She Stoops to Kill

By Preeti Gill

Click here to buy She Stoops to Kill

From Poison in the Paan by Mitra Phukan

Shraddha took a sip from the glass in front of her. Nosepin flashing, she gestured to the student to fill in the gap with her music. Obediently, the woman at the back leaned forward again, and began to sing. She seemed not to mind the snub that her Guru had given her earlier. Or maybe, thought Prabeena, if you were a student, you couldn’t afford to be sensitive to a Guru’s snubs, not while on stage, anyway. Prabeena realized she was smiling as she watched Shraddha Devi adjust her pallu once again, and then stroke back a tendril that was wisping enticingly down the side of her face.
Once more, a sip of water. Sukumar Bose and Iqbal Khan were smiling at each other, as they played along with the student, enjoying their turn. Shraddha Devi was now delicately opening the silver casket before her. She took out something fresh and green, and popped it into her mouth. Tucking the wad of paan to one side of her mouth, she continued her song, slicing into her student’s singing without bothering about interrupting her at all.
“Come, Choudhury Saheb, this is for you,” she said. Smiling, she began a taan, a silvery succession of notes that climbed up the scale, like an eagle soaring into the blue sky above. Her hand, expressive as her voice, drew arcs that spiralled up, echoing the music.
But.
The unthinkable. Halfway up that taan, Shraddha Devi began to cough. On stage, all eyes swivelled towards her. This was something that should not happen even to a beginner. How could…
The hall full of people sat up, all of them aware, suddenly, of something gone awry. A top thumri singer, her taan cut off mid-flow by a cough! Indeed, it was getting worse by the second. The hand that was executing visual music changed course and clutched at her throat instead. Her face was now flushed, contorted. As they watched, a look… of fear? Panic? …. suffused it. Her eyes watered, and began to pop out. A horrible choking sound came from her, the total antithesis of the music of just a few seconds before, as, before their very eyes, she keeled over sideways. She was gasping for breath now, choking and sputtering. The musicians, on auto mode, kept playing, even as they looked at her with increasing horror. The audience had not yet grasped what was happening, as they stared, astonished, at the drama before them.
Shraddha Devi hit the durrie-covered floor of the stage with an audible thump. Froth bubbled from her mouth. Her hands flailed about, her body jerked in spasms, knocking over the microphone stand, which thudded down in a huge explosion of sound. The three men on stage kept playing, even though the song was gone. Just like a chicken which kept running around the yard even after its head was cut off.

All Excerpts

Coming soon   /   View all

Connect with us

Join the Speaking Tiger Books mailing list: