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I can’t be in that atmosphere (at AMU),said Siras,two days before he was found dead

It was 9.15 pm Monday. I was on the phone with Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras,interviewing the Aligarh Muslim University professor for a possible story on his first day at the university after the Allahabad High Court....

It was 9.15 pm Monday. I was on the phone with Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras,interviewing the Aligarh Muslim University professor for a possible story on his first day at the university after the Allahabad High Court stayed his suspension over charges of gay sex.

The story had to be filed that night. So,to wrap up the 45-minute interview,I slipped in many Thank Yous. Siras took the hint. “Deepu,you have asked me so many questions,you forgot something,” he said. What?

“You did not ask me what I want to do next,” he said. “I want to work for the gay community. I have decided. I want to go to America. I want to teach them Marathi. Not the literature,the language. America is the only place where I will be free to be gay,” Siras said. I did not interrupt.

“Now that he is free again,Siras wants to fly. Literally,” I wrote in my copy. The news desk cut that out.

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I called him next on Tuesday morning as I entered the city limits of Aligarh. The mobile phone was switched off. Siras never did that.

“Come to the Fine Arts Department anytime. My time is 10.30 in the morning at the office,” he had said the night before. “Deepu,you should come home too. We have talked so much,but we have not met.” I told him I would be in Aligarh on Wednesday.

But last-minute changes meant that I had to be at AMU around 11.30 am Tuesday. This was going to be a surprise. But Siras’s room,which he shared with another faculty,was locked. The person who shared the room was on medical leave. None in the department knew where Siras stayed.

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“I will not go to my quarters anymore,” Siras had said. “I cannot be in that atmosphere.” He had moved into a rented house. I had not bothered to ask him where the house was.

None knew. “We met him at the university. We never visited his house,” said Arvind Narrain of the Alternate Law Forum’s fact-finding team. The team report had come down heavily on the university.

By then,my colleague,photographer Tashi Tobgyal,had been calling Siras. Switched off,it said each time.

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His lawyer had not even met Siras. And then I remembered what he had said: “I did not get permission,so I did not travel out to even file my petition. I have not even seen my lawyer. My petition was sent by mail from Aligarh. I correspond with my lawyer over the internet.”

I was told Siras had shifted to a second rented house after his landlord found out about the controversy. Then someone mentioned Durga Wadi.

By then it was 4 pm. I couldn’t help saying “I am a bit concerned” each time I spoke to someone. At Durga Wadi,I was directed to a man who had helped Siras find his new house. “I have no idea where he is now. I will definitely call back.” He directed me to Vikram Nagar.

At Vikram Nagar,I was told he lived in Durga Wadi. So it was back to that place. It was already 6 pm. The man who had helped Siras find the house appeared again. Not here,he said. He must have gone somewhere.

In the next street,we met a man who said he knew the house. He sat in the car to avoid being noticed,and drew directions on the back of my phone diary.

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We rushed to the house. It was locked from outside. I tried every door — there were four. We took turns knocking,calling him on his mobile phone. Nothing. The neighbours stepped out. They had not spoken to him. They thought he was a professor who wrote books. I did not say anything.

We waited outside the house till about 9.30 pm that night. Siras must have gone home to Nagpur,I thought.

End of Day One.

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We were outside the house at 9.45 am Wednesday. Again,I tried every door. I noticed waste lying in a polythene pack outside the house. There was a stink,of something rotting. Siras’s phone was still switched off.

We went to his department. The room was locked. We headed to the staff quarters where he used to live. I recalled C-21 but I was not sure. The dhobi at the chaiwallah confirmed I had the right address.

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It was college-hour but no sign of him. Whoever I spoke to claimed he didn’t not know Siras. Even the neighbours on the ground floor. We gave up and went for lunch. I tried calling him again as I sat down to eat.

Around 8 pm,a local photographer called Tashi. Siras had been found in his house. Dead.

There was a power-cut in town. The forensics team was ready,waiting for the power supply to return. The landlord had called the police,alerted by a stench emanating from the house. Police forced the lock open. Siras was found in his bedroom,lying on his side. On the floor lay a copy of the Time magazine. In fact,there were too many things on the floor. The room was a mess. Siras was clad in a blue vest,dark grey shorts.

There was a TV in the room. It had Tata Sky. The remote lay next to him.

“I have switched off the TV for you. We have talked so much,Deepu. I am tired,let me sleep now,” Siras had said Monday night. That was the last I heard from him.

First published on: 09-04-2010 at 01:10:47 am
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