Sunday, February 8, 2009

Anil Aggarwal's "The Mystery of the Burnt Bride" (short story, environment, free): Could air pollution be affecting human evolution?

A much better variation of author's "The Mystery of the Drowned Man".

Some years back, there were two events in India that attracted a lot of media attention:

  1. A series of murders - mostly in the North - of young recently married women. Suspects were in-laws. Cause - dowry. And with similar methods of killing - a staged fire accident in kitchen. Over the years, I've sometimes heard of convictions, but they inevitably get less media attention than gruesome murders.
  2. Some citizen groups in Delhi took the government to courts over the quality of air in the city. I doubt Delhi still has great air quality, but virtually all (half-hearted) air quality norms of municipal corporations in India happened after this. Or such is the impression I'm carrying.
I don't recall the dates of the two events, but I've a feeling both must have been current events at the time this story was written - which would place them sometime in mid-1990s. Both have influenced the plot.

Story makes a reference to a law that in certain crimes, it's accused who has to show innocence in court rather than prosecution proving his guilt. I'm no lawyer, but I think the author is extending imagination here. Even the anti-terror laws discussed in parliament in the wake of Bombay terror attacks in November 2008 threw out proposals that would have placed the onus of proving innocence on accused; it's always prosecution's job. Of course, there are cases where cops are biased.

Story summary.

Sarita, a recently married woman, has died in a fire accident in kitchen at home, & the police officer has formed the opinion that it's a dowry murder.

Doctor doing the postmortem (narrator) has to find out weather she was dead at the time she came into contact with fire - which will be conclusive proof of murder. Or if she was still alive at the time, which kind of leaves the possibility of a genuine accident open.

Normally a straight-forward autopsy procedure, some events complicate it. But result is a new medical discovery - the dead woman was carrying a genetic mutation that made her better cope with carbon monoxide pollution in the air.

Fact sheet.

First published: Spandan, 1996-97.
Rating: A.
Download full text from author's website.
Related: Stories of Anil Aggarwal.