Chapter 12 Veil of the Vidhi
Half of Bombay was getting ready for Seth’s party. Samir glanced at Asha in her black dress and felt a surge of desire. At eight p.m. it was time to leave.
The cruise ship itself, the Vidhi, was anchored at sea, and they had to embark from the Gateway of India in a small boat to reach the ship. When Samir and Asha arrived, they found over a few hundred people there, all waiting for the twenty or so motorboats to ferry them across to the ship. The boats bobbed and pitched back and forth as people leapt from the quay onto the boats.
Asha spotted Haresh Chatterjee, her colleague at Columbia, and realized with a start that he had attended Harold’s lecture at the Asia Society, the night of Meghnad’s murder. At just that moment, Chatterjee glanced in her direction, and Asha waved. He looked startled, but waved back.
Samir nudged Asha and pointed to a man in a dark suit. The man was helping his wife into a boat. For a brief moment, he swiveled around and saw Samir.
“Nice to see you, Samir. Still writing for the Indian Times?” he asked.
“How are you, Mr. Murthy? Yes, I’m still with the Times,” Samir answered.
Mr. Murthy boarded the boat and set off for the ship.
“He’s one of the most extreme ideologues of The Ideas Foundation,” Samir said.
“I just saw Haresh Chatterjee, my colleague at Columbia. He was present at the time of Meghnad’s murder. I wonder what he’s doing here?” Asha said.
It was their turn to board the boat. They claimed seats at the front. As they surged forward, the Taj receding in the background, Asha broke the silence.
“I hope Harold is safe. There’s no news about him with the police or Chaturvedi,” Asha said.
“I hope so, too. Sometimes I wonder if we’re doing the right thing in not going after him.”
The sea was calm and the air still; only the boat’s roar broke the night’s silence. They could see the outlines of many ships and boats all around. They arrived after a ten minute ride, a little wet from the flung spray of the sea. When they climbed aboard the Vidhi, they saw Seth in the distance with other people. No one knew him well, no one knew exactly what transpired in his vast and variegated business empire, or what else he controlled.
He was also known as an extremely affable and generous man. He maintained dozens of charitable trusts in different areas. Samir served on the board of his Seth Arts Foundation, a master body with at least ten smaller centers and trusts under it, all operating in different fields of art in various parts of India.
Samir and Asha made their way upstairs and followed the stream of revelers into a lounge where the party was well under way. The first person they noticed was Gautam Bose, who pivoted around to face Samir.
“Haven’t seen you in ages, Gautam,” Samir said, slapping him on his arm. “Meet Asha Raman, a professor at Columbia University. Asha, this is Gautam Bose, a filmmaker.”
“How do you do, Asha? What do you teach?” Gautam said.
“Indian Studies,” Asha said.
“Oh, really? What is your area of interest?” Gautam asked.
At this point, Samir spied his colleague Mohan Mahapatra, and with Asha ensconced in a conversation, took off in his direction.
“Literature and painting. Most of my research has been in ancient literature, but I have of late begun to take an interest in contemporary literature and painting. I’ve just completed a book on the Natyashastra in which I look at the evolution of rasa theory, among other things. You may have heard of Harold Stone’s work. My work is in the same area,” Asha said.
“Harold. Of course. We were to meet, but I was told he had checked out of the Taj. Where is he?” Gautam asked.
After Asha told him briefly what had happened, a dark look veiled Gautam’s eyes. He drew Asha to one corner, and spoke in hushed tones. “Have you heard of Fundamentals? It is a most unusual organization. It is not directly political, but has interests in many political think-tanks. Fundamentals is trying to create a singular doctrinal version of Hinduism. I shouldn’t say strictly singular because that is impossible. But they are trying to narrow down the range of expression of Hindu belief. They feel Hinduism is weak because it is too diverse, because it has no doctrine.”
“Go on,” Asha said.
“It is a secret group, first of all, both a think-tank itself and an action group. Its members have infiltrated many other organizations. You may have heard of The Ideas Foundation. That is only the most prominent organization it has entered. It is like a meta-organization. It is everywhere and you have to be careful. They even have powerful links abroad, especially in the U.S. They are not ordinary fanatics, but rather intellectuals who know India well and want to take it down a particular path. What you see on the surface is the froth. A bunch of simple fanatics. But what lies underneath is the real danger.”
“Who is the head of the organization?”
“No one knows. Its organization is shrouded in secrecy,” Gautam said.
Samir returned and, after a bit, he and Asha excused themselves and ascended to the top deck to gaze at the stars. On the way, they met dozens of friends and acquaintances from all walks of life. They also ran into Chaturvedi again. They had met him earlier that day and shared information and discussed strategies.
Asha drew Chaturvedi to one side and told him she had just learned about Fundamentals. “I think you were right. Gautam Bose also had the same thought.”
“I just met Chatterjee. What is he doing in India?” Chaturvedi asked.
“I also saw him. He was at the Asia Society the night Meghnad was murdered.”
“Did you know that Anouk is here too? She said you were with her on the flight.”
“Oh, yes, that’s right. I forgot to tell you.”
They talked for a little while and then Samir and Asha continued upstairs. Each of the five decks included a couple of lounges and a theater. The party had spread all over the ship, with people weaving in and out of rooms. In some lounges, there was live music from different parts of the world. Some people had even sat down to watch old Indian movies of the fifties, “Shree 420” and “Sahib Bibi Aur Gulam.” On the top deck, stars punctuated the cloudless sky.
Samir and Asha headed downward again. For a while, they explored the ship and then circled back to the main lounge where they had started. It was one a.m. They spent another hour talking to various people and then at two, decided to head home.
Samir took Asha on a ghoda-gadi ride home after they reached the shore, lingering at the Taj for a quiet moment. The water lapped idly by the stone walls beside the Gateway of India. The Taj Mahal Hotel looked ghostly in the moonlight, its outline oddly medieval.
When they reached Deepak’s, it was three o’clock in the morning.
The next morning Asha awoke before Samir.
“We must leave for Chicago tonight. Chaturvedi said we shouldn’t lose a single day. I must start the translation of the Sahityashastra right away. I will phone Kulkarni in Chicago and let him know we’ll be staying with him for a couple of weeks. I think that’s the safest strategy. We need time, and we can get it by visiting a few campuses where I know people we can stay with,” Asha said.
“I’m still working out how we’ll disseminate it,” Samir said.
“I’ve been thinking about Fundamentals. It’s a strange group, made up mostly of intellectuals.”
“You always need intellectual thought to create and sustain a real movement. Otherwise it would evaporate after a few eruptions. The educated classes are always the engine of history.”
They were silent for a while.
“I was surprised to see Haresh Chatterjee,” Asha said. “He was at Harold’s lecture. Could he be a member of Fundamentals? He’s always been a quiet fellow and keeps mostly to himself. Aditya Gandhi is his only real friend in the department.”
Outside in the living room, Asha retrieved the Indian Times lying on the table and gasped. The headline read, “Professor Chaturvedi found dead at sea.” The report detailed how Chaturvedi’s body had floated to the shore, leaving the circumstances surrounding his death a mystery.