A week after his disappearance, Srikant’s family received an envelope. His father Bhagirath, responding to a knock on the door, collected it from a postman, whose nose was like an eagle’s beak.
Srikant’s name, with his address beneath, was typed neatly on the envelope and on the other side the sender’s name read as: The Marketing Manager, The Times of India. Bhagirath tore it from one corner, with the help of his silver paper cutter, lying on a table. It was a gift in lieu of annual subscription of a weekly magazine. Inside the envelope, Bhagirath found a note and a newspaper cutting. He read the note first.
Dear Mr. Srikant
Kindly find attached a cutting of the advertisement booked by you under the ‘Missing Persons’ column of The Times of India. Your ad appeared in the Delhi and Mumbai edition of the newspaper on March 22. In case of any error in the ad, please contact the Marketing Manager.
Bhagirath looked at the cutting. There was a photograph of a woman, quite clear, despite the cheap newspaper print. The woman smiled in the photograph. She wore a sleeveless T-shirt and trousers and looked very happy posing for this picture. There were details given below. Sneha, aged 34, fair complexion, tall. A small cut on her left arm. Missing from her residence since two months. In case of any information, please contact immediately: Srikant. There was Srikant’s e-mail and his mobile number provided along with his name. The same mobile number which went off that night. The night, when Srikant did not come back home.
Bhagirath felt his head spinning. He caught hold of a corner of the table and sat on the chair, as his legs wobbled. He had no clue about this woman. And he did not know how Srikant knew her and why he had given an ad in the newspaper. And where had he disappeared himself?
That night, the family waited for Srikant’s arrival. If he got late beyond 9 pm, he would always call and inform his father. Or his wife Kavita. Otherwise, they would always have dinner together by 9.30 pm. But that night, when Kavita tried to reach her husband on his mobile, she could not reach him. It was switched off.
By midnight, they were quite worried. Had he met with an accident? They tried calling few friends, with whom he usually spent his evenings. Nobody seemed to have any clue about his whereabouts.
Bhagirath handed over the newspaper cutting to Kavita. ‘Do you know this woman?’ She held it with trembling hands. She looked at it and then read the note. She did not know her. She had never heard her name. She had never seen her.
When he did not come back till the next evening, Bhagirath went to the Police. An hour after he had returned from the Police Station, a Sub-Inspector and a constable came to their house. They wanted to go through Srikant’s belongings. Bhagirath gave a nod.
‘Your son was very fond of books,’ the Police officer said as he looked at the huge rack of books in Srikant’s bedroom. Bhagirath did not know whether the officer was telling him or asking him. He kept silent.
After taking few more pictures of Srikant, they left. Kavita found a book which Srikant was reading the night before he went missing. It lay on his table, over a sheaf of papers. He had drawn some sketches here and there and scribbled in his usual indecipherable writing. The book was a novel by Herman Hesse. Narcissus and Goldmund. She opened it. On one page, Srikant had highlighted a passage from the novel with a fluorescent green highlighter:
A man’s wishes may not always determine his destiny, his mission; perhaps there are other, predetermining, factors.