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Prologue

He looked around the store purple hues with just the corner LED bulb switched on. He couldn’t risk being seen. He would lose all that he had worked for in the last 10 years. He grinned as he remembered his journey… the hours of hard work, the greasing of palms, the lost body count….

His eyes widened as he took in the beautiful silk camisoles to his right… arranged as per the shades and sizes. On his left were pairs of corsets and panties combined and hung to give it an erotic hue… There were black and white portraits of women oozing sensuality… he had no doubt they did… if the growing bulge in his pant was any indicator of the same.

He took in a deep breath looking upwards and the lovely lavender peppermint flavor wafted through his nostrils. He smiled to glory and moved ahead in between the racks hearing the silky swish of the lingerie. In the next fifteen minutes he had seen everything… sensual night gowns so see through… he almost came in his pants, belt with stockings, garters, overalls and an assorted combinations of bras and panties. The woman knew what she was doing he shook his head thinking. She had a gold mine here… and in that head of hers. He held himself through his pant as he thought of her. How many times had he jerked himself off ever since she had been his object of fantasies? How many times had he wanted to just… spend a night with her…. feel her warmth as he rode her or feel her luscious lips around him moaning as he came?  He took a nearby nightgown and stuffed it into his mouth to stifle his cries as he came… 

He knew the property in and out.

The fiery bitch was all the more appealing when she opposed him…full of conviction. She would be an asset to his business if she joined him. She would do it… he would make sure of it… He chuckled as he thought of her abiding by his rules in and out of the bedroom… It would be fun… made him hard again…

Panting heavily, he moved towards the storeroom. He knew the property in and out. The storeroom had to be there and with it the information he wanted…. He would soon be a rich man. He reached the locked storeroom but with a snide smile used the key… one of the few he had made when she had lost her bunch of keys last week. He laughed as he thought about his brilliant plan…she was clueless. She was only too relieved to get back her keys which she had accidentally lost. But that’s how he was here now… in her world. Very soon he would be in her house too. He opened the door to the storeroom and walked in. He switched on the light bulb and looked around. He was right. What he wanted was right there in front staring at him… right where that map had revealed.

Before he could move ahead, he felt a prick on his neck. He could barely react, before that strong hands held him from behind and pulled him out of the storeroom. He tried to move his hands. He was a strong man for crying out aloud… but he couldn’t… he was paralyzed. His eyes grew wide as he realised the fact. His vocal cords weren’t working too.  He couldn’t utter a sound. The hands holding him released him and he fell like a heap on the floor. Suddenly his mouth was opened and something silky was pushed into it. His breathing was getting laboured… when he saw a purple lacy bralette hanging before his watering eyes. He blinked but that too was getting difficult. Soon a pair of gloved hands tied the skimpy lace around his neck and tightened it.

Rot in hell…asshole. I won’t let you lay your dirty hands on the box nor….on her” was the last whisper he heard and recognized in his ear before darkness claimed him.

Clinicologues fiction

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Clinical experiences embedded in the cocoon of the fictional world. The purpose being spreading disability awareness.

    the revelation….

    Chapter 4

    She was frowning …

    He then asked in his voice sounding hollow. “whaath happen?” (What happened)

    She was annoyed by now; she asked him, “Why are you speaking like that?”

    His smile dropped and he frowned and looked away… it was then she saw something in his ears. She was now in tears. “What… what is that? In your ear?” she asked pointing to his ear.

    He sighed and took that out of his ear. It was a pink coloured shell like structure with a wheel like thing attached to its one end. “Ith a hearin aidh. Aai haafa Hearin phoblam…. I am hearin Impaith…” (It’s a hearing aid. I have a hearing problem. I am hearing impaired. )

    She folded her hands. She didn’t understand the flow of emotions she was going through at the moment. She blinked back tears as she looked away. She was feeling cheated.

    She looked at him. He was putting the aid back into his ears and looking at her… his face devoid of expression. She said with a strained voice.  “Why dint you tell me this before? You discussed the world with me for…two whole months. Didn’t you… didn’t you feel it necessary to tell me about this?” she pointed to his ear.

    Amishi was rooted to the floor. Suddenly the whole world around her had stopped. She gathered herself and released her hand from his grasp. He indicated for her to sit. He dragged her chair out for her, like a gentleman and then took his seat opposite to hers. He kept his hands folded on the table and with that smile lodged on his face he asked moving his hands, “Tho… whaat dho yuu wan tho eeth? Thaanwith ith beth hei” (so… what do you want to eat? Sandwich is best here).

    He looked stricken. He drove a hand through his hair and said, “aam thsohrry… aai dhon no whath thu thse… I thoth yuu wiil Undhuhthsaan… thsohrry.” (Am sorry…I don’t know what to say…I thought you will understand…sorry)

    She stood up pushing back her chair. Sniffling tears she said, “I…I want to go home.”

    Then she turned and left without a backward glance.

    That night she kept looking at her phone but it didn’t ping… there was no message from him, for the first time in two months. She was surprised she was still waiting for his messages…

    Today…

    It was two days since she had last communicated with him. Last night she had googled about hearing impairment and its effects. She had stayed up long into the night reading about how people cope with the disability arising. She realised Pavan wasn’t stone deaf. She read about the different categories of hearing impairments. She also read about hearing aids. Their benefits for the hearing impaired and limitations. Considering what people face or go through, Pavan seemed to have done well for himself. She realised she wanted to know more about this part of him….this aspect of his life, his struggles and how he overcame them. The information on internet though was enlightening and she felt she understood his situation better. It wasn’t like she didn’t understand his speech at all… but she was upset because he had hidden it from her. Why did he do that?

    She wanted to speak with him and clear things. She knew there was more to it than just what met the eye. She wanted to hear him out… his side of the story…? Occasionally she felt guilty as well. The signs were there in front of her all the time… she was the one who didn’t realise it. Somehow it dawned on her that it made no difference to her if he had this impairment. He was still the same guy…whom she had fallen in love with…without hearing him speak…

    She was a social worker for crying out aloud. The first thing they were taught was empathy especially when they worked with the differently abled. Her Pavan…. Yes HER Pavan was different…he was special…

    She missed him…. Even yesterday when she was busy in the fieldwork she thought about him. She visualised his stricken look when she had left the café. Her heart was breaking. Her eyes welled up every time she thought about him. She wanted to share her day with him. Her project  had got cleared because of his tips. She wanted to tell him about that. She had started reading about parallel algorithms and had surprised her techie brother with her knowledge the other day… she wanted to boast about that to him… there was a huge void suddenly in her life.

    Somehow the library walls felt like closing in on her…

    None of her friends from school or college could match up to him when it came to comfort levels or matching of wavelengths. She had started to depend on him emotionally and intellectually. He had ruined her for anyone else. And the way he addressed her… her heart always fluttered and yearned to hear more from him.

    Yesterday she was busy with the emotionally draining field work but today she longed to see him… she wasn’t even able to focus on her lectures.

    She had to take action. Where was he?

    She took out her phone and typed,

    Hey football guy, you didn’t play the match today? SITians missed their defender today…where were you?

    There was no reply though he had seen her message. She waited for half an hour with a pounding heart before she dialled his number. The ring tone was heard but he didn’t answer it. She started to worry. Was he alright?

    She messaged again,

    Hey you ok? I am getting worried…

    Immediately there was a reply

                                     Hi beautiful

    Sorry for what transpired

    Trust me…though I ache

    That wasn’t what I desired

    Your heart I didn’t want to break

    I fought the world and now am tired

    I want to no more stay awake

    I miss our moments together

    Let’s stop this communication once and forever

    Henceforth find no more odes

    I will miss you for I love you loads…

    Pavan

    That broke the dam and her emotions flowed… She didn’t care that three were people watching her. She covered her face with her palms and sobbed.  Her heart fell… she could fell it break into tiny pieces…

    How could he alone decide to stop communicating? Why was he punishing her like that? What was her fault? Yes she was shocked…. But who wouldn’t be? She deserved a second chance… would he ever give her one?

    She wanted to tell him…She didn’t care he was hearing impaired… She still loved him for who he was. But if only he would hear her out….just once. Her study holidays were commencing in a couple of days. It was not possible to meet him for at least a week. How would she bear the grief? She had to be strong. She had to study for her final exams….

    She wanted to desperately mend things between them. As tears trickled down her cheeks she hoped it wasn’t too late for them…..

    As she travelled back home later that evening her brother had switched on the car stereo… He was a diehard Kumar Sanu fan. The song playing was from the movie Deewana suited her state of mind aptly:

    Teri ummeed tera intezaar karte hai

    Eh sanam hum tho sirf tumse pyaar karte hai….

    (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvevXfFGPFY)

    Copyright Disclaimer: All content posted here is a work of fiction and original work based on the author’s imagination. There is no intention to disrespect any person or faith. Any resemblance to any person living or dear is purely coincidental. No part of the content can be copied, reproduced or posted anywhere else either entirely or in parts, without the consent of the author.

    missing…

    Chapter  1

    Amishi was waiting for the lecture to get over… How she hated research methodology… She couldn’t tolerate statistics subject. In the final year of graduation studies, this was a compulsory subject. She was doing her bachelor of social work and loved studying humanities, science and technology and most of all the field work.

     She loved to be a part of the group visits to various places where the need of a social worker was immense. She loved seeing the changes they made in the lives of people who genuinely needed them. Just yesterday she had been to a municipal hospital. They were following up every week with this young girl all of 16years. She was from a remote village on the outskirts of Lucknow. She had an affair with her relative who was of the same age and landed up being pregnant. The girl had been scared to reveal anything to her parents fearing backlash. However one day her mother suspected something wasn’t right and by the time they rushed to the government hospital close by, it was late. The pregnancy couldn’t be terminated. The social worker there had counselled the angry parents and the girl too. They were convinced to go ahead with the pregnancy and give away the child for adoption. The counsellors there were threading on bare ice because there was a high possibility that the parents would have visited a quack and risked the girl’s life. But fortunately, they had agreed and brought her to Mumbai away from the prying eyes of the village. Here too Amishi’s team headed by her supervisor had been continuously counselling her, talking to her… for last 3 months. They had spent days and many hours of field work…even going beyond the call of duty to help the girl. Finally yesterday she had an induced labour and luckily without any complications delivered a healthy baby girl. Though the young mother was prepared to hand over the child, she was sobbing uncontrollably wanting to see her baby, even though she wasn’t shown the baby as per rules. The parents and Amishi’s supervisor who was a clinical psychologist tried to calm her down but eventually she had to be sedated. The child was sent to the NICU for care taking.

    But Amishi was pleased to bring about some kind of closure for that girl. Many times no one understood the importance of her work… accept for him.

    The professor announced the project work in Research methods bringing Amishi back to the present.  She was happy the lecture was drawing to a close…She had to rush out of her classroom before her friends started to question her or look out for her.  She couldn’t wait to visit the place she loved the most these days besides her field visit, the college library. She had her hours piled for study and project work and the next hours would be spent in the library… where she would get to see him.  Especially today….it was important that she see him.

    Amishi rushed to the library located on the fourth floor of her college building. She spent time after lectures in the library daily… especially in the last two months before leaving to go home at 8PM.  Her brother picked her up from the campus gate at 8PM daily. Today she had about 2 hours with her…  Most of her classmates either went home or stayed late in the cafeteria. She had escaped them to go to the library. Final exams were close.  Their study holidays were starting next week.

    Today there were barely two other people in the library besides the librarian and her assistant. Amishi was more than happy. It meant lesser people would spy on her. Not that she bothered but she preferred to keep her secrets to herself. She placed her book stack on the corner most table near the window and dragged her chair towards the window. She took a book in her hand and looked out across on the football ground.

    Where was he? She thought… the entire football team of Siddhartha Institute of Technology was present on the ground. But he wasn’t seen… her heart fell. She had waited all day long to catch a glimpse of the most handsome guy she had ever seen in her 21 summers.  The guy who had made a mark on her heart… on her mind…on her soul. She couldn’t sleep last night though she was bone tired after field work. He kept invading her dreams. She waited for the next half an hour for him to make an appearance but… he didn’t turn up. Every time there was a goal or cheer she looked back in anticipation but… he wasn’t there.

    Was he alright? She worried. Was he …angry? After what had transpired between them couple of days ago, would he ever want to even see her? But she wasn’t at fault, was she? What could she do? She just reacted that way….

    Tears rolled down her cheeks and she brushed them away with a frustrated hand. Since when did she care so much about a known stranger?

    Yes… he was a stranger who had the most expressive face and the most beautiful eyes that looked into your soul. He read her like a book.  He looked at her like she was the only girl on this planet… made her feel beautiful inside-out…  Before him, she had been like an empty canvas which he had filled with colours of life. Even now her heart fluttered thinking about him.

    If only life were so easy and restricted to special moments… If only life were predictable…If only she knew how she was supposed to react that day…. If only she could rewind back two days of her life she would move heaven and earth to change everything.

    But if wishes were horses….

    Copyright Disclaimer: All content posted here is a work of fiction and original work based on the author’s imagination. There is no intention to disrespect any person or faith. Any resemblance to any person living or dear is purely coincidental. No part of the content can be copied, reproduced or posted anywhere else either entirely or in parts, without the consent of the author.

    the special sister…

    The special sister…

    Sumona was waiting eagerly for the school van. It was 1PM and her younger child Raj was due to return from school. She was thrilled at the prospect of knowing how his day was. She wanted to find out all the information from the Ayah whom she used to pay extra for these tidbits. Today too she held a fifty in her hand and her eyes were glued to the entrance of the lane.

    Sumona felt a hand on her shoulder and turned around to see Kamala aunty.

    “Oh…hello Aunty, “Sumona said with her eyes back to the road.

    “Waiting for little Raj, Sumona?” Aunty asked.

    “Yes… actually they are late by five minutes…” Sumona sounded worried.

    “Don’t worry Sumona, they should be close. You know the traffic these days… Anyways I will take your leave. I am going to get bread. Do you need anything?” Kamala aunty asked.

    “No …. It’s ok Aunty…” Sumona replied distractedly, her anxiety levels starting to rise.

    Sumona had a reason to worry. Her five-year-old son Raj had Down’s syndrome. He attended a regular school in the nursery section. Her older daughter Ananya was also in the same school in the seventh grade. Raj wasn’t speaking fluently as yet and she began to fear for his safety. Sumona called the driver repeatedly but the call wasn’t connecting. She called the school and they informed her that the van was yet to leave today. They had gotten late because of some dance practice for an upcoming event in school and they had apparently messaged the parents. Sumona checked her mobile. There were no messages… the school was still considering Raj tentative? After four months? They hadn’t added her number to their group message system…

    Different scenarios came to her mind in the next five minutes. She was in tears… worry for her son eating her up… her heart shredded to every last bit.

    Sumona’s life from the last few years flashed before her eyes. She had a life she had always wanted. A loving husband Rakesh and a cute daughter Ananya who was a quick learner. Sumona worked in the IT industry and was a team lead in a software company. She had consistently moved up the corporate ladder. Rakesh worked in the pharmaceutical industry where he was the general manager in the company where he worked. Ananya had grown up with nannies and then from the age of two onwards she attended a professional daycare. She was an achiever from the word go and transition to school was a cakewalk for her. She was not just good in studies but also a lucidly competent dancer. Dance was not just her passion but she was touted to be a child prodigy and Sumona and Rakesh ensured she got the best training. They even had teachers come home on weekends in addition to the dance class she attended. She was also attending gymnastics to improve her flexibility further. They had a great lifestyle only confined to dreams of the common man. They lived in a posh locality in a huge three BHK flat in a high rise. The society boasted of all modern amenities with a huge play area for children. Ananya attended a nearby Cambridge board school which not only helped her maximise her potentials but also gently nudged her to become the confident little kid she had metamorphosed into. Sumona and Rakesh had loved the place at first sight mainly because of the proximity to Ananya’s school. The EMI was exorbitant given their expenditure but since them both had great jobs they had gone ahead.

    All was going great till one day, about five years back… Sumona realized she had skipped her periods. She had been thoroughly stressed at work and felt that must have contributed to the same. However, within two weeks her worst fears were confirmed. She was pregnant. They had thought their contraceptives were fool proof but were proven wrong. What followed was a huge emotional turmoil for Sumona. Rakesh and she were not prepared for another child…. They fought almost every day. Rakesh had even contemplated terminating the pregnancy to which she had initially agreed but then couldn’t get herself to do it. Her parents were no more and her in laws were in their village. They refused to help out. Sumona and Rakesh had an inter-caste marriage. Rakesh hailed from Vijaywada and was from a family of farmers and landowners. Her in-laws had never accepted her so she didn’t expect any support from them. Sumona had decided to bring up her second child just like Ananya and went ahead with her pregnancy. She worked throughout her antenatal days. She worked extra hard so that she could enjoy her six months maternity leave hassle-free.  She very often skipped her obstetrician appointments.

    Finally, on the day of her delivery she had some complications and had an emergency C -section. She wasn’t conscious but when she came to, she heard soft crying. She turned around to see Rakesh crying silently with his head bent low. She was suddenly worried.

    “What is it Rakesh? Where is the baby…?”

    Rakesh looked up into her eyes. He looked angry… “I had told you not to have this baby…” he said accusingly.

    Sumona was confused and scared…  “Where in my baby Rakesh? Is it a boy or a girl…?”

    “He…. It’s a boy. But…” Rakesh looked away.

    “But what… Tell me something Rakesh. Where is he?” She was getting agitated and breathing hard.

    Rakesh came to her and held her hands. “Sumi, our baby is not… not normal. Doctor said…something synd…syndrome. He is now in the NICU. He has trouble breathing. Doctor said something about a hole in the he…heart.”

    Sumona started to sob… Just then the room door opened and eight-year-old Ananya came running in. “Ma… my brother is the cutest baby on earth…” She was beaming. She held her favorite teddy from her childhood. “…Ma…I got this for him. Will he like it…?”

    Sumona hugged her daughter. She was already feeling better now.

    Soon they took Raj home and from day one it was a huge struggle. Raj was soft like a jelly.  He could be bent in all ways and Sumona was scared to even hold him. Rakesh plunged himself into work and was barely at home. Sumona suffered from post-partum depression and amidst this chaos it was Ananya who spent time with Raj. She helped Sumona with his baths, changing diapers… rocking him to sleep. She sang songs to him and even tried to play with him. Gradually Rakesh too started to show interest. When Raj was five months old, he had his heart surgery. It was a taxing time for the family but Ananya was at her chirpy best.

    All this while Ananya’s grades never fell, but her dance took a back seat.

    Raj started to develop better. But he needed therapies. His physiotherapy was taking place almost daily at a private center and Ananya used to visit the sessions every single time.

    Soon it was time for Sumona to join back to work. However, since she couldn’t keep Raj with nannies, she had to leave her job.

     The loss of her job meant loss of income and they had to heavily cut down on expenditure. The biggest blow was they had to change Ananya’s school to her current state board one  because the fees were now beyond their reach. And the final nail in the coffin came when they had to totally stop her dance classes. The ones she attended were expensive and the cheaper ones were not up to the mark. Ananya never uttered a word about the changes. Rakesh and Sumona had talked to her about these and she had accepted everything like a pro. Sumona was at times worried that her daughter had matured way beyond her years.

    The honking of the van brought her back to the present. A smiling Raj stepped out of the van assisted by the ayah. Sumona gave her the fifty and asked her about his day. She was pained to know that Raj wasn’t selected to perform in any event.

    Later in the afternoon as Raj slept after lunch, Sumona kept thinking how she could calm herself. She was agitated. She was tired of seeing people treat Raj like an outcast. Many of her neighbors sneered at him. Some laughed and made fun of him, called him names. But Raj only smiled and went to them. He was such a friendly and smart kid.  Ananya’s friends used to come home often and they would play with him for some time. He had learnt so many things from them. If only people gave him an opportunity…

    Ananya had taught him to dance. Raj also loved to dance.  He was very flexible. He was able to do steps which even typically developing children of his age couldn’t do. But why didn’t his school teachers give him a chance? Sumona knew it was futile to ask them to involve him. Later that evening when Ananya was back from school, Sumona told her about Raj not been taken in the programs.

    Ananya took out Sumona’s phone and asked her to record their performance. She switched on the stereo and it played Raj’s favorite song and they danced together. The number was choreographed by Ananya and she had taught Raj. Sumona’s eyes filled as she saw the performance. She felt awful… Ananya couldn’t pursue her passion and yet she never complained.

    Ananya convinced her to upload the video on youtube. Within an hour they had about fifty likes and views.

    Ananya’s friends shared the video among their families and within a day the video had gained immense popularity. The following day Sumona received a call from the school to arrange Raj’s costume since he was now a participant in a dance number in school. To their surprise he had picked up the dance with ease.

    On the day of the event, Sumona and Rakesh were thrilled to see Raj standing right in the front and he didn’t even need cues. The entire hall roared with a thunderous applause. The school gave him a special performance award.

    The event was a game changer for Raj and everyone around him regarded him with renewed appreciation. There was appreciation flooding in from all around and he thrived. He even started improving in his academic concepts. He now loved learning. Everyone around him tried to teach him something or the other and they were proud of him when he learnt them. Ananya and Raj made a few more videos which were all a hit.

    A few years later

     Sumona was very happy today. Raj was awarded the performer of the day award in his school. He was in the fifth grade in an integrated school, where there were other educable children with special needs. He was now loved and accepted. He was admitted to that school about three years ago and Sumona had started working again. It was difficult getting back and she felt like a fish out of water. But Raj had inspired her. If he could be a different fish in the society and stay in the water happily then why not her…? She restarted dance class for Ananya who was now in college doing her graduate studies in humanities. Even today she was Raj’s biggest supporter. She taught dance to Raj even today. Raj had become famous not just in India but abroad as well for his dance moves. He had given quite a few performances choreographed by his sister. She had even arranged a performance of his in her college festival which was appreciated by all. Ananya was approached by other parents of children with special needs to teach them dance and she was considering pursuing it after her graduation.

    Sumona’s phone pinged, getting her out of her reverie. She had received an email from an NGO which worked for the disabled and was asked to give an interview on her journey with Raj so far. She had already spoken with them last week and this was a formal invite.

    The interview was live in front of an audience. Many of them were parents of the children with special needs. Sumona spoke about Raj’s habilitation via therapies and his development so far. She then added, “We consider these children Disabled. But Children like Raj have proved that they are specially abled.  They all need an opportunity which itself is a blessing. Raj has been blessed too. He has a very special ability via a very special person. That’s Ananya, his guardian angel, a special sister…”

    There was not a single eye which wasn’t wet…

    Copyright Disclaimer: All content posted here is a work of fiction and original work based on the author’s imagination. There is no intention to disrespect any person or faith. Any resemblance to any person living or dead or any community is purely coincidental. No part of the content can be copied, reproduced or posted anywhere else either entirely or in parts, without the consent of the author.

     

    1) romance brought alive….

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    2) clinicologues….

    Fiction villa…

    #romancebroughtalive…

    #clinicologues

    “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” ..

    It’s been a childhood passion for writing fiction. The tough perils of life left little time to pursue the same. But then you come to a phase of life where you decide…. THIS IS IT.
    My Eureka moment happened early this year. I got on the writing bandwagon and having finished my first novel… am on with my second. It’s been amazingly cathartic to pool out your fantasies in print.
    Will be sharing excerpts from my novels here. But this page is more about stories mostly short ones, I want to share with interested readers.
    Feel free to comment. I eagerly await your feedback.
    Thank you for reading and hope you enjoy reading them as I enjoyed writing

    -Priya

    Chapter 4 The escapade in the past

    Chapter 4
    They ran through the thick foliage… he was stronger and taller, yet she was trying to keep up with him. he had to save them both… use whatever was ingrained into his head by his Armed forces father, right from childhood.
    “Maanav stop please….” Nitya screamed and tugged at his hand. He dragged her behind a thick tree. The canopy of tall trees in the woods gave them good cover. But he knew something buzzed right next to him and splintered a chip off the bark while a few others buzzed haywire. He knew the enemy were closing upon them but their location wasn’t compromised…yet. He had to think and fast… Thankfully Nitya hadn’t realised that they were being shot at. Probably the adrenaline of the attack was still fresh and she had been cooperating so far. But she was just almost 11 years old and he wasn’t much older either. If he was alone he could have protected himself…
    His father probably knew this day would come and had prepared him. But he wasn’t prepared for this baggage.
    Nitya slid on the ground her back resting against the tree as her breathing became heavier. He sat before her on his haunches and held her thin but strong hands. “Nitya, don’t worry, OK? Remember the combat rule I always vouch for? Stay still…”
    “b…but… is there an enemy…? I mean … why? Why us? We are just students coming for the camp…”
    “I promise to tell you everything but for now just stay quiet. I shall come for you soon. You are safe here… just don’t get out unless I say. Got it?” He pleaded.
    With emotions swimming in her eyes, she bit her upper lip like she always did when she was about to cry but tried to control her tears. She nodded looking earnestly at him, her eyes filled with trust.
    His heart broke but he had to do it….
    He left her there. He had just run ahead when he heard the blast and everything went dark around him….
    “NITYAAAAAA……”
    “NITYAAAAA…. NITYAAAAA….. NOOO NOOOOO…” He gasped and a strong combination of antiseptic redolence made its way into his senses.
    “Bullet….? Maanav…? Are you alright, buddy?” Avinash’s voice boomed in his skull. Why on earth was the guy screaming?
    His eyelids seemed to have a mind of their own and though he was desperate to wake up from the deep slumber tormenting him, he couldn’t… And then everything went dark.
    After what seemed like ages, Maanav stirred and it felt as though a herd of elephants had run over his body. He ached in places he didn’t know existed. But the nightmare that he had… like he always did for the last so many years still caused his heart to pound and the very thought sent a shooting pain through his chest.
    “Hey, buddy…” Shiv’s deep yet soft voice got him out of his stupor. “…got the needed rest? So it takes a gunshot wound to get you to rest, does it?” The big guy chuckled.
    Maanav almost chuckled himself but the pain made him cringe in agony. The nurse helped raise the bed a bit. Clenching his teeth to get over the painful surge in his chest, he panted looking around his hospital room.
    All his close friends were present. They were no less than a family. Shiv stood tall with his beautiful wife Padma. They had been through a roller coaster a couple of years ago after which they were married and had also had a son. Shiv had hung up his boots in the special ops and started a security firm Special Protection Services (SPS). He had kept an open invitation to the rest of them to join him. Anandi had done so, right in the beginning. She was the most secretive among them all. The scar on her cheek had an untold story which even Avinash didn’t know. All they knew was, the twins Avinash and Anandi were separated at 1 year of age when their parents divorced. Anandi grew up with their mother and had been through something terrible before she joined them in Sainik Shala at the age of 14. She always kept to herself but was a hell of a warrior and beneath the femme fa-tale veneer she was a deadly agent. Avinash was the swiftest and most agile of all of them and he could kill a man with his bare hands and his lean frame wasn’t the slightest indication of the same. He was rightly nicknamed ‘Razor’.
    Shiv was the perennial shadow… he could blend anywhere. In fact, he lived his life like in solitary confinement and Maanav had barely heard him speak much, forget smile… Shiv had it tough as a child and finally got a direction in life when he joined Sainik Shala. He was the best operative among them… the brains in their group. However, his life changed when Padma entered his life… rather re-entered his life and the rest was history. Shiv was a calmer and a happier version of himself and Maanav chuckled looking at the dreaded operative turned family man.
    “Something funny, bullet…?” Shiv asked in a mockingly stern voice. “…get the nightmare again?”
    Maanav’s friends knew about his frequent nightmares. The nightmares always had Nitya biting the dust and he standing helpless… His stint in the Army and later in special ops gave him no time to think and for a while, the dreams were at bay but all of a sudden they had started yet again. He just nodded.
    The doctor came around for his check-up and insisted on complete rest for a week to heal the chest wound that had punctured his lung and barely escaped hurting the heart and the spine during its exit.
    Maanav rolled his eyes and as the doctor made his exit, he decided it was enough of rest.
    “Don’t even think of it, Bullet…” This time Shiv’s voice wasn’t laced with mockery. “…you have never had the rest and if you want to continue working as an active agent this recovery and rest is crucial.”
    Shiv never spoke in this manner if he wasn’t serious.
    “Where am I though?” Maanav asked and every word took a tremendous ounce of his energy.
    “Well Maanav…” Padma spoke. She always used their given name. She was like a home to all of them. “…You are in our Jawahar province in Gayatri Raje charitable hospital.”
    Padma’s mother, the late Dr. Gayatri Raje was the queen of the province and had laid down her life for the people. Padma had denounced royalty and remodelled the hospital that she now ran with trusted aids.
    “You are in safe hands, Maanav. So focus on recovering. You can then prance around as you wish.” Padma smiled and Maanav only nodded. They could defy Shiv but never disobey Padma.
    They remained there for a few more hours and gradually left promising to return next morning.
    In the night’s solitude, Maanav couldn’t sleep despite the heavy drugs infused through the IV. While the pain was contained, sleep eluded him.
    It was years since he just lay down and stared at the blank pristine ceiling trying to count the number of rotations the fan blade probably completed every minute! But the nightmare he had after ages was still fresh. Nitya was his best friend…in fact his only friend. He was thrown down the memory lane.
    Maanav’s mother had left him when he was barely a baby. His father was in the Indian Army and completely devoted to serving the nation and had soon become a Major and later a Colonel. However, as a father and husband, he was never around and his mother couldn’t handle it along with suspected postpartum depression. She had a paramour with whom she fled. Maanav never knew his mother and his father never spoke about her. She was still a mystery to him. Barring an old picture he once accidentally saw in his father’s drawer, there was no sign that she ever existed in that house.
    Maanav grew up with a stream of nannies and he was forever the trouble-maker. His baba was barely there and now that Maanav thought about it, he felt he could understand the man because their home and Maanav probably reminded him of his wife.
    Maanav had begun to revolt and seek attention right from childhood. No nanny lasted more than a month to 6 and he was a terror in school as well. His father hated to visit his school for complaints and given his position and rank the school authorities too stopped bothering him. Maanav barely made friends because he wasn’t the right friend model and parents seldom let their kids come closer to a troublemaker. The only place he loved was his martial arts class. He excelled at that and even more when his father added shooting lessons. Maanav was attracted like a fish to water. And he was the top performer within a year of joining. Innumerable medals followed… but he still had no friends. He had an early growth spurt and by the time he was 11 years old he was already 5’5” tall.
    Once around his 11th birthday, his father forced him to accompany him to a meeting. That was strange because his father was barely home and even if he was, they rarely spoke. He was thrilled however to finally spend time with his baba.
    However, his father left him in a park and walked into the foliage growth around. He didn’t follow anything till he saw a little girl having fun on the swing under the blazing sun!
    He hadn’t seen someone enjoy by herself. She stopped swinging and looked at him. There was some kind of communication that transpired between them and he joined her on the other swing. That was Nitya. From then on, he looked forward to these trips with his father and soon realised that the man met up with Nitya’s father who was a scientist. Nitya and he forged a close friendship. For once he met someone who didn’t tease him for his crooked incisors or the extra height. Nitya didn’t ask him anything about his mother, nor did she ask him why he had studs in his ears. In fact, she said, he looked cool! Unlike his teachers who had long given up. His father hated it and he made it a point to flaunt it even more when baba was around.
    For once in his lifetime, he had someone to talk to. Their friendship was cemented further because Nitya was an ace in karate and he could share so much about it with her. They went for a camp together and their friendship deepened.
    Life was smooth sailing and though Nitya and he were curious about when transpired between their fathers behind those bushes or wherever they disappeared the kids couldn’t care less. He loved these outings with his father… mainly because of Nitya.
    Then one fine day all of a sudden, he realised it was their last outing. He was heartbroken like never before. So was Nitya. She promised she would attend the martial arts camp soon National camp almost 2 years later. They were inseparable and he thought he was living the best phase of his life when right during the camp, things went downhill…
    The camp that year involved a trek too. The small mountain range was a part of the Himalayan ranges and they had to take partners. For him, Nitya was the obvious choice. He also realised that Nitya was upset about her father being gone and he realised things weren’t going well for her. She was barely 11 but was very pretty and level-headed. He would have done anything to get her to smile.
    The trek began and it was a competition between teams. They were given tasks to complete and the pair that reached the guesthouse first was the winner. The trek was short and barely a kilometre around the guesthouse. There were markings for the teams to follow leads and so they don’t get lost. A time limit of an hour was given to each team. Maanav and Nitya had a head start given their agility and strength. However, as they followed the flags they realised something was amiss.
    Maanav checked his digital watch. It was a gift from his father and had features like a compass and a SOS signal that could directly reach his father’s regiment. His father was now leading the NSG squad and was currently close to Mumbai.
    They were past an hour and a look around showed there was no other team in sight. How could that be? They had started almost together and it was then Maanav realised something.
    “Nitya, do you see these flags? The red colour is different than the one the camp authorities had placed.
    Nitya touched the flag and looked up at him widening her eyes. “Maanav, this… this isn’t their flag. It was cotton material… this is…”
    “…Nylon…” He continued in agreement.
    What was going on? Was it something to do with his father’s sudden show of affection recently and the watch for a gift? The wheels began to turn in his young teen head. He began to focus… just like his father taught him in the limited moments they spent together. Nitya watched wide eyed while he was an epitome of concentration… the world became silent around him and he could only hear his breathing. Just then he heard a ruffle… near the herbage close by. There was someone… and that wasn’t any animal. He was sure. This part of the range didn’t have wild animals especially the stealth ones… he knew that.
    Yet, something didn’t sit right. It was then he saw… the barrel of a gun from the nearest bush pointed towards him… or was it Nitya…? He didn’t know. All that he knew was that it definitely was a gun and that adrenaline kicked in. He held her hand and dragged her along as he ran.
    “Run… Nitya…”
    They ran till their muscles burnt. There was fortunately no gun shot and that surprised him yet they ran deeper into the woods… was that the point? To get the prey in a net so the prey could be feasted upon quickly? Did he just make Nitya and himself vulnerable sitting ducks? Everywhere around them it was just the woods and the heavily pregnant clouds were threatening to pour their hearts out… For the first time in his life, he was scared. Not for him, but for Nitya. She never spoke a word but he knew she was scared and that she had trusted him completely…
    Suddenly there were shots fired using a silencer and he dragged her behind a nearby tree. He felt the wood chip off but Nitya seemed clueless. She was tired and he knew she couldn’t run more. He was sure those people were after him… They obviously had nothing to do with an almost 11-year-old girl. But they sure knew his father. Everything began to make sense… his father’s over cautious nature, always looking over his shoulder and latest gift of the digital watch… Was it because of his profession? He didn’t know then.
    The Watch… of course. He quickly pressed the SOS button and prayed that the signal would reach the concerned authority. Guilt engulfed him as he thought about how he endangered Nitya’s life. He made her wait there and decided to draw their attention away from her…
    He ran and could feel the bullets zip past him.
    He heard the helicopter before he saw it. He had to get closer to an open area. The trees were a hazard for the heli….
    He had to do something soon… Nitya was waiting at quite a distance and the enemy… she was safe at the moment. But whoever they were, the enemy was closing in.
    Suddenly there was blast behind him in the direction where Nitya hid. A huge ball of fire rose to the skies through the gap in the canopy of the tree covering and the deafening explosion rendered him nub.
    No… Nitya… no… His heart stopped.
    Before he could react a strong pair of hands held him and pulled him away. His instincts kicked him and he began to hit and kick the person but when he turned, he saw a man in army uniform.
    “We have to make this quick… the commotion won’t last long” The man ordered into his ears.
    “No… Nitya… she is there…” he looked at the still ablaze section in horror.
    The man pulled him away. He was no match for the strong Indian soldier and the series of events rendered him weak….
    “Sorry… Nitya… stay alive… please… never… forgive me…” were his last thoughts as he was airlifted and darkness consumed him.
    ©priyanayakgole
    (Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)

    Book Review: The Black Orphan

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    Author: Hussain Zaidi

    Reading a book authored by someone among my favourite crime thriller writers is a thrill in itself.

    The story begins with the protagonist DIG Ajay Rajvardhan of the NIA who is a part of the team alongside the US troops in the Abbottabad mission, involving the execution of the dreaded terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Despite not pulling the trigger, he played a pivotal role and did the groundwork that [saved the way for the US troops. This was meant to be a clear mission, yet traces remained.

    Years later when NIA arrests a woman on the charges of terrorism, he comes across a dynamic and attractive lawyer Asiya Khan who stands up against the public prosecutor and he falls for her. Though they belong to opposite teams, they start an affair.

    The plot has the NIA investigating the deaths of famous nuclear scientists one by one, and they suspect it to be a case of serial killing. It’s a race against time for Ajay and his counterparts from other departments, Deputy Commissioner Pratapa and Commissioner Neeraj Kumar, and they have to find the killer on the loose.

    The stealth investigation takes them to the by-lanes of Mumbai, where they uncover a sinister plot that, if exposed to the world, can create utter chaos in the geo-political realms. But Ajay realises something is brewing right in his backyard and it’s closely related to the loose ends way back in Abbottabad.

    Will Ajay manage to resolve it? Will the killer be caught on time? Or will there be irreparable damage?

    THe Author excels for his in-depth research. Be it the details of a covert operation or the tiny stories in the inner sanctums of the police department and NIA… He has covered it all and that makes the book authentic. The master-stroke was connecting the dots between the events that brought the subplots to their logical ends. That finally justifies the title of the book.

    As an editor, my only grouse was the last part, which seemed rushed… The climax was well written, but the road leading to the climax could have been more intriguing. But this doesn’t take away anything from the book.

     

    Chapter 3 Maanav ‘Bullet’ Deshmukh

     

    In the frigid expanse of Siachen, where temperatures plummet to a bone-chilling -50°C amid relentless blizzards, 2 men struggled to maintain their forté. The high-altitude glacier’s fierce winds howled through the icy landscape, testing their resolve in a realm of perpetual winter.

    They had exhausted their physical energy long back. Muscles were barely aware of each foot as it placed itself ahead, making its imprint on snow and their lungs seemed to have a mind of their own. Sticking their ice picks on the unfathomable mountainous terrain, they hauled themselves up. They searched for crevices to stick in their gloved hands to get a hold… and to fix their pitons. Their spindled climbing ropes ran through the pitons, holding them precariously as they fought gravity. The Indian Army soldiers were on the other side, but these two were not a part of them, and yet they were.

    Maanav ‘Bullet’ Deshmukh wheezed in a breath and looked at the point they could relax their unfeeling muscles before their next accent. At the same time, they had to camouflage themselves, blend in the pristine glow of the white gold spread before them. The Army was official… they weren’t. He felt lifeless even as the tabletop of the range was in sight. Besides him, his best friend for years, Avinash ‘Razor’ Thakur rasped in a breath and he could hear it when the slight blizzard took a respite.

    He knew irrespective of the outcome of their clandestine mission, if things went down south, Avinash would have his back. The government would disregard them and leave them to rot, but his close friends wouldn’t. Even at this point his other close friends Shiv ‘Shadow’ Chouhan and Avinash’s twin Anandi ‘Lolita’ Thakur were watching their backs secretly. Shiv had launched the Special Protection Services (SPS) a while ago. It was a front for bodyguard services but in reality, it dealt with operations that couldn’t get any sanctions and even the other covert organisations like RAW couldn’t tackle because of bureaucratic hassles.

    While Maanav and Avinash were still employed with a special ops group, a secret branch of the Indian Army, Shiv had invited them over to join him. Anandi had already done so and Avinash was considering as well. The four had been best friends since the days of ‘Sainik Shala’ a gurukul that taught them a lot besides academics. Another common factor was their family background which left a lot to desire. They all came from broken homes, so probably that was the first factor to blend together.

    Maanav’s foot suddenly skidded on a patch of snow and he veered precariously. Avinash was there in the next instant and stabilised him. Maanav watched his hot vapourised breath freeze in faster than his next inhalation! He couldn’t afford to lose focus even due to fatigue… their mission would be compromised and the life that was dependent on the duo would be snuffed out in an instant. In usual circumstances, Avinash would have given him an earful but he knew they had to save every ounce of energy to complete the climb.  The only sound he heard as they continued the last stage of their climb was the soft clink of the metal on rock and their heavy breathing.

    The morning Sun was climbing out of the deep snow-well but still the cold was brutal and killing.

    They finally made it to the rest zone and lay on the white snow, undeterred by the cold seeping in through their thick overalls. Their bodies were numb after two hours of excruciating climb that began before dawn. But the only feeling they had was of their will… the will to succeed despite unending tiredness, their heart bursting with pride… They saw a neighbouring peak scaled by the Army and re-conquered years ago and the proud tricolour fluttering away to glory.

    Maanav sat up and sighed. This particular peak was a no man’s land and that’s where the special ops group came in. The Army had pledged support but there was little they could do since they had no jurisdiction. Maanav recalled the case they had to memorise. There was nothing on them that could give away their identities. Right from unregistered firearms to no walkie talkies. But unknown to their handlers they had transmitters on them courtesy of Shiv. These were high-end and only Shiv had their coordinates.

    The task at hand was such. The home minister’s niece was kidnapped and was currently on the other side of the border. Intelligence had found out her location to be near Skardu located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan and serves as a logistical and administrative hub for the area. The problem was the Home Minister, a confirmed bachelor had a problem with revealing the incident to the world. Maanv through Shiv had found that the niece was actually the man’s illegitimate daughter brought up by his reluctant sister. The girl barely out of her teens was wayward and doped all the time. She probably had no clue where she was or what had happened to her… or that there were men risking their lives to save her.

    Maanav knew it better than to question the logic in this case. Politicians all had skeletons in their closets and they preferred to keep those cupboards closed all the time. Maanav cared a damn… his father was an Army man to the core and beyond and he knew the nuances better than anyone. But at the moment it was upto Avinash and him and the girl’s life depended on their quick thinking.

    Avinash signalled that it was time to leave. He had the feeling of urination threatening to burst his bladder but knew it was futile… the urine would freeze before it hit the snow and give him a literal case of blue balls! That would be the end of them.

    He chuckled at the thought and they began their downward climb on the other side… they would soon reach the neighbouring country and they had to hide themselves from prying eyes and drones. The neighbouring country had people struggling with poverty and extreme inflation but they had all the money in their coffers for technological advancement in warfare that they used anyway but judiciously.

    This climb down was more challenging than the climb up. Besides being under the enemy’s radar directly, the mountain was extremely rocky and steep. Avinash was the expert in the area and strong and they had decided to do it in one go. Avinash signalled again with his hand and the duo began their descent. A few minutes of rapid climb down passed uneventfully. Maanv felt something amiss… Avinash too probably as he halted and looked at Maanav through the anti-fogging goggles. He didn’t have to see Avinash’s face to know what the guy was thinking. The 4 of them were attuned to each other so well.

    Suddenly he heard something zoom past him and chip off the ice next to him. And another right next… Gosh they were being shot at. Their cover was blown. Their overalls were bulletproof but there was only so much they could sustain. Avinash signalled and they moved on a side and hid behind the jutting ice rock. The bullets were still coming in.

    They had to wait it out but that meant spending more time in depleting oxygen and depleting energy reserves as well. They had only a royal meal of Maggi noodles and chicken broth an hour before they began their climb that morning and were famished by then.

    Maanav had to make the decision. The ground rule of covert operations involved low casualties since they couldn’t call for attention. But now they didn’t have a choice. Maanav was the expert here and as if hearing his thoughts Avinash nodded in agreement. Maanav took position even as Avinash gave him the needed footing. Their ropes couldn’t take much load and if the bullets hit them continuously, the ropes would eventually give away and the two would fall to their deaths.

    Maanav aimed the Sako TRG 42, the high-end sniper rifle he had customised to lighten the weight for his climb. He stuck the nozzle though the gap in the rock and tried to look through the eye piece. Bingo… he found the morons. They were 4 and were hiding behind barracks… how typical of the enemy! They always attacked in stealth.

    So stealth it was… he wasn’t called ‘bullet’ just in the name. He took aim and in the next minute all 4 were felled. He saw the commotion as the enemy troopers scampered to their fallen brethren. He used the chaos to shoot a few more and changed his footing and direction in the process to help the bullets ricochet and hit the enemy from unexpected quarters. The enemy only kept guessing from where the shots were fired. The men soon retreated probably to get reinforcement and this was the opening the duo need.

    Avinash and Maanav resumed the drop and without any problem they managed the rest of the feat.

    The ground level now posed a new challenge.  The place was barren and rocky and probably landmine infested as well…

    They had to be extra careful. Avinash took out a device used to find out if there were any active IEDs so they didn’t get blown up before their mission got over. Thank fully there were none and slowly they made their way to a hut hidden amidst a cluster of other huts, they were local tribals.

    One of them was their contact point in the enemy land. These missions needed help from some  local person for their ultimate success. The old man whom they knew as chachajaan served them hot kahwa and broth. They were famished and wolfed them hurriedly. Maanav didn’t know the true identity of chachajaan but their higherups had their research in place and every terrain had some helper. It wasn’t Maanv’s place to find out these details.

    Chachajaan gave them local outfits that had seen better days. But to go in a disguise they had to look as authentic as possible.

    A while later two ‘older’ men with sticks made their way out of the settlement. They wore ragged long tunics with black Shalwars and a heavy wooden cloak they wore was great to conceal the arms they hid beneath. They covered their heads with thick skull caps and beneath there was a long rag covering their face from the frequent blizzards. Herding yaks would have called for attention given how poor the region was. So they chose sheep… the unsheared animals were easy to conceal what they wanted to.

    They gradually made their way to run an errand… directly to the wolf’s lair. The settlement always provided the troops with food and other essential requirements so they were loyal to their army because of the business they brought in. However some of them like chachajaan liked more moolah… They could not be trusted and if someone looked into the hut they would find chachajaan missing and a few days later, his decomposing body under the floor of the hut.

     

    Maanav and Avinash treaded along and finally reached a two storeyed heavily guarded building. The place was a fortress and surrounded by barracks were the troops stood guarding the place. There was no other building for miles around the acrid area.

    Maanav addressed the man at the outer barrack in Urdu infused with the Balti language. His line of work needed him to blend and language and dialects played a major role in hiding his cover. The man nodded and spoke on the walkie talkie to his comrades and soon a couple of them came up… they touched the two of them to check for hidden weapons and Maanav and Avinash had been prepared. They only had milk jars strapped to the three sheep as far as those soldiers were concerned.

    Right then Maanav pressed a button strapped beneath the skull cap and the tiny devices they had dropped along their way to this place began to explode sending the clouds of dust all around. The due joined the screaming and fell on the floor pretending to be scared for their lives. Meanwhile they took out their arms hidden in the wool beneath the sheep belly that these morons hadn’t checked. After all the sheep from the settlement were marked for recognition.

    Maanav used this chaos to shoot the nearest men and in the cloudy confusion, the others scrambled for safety trying to look out from where the attack was happening. Avinash nodded to Maanav and he crouched towards the building. The timed devices were blowing up and confusion prevailed. Avinash launched a grenade on the other side and the confusion only snowballed into ballistic shooting. Avinash ducked under a bunker and waited… there was no point in fighting so many people together. He had to wait for the opportunity and as per their calculations the rangers would be there in the next 10 mins. They had that much time to bring out the girl.

    Maanav was inside walking in the shadows and stood silent watching the confusion play out. He was on the second storey and held his tiny pistol the only one he had managed to carry upstairs. As expected Avinash had created enough distraction and the men from the building were downstairs trying to secure the perimeter till reinforcement arrived. This was the time gap he had… He peeped into one of the two rooms and saw his target… the young girl was gagged and tied up and lay slumped on the chair. Oh hell… this was going to be tough, carrying dead weight. He had no choice but to put plan B in action. It would cost him his job but he had to get this job done… save the girl. He looked around for a communication device and found a crude one. He pressed in the special codes and then a few more to scramble them across channels… and waited. Shiv would have received the coordinates now and a waiting helicopter would be there in 5 min. He just hoped the time window would work out.

    He walked in slowly and untied the girl. She was dead weight and he laboured to carry her in a fireman’s carry across the balcony crouching all the way to avoid detection. He was panting heavily because of the cloth covering his face to conceal his disguise and there was no body part that wasn’t aching or getting numb with cold… Would he survive this? There was a buzz and then a roar and he knew the helicopter was close. Would Avinash make it? He didn’t doubt the guy and rightly so, the lean bulky oxymoron of a man was besides him in a jiffy. Avinash took over the load of carrying the girl and Maanav shielded the duo with pistols in both his arms. Avinash handed him a grenade, their last one and Maanav dropped it at the entrance since the troops would now close in hearing the helicopter nearing the terrace of the building.

    As they barged into the terrace they were in for a surprise, there were two men stationed there. Avinash rolled along the ground. Maanav’s disguise disintegrated and his face was revealed… He shot the two point-blank but not before getting hit on the chest. He only felt the heaviness settling in the chest when the Helicopter landed and Avinash rushed towards him.

    Pressing a cloth on his chest Avinash whispered heavily. “Hang in there, Bullet….we have to see this through together….”

    He felt his ass being hauled on the helicopter and as the bird flew higher amidst the sounds of bullets from automatic weapons, the mother of all pains shot through his being. He felt a prick…probably the doctor on board injected something. All he could see as his vision blurred was Avinash animatedly speaking something…

    As the world around him began to fade he remembered his past… his childhood, his father and the special friend whom he had to betray… his little Nitya.

    I am so sorry Nitya….

     

    ©priyanayakgole

    (Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)

     

     

    Chapter 2: Flashback… was anything real?

    Chapter 2

    Nitya turned over the simmering omelette making sure not to let the side burn. Naman loved his eggs in a particular manner or he didn’t eat them at all. The tiny kitchen was filled with the aroma of desi ghee, an indulgence she could afford for Naman. He would be back from his computer class anytime now and she always made it a point to keep his breakfast ready before going off to work. The 18-year-old liked his breakfast just a little warm.

    It was a month since her mother had passed and despite the woman being like a breathing piece of furniture in her last days or not being there for her for over 15 years, Nitya still missed her. She missed her presence or the smell of the talc that Nitya insisted she use. It often prepped the woman up during her depressive spurts.

    Usually, whenever Nitya was away at work, Naman stayed alone and Kamble kaka occasionally checked on him. She texted Naman as well and he replied religiously using emojis or little texts. That put her at ease.

    Today she had taken an extended leave given the events in the past few days after her mother’s passing. She wanted to clean up the house and also spend quality time with her brother. Above all, she wanted to reply to Sajid’s proposal. She had decided to break up with him and to her surprise had felt like a burden had been lifted off her shoulders. They hadn’t exchanged a single message or call after that last text. She didn’t even miss him or feel his absence.

    There had been no over-physical proximity between them. Now that she thought of it, they never had a chance and not just her, Sajid too didn’t seem much interested in the same.

    It wasn’t that she considered herself chaste or virtuous… She had lost her virginity years ago when she had revolted against her mother and the family situation and taken off with her 11th-grade crush. They were both experimenting and awkward. She hadn’t felt anything and both had moved on as if nothing had transpired between them. In the past years, when the going was very tough she had hooked up with a couple of instructors from the gym she worked at earlier but she didn’t enjoy the process and realised unlike those men, she didn’t only need a physical outlet but an emotional one as well. So, she had given up over 5 years ago and to date hadn’t found anyone she could indulge in all the way… not even Sajid.

    She sighed and looked around the modest drawing room. Despite her best efforts to scrub and clean, the room reeked of negligence and poverty. The wall plaster had chipped away ages ago leaving it bare to fend for itself and the mosaic tiles were just barely there, broken in so many places that it looked like a barren desert… She had put an old excuse of a carpet over it so they didn’t hurt their soles. The lone cupboard that held her meagre possessions stood crumbling and proud, a lone witness to the various shenanigans at home whenever her mother threw a fit in depressive spurts. She stood before the mirror attached to the cupboard and chuckled at the splintered image staring back at her. How very apt visual of her life.

    She opened the cupboard creaking painfully as the door stood on the last vestige of its hinges.

    She had been hesitating to do this but this was important and needed to be done. She removed her mother’s only remaining physical memory. An old bag filled with her minuscule possessions. They had always lived a hand-to-mouth existence given her father’s indiscretion, as they called it. Nitya didn’t want Naman to see it so keeping an eye on the clock, she opened the zipper of the airbag that had seen better days. Her mother always fiercely guarded the bag and never let anyone touch it till a month before she passed when she had been delirious. Nitya respected her wishes and stayed away from the bag.

    Today she opened it…

    Nothing looked out of the ordinary…just like their routine life all these years. There were a few cotton sarees, her mother owned forever. Faded but soft, reminding her of a time decades ago when her mother was full of hope…. A hope that faded away with time making her mother a shell of her former self. There were just two cotton sarees. Nitya lifted the pale blue saree and held it close to her face. It still smelled like her mother and tears stung her eyes. Her mother had had it tough…. Very tough

    Her mother had been very young and gone against her family to marry the man she loved. She was a brilliant student as well but unfortunately didn’t share the same vision as her ambitious husband. Nitya remembered as if it was yesterday, how much her parents had fought over her father’s decision to move to Yemen for better opportunities. Her mother wanted to stay back and bridge the gap between them and Nitya’s maternal grandparents. Naman was a baby and her mom wanted to take up a job in the same organisation where she had studied. Her grandparents would have helped look after Nitya and Naman.

    But alas, all that remained just a dream. Nitya’s father remained firm in his resolve and insisted his wife continue being at home and manage things while he earned the moolah.

    “It’s for Nitya’s higher education and dowry… Naman should also go abroad for higher education…. It’s just a matter of a few years, my dear. I can give you a life of comfort…” Her father always argued.

    “But, we are comfortable… I love being with you all. Aai, baba are willing to take care of the kids… I can start work…”

    “No… Naman is still very small. He needs you. Please stay at home…” Her father continued to plead.

    Her mother eventually gave in when nothing she tried could shake his resolve.

    Nitya’s father was an orphan so there wasn’t any relative from that side to help them.

    Initially, the money had come regularly with an occasional phone call. But everything trickled down… both the money and the calls, till there was nothing… no news about her father. No one knew anything about his new company.

    And then came along 26/11…

    Her maternal grandparents and uncles who were just warming up to them were repelled by the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks where her father was named as one in cahoots with the perps. Life went downhill after the incident and her mother never got over the shock.

    They had to move all the time to avoid being hounded by the media and the worse was the hatred in people’s minds for the families of the perps and those associated with them.

    Nitya hated her father for destroying their lives and at times she was grateful Naman had his condition to hide behind it. Otherwise, he would have had it the worst. She was proud of her brother for having fought his own battles despite his condition. He had enwrapped himself in his own world of codes and ever since he had got her father’s ‘gift’ he had been engrossed in something she never could understand.

    Naman was a genius in software, coding in particular. She had to take him out of the special school and on the advice of the counsellor had enrolled him for a computer class. He was self-taught and had even started taking up little assignments for the computer classes. He couldn’t write but typed with an enviable speed. His dexterity was poor for his routine skills but when it came to the keyboard, he was brilliant… an ace. Nitya always wished to know what was going on in his head but there was no way she could follow him.

    Naman, despite everything had a strange radar about people. His judgements were correct most of the time.

    Naman never reacted aversely to people in general. If he didn’t like someone he just moved on. If he liked them, which was rare, he smiled shyly and held their hand and smelled it. However, his reaction towards Sajid was strange. The guy seemed to hate the man. As if at that time Naman was a typical young guy… It surprised her. She tried asking Naman using every mechanism possible but Naman withdrew in his shell the moment Sajid’s name was mentioned.

    That was one of the reasons she had wanted to break whatever fragile thread of relationship she had with Sajid.

    She shook her head and got back to her task at hand. She was about to put back the saree in the bag when her hand touched a raised part at the base of the bag. There was something beneath the cloth layer at the base. She got a pair of scissors and cut open the cloth. A tattered photo album looked up at her.

    Oh Amma… what did you hide here?

    She picked up the album the size of a thick novel. She had always thought amma had destroyed everything linked to their past. But no… here was something.  She flipped through the pictures. Some black and white ones when her amma was younger and radiant… she was a stunner. No wonder appa fell for her. There wasn’t a single photo belonging to appa. She flipped through carefully and there were a few pictures from her childhood but appa’s face had been torn out. Tears filled her eyes and began to roll down her cheeks. They were such a beautiful loving family… why did things go ruthlessly wrong?

    She turned further and stopped at the picture. It was during a martial arts camp. She always looked forward to this annual camp and despite her amma’s protests appa always supported her. The reason being…Maanav. In the picture, she stood with him on the rock during their trek. He was her special friend. She remembered having a great time with the guy who gave her so many pointers on shooting… she had wanted to learn the sport but it never happened. In fact, this was the last time they had a good time together… she lost her best friend that day. He betrayed her… he would have been just around 14 years or so but he backstabbed her. She was more heartbroken than angry…

    Nitya touched the picture and sighed.

    She knew Maanav from much before those couple of camps.

    Appa always took her for ‘outings’ on certain days. It would be some garden or public parks and while she would enthral herself in the myriad instruments of childhood pleasure, her father would disappear amidst the fauna. She didn’t mind at all because she had a friend despite odd hours and the blazing sun. Maanav would be there with his father and his father too would be gone into those bushes or just disappear somewhere with her father. Maanav and Nitya would play to their heart’s content. He taught her games she didn’t know existed… They helped her gain an advantage over her peers. She could show off to them. This went on for 2 years or so and she often heard her parents fight before appa took her out. Her mom didn’t want appa to take her along but she wanted to and threw a tantrum. Appa seemed to struggle to explain that Nitya ‘had’ to go along. Something about maintaining ‘cover’… she remembered it now.

    Nitya attended her first martial arts camp because of Maanav and loved it. If crush had a name, for Nitya it was Maanav.

    They met again after the first camp in the park and now they were old enough to just stroll and chat rather than play on the slides!.

    Maanav seemed to be the storehouse of knowledge and his focus was enviable.

    “Nitya, when you are in combat mode, you should be still like a rock” Maanav once said.

    “But why? If the enemy can be attacked sooner, you can have the advantage, can’t you?” Nitya had argued.

    “No Nitya, my baba says, to engage the brain before engaging the weapon and unless you get rock still, the enemy can sniff you out.”

    The same day Nitya saw their fathers emerge from the foliage. They were arguing unlike their usual friendly demeanour when they picked their children.

    “No Mohan… you don’t understand. I don’t trust Jafar. You sure about this, my friend?” Maanav’s father, a tall strong muscular man with a thick beard covering his square jaw, and sunglasses perched on his straight nose, asked appa.

    “Colonel, I need this job. I did my bit for my country but that’s not enough for my family…” Appa looked at Nitya and continued. “… She has big dreams… she is brilliant too… has a great future and I have to afford that. We know Jafar from college. He is a good guy and promised to help…Don’t worry its just a matter of a few years…”

    “I hope you know what you are getting into Mohan…” Colonel uncle had patted appa’s back and then they had dispersed.

    Appa had soon left for Yemen and she had attended the camp the following year, her last excursion before heavens befell them.

    Nitya shuddered as she shut the rest of the empty album and placed it in the tattered bag.. Her hands touched something else. A ragged leather bag…

    Was this a bag or a Pandora’s box…

    Nitya wondered what her mother had wanted to keep a secret that she had hidden it all in this manner. With trembling hands, she opened the rickety zipper and saw soiled … letters. Smudged ink only revealed the address to their old home and her mother… It wasn’t rocket science to understand the handwriting, however, messed up, was her father’s.

     

    She suddenly realised she didn’t know her parents at all….

    She blinked back tears and glanced at the album she had placed back. She had stayed away from all kinds of social media for her reasons and there was no cord connecting her to her old life. But curiosity was meant to be the biggest cause of happiness, was it not?

    Where are you, Maanav?

    ©priyanayakgole

    (Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)

     

    Chapter 1: Nitya’s predicament

    Nitya’s predicament

    Present day

    Nitya shut the door of her modest home in the corner of Bhandup, a suburb in Mumbai. The last guest of the select few had just exited and she latched the door securely. Turning around she sighed looking at her mother’s garlanded photo. She had passed a couple of days ago and today Nitya had arranged a prayer meeting at the behest of her family friend, Kamble uncle.

    Kaka, I don’t believe in all these farcical rituals…” She had protested. “… I took care of Amma till the time she lived… gave her a decent departure at the crematorium. Don’t you think this is enough? Why should I announce it from the rooftops?”

    “Nitya beta, its for the reason that all this doesn’t look conspicuous. Your mother lived her life in absolute obscurity and fear. If we don’t call a few people for the prayer meet then it would make it look even more odd. We don’t need people’s attention to focus on you or your brother, more than necessary.” Her uncle had justified.

    She had relented and today the prayer meeting was done with.

    It was tough for her to face the sparse crowd though she had known them for the last decade she had stayed here. The women looked at her with eyes overflowing with unsolicited pity and maybe even envy, at her svelte figure. But the men ogled at her. Some of them had even eve teased her in her initial days here but she had been an avid martial artist and had shown one of them the repercussion after which she was left alone.

    Today she had worn a saree after ages on Kamble uncle’s insistence. She didn’t want to disappoint him since he had gone out of his way to help them. The man had been their anchor when they had hit rock bottom. He was the only stable family she had seen.

    Nitya had always worn loose t-shirts over loose-fitting jeans that literally hung on her slender frame. It was a perfect camouflage for her to go to and fro to work at the gym where she was a fitness instructor and also doubled up as a martial arts teacher. The pay was average but she made good money in personal coaching and this area was the cheapest to live in these suburbs.

    Nitya walked into the only bedroom of the tiny flat, they had rented for the past decade. The landlord was Kamble uncle’s friend and had reluctantly extended her lease every year. He had even kept the rent on the lower side to his utmost chagrin but Nitya wasn’t the one to judge. She was only grateful.

    She looked up at the ceiling, the iron rods blatantly staring at her now having been chipped off the cement layers just like the fortune and peace from her life. The corner in one of the walls facing outside had dampened and refused to dry. Despite her best efforts feeble stench of increasing mould remained. The Rains had been particularly ruthless this time

    Compared to the curveball life had thrown her way, this was sheer bliss.

    She was barely 11 years old when her father passed… but the mayhem that followed his death was devastating. She lived in Pune those days close to her maternal grandparents. But her father was labelled a traitor who helped design the terrorist attacks that shook the heart of the country. It was a nightmare for her mother and her little brother, Naman who was barely 3 years old. There was trial by the media across news channels and despite there being bare minimal social media in those days, it was a living hell for them. They had moved to that housing colony after her father had left for that job in Yemen. Her mother, also a science graduate, was against the move but appa wanted to give them the best… little good it did.

    Her appa was her hero. Then why did he do it? That would always remain a mystery. She didn’t want to believe it at all even years later when she grew old enough to know stuff. His memories were fading away… and she didn’t remember him except for the occasional old Hindi movie songs which when played reminded her of his fun games whenever he spent time at home. What did he look like? She had fading memories of his angular jaw very similar to that of hers with a pencil-thin moustache. Her mother often said she resembled her father in the good old days. She wanted to hang on to that image despite all that had transpired. There was no picture of him available anymore… her mother had destroyed all physical copies and at that time he wasn’t on any form of virtual medium despite the fact that he was a software genius.

    Long story short, it didn’t matter anymore Because all she remembered was a miserable adolescence with a depressed mother and a brother for whom she was a surrogate mother to date.

    The last 15+ years had taken a lot from Nitya. Her childhood, good memories …in short, her life.

    Her mother was bedridden and heavily sedated in the last five years. She had to take care of the household too besides earning a living. Then her brother… the super genius in the family. He needed care as well despite being 18 years old.

     

    Nitya walked towards the study table in the room darkened by thick curtains despite the bright daylight. The slight silhouette of her brother Naman, slouched on the revolving chair she had got him from the flea market, was visible. She knew he was disturbed at a different level. She knew better than to talk to him. She couldn’t handle a meltdown right now.

    Naman had Asperger’s Syndrome. She had always trodden on eggshells around him to help him calm down. His cries during a meltdown would depress her mother further. Twice the woman had OD-ied and Nitya couldn’t lose the only living relative… She could only study till the 12th grade after which she plunged head-on to earn a living. But life had been the best school teaching her things she would never have learnt in a sheltered upbringing.

    She tiptoed towards her brother, her only remaining family… well figuratively. The last decade had brought them very close to each other. Naman only listened to her and needed her voice or touch to calm down.

    She saw him rocking with a slight humming and his headphones were on too. She knew he was distressed. She placed a hand on his shoulder, tentatively and he began to rock more… with a greater intensity. She knew he was in agony… something he couldn’t tell despite being verbal. These were the emotions only she could feel. She teared up… the emotions were getting the better of her. She had never cried for ages, not when they had to give up everything 15 years ago, not even when she had to become a breadwinner as an adolescent, not even when her mother almost died consuming those sleeping pills and not even when amma died…

    But Naman was her weakness… she had been the only relative he had known.

    Today he was hurting, probably more than her. She knew what she had to do. She hugged him from the back and began rocking with him. After about a minute he slowed down and finally came to a standstill. She gently took off his headphones watching him every second. She couldn’t tolerate a meltdown right then… She was drained too.

    “Hey Naman… sweetie… I know you are hurt. I am so sorry dear but amma was ailing and in pain. She is in a better place now. Remember, when we spoke about heaven?” her voice cracked up towards the end of the sentence.

    She remembered one of the many workshops she had attended, by a parent support group for her brother. It helped her deal with him better. She was after all his parent in the true sense of the word. Naman only listened to her… she didn’t know how much he followed her but he often heard her out with his gaze fixed on the mould on the wall whenever she wanted to vent out, frustrated with her life. Despite his issues, he seemed to understand her well. He gave her a patient ear and never judged her.

     

    She loved him to no end and had pledged her life for him.

    Naman nodded slightly and she doubted he truly understood emotions but he was a genius… her mother said, despite everything, her brother had inherited his high IQ from his father. And then that stupid laptop-like structure, whatever it was… It had reached them a week after her father passed. Her father’s death in a computer laboratory short circuit came as a shock… The Mumbai attacks news was fresh as ever and this was out of the blue. The only communication that cryptically came over from Yemen office and there was no contact ever since. Which world did they live in?

    The ‘gift’ had come to her old home and was received by her grandparents who handed the still-packed gift to her mother a few years ago.

    Her mother had lost it all over again and Nitya hated it all the more…However, Naman had taken to the gadget like a fish to water. It was some crude prototype of a laptop probably built by her father. The gadget just played music from an old album, it sounded familiar but she couldn’t place it. The music seemed incomplete… She always had the urge to find the solution and complete it but what was that music?  She couldn’t ask around because it would call for attention and Kamble kaka the only soul outside their home who knew about the gift, advised her to let it go.

    Naman however kept busy all day and for the past few years, it was his companion whenever he was home after his special-school hours. She always thought the gift was a blessing in disguise for Naman because he could emerge into those codes without having to bother about the life troubles surrounding him.

    She looked at the blinking green lights on the keyboard panel and then there was this boxlike structure just like the area where a cordless phone would have fitted. But there was no phone or any such thing with this one.

    Naman seemed to have got back his equilibrium now and began to hit the keys with a vengeance.

    She sighed and walked out of the room just as her phone beeped with an incoming message. It was from Sajid… her boyfriend of five years. Amma hated him, so did kaka and Sajid had met them just once. She didn’t love him either, but he had been with her through her lows in these past years. A psychologist would have a field day analysing her complexes! She didn’t know why she was still with Sajid. They barely spent time together.

    Romantic love wasn’t something she believed in… she didn’t have that emotion… or maybe she did once at that time during her childhood. Before hell broke loose…That brown-eyed boy with an amazing dimple when he showed his perfect set of teeth…

    She shook her head at the fleeting memory. It was all in the past…

    Off late Sajid had been pursuing her relentlessly, wanting to marry her. He had a job offer abroad and wanted to marry her. Just last night he had called her.

    “Come on Nitya… I am sorry for your loss… but I am there for you. Always. Naman is like a younger brother and I shall take care of him as well. We shall take him along too…”

    “Sajid, Naman can’t be uprooted… and he has become very emotionally volatile and his meds have been tweaked as well. It’s a tough time for him…”

    “I understand Nitya. Trust me I do. I shall take care of everything. Naman only wants a gadget like that toy he has… doesn’t he…?”

    “No Sajid its more than that. Let me ponder over it a little more alright?”

    Sajid hadn’t pushed her after that.

    She sighed and read the current message.

    Hey Nitya, will be gone for a few days. New job requirements. Cu in a few days. Take care.

    She realised she left the breath she didn’t know she held. Why did Sajid make her anxious these days? Was it because of the ‘marriage’ topic? She couldn’t ruin anyone’s life because she came with baggage. Her brother was an extension of her own being and anyone marrying her would have to accept him.

    Sajid had accepted Naman but the problem was, Naman didn’t like Sajid…

    Naman hated Sajid.

     

    ©priyanayakgole

    (Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)

     

    Prologue

     

    25th November 2008

     

    The cul-de-sac of the cyber chamber seemed different that day, the blast of AC chilling him but he knew the chill was due to another reason. The buzz of the machines that usually fanned his passion for the cyber world and its intriguing realm held no interest today. His anxiety was shooting up along with his blood pressure and he had just taken today’s dose of his meds.

    He strode to his computer and unlocked it. His daughter Nitya stared back making a funny face him as the special desktop took its own sweet time to boot up. He smiled… Nitya would be 11 years old soon. He hadn’t wished her for the past two birthdays. Would she hate him? His little Naman was merely 2 when he last saw the boy. Would he remember his appa?

    The customized computer was so damn slow. He should have fixed this malware ages ago but now was not the time for such musings. His anxiety increased by the minute… there was no time. His colleagues would be in any minute.

    Seated in this top-secret building in Yemen, a small country in the Arabian Peninsula, he had come on a special project, 3 years ago. He was a scientist, way ahead of his time and India had not acknowledged his importance. But his college friend Jafar-ul-Mansood, now based in Riyadh had.

    On Jafar’s insistence, he had quit his job at IISc and flown to Yemen to join this company meant to build high-tech software for augmenting technology meant for robotics that could create marvels in the medical industry, at least that’s what he was made to believe. He had written so many codes that he had lost touch with reality. Till a couple of months earlier when he overheard Jafar speak on the phone. The man mentioned something about an attack on Mumbai… what?

    Probing further he had found out that this company that paid him huge bucks was a farce… just a front for something sinister…. And just last week he realized, someone with a code name Butt had planned an evil crusade against his motherland. It wasn’t rocket science to find out the rest of it all… He had all the expertise and these guys always trusted him so there were no firewalls when he accessed the rest of the information… at least he thought so.

    He had done the needful… whatever he could without calling for attention so far. He just hoped his gifts he had clandestinely arranged to be delivered to his old home was received. It was a special gift for Nitya…. A little blessing for her future. The other letters too would hopefully reach their recipients. He had managed to take the help of the sweeper, Kadir, the only man he trusted.

    Now, the mounting anxiety engulfed all rational thought even as he hit the keys, unknowingly gathering more evidence.

    Disgust gnawed at him as he realised how he had walked into a trap laid out by someone whom he trusted. Commander Deshmukh too had warned him subtly ages ago… about the dubious Jafar. But his greed for a better future for his children had surpassed all rational thought. His wife had pleaded with him not to go… he should have listened to her.

    His wife had severed all contact for two years now and he didn’t even know her current whereabouts.

    The desktop panel beeped indicating the completion of the booting up. His trembling fingers flew on the keyboard trying to erase all about project ‘BUTT’… but… wait… the information on those codes was missing. Did they eliminate the data already? How was it possible?

    Oh God…

    Oh, sweet Lord. How did they know about this? He hacked a site he had been trying to get into…

    The location of the head office of his company was Karachi. That only meant one thing… Something was coming up in a day or two and there was this massive project hell-bent on destroying his country and he had been privy to it all along.

    He wiped the sweat off his brow. What was he thinking? He had to act… act fast.

    He typed-in his back door… something he had ingeniously built by habit. He couldn’t rectify the current mission or whatever the crap was going to unfold but he had to prevent future disaster. Frantically, he moved over to his latest project, the second one with the company, which was about 70 percent complete. He compared the codes to the research papers he gathered over the week… the second project.

    He couldn’t remove the codes so he began to scramble them. It was in a particular order that only a super genius could decode if he observed the cryptic patterns closely. Only a genius could complete it.

    But he knew these fanatics were blinded by their stupid missions and their pea-sized brains wouldn’t be able to encode anything unless they got in someone as good as him, if not better. As of now, he was sure he had done a marvellous job.  This second mission stood stranded…

    Watching his handiwork set up on the screen before him, he pressed the enter key and the codes began to realign according to his brainwave.

    Just then a loud gong went off. Oh did these people have an indicator like a warning signal?

    Before he could react a group of armed men rushed into the room followed by Jafar and a couple of people he hadn’t met.

    Bhaijaan what did you do?” Jafar looked stricken. He rushed towards the computer, now a mess of undecipherable codes.

    “I should ask you, Jafar, shouldn’t I? I will not betray my country.” He stood up to the men.

    “In that case…” one of the younger men with a golden tooth glinting as he grinned and grimaced, walked forward with a pronounced limp. “…Doctor miyan, we give… you… much money. And you destroy our work… You know too much so… you know punishment, no?” This guy was a pro and their leader in the making.

    His menacing kohl-laden eyes shielded by strands of unruly hair gleamed, as he snatched a gun from one of the men.

    The room reverberated with the staccato bangs of the bullets pumping into the scientist, whose name tag now stained crimson, read, Dr. Parikshit Mohandas.

    As he fell writhing, as the last ounce of breath left his body, Parikshit’s unmoving orbs stared after his handiwork… a copy of which had already been passed on to a location only known to him. Whether the pieces of puzzles would come together, only time would tell….

    He only wished the BUTT mission would fail….

    (It did not. On 26th November 2008, a series of terrorist attacks took place in Mumbai, Maharashtra. The attacks lasted 2 days and resulted in 175 fatalities and over 300 injured….)

    ©priyanayakgole

    (Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)

     

    Book Review: Rambo

    0

    Author: Col. Ashutosh Kale

    This non-fiction book is a true account of special forces officer Major Sujir Walia of 9 Para (SF) who attained martyrdom at 30.

    This is not just the story of a braveheart son of the soil but an account of a soldier’s grit and courage and never-give-up attitude in the face of adversities. The book takes us on a poignant sojourn where the hardships of military training come to the fore. The olive green sheen is not easy to attain or to maintain for that matter both figuratively and literally.

    While the political bigwigs sitting in plush offices make decisions for their respective ideologies, it’s these soldiers who have to bear the brunt of it all as they defend our frontiers. Time and again we have been privy to how insurgencies or war has affected us and how we have lost our men in the process of maintaining the dignity of the tricolour fluttering on the highest peak.

    Major Sudhir Walia’s heroics are a source of motivation for all of us. He is an epitome of resilience who leads from the front playing the favourite game of hide-and-seek with death. Whether the operation against the LTTE in Srilanka, The Kargil war or snuffing out foreign militants, Sudhir never took a breather during a mission and was a step ahead in strategic planning and execution. Everyone around him looked up to him and was ready to take a bullet for him. Even in death as he was getting evacuated gravely injured, his thoughts remained with the ongoing mission.

    The author, himself an army man has detailed the road of thorns our soldiers tread on every day, during every mission, so that we enjoy the breath of freedom. The Kargil war in particular has been described in such a way that the reader feels the sense of pride and patriotism as if he is present at the location. At the same time, it gives us goosebumps to read about the intense exchange of fire or the loss and mutilation of our soldiers who were caught by the enemy as prisoners. One cant remain without tearing up at the narrative.

    The pictures published in the book give us a feel of realism. Sudhir Walia stands immortalised….

    Hats off to our soldiers. Jai Hind

     

    The Secret Ripples… Meet the characters…

     

    Meet the Male protagonist Maanav Deshmukh

    the end….yet the beginning

    Epilogue…

    Two years later

    Padma rushed to reach her school building. She was running late today… like she usually did these days. As her car turned towards the main gate she saw Seema waiting as usual. She smiled at the newly married woman whose cheeks turned red at every mention of her new husband, Keshav. They were married last month and Keshav had plunged into the Royal treasury-related work while Seema had continued to dedicate herself to Padma’s residential school.

    The massive building was built in a mere six months, mainly because of the support of the people from their province and Koini and surrounding talukas. It was already houseful and the new construction of the additional building was in full force. The state government and local agencies too had come out in support of the initiative and Padma could never be happier. She had also got her mother’s charitable hospital remodelled and it now boasted of state of art facilities.

    Padma had achieved all this in a little over a year and managed an infant who was now almost a toddler. Her son, Kartik. Shiv and her son…

    Shiv… the very remembrance brought tears flooding so she tried to push his memories into the subconscious. But one look at Kartik, a miniature version of his father, and it all gushed back.

    Padma sighed as she handed over Kartik to Seema, who had taken a strong liking for the kiddo, who in turn returned the favour! There was a small play unit for the children of the staff involved so thry could focus on their work without having to worry about their little children. Padma had seen to it that the play unit had an extended daycare center. Kartik loved his time there…

    Padma kept herself occupied throughout the day and Kartik kept her busy but the nights were torturous. Her thoughts and dreams were filled with Shiv. Where was he? Did he even remember her?

    As she sat on her office chair she stared at her nameplate on her mahogany desk.

    Ms. Padmavati Raje, Principal.

    She looked up at her mother’s garlanded photo frame.

    “Aai… our dream has come true. A lot more girls have enrolled in our school than our expectations. And by the way… the Archeological Society of India has given us the go-ahead for the fort restoration. So, just as you had envisioned, the fort will be done thoroughly and the Idol of Maa Bhavani will be reinstated with complete rituals…”

    She sighed as she remembered the turn of events in the last two years…

    She had woken up to an empty infirmary room and though Seema kept coming in on and off to keep her company, she had already known Shiv had gone. The void in her heart had remained ever since.

    She resumed the final walk of her studies and went through her fieldwork in autopilot. The days were spent getting the papers for the school building construction, ready and going to different government offices for the needed permissions. The King used his influence and the work was done faster than ever. She then got busy with the other detailing and Seema, and many others joined her in her endeavours. Keshav helped her a lot and she was witness to the romance blossoming further between Seema and Keshav. She tried her best to convince Chitnes kaka and her father and eventually succeeded.

    A couple of months after Shiv had left, Padma felt dizzy at her fieldwork and extremely nauseated. She attributed it all to her hectic lifestyle till she realized she had missed her cycle. She couldn’t even remember when she had it last…

    Her fears came true when she saw the two pink lines on the pregnancy kit. The King was upset but left the decision to her.

    A month later, she declared she didn’t want to become the Queen or be a part of the Royal household. To her surprise, the King and the Royal court didn’t force her to change her decision. In fact she was now much closer to her baba who made it a point to visit her every evening. She took up residence close to the Palace. Seema moved in with her to take care of her during her morning sickness and rest of the pregnancy and she was only too grateful. She knew the baby was conceived on the night Shiv had come to deliver her locket.

    The King had apologized to her about sending Shiv away.

    “My darling, it was for your good. That man had no future. His father was a great man but never there for him. He has been through a lot in the Army and special ops… He wasn’t the right man for you, my child…” her baba had once told her during their meets when she was through her first trimester. “…But then watching you pine for him makes me question my decision…. I have tried dear… tried to contact him. But he seems to have disappeared… but my dear, if he loves you, he will come back for you. So just hang in there and we are all there for you…”

    Padma had waited ever since.

    Bhosale kaka, who she now knew as her biological father, met her once to apologise. “My wife told Aarti everything when she was barely three and when we were struggling a bit financially. We couldn’t have any more children too. I didn’t know this would impact Aarti…particularly after my wife passed away soon after. Then Majumdar took advantage of that and she tried to kill her older sister…I am so sorry…”

    Padma had forgiven Aarti despite everything. Aarti was in a mental asylum, seeking treatment for Bipolar disorder way up north and Bhosale kaka had left the court to be close to Aarti to take care of her.

    The new political atmosphere was conducive to development in Koini, and Majumdar’s cronies were all behind bars. Shiv had left his original house keys for her and transferred the property in her name. She often visited Koini to take care of the house and the luscious mango orchard that she nurtured. It was after all…the same place where she had first met Shiv.

    She spent a long time in the groves on the weekends with Kartik. He had just begun to walk steadily a couple of months ago and loved the grove. He attempted to hold the trunk of the trees and stand steadily in an attempt to climb them and would then plop on the muddy ground. He would then turn back and look at Padma guiltily smiling his cherubic grin.

    Padma would often blink back tears because Kartik reminded of Shiv smiling at her with his eyes full of love.

    Would Shiv ever be back?

    The chiming of the clock brought her back to the present.

    Padma blinked back tears and spent the rest of the day engrossed in paperwork regarding the new building and the latest sports arena she had planned for the girls. Her main focus was self-defense training for young girls. There was a file full of new applications already for the new building.

    Her alarm rang a little before 6 PM and she knew why she had set it for today. Seema walked in with a squirming Kartik.

    “Are you sure Padma di? Do you want me to keep Kartik with me?” Seema asked

    “No.. Seema. Kartik needs to go. It’s important. And we have to do this alone. It’s fine…” Padma began to pack her things.

    She put a sleepy Kartik in the car seat and drove her way to Shiv’s home in Koini. As per her instructions, the compound outside the house had been cleaned and the reconstruction of the house was also through. She laid Kartik on the bed and walked into the kitchen. She cooked a simple meal of Khichidi and placed it in a plate before the photo frame of Maa Bhavani. She has specially commissioned the frame. It was a simple sparkle-coated lami frame enclosing the beautiful picture of Maa. Tuja Bhavani.

    It was Shiv’s mother’s death anniversary today. Padma also placed a box with a single anklet.

    “Hey Maa, Please accept my prayers, and I hope her soul rests in peace….I don’t have any of her pictures except for this anklet that belonged to her.”

    She joined her hands and blinked back tears. Shiv had mentioned his mother who was murdered but it was made to look like suicide. He never spoke anything else but now that Padma was a mother herself, she understood the emotion involved. She couldn’t bear to stay away from Kartik. Even a common cold would keep her awake for nights.

    A few hours later she put Kartik to bed after dinner and sat outside on the stairs leading to the house. A string of lights lit up the path to the outer perimeter, where she had grown bushes filled with marigolds. She sat leaning against the outer pillar and was soon fast asleep.

    A little later some noise woke her up and she sat up to see a jeep halt at the entrance of the compound. She stood up, dusting her clothes and wondered if she had to rush and pick Kartik, but then the driver got out and began walking towards her. In the headlights, she first saw his silhouette and her heart began to pace wildly… As he reached the compound the lights fell on his facial contours, and she bent forward on her knees, trying to breathe.

    Tears fell unhindered as she heard him rush towards her…

    She almost fell off the stairs but he held her, pulling her up close to him. He hugged her tightly as she cried her lungs out. Two years of pent-up emotions made their way out, threatening to drown everything around her in its wake.

    She inhaled his Vanilla fragrance as he patted her back.

    “Princess…my darling… please don’t cry…” his voice cracked and she looked up to see his eyes with unshed tears glistening in the lights she had newly installed.

    “I… am no longer a Princess, Shiv. I am just…Padma. Shiv’s Padma…”

    His tears fell as he closed the gap between their lips. He kissed her like he was starved for days and she was his first plate of food. Their arms were all over each other, and he lifted her taking her inside the house.

    Right then, Kartik woke up and began to cry, startling Shiv. Padma chuckled and held his hand, dragging him along to where Kartik sat up puzzled and cried even more as he saw he was getting attention.

    “Shiv… meet our son, Kartik…”  She declared as she walked towards the bed and lifted the crying boy.

    She saw Shiv staring at them as if in a daze with tears streaming down his face.

    “So… it was all true… there was a child…My child… my son…” Shiv uttered hoarsely.

    “What?” Padma was confused.

    Shaking his head, Shiv walked toward them and held up his trembling hands. Kartik stared wide-eyed and looked back at Padma.

    “Kartik, baby… it’s Papa… would you say hello?”

    Kartik smiled and waved. Shiv tickled him, and Kartik jumped into his waiting arms in a couple of minutes, nuzzling his sleepy head against Shadow’s stubble.

    Padma chuckled at the similarity between the mother and son. They both loved Shiv’s stubble!

    Kartik slept a few minutes later, and Padma helped Shiv place the baby in the bed. He hugged her as they stood watching their creation sleep without a care in the world.

    A little later, she took him towards the photo frame of the Goddess, and he sighed.

    “You remembered…?” he whispered.

    “Yes… I did. Since the house was ready, I thought she should get her due…”

    Shiv turned and hugged her bursting into tears.

    She held him rubbing his back, and found herself crying too. “Shiv… its ok…she knows…”

    He held her away and grasped her shoulders. “Padma… I am sorry I was away… you had to do all this alone… but thank you. Thank you for bringing Kartik into this world…I… I have something for you…”

    He opened his backpack and removed a pouch. Then, drawing out an anklet, he held it up.

    “This belonged to my mother… her only possession with me… I wanted to propose to you and found nothing personal to give you….” He went on his knee and said, “…Padma, for what I have put you through, I don’t deserve you. But I can’t live without you anymore… will you marry me?”

    She smiled and rubbed her eyes.

    “Yes, Shiv… I will. And there is something I have to show you.” She walked towards her bag and took out the box she had earlier placed before the Goddess’s frame. Then, she took out the other anklet even as he appeared stunned.

    “Shiv, my mother had taken this with her that day years ago. She said she didn’t want your mother’s name to be tainted. So I had taken it after she passed along with a few other items from her chamber because this reminded me of the young boy crying alone in the grove when his mother died.

    Shiv helped her wear the anklets.

    Later as they lay satiated, staring at the dark ceiling, Shiv held her close and kissed her forehead.

    “Padma… I am back for good.”

    “I know, Shiv. I knew you would be back… but where were you these two years and why didn’t you keep in touch…?” She fought back the tears.

    His hold got tighter as he said, “Padma I had to become worthy of you. I got back to the field for a year and then officially retired. I then put my plan into action, and I am all set to open my security service. Manav, Avinash and Anandi will be joining me eventually. They are all completing their last missions as we talk.”

    “Wow… really?” Suddenly the two-year-old turmoil was washed away.

    “And I had my eyes on you… after the initial months. I was told you were seen with a child and I couldn’t believe my ears… I only hoped it was mine, Padma and … I can’t even express what this means to me…”

    She pulled him closer. “Shiv… this is real. You, me and Kartik. We are a family… got it? So what are your plans now?”

    He chuckled as she changed the topic.

    “Yes, my darling… I have registered the name Special Protection Services where we will cater to bodyguard requirements across the country and abroad if needed. In addition, I have mobilised men and women from across the country who would be interested in taking up assignments…”

    As he continued to tell her about his plans, Padma’s heart swelled. How much she loved this man.

    “…And Princess…there is something very important I have to tell you…”

    “I am not a Princess anymore…”

    “To me, you will always remain my Princess.” He kissed her deeply and under the flickering rays of the crescent moon peeping through the window he continued. “…I love you darling… I love you so much , both you and our boy…I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you…”

    They kissed and went ahead to cover up for the time lost.

    Later as Shiv slept, Padma looked at his face and smiled… she was glad to have her family complete.

    Here was the man who had stolen her heart ever since she was a little girl.. he was her man… her bodyguard.

    ©Priya Nayak-Gole

    finale…

    Chapter 33

    She saw her aai lie on her side bleeding even as she uttered her name… yes her mother called her out. Could she have helped her? But why did she just stand and watch and not do anything? Why was she frozen to the floor… why did she look up to Maa Bhavani? Was it because aai was looking at the Goddess’s idol too? What did aai want to tell her? Did her aai see her?

    Someone pulled her hand and dragged her out of the dark cavern, but she couldn’t walk much. She heard some screams that got dissolved in the torrential rains that drenched her. But she was still in her stupor.

    Then she saw his face… it was Shiv… he was pretty young. He lifted her on his shoulders and ran through the woods. A little later, he sat with her, and she could sense the feeble tinge of vanilla essence. It was a massive relief from that obnoxious odour that had filled the fort premises….

    What about her mother…? Was she alright? What about Chouhan kaka?

    The next moment she was in the nightclub, the blaring noise they called music vibrated through her bones, and she thought she would feel them in solitude as well. But she was disoriented yet again… She had never sleepwalked before. What was happening to her? That horrible odour… she wanted to throw up her drink. And then someone grabbed her… Someone who knew her. But none knew she was here… except Aarti. Even Aarti’s friends weren’t supposed to know her identity… they didn’t recognize her. So then how did the man know?

    Her head was heavy and she was drowsy…

    “…That bitch deserves this… not her right…. It should have been mine…”

    Who was screaming? Her head was pounding and she saw that man coming closer to her… where was Aarti? She was supposed to watch over her too. Padma looked up at the swelling crowd and saw Aarti’s dress as she disappeared into the crowd, her black gown peeking very slightly.

    “…Had you done your job well… we wouldn’t be struggling like this…”

    Would she stop screeching? Who is that?

    The sea of people moved like the waves before her eyes even as the strobe lights of the club flickered away to glory., Padma saw Aarti’s shining velvet bag disappear along with her…. That’s it… that was the bag with the crown they found in the woods.

    Did Aarti take the crown? Nothing made sense…

    “…get rid of her just like the rest… she can’t see those girls… Saheb will kill us.”

    Will she shut up?

    Twice Padma was stuck in her senses and couldn’t move… first in the fort and now in the nightclub. And then Shiv turned up to save her yet again… He took her out, and she experienced her first kiss… the mephitic odour replaced by the pure vanilla … along with the feel of his lips…

    “…She should wake up now… she has seen me…” Aarti’s voice rummaged its way through her senses.

    Her eyes opened, and she found herself sprawled on the hard floor… her blurred vision cleared and fixed on Maa Bhavani idol. She was in the fort. Exactly where her aai had been…

    She realised her hands and legs were tied and she lay curved in a fetal position the hard ground digging painfully into her shoulder. The place reeked of the foul odour and she realised she had been kidnapped…

    But why Aarti of all the people? Her eyes filled as she thought about their childhood and growing up together… she blindly trusted Aarti. Bile rose in her throat, thinking of what had happened to her mother and Chouhan kaka… even her father.

    How many people did these people kill and for what? How did Aarti fare in the larger frame of things?

    “So the Princess has woken up…” Aarti walked before her, a smirk on her face. Padma had never seen Aarti in this manner.

    “Aa… Aarti…? What’s…all… this…?” Her voice was hoarse.

    “Shut up bitch… just shut up… I am no longer at your mercy… no longer will I wear your hand-downs or used clothes, no longer will I settle for something less good than you…” Aarti was panting even as Padma watched the spittle fly off her mouth as she fumed.

    “Why…? Why are you so an… angry?” Padma was puzzled at Aarti’s weird behaviour.

    “ You don’t know, bitch? You still don’t know…? Of course you are the docile Princess… so full of herself she doesn’t know anything… any…damn…thing…”

    “Aarti, please… stop…”

    “NO….” Aarti screamed, her voice reverberating through the limited confines. Was it day or night Padma didn’t know. She was too stunned about the turnaround by whom she considered her bestie…

    Aarti moved towards her and kicked her in the shins. She yelped in pain. “You bitch do you have nine lives? Every goddamn attempt on your life and you survive… Why because of some saviour? Where do these saviours come from? Was it Shadow? Anyway he wont guess where you are. He is no longer in Koini. By the time he arrives…if at all… it would be too late… for you…” She chuckled.

    “Why… Why Aarti…? Why are you doing this…?”

    “Because, bitch you don’t deserve anything you own… the Royal life… the crown… nothing…”

    “THAT’S ENOUGH, GIRL…” A baritone boomed and Padma heard footsteps behind her. She was facing the wall lying sideways and her shin throbbed where Aarti had kicked her.

    “But Sir…” Aarti protested.

    “…I SAID ENOUGH AND THAT MEANS ITS ENOUGH…” the man walked and moved in front of Padma. He was huge and well built and familiar… Of course, he was MLA Majumdar. Besides him, a man limped a bit and smiled slyly, but his crooked nose stood out in the light provided by the flame torches. There was no doubt he was the one who tried to force himself on her in the nightclub that night years ago.

    So all this was planned. Did Aarti plan it?

    “My Dear Princess… I have conveyed this so many times that the crown doesn’t belong to a delicate head like yours… why are you royals so stubborn? Why do you want to hold on to all the wealth in the name of legacy. Still, I stayed away but the Queen had to come and disrupt my ‘business’. So what if I took little girls away… they were so poor anyways. They would have died of hunger in the tribal belts… So I gave them a chance to live just by trading their bodies. So what was wrong with this?”

    YouYou are wrong… every way Majumdar…” Padma spoke hoarsely as rage surged up her spine.

    Aarti kicked her once again. Padma bit her lip to keep from screaming. She didn’t want to let them know they intimidated her. Somehow she felt stronger… was it because of her mother? Or Shiv? Their confidence in her?

    “What… do you all want…?” She managed to speak amidst the agony.

    “Now… dear Princess… now you have come to the point.” Majumdaar smiled, revealing a bright set of teeth making him look monstrous as the shadows danced on his face. A man brought him a wooden crate lying somewhere and he sat on it crossing one leg over the other.

    “So princess…” he continued. “…As I said, your late mother had something belonging to me… and I tried every way to get it from her. Unfortunately, I had to kill her right here, where you lay pitifully. The woman was tenacious but stupid. What was the need to do all that? Was that worth dying? But I have a kind heart… I will let you go. Just give me what is mine…”

    “What… what are you talking about?” Padma knew he probably meant the chip from her locket.

    “Your mother wouldn’t have left it anywhere but with you… so Princess, one last chance. Give it to me. You have lost the throne anyway. The King is no more and I have the crown…. TOnce you are out of the way it won’t take me long to get the vote in my favour and abolish you Royals forever. There won’t be anyone left….” He laughed maniacal laughter.

    “HEY, WAIT… THE CROWN…IT BELONGS TO ME…” Aarti yelled and Padma wondered what was going on. She still didn’t understand Aarti’s role in all this.

    “Silence young girl… silence…” Majumdar raised his palms towards Aarti.

    “No Sir, this isn’t correct. You promised me the crown if I got her here. I am the one who deserves the crown and not her… I got it for you. I did everything you told me…So I get to become the queen…”

    “Shut-up girl…looks like you are trying to bite more than you can chew. What did you do? Drugged the Princess twice and gave us the inside intel… stole the crown, poisoned her and stabbed that maid… but were you successful? No… We wouldn’t have had this discussion today if you had done your job well… so shut up and watch.”

    “You… You can kill her now and finish it all. There is no one to save her here.” Aarti spoke in a menacing tone that sent chills down Padma’s spine.

    “You don’t get to make the decisions, girl… I do…”

    “But she is not the legitimate heir… they chose me first…” Aarti cried out, and Padma stared at her, stunned.

    Majumdar roared a hearty laugh once again. He stood up and paced for a few seconds before returning and standing before her.

    “Look, Princess… I have nothing against you. I only need what your mother left with you… That’s all. I shall let you go…”

    “WHAT…? LET HER GO…?” Aarti surged ahead and stood facing Majumdar. “…I deserve that life… not HER…if she lives, I won’t get to live my life… I don’t want to go back to my rotten life…”

    “Aarti… what the hell… are you talking about?” Padma struggled. She had to know.

    “Hello…. Quiet both of you. I am not interested in your drama. I only want what’s mine.” Majumdar roared and Aarti fumed. He turned towards Padma and gestured to his men. One of them moved and dragged her up so she could sit, holding her legs close. “So Princess…where is it?”

     

    “I don’t know… what you are asking for…”

    “I think I will have no choice but to kill you…”

    Padma looked up and saw Majumdar hold a stone… where did he have it? In his pockets? Wait…. Padma remembered. It was the same stone she had seen him hit her mother with. Yes… It was now clear. Majumdar had killed her mother.

    “It was you… you monster… you killed my mother… I saw you do it…Maa Bhavani will punish you for everything…”

    “Shut up idiot… I don’t believe in your Maa Bhavani. I believe in money… only MONEY…money is strength and your mother took that away from me… I have struggled for years but no more. That boyfriend of yours, he thought he was invincible… just like his father. I arranged for people to take care of him… He was trying to hide in a shady motel… but my men would have killed him by now…”

    “NO….YOU RASCAL….NO….” Padma screamed till she lost her voice and her throat constricted as emotion contracted her muscles. No Shiv couldn’t be dead… if he was then she didn’t have a reason to live. “…In that case… you may kill me as well… because I am not going to reveal anything.”

    “Fine… go meet your mother…” Majumdar raised his hand to strike her when something hit his hand. He screamed profanities and dropped the stone next to Padma.

    Padma looked up to see his hand was bleeding. In a fraction of a minute she heard clicks and the men around them fell clutching at their hands, their weapons all lying around.

    She heard footsteps and looked up to see four masked people… One of them rushed towards her and untied her hands and legs. She didn’t have to be told who he was. As soon as she was released she hugged him tightly.

    “Don’t worry Princess… you are safe now.”

    “Cut the melodrama…” Aarti screamed. “…you will never get the crown… I have it with me…”

    “The crown doesn’t belong to you…” Shiv tried to reason with her.

    “IT does…” The King and Queen had asked for my father’s younger daughter to foster and that was me. But my mother came out carrying her and the Queen chose her instead. She didn’t deserve it all… I did. This was all mine…”

    “What…?” Padma couldn’t believe what she heard. Was she Bhosale kaka’s biological daughter?

    “It’s game over Majumdar, we have recorded everything here… live-streamed to different law enforcement agencies simultaneously… the CRPF is on its way to arrest you…And you Aarti can dream big, living the rest of your life in jail….” Shiv spoke.

    Padma looked around and saw the other three tie up the men. Shiv then nodded to one of them and he walked towards the tiger and did something. A rumbling sounded and a trap door opened. The man got down while Majumdar screamed.

    “NO…NO…. DON’T GO THERE…. ITS MINE….” He screamed

    In about ten minutes the man walked out with a line of teenage girls all dressed up gaudily and Padma didn’t have to be told what was in store for them. Everyone was watching the events unfold wide-eyed… when all of a sudden Aarti launched at Padma. Padma fell on the floor and Aarti raised a knife. But before she could get it down a click sounded and she screamed before dropping the knife.. Not to give up, she picked the stone but Shiv held her hand and twisted it till she dropped it.

    “There is nothing more than what destiny has in store for an individual, Aarti…” Shiv said.

    In the next couple of hours, the CRPF cuffed everyone and took them away. Of course, they had to protect the prisoners from the wrath of the public that had gathered outside the fort. But somehow, the public rage subdued for years got the better of them and before they could call for reinforcements, Majumdar and his men were kicked and hit… the others were gravely injured but eventually Majumdar passed.

    Shiv held Padma close to him and carried her outside to a waiting vehicle. The people wanted to talk to her, but she clung to Shiv. She had enough experience to last a lifetime. Padma saw the other three had disappeared just the way they had silently come. She was sure one of them was Maanav.

    Shiv got her back to the Palace where the doctors treated her for her injuries. A little later as she lay in the infirmary with Shiv holding her hand, a silent communication between them, the door barged open. Shiv instantly left her hand and stood in attention.

    She watched wide-eyed as her father strode in all elegance. He walked up to her and hugged her.

    “baba…”

    “Oh my child… you are my child… I hope you understand that. We may not have sired you but we loved you… always.” He hugged her tightly and she sobbed,

    “I am so glad… baba… you are alive…and for me… you are my baba…”

    “I am sorry my darling for what you had to go through. But this was done on Shadow’s advice. I had to go in hiding…”

    After a few moments, her sedation began to take effect and she dozed off.

    ************************************************************************

    Shiv walked behind the King as the man left the Princess’s room in the infirmary. They walked outside and stood on the lawns.

    “So young man… I am proud of you.” The King spoke.

    “Thank you, your Highness…”

    “…Exactly. I am glad you know where you stand, young man.” The King interrupted him.

    “Your Highness…”

    The king held up his hand.

    “Your job here is done. You can now leave….”

    “…But…”

    “…It’s an order, young man. I promise to give you the best of recommendations… This is your last hour in the Palace premises. After that, you will be considered an intruder. Am I clear enough…?”

    Shiv nodded

    The King continued. “ I have worked hard to build this all for my daughter. I will now have to get her settled. She has to marry into a good family to maintain her strength as the Queen. She will need to be with someone her equal…”

    Shiv nodded.

    “…I am glad, young man that you understand. I hope we never meet again.”

    Shiv watched the King walk away, taking his heart’s massive chunk. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He knew this day would come but didn’t know it would be a huge blow. He looked at the infirmary window once again… for the last time.

    “I love you Padma… forever…” he said softly as he turned around and walked away.

     

    ©Priya Nayak-Gole