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A mystery in the mountains

Who took the plant is a mystery to this day. And one that is better left unsolved

It was one of those winter mornings in the Nilgiris when the day dawned bright and clear after a night of rain. The past few days we had been rather busy and I hadn’t been able to pay much attention to the garden. I stepped out to check all the pots and plants and lo and behold in the flower bed at the front of the house, there was a deep pit in the first row of the bright, yellow gazanias. It had been neatly scooped out with the roots, leaving a little crater right at the entrance to our home.

Immediately, I summoned the gardener and his wife. The cook, who knows a fair bit about plants, arrived as well and of course, no one owned up. Then the blame game started, and to make matters more confusing, there was a set of footprints just behind the little hole where the missing plant had been. It was a deep impression as it had rained the previous evening and the mud was still wet.

At the gardener’s suggestion, an exercise in matching the footprints followed. Everyone from the gardener, his wife and the cook had their footwear inspected. Now the mystery was deepening. A plant was missing and presumably the person to whom the footprints belonged was the culprit. Since it had rained most of the previous night, the theft should have taken place in the morning. Logically expanding this theory, the thief had to be someone who knew a good deal about plants.

This little mystery nagged me through the day. I made a mental list of all the suspects. The milkman was ruled out at the outset as nothing had ever gone missing in the more than 20 years that he has been delivering milk to our home. Next the newspaper delivery man was ruled out as he hardly ever came inside the gate. At this point, my list had three suspects: the gardener, his wife and the cook. All three had ample opportunity the previous day, as we had been out for the better half of the day.

By afternoon, I had a sudden flash of insight, “What about the delivery man from the florist who came to drop a bouquet of chrysanthemums for our tenants?” He came soon after 8 a.m. and his footprint had not been checked. In all probability, he would understand plants. Both motive and opportunity were there. As I followed this line of thought, I became fully convinced that the taker of our gazania plant had to be the delivery man from the florist. The only catch was our guard dog, about whose presence there were enough warnings near the entrance.

To get to the bottom of this, I called our tenant. Our gate is common, and that is how the flower delivery man came to our house, as they had already left home for the day. I asked him to check which florist their well wisher had used. He promised to look into it. Like in an Agatha Christie novel, I was matching motive and opportunity with all possible suspects. At that point, the flower delivery man was the prime suspect in my eyes.

After speaking to my mum, who happened to call post lunch, I was back to thinking that perhaps the gardener was suspect number one after all. But the presence of the footprints clouded the issue, and so the delivery man from the florist could not be ruled out as a suspect.

Finally after exploring all possible theories, I decided not to dwell further on this theft of African daisies and to leave it as an unsolved mystery. Later that evening, we went across to wish our tenants as it was their wedding anniversary. That was the reason for the prime suspect to enter our compound in

the morning. As we were discussing the morning’s mystery of the missing gazanias, our tenant showed me a picture taken on her phone at 8 a.m. of the little crater in our flower bed with the footprints at the back. Their curious little son was fascinated at the sight of the big hole in the flower bed, imagining the size of the wild boar that could have dug the hole. He had moved around in the flower bed so two small sets of footprints had joined to seem like one big footprint. The picture preceded the arrival of the flower delivery man.

After all my time spent on playing Poirot, it was their little son who had stood in the centre of the bed gazing at the hole where the clump of cheerful gazanias had been. So the unsolved mystery of the footprints was solved. As to who took the plant is a mystery to this day. And one that I am coming to think is better left unsolved.

manal.ramneek@gmail.com

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 8:06:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-mystery-in-the-mountains/article30595040.ece

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