Even the dimmest of light can pierce through the thickest of darkness. True I see, as the soft morning light streaming through the minor cracks of wooden windows faded away the darkness of this empty courtroom. However, I know within hours, hundreds of footsteps and regular bedlams will rob off the quietness unkindly.
I stand here to witness it all. Since ages, people have stepped on me to unfold the truth or slyly slaughter it. I can feel the shivers of their weakened knees, quivers of their conscience and cocksure steps sometimes.
The clock struck ten. The courtroom has reached almost a level of explosion with a multitude of anxious crowd. They are here to attend the trial of Kumar Mahendra Narayan Choudhary against his ex-wife Mrs.Ashalata Devi.
The crowd hollered as Kumar entered the room accompanied by his elder sisters. He raises his right hand for a few seconds to acknowledge the crowd and takes a seat. On the other side, Ashalata Devi, accompanied by her elder brother Sekhar Bose, is sitting quietly. Her facial curves are a proof that she is displeased with all these cheers in the name of the plaintiff. The judge entered and all rose with respect.
Since past two years, this saga has been going on. Like the crowd present here, I am equally anxious to know the verdict. Will I be fortunate enough to get it today?
Plaintiff’s lawyer Mohanlal Sen started the proceedings, “Your honor, my client Kumar Mahendra Narayan Choudhary, son of Late Raja Devendra Narayan Choudhary is the rightful owner of the estate of Gajipur.
Fifteen years ago, during his prolonged sickness, following the suggestions of the family doctor Sudhamoy Ghosh, Kumar along with his wife Ashalata Devi, brother-in-law Sekhar Bose and the doctor himself had visited Darjeeling in quest of better health.
Mr. Sekhar Bose and Dr. Sudhamoy Ghosh had stated that Kumar couldn’t survive his sickness and expired on 5th March, 1921.But, that’s certainly not the truth. Kumar didn’t die that night. The poison, which Mr. Sekhar and Dr. Sudhamoy had conspired and injected in his body, stopped his heart for some time. Moreover, to hide this heinous crime, they had tried to cremate his body within hours.
“Objection your honour,” the defense lawyer Mr. Manish Bandyopadhyay interrupted. “Mr. Sen has no solid proof that my clients had poisoned Kumar. Kumar had died a natural death that night. The cause of death was cirrhosis of lever. And, this case is not about whether my clients had poisoned the Kumar or not. This man, the claimant, wants to prove that he is Kumar Mahendra Narayan Choudhary who had survived that night and returned after twelve years. I say, he is an imposter, hiding behind the crowd’s emotion to grasp the property of the said estate. His real name is Kuljeet Singh, a poor farmer from Punjab. And, I will prove it soon”.
“Objection sustained,” the judge instructed Mr. Sen.
Mr. Sen continued, “Your honour, I would like to call my client in the witness stand”.
The man slowly came forward and stood on me with uptight steps.
Mr. Sen approached, “Tell us again Kumar Mahendra Narayan Choudhary, what happened that night”.
The claimant cleared his throat and started, “Your honour, that night, Mr. Sekhar Bose and Dr. Sudhamoy Ghosh entered my room. Dr. Ghosh had a syringe in his hand. I was afraid. Whenever he would push an injection, my health would worsen and I would end up vomiting for hours. He would say it was only the side effects. That night, I requested him not to push it.
Dr. Ghosh smiled at me and said, “Do not worry Kumar. This night it ends. You will suffer no more.
Sekhar joined him too. I pleaded for my life, as I could comprehend that it was nothing but poison. But, Sekhar held both my hands tightly and Dr. Ghosh pushed the injection inside me. I felt nauseated and could barely breathe. Water, I was asking for water. Thirst was choking me. Suddenly, everything became dark and I sank into unconsciousness.
The streams of rain jolted me back. I found myself in a cot alone with severe headache. In the darkness of the night it was impossible to locate where I was. Though, the lightning after every few seconds was making the surroundings visible for few moments, I was unable to comprehend. I was groaning in pain.
I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder. A sanyasi approached me. He and his people lifted me and carried me to a cave. They had nursed me back to life. However, I had no memory left of my previous life. It took me twelve years to gain it back. Hence, I returned”.
“Thank you Kumar,” Mr. Sen took charge. “Your honour, I am presenting a list of medicines prescribed by Dr. Sudhamoy Ghosh along with the lab report which clearly states that all the medicines had arsenic in it. For a patient of cirrhosis of lever it actually acts like poison”.
Mr.Sen submitted the documents and signaled Mr. Bandyopadhyay, “Your witness please”.
Mr. Bandyopadhyay glanced at Mr. Sen, adjusted his tie, smiled a little and proceeded, “Kumar Mahendra Narayan Choudhary was addicted to alcohol and women. He would regularly visit prostitutes and spend his nights with them. His extreme alcoholism had resulted in cirrhosis of lever and subsequently he had died. And, his regular unprotected coitus, which he would really enjoy had presented him with syphilis, which later had reached an advanced stage. He had boils all over his body. If you are truly the long lost Raja Mahendra Narayan Choudhary, can you explain why there is not even a single boil mark on your body”?
Kumar took a few moments to reply. The courtroom was fizzing with his supporters’ agitation. The judge pounded the gavel twice to bring back the order and asked Kumar to reply.
I was looking at Ashalata Devi’s face. She is sitting stone-faced. Her ex-husband had ignored her for years. He had snatched away all her rights as a wife and presented to other women. Deprived of love and respect, no wonder if she refuses to identify this man as Kumar and her ex-husband.
“The sanyasis who had nursed me, they had used concoctions of medicinal plants on my body to cure those blisters,” Kumar replied.
“What is your point Mr. Bandyopadhyay?” the judge interrupted.
“I am coming to that, your honour,” the defense lawyer became conscious and replied. “Your honour, first of all, those boils had left prominent marks on the patient’s body and could not be removed completely. Secondly, Dr. Ghosh had prescribed those medicines only to cure Kumar’s syphilis. The arsenic present in those medicines were meant to treat the boils. He had no intention or motive to kill his patient.”
“Objection your honour,” the plaintiff’s lawyer Mr. Sen interjected. He started with a grin, “I didn’t know my learned friend Mr. Bandyopadhyay is multitalented. Besides practicing law, he does comedy really well. After a year of that funeral drama on 5th Matrch, 1921, Ashalata Devi had become the owner of Kumar’s property and within months, Dr. Sudhamoy Ghosh got married to her. Mr. Sekhar Bose is still unemployed, but leads a luxurious life on Kumar’s wealth. And here, Mr. Bandyopadhyay cannot find a motive”.
“Your honour, Kumar’s death was a result of his frivolous lifestyle and Ashalata Devi was the rightful owner of his property after his demise.
With your permission I would like to call her in the witness stand,” Mr. Bandyopadhyay threw his next card.
The judge permitted. Ashalata Devi with measured steps came towards me and stood on. Oh, I can feel her discomfort.
Mr. Bandyopadhyay approached, “Mrs. Ashalata Devi, please tell the court do you recognize this man as Kumar Mahendra Narayan Choudhary, your ex-husband”? He signaled at Kumar.
Ashalata Devi adjusted her veil and replied, “No. I don’t know him”.
“How can you be so sure?” Mr. Bandyopadhyay continued.
“Because, he had expired that night. At Darjeeling, his health worsened. In spite of our unrelenting efforts to get him back to health we had failed. Dr. Ghosh had suggested that, since the patient had infections all over his body, it would be wise to cremate him without waiting further.
Mr. Bandyopadhyay looked at the judge to state his point, “Your honour, no one can recognize a person better than his/her life partner. From Ashalata Devi’s statement, it is clear that this man sitting here is nothing more than an imposter.
This is no sudden resurrection of Kumar. This man has weaved an intelligent plan and come up with this fake story to grasp the property of Gajipur estate.
Your witness please,” he signaled at Mr. Sen and went back to his seat.
Mr. Sen started his examination, “Mrs. Ashalata Devi, that night what happened when Dr. Ghosh declared him dead”?
“I was weeping. Sekhar dada and Dr. Ghosh were making arrangements. I wasn’t in a state to notice the time, but after an hour or so they had escorted Kumar to the cremation ghat. A sudden hailstorm broke in. My elder brother and Dr. Ghosh had returned next morning”.
“So is it possible that due to the raging hailstorm they had failed to cremate Kumar that night because, they had to find a shelter?” Mr. Sen asked.
She hesitated for a few moments and answered, “I don’t know”.
Mr. Sen took charge, “Of course you know Mrs. Ashalata Devi. Beccause, that’s what happened that day. They went ahead to find a shelter leaving Kumar alone. Meanwhile, Kumar had regained his consciousness. The Naga sanyasis had found him and taken him along. Next morning, when Mr. Sekhar Bose, Dr. Ghosh and the servants had returned and found Kumar missing, they had arranged an anonymous body and cremated him posing as Kumar. And you are well aware of this whole conspiracy”.
“Objection your honour. Mr. Sen is leading the witness,” Mr. Bandyopadhyay interrupted.
“Objection sustained. Mr. Sen please ask direct questions,” the judge instructed Mr. Sen.
Mr. Sen replied maintaining his pace, “Your honour I am done with Mrs. Ashalata Devi for now. I would like to call Mr. Sekhar Bose in the witness stand”.
Mr. Sen started shooting as Mr. Bose took his position, “Mr. Bose did you or did you not arrange an anonymous body for cremation at the following morning of 5th March?
Mr. Bose cleared his throat and answered, “Why would I do that? We were there to cremate Kumar. We had performed that duty and returned”.
“Mr. Bose, how could you cremate him when he had already left with the sanyasis? Therefore, to claim Kumar’s property in the name of his widow Ashalata Devi and enjoy an extravagant life, you had to arrange a body. Without an actual cremation, your plan would have failed. Right Mr. Bose”?
Mr. Sen looked at the judge and continued, “Your honour, I have already submitted my exhibit from the Darjeeling mortuary which clearly states that on 5th March, 1921, the mortuary technician was offered a hefty amount of money to release an anonymous body”.
“Objection your honour. He did say that he was offered money to release a body but he had failed to recognize the person who had given him that offer. Without proof , Mr. Sen cannot accuse my client,” Mr. Bandyopadhyay interrupted promptly.
The judge quietly looked at the clock. I knew this look. My heart sank. And, as expected, he announced, “The court is adjourned for the day. The cross-examination will continue in the next session on 24th of November”.
The courtroom slowly became empty. Ashalata Devi was the last person to leave. Is she hiding the truth? Time will tell. I sigh.
This piece is inspired by the real life story of Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy of Bhawal estate and his wife Bibhabati Devi. Bhawal was one of the largest zamindari estates of undivided Bengal (modern-day Bangladesh).
Ramendra Narayan Roy used to spend time hunting and with his several mistresses. He was said to have contacted syphilis as a result of his regular coitus. On 7th May, 1909, while in Darjeeling, he was reported to have died due to biliary colic and was supposedly cremated the following morning.
The controversy started when a sanyasi appeared in Dhaka in 1920. People thought of him as Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy. In 1921, he finally disclosed his identity as Kumar and stated that it was a conspiracy against him in Darjeeling. Acoording to him, he was poisoned by the family doctor and Satyendranath Banerjee, Bibhabati Devi’s elder brother. He later filed a case to claim his property back from British Government and Bibhabati Devi.
It has been one of the legendary trials presented in front of the Indian Judicial system.
Kumar : Prince
Sanyasi : Saint
Naga Sanyasi : A particular tribe of saint
Dada : Elder Brother
This is an entry for #TheTrial, a Claws Club exclusive event for #Legends-4.
Check out event guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/artalelegends4/
Photo by Andre Ventura