanation. There was a new scene to visit.

Crime Scene Two: A god-forsaken room with the vilest possible stench, i.e., the room of your average student
For someone who sounded like a pansy girl on the phone, they were shocked to find their student a tall gangly mass of black clothes, hairy and studded with piercings. He was head-banging to a knock-off iPod grasped in his quivering, sweat-encrusted claw. Az knocked politely on the door. The student turned to them, eyes blurred with relief... and fear. He spoke in that voice, causing Sabs to roll her eyes and Az wishing that she hadn't convinced him to leave his wooden sword at the office. He wondered if someone squeaking in a nauseating tone counted as “wielding a weapon with deadly intent”. From what they filtered out of the screeching cacophony that greeted them, he had coursework to submit, due - as these things are - the following day. With an IPS that had died with nary a cough, there wasn't much hope for this lad without his PC. They shook their heads and started interrogating him, trying to rack his brain, so good at organising a massive MP3 collection in alphabetic order, yet failing at more practical things in life. Like personal hygiene.

Whilst Az attempted to communicate, Sabs' bright eyes pierced the darkness, taking in a lot of detail that, well, once seen couldn't be unseen. She spied a dirty sheaf of printer paper and then whispered to Az in an excited voice, “Remember the time we got a cheque?” Az locked his gaze with hers, his mouth agape. Of course, he slapped himself metaphysically. Rummaging a pocket best left unrummaged, he gripped something ancient yet still working. He spoke softly to the lad, “What I'm about to pass onto you has been with me through many a case. So, I'll kill you if you don't get an A+.” He handed a chipped ballpoint pen, still half-full of ink. Understanding dawned on the student's face and his once meek outlook turned into dogged determination. He nodded once.
On the way out, Sabs, without looking back asked him, “So, what were you listening to?”
He proudly exclaimed, “Havy matal. Back ishtrit boyej.”

Soon-to-be Crime Scene Three: A restaurant, good food, decent service. The Maître d' usually gives us a discount.
She smiled at him from across the table, dimples forming fetchingly across her cheeks. He felt a flutter in his stomach...no wait, that was probably the kofta curry. His wallet would probably hate him, but right now, Dhaka Romeo was definitely blissed out at having managed a date with the Babe Next Door. Their fingers inched forward, crawling across the expanse of tablecloth for a rendezvous at the centrepiece. Chugchugchug... broooomm.

With a dying groan, the generator gave out, plunging the room into darkness. A medley of exclamations, complaints and apologies arose. It turned out that the frequency with which Electricity went AWOL, even the uber-romantic candles were running out. Suddenly, a beam of light appeared from the doorway, as two familiar figures walked in, armed with their trusty, cheap, mug-proof cell-phones. “Just happened to be passing by!” Sabs chimed, while Az grinned rakishly. “The Rising Investigators! We're saved!” The pair walked in, bearing a pair of dusty artefacts not seen in years. “We found these at a kutcha bazaar. They're called hurricane lamps, and they run on kerosene.”
The little crowd watched, rapt, as Sabs poured the oil in. Flicking his thumbnail over the tip, Az lit a match, and then lit the tapers. A pattering of applause went around as the small flames flickered to life, illuminating tired, sweaty faces, the interlinked fingers of Dhaka Romeo and Babe Next Door. The emergency had been thwarted and romance restored, but it was clear that there was still a job to be done. Electricity had to be found. The Rising Investigators stepped out into the Darkness. Our two heroes were hot on the trail of the elusive Electricity, chasing the sightings, interrogating eyewitnesses, who gave different accounts. “We had 'im an hour back.” “Comes and goes...” “Aijka soy baar gese!” “Afa, bhaiya... ey torss-ta kinben?”, grinned a toothless 'Amare-maaf-koira-den' Dilip, ever the opportunist.

All over, men roared in anguish, women screamed and children ran amok, happy, excited, frightened - an outpouring of emotion not felt since the day before. One by one, the generators gave out. The lines at the CNG filling stations grew longer. Tempers frayed. Nails were bitten. Locks of hair were torn out in utter frustration. The suspense crescendoed......and then the lights came back on. Az hit 'Save', and Sabs clicked on 'Send', and the article on power-cuts was on its way to the Rising Stars, and the two writers, shared a moment of self-congratulation. Once again, Rising Stars has a cover story. The day is saved!



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