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The Red Dragon Mask

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“Ayush, Ayush!” Binita banged hard on the door, but there was no response from within. Her shouts became louder and her banging gained momentum with every second. Her thoughts were racing from despair to ominous with each of the bangs.

“Ayush, please open the door. Please don’t do anything stupid.” Tears welled up as she uttered these words.

The doorbell rang. Binita hesitated for a moment, then ran to open the main door. Her neighbours heard the commotion and had come to enquire.

Kaku, Ayush, he has locked himself in the bedroom. He is not opening the door. It’s been quite some time now.” Binita stuttered miserably when trying to address the elderly gentleman.

The puny woman standing beside the elderly gentleman took Binita in her arms and pulled her to a side while the others, present at the door, rushed inside.

It was their turn to bang on the door. After spending a few moments banging on the door, the younger men were ready to break open the door. And they did so in a couple of tries.

Binita ran in before anyone could stop her. Ayush was prone on the floor in a pool of blood. He had slit his wrist. Binita fainted.


“Ayushman weds Binita” Binita smiled at the decor on the hall gate. 

“Why is it written like this? Like you have done me a favour? In fact, it should be the other way round, isn’t it?” Binita threw the question jovially at Ayushman. 

“That’s how the decorators write. How would they know that you are the one who did me a favour by agreeing to marry me?” The boy sure knew to keep his new bride amused. It was their wedding day. The wedding rituals happened at the local temple in the morning, and now they had a small get-together, a sort-of reception party.

Though it was an arranged marriage, the couple had been in love from the moment they set eyes on each other. They spent a little time courting before tying the knot. By the time of the wedding, love flowed freely, like the water of the majestic Ganga.

The honeymoon had to wait. Money was not as free-flowing as love. Ayushman had been the sole breadwinner for his family of three for years. His mother and grandmother were part of his small family. After the wedding, Binita was now the fourth member. The newlyweds stayed in the town, a few hours’ drive from their village. While Ayushman worked as a manager at a local hotel, Binita started taking tuition to supplement their income.

They spent many nights trying to decide on the place they would go for their honeymoon.

“Shall we go to Goa?” Ayushman would ask.

“That’s too far off.” Binita dismissed it.

“How about Puri?” He was desperate.

“It’s too crowded and hot, besides that is a holy place.” She had a naughty smile on her face.

She suggested, “Let’s plan someplace that is not so close, not very far either, definitely not so hot and surely no temples.” 

After months of discussion, they both agreed on one place, Darjeeling. They both had heard of the beautiful golden view of Kanchenjunga, the serpentine mountain roads, the Mall, the momos! Most importantly, it was not that far, just about 4 hours by train from Malda to Siliguri then 2 more hours on the mountain roads.


The police came and took charge of the situation. The body was sent for autopsy. A not-so-friendly-looking grizzly old inspector called Binita aside for questioning. She was the prime witness and may be a suspect in the case.

“Did you two have a fight?” The inspector asked while unsuccessfully trying to get out a piece of betel nut stuck in his teeth with a toothpick.

Binita swayed her head.

“How long have you two been married?”

“1 year and 5 months.”

“Did he have any job-related problem?”


“Any affair outside?”


“Why do you think he did this?”

Binita started weeping, “It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.” She started beating her forehead. Her shrieks filled the room and spilt over.

“Oh, you provoked him? Tell me exactly what happened here.” The inspector hissed; he was growing restless. Suicides did not excite him. There was no bribe to be expected, more so from a family like Binita’s.

Binita got up and walked to the almirah to her right. She opened it and brought out a package. She then placed it in front of the inspector.

“We were on our honeymoon last month.” She murmured while opening the package.

“Honeymoon? To where?” The inspector almost chuckled.


“Darjeeling!” Exclaimed the inspector with a hint of disdain.

Binita took out a red dragon mask from the package.

“This mask killed him!” Her eyes were full of hatred as she looked at it.

“But you said he committed suicide because of you?” the inspector asked.

“If only I had not seen it. If only I had not wanted it…” Binita got lost in her thoughts.


Binita and Ayushman set foot in Darjeeling one early evening. The cool mountain breeze welcomed them. Their hotel was a little walk away from Mall Road – the heart of the little town. On reaching the hotel, the duo freshened up and went out to take in the evening beauty of the place. Night sets in early in the mountains so, they retired early to bed. Moreover, they had to wake up almost at middle-of-the-night for the trip to Tiger Hills to witness the famous sunrise. They were fortunate to have seen the Kanchenjunga in all its golden glory. The snow-capped peaks of the gorgeous mountain glowed like gold. Binita could not contain her happiness, “Ah! If only I could look at this every day!”

Ayushman whispered in her ear, “Then it wouldn’t seem so special, my darling.”

“Uff, you ruin every moment.” Binita poked his ribs in mock anger.

Their three days were packed with travel and visits to the nearby tourist places. They had breakfast at the famous Kaventer’s and dinner at Glanery’s. Rode on the toy train, the Batasia Loop mesmerised them. Once on the toy train, Ayushman tried mimicking the iconic Bollywood hero by singing ‘mere sapno ki rani‘ in his terrible voice which left Binita visibly embarrassed. They also visited the zoo where Binita wanted to take home a red panda, sadly the zoo authorities would not agree to that, so she dropped the idea.

The three days went by in a blur and they found themselves walking on Mall Road for one last time. They were sipping on homemade spicy hot tea sold by local ladies when Ayushman turned to Binita, held her hand and urged, “Buy something. Whatever you want, choose from any of the shops you wish to.” Ayushman insisted. 

“What should I buy?”

“Anything that your heart desires.”

“No need na, we have spent a lot of money already, let us not spend any more on the last day.” Binita tried to make a point.

“But I want to gift you something to remember this trip by. I don’t know when we can take another trip like this.”

“I have all the memories and photos on my phone.”

“Still, I insist.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, 100%.”

“Okay then, but you will not object to what I choose?”

“No, I won’t. Promise.” Ayushman pinched his throat as he uttered the word and they both started laughing.

They looked at each shop on Mall Road. There was jewellery made of precious stones, wind chimes, wall decors, vases, dragons, masks, statues, paintings, and even dresses and sweaters. But nothing seemed to fascinate Binita. Ayushman was feeling hopeless. They walked past almost all the shops and were reaching the fag end of Mall Road when Binita pulled Ayushman into a small souvenir store on the corner. A red dragon mask held her attention. It was not very big but the black and golden designs on it caught her fancy. Just what she would buy if she had to buy something there. The shopkeeper saw her eagerness to buy the mask and offered to lower the price by a fair amount. Binita was pleased to get the discount while Ayushman was relieved that Binita had finally found something to buy and end this shopping ordeal. It was the last day, and this was an unplanned expense, they had run out of all the cash they were carrying.

“You accept debit cards?” Ayushman asked hesitantly.

“Oh yes! We do Sir, the machine is here, under the counter top.” The shopkeeper said.

Ayushman handed his card to the shopkeeper.

“Your missus really liked it, and you are getting it at a great price too, good choice Sir.” The shopkeeper smiled and then added, “Which place are you visiting tomorrow?”

“Well, our trip is over, we are leaving tomorrow morning.” Said Ayushman and then the two love birds walked out of the store with the dragon mask in hand and a heart full of memories to last a lifetime. Darjeeling was just like a dream for the couple.

Early the next morning, Binita and Ayushman started their return journey. On their return journey, the train got delayed as a result they reached home pretty late at night. Both were bone tired so they flopped onto the bed and promptly drifted off to sleep.


“Next morning after we woke up, Ayush saw some messages on his phone. The messages said that our money, all of our savings were transferred to some unknown account.” Binita was recounting the ordeal in a detached tone as if she was back in time to that exact moment. As if she could see the events unfold in front of her eyes once again.

“How can that be?” The inspector gruntled, a little surprised.

“Someone had swiped our ATM card.”

“Eh, but they would need the pin.”

“Ayush had received a call it seems, while we were sleeping and without thinking much, he just shared it.”

“Ah, there you go! You fat-heads! You give them every information on a platter and then cry over the spilt milk.”

The inspector’s harsh remarks brought Binita back to the present time. She started whimpering again. The inspector didn’t want the crying to start all over again so he said, “Accha, ok, then what happened? Stop crying and tell me everything.”

Binita sniffled and continued, “Ayush could not believe the message. He tried calling the number that had called the previous night for the OTP. But that number did not exist by then. Then we went straight to the bank. There they checked and informed us that the card had been swiped in Darjeeling the previous night. We could not understand how that could happen. The bank manager told us how miscreants use different methods to dupe people and also chided us that it was our fault that we are callous with sensitive information. She only advised us to go to the cyber police.”

“So, did you go to cyber?”

“Yes, from the bank we first went to your thana, you were not there then, so constable Saheb took us to the cyber-crime branch. There also the Saheb blamed my Ayush only, for being careless. He felt insulted and stupid, that Saheb used very harsh words. They also said that there was no guarantee of the money getting back to us. It was all of our money Saheb, what would we do if it was not returned to us?” Binita broke down again.

“Hmm, what did you do then?”

“Ayush’s face went pale when the officer said that. We have huge loans to repay – the wedding then this trip and some older ones, his grandmother needs to get some medical tests done, and his village house needs repair. Where would we get all that money now? We could not go back to Darjeeling to find out either. There was nothing left.” Binita paused for a breath.

The inspector utilised the break and called the constable. He ordered the constable to call the cyber cell and find out if there was any progress on the case.

Binita continued unperturbed, “Since that day Ayush’s behaviour changed. He kept blaming his stupidity for putting us in this situation. He would lock himself in the room for hours and stared at the blank walls. He would not go to work, and even if he did, he made errors, and then day before yesterday, the owner asked Ayush to quit the job. I tried convincing him, that we would find a way out of this mess as long as we were together. I could take up more students. He could get a different job. But he lost his courage Saheb and gave up.”

The constable returned with the phone in his hand, “Sir, Gupta Sir wants to speak with you.”

“Ah, okay,” the inspector held out his hand, “Yes, Gupta, is there any news on the Darjeeling case?” He listened on for a while, then said, “Tch, tch! The victim committed suicide today. We are at the scene at the moment. Do keep me posted if there is a further update on this.” Then he cut the call.

He turned to Binita and said, “Darjeeling police have been alerted. They seem to have received many complaints against that shop on that day. When they went to look for that souvenir shop, they found just an empty room. Your money is gone for good I believe. Let me see if I can arrange some help for you.” The inspector hauled his large frame from the tiny chair he was sitting on and walked out of the room.

Binita mumbled, “I wish we had not gone for this damn honeymoon. I wish Ayush had not insisted on buying a souvenir. I wish Ayush were still with me.”



The Epiphany Tea


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