The Sibius Knot: An Excerpt by Amrita Tripathi

The excerpt is adapted for Out of Print from The Sibius Knot, HarperCollins India, 2015, a novel which tracks the devastation of a group of friends who are battling their environment, through their years of adolescence and young adulthood. Amrita picked the following excerpt because she heard someone talking about his family ‘undergrounding’ someone over a girl, and also because you can almost see this happen in Delhi – from the physical act, to the tv channel commentary afterwards.


A few hours later, she’s trying to keep a polite smile on her face as she meets the friend and her young politician companion. He’d be called a thug were it not for his looks and the veneer of sophistication he brings to the table, a sophistication that slips perceptibly, three whiskeys down. He regales them then with tales of youth politics, of Delhi antics.


Most of it sounds harmless, just a bunch of kids coming to the capital to blow off steam.


And then the guy-talk begins, not quite as easy to shrug off. How to know which women to pick up. ‘You stare at them, even a group. There’s one that keeps eye contact.’ He stares at her knowingly. ‘She’s easy. You go and talk.’ Done, he sits back, looking satisfied, as the boy-men around him make appreciative noises. ‘Too good, yaar.’


‘Are you serious?’ she asks, even though she does not want to be drawn into the conversation. Not realising that as soon as she does, he’ll get her number and start phone-stalking, then real-stalking her.


‘This repro-regro mentality can’t possibly exist,’ she bitches to Preetha later. ‘I mean, I know it does, but for god’s sake, this was in the middle of HauzKhas Village, it’s so bloody jarring!’


‘Yuck, what a city! I keep telling you to get the fuck out,’ says Preetha, who at the moment is preaching a lifestyle split between Bombay, Delhi and LA. ‘It sure beats staying put in this shithole!’


Except not everyone can afford it, not even the boy-toys, Seema thinks, for once not aloud.


‘Anyway, so that creepy creepo wasn’t done yet. He told us this story that he was so proud of, that when he was much younger, he’d ‘undergrounded’ these taxi guys.’


‘He’d what now?’


‘Undergrounded, it’s his word. Apparently it means to disappear someone … To disappear them, can you believe it? Take them out of public view, for however long – apparently there’s no one who can do anything about it. Clearly the family’s got enough clout in the area … He was telling us some girl ran away from home, or tried to, at any rate. This fucker’s family called some people up and got the cab-driver picked up, halfway to Delhi. They took over some room, shoved him into it and had him bashed up. Just to get the point across that they could. It’s the reason he was telling us this story, I figured. To show that he could get away with anything.’


‘What happened to the girl?’ Preetha asks, quite shocked.


‘No idea – and we didn’t bother to ask.’


‘That’s it? Bloody thugs. I hope you walked off.’


‘That’s the point, I didn’t. None of us did. We laughed. I said something inane, I was way too fucking polite.’


The politeness was what started the trouble, that and making conversation. The politeness got her fucked good and dead. But that’s still in the distance.


It’s only when Preetha reads her diary later that she puts things together – the thugs, the politician, the stalker, the assault.


For now though it’s just a lovely, sunny, spring conversation in the heart of Delhi, over a couple of Bloody Marys and two friends who know they can count on each other to pretty much feel the same way about the little things and the big life events.


That’s the last of it, the last golden moment, as far as this gang is concerned. Around the time Delhi is rattled by a college girl getting shot point-blank in Dhaula Kuan, in broad daylight, Seema very ill-advisedly  meets another friend of Tanya’s. Sometimes social obligations outweigh even good karma. There’s no letting your guard down in the city, the sun glints on its sharp edges.


She’s bored within five minutes, but out of courtesy, finishes the drink at her almost-favourite lounge bar, Shalom. Agreeing to meet him for a drink is the first in a series of unfortunate decisions. Her fate lines are getting bolder, tripping her up.


‘No more blind dates,’ she vows to Preetha, registering the fact that more people are coming out of the woodwork, trying to set her up now that she’s crossed twenty-nine.


They’re the last few of their tribe: pushing thirty, unmarried, making a go of it alone in Delhi. It’s the lack of backing that proves fatal.


‘She’s damn hot, yaar,’ the guy, Indraneil, tells his friends later, bragging about what he fantasised through their whole conversation.


The stalker-politico, who’s back in town, and bored, with lots of money and time to kill, finds his interest piqued. ‘Who’s this girl? Seema? Oh yeah yeah. I’ve met her.’ He smirks like the choot he is.


‘Oh, well, I’ve only met her once or twice, boss,’ says Indraneil, who doesn’t like the idea of someone else laying claim to Seema. He has plans, after all.


‘Oiyaar relax, hero.’ The thug loses interest momentarily.


He’s seen another pretty girl walk in, he’s putting his eye contact theory to the test, while reassuring his wife on the phone that he will in fact be home for dinner in time.


It is his for the taking, the thug knows, surveying the smorgasbord of pussy on call. That, his family has assured him of a long time ago, but he has to play by the rules. With the healthy drive of a stallion, it was always understood that he would need more than one woman to quench his thirst.


His father explained how it works, sounding fully respectful about his mother as he did so, no trace of sarcasm in his voice. Work for his political mentor, get married to a decent girl from a good family, raise some kids. The rest was up for grabs, as long as he remained discreet. He’ll never forget his father’s speech.


As Tanya walks in behind the girl he’s eyeing, he thinks to himself, She’s maal all right. The problem is she’s a cocktease. All cleavage and smiles now, but they used to have an understanding. You can’t just end things with that kind of history.


He smiles at her, creeping her out.


‘You can’t call it with your pants off, yaar,’ Indraneil is telling his friend, guffawing. ‘She totally wanted it – I mean, I can’t help it if these broads keep changing their minds.’


‘She’s like that only, I could tell the first day,’ the thug-politician says, eyes narrowing. ‘Where does she stay?’ he asks, in a tone so casual it’s obviously forced. The wimp that he is, Indraneil cedes what’s not even his to give.


The phone calls start soon after that. Seema picks up to heavy breathing. She knows someone is jacking off, she can hear it. She hangs up. It takes her twenty minutes on her fancy smartphone to register a blur of technology and no way to block a call.


She saves it as Don’t Pick Up. She gets another one.


The stream of obscene messages, she can’t do anything about. ‘I’m sorry, ma’am, we can’t block smses from any number,’ her mobile service provider tells her.
‘I can smell your cunt from here.’
‘Don’t act like that, randi … I’m coming. You’ll also.’
‘I saw you with that other man, you whore, when I come to your house I’m going to fuck you till you’re raw and screaming.’
They get more graphic. By day four, she is a mess.


‘You have to talk to the cops,’ Preetha tells her, racking her brains as to who it could be. ‘There’s an anti-stalking helpline,’ she adds, though the numbers have changed three times. ‘You’re not staying home alone, that’s for fucking sure.’


‘No, no, I’ll be fine,’ Seema tells her, ballsy till the end. A hollow sort of ballsiness.


No one’s prepared for what comes.


A couple of days later, she wakes up, convinced someone is watching her. It’s a Peeping Tom, the security guards unable to help her track him down, or even confirm it. They look at her like she’s lost it. They’ve never quite trusted this girl who’s lived alone all these years. It’s not normal. Different sorts of visitors. Boys also.


‘Kuch toh theek nahin hai,’ they tell each other. There was always something wrong with her. She’s not married. She lives alone. Crack-pot.


She doesn’t know who to take with her to the police station. Preetha is raring to go, but Seema senses she’ll rub the cops the wrong way. There’s something too elite about her. That, and she’s a chick. Not sure how to play the hapless damsel, but really rattled at this point, Seema drags in Paritosh’s friend, a journalist. That should work, she reasons to herself.


The cops make her file an official complaint. And yet, it’s obvious they want more than her lame attempts at paraphrasing. The sub-inspector wants the details, ripe in their prurience. He asks her to print out the SMSes. She declines. Paritosh’s friend gets a sense of how uncomfortable she is, and takes her phone to show a couple of them, saying, between you and me, she’s very upset. What can we do?


The media card works well here, and the fact that he gets one of his colleagues to put in a phone call to the SI. He drops her home, a perfunctory hug, and forgets all about her.


Till she turns up dead that is, and the cops trace all the calls on her phone. What a drag, he thinks, but feels a twinge of remorse after that. He should have checked back with her. Just that life got in the way, he thinks to himself, taking a long hard swig of his Peroni, waiting on his date. This city will fuck you up proper. He finishes his drink. This city will fuck you good and dead.


Three days later they find her. ‘A post-mortem is awaited,’ the cops say.


‘Investigations are ongoing,’ professional-looking crime reporters say on television.


‘It’s not yet known whether the victim was sexually assaulted,’ they add.


‘She was an outgoing girl,’ the ranking police officer says on national TV, daring the country to say otherwise. No one does.



Amrita Tripathi is a writer and freelance journalist based in New Delhi. The Sibius Knot, HarperCollins India, 2015, unveils a scarred and bleak urban landscape, but is at its heart a story of love and life, of battles waged and won. Urban cracks and dysfunction also form the heart of Tripathi's first novel, Broken News, Tranquebar, 2009, set in the frenetic 24/7 world of TV news, a space Tripathi inhabited for nine years before calling time.

She tweets @amritat and welcomes feedback on