Gaurav stood up with a firm resolve… those bastards had ruined his life years ago and he had been paying the price even today. He had resigned himself to his fate hoping to atone for his sins in the past. But this was now getting out of hand… and if they hurt Ria…? No… not on his watch. “Keith, contact one of those guys from your old garage where you are now a partner, and arrange for a vehicle… an inconspicuous one. I am taking Ria to Parijath… I also want a couple of untraceable burners. I will come back a on Sunday and prepare for the trial right there…”
“On it… sir… I will remain back here to look over the place…” Keith rushed to his room in the pent house to make the necessary arrangements. Gaurav nodded and looked at a pensive Manek looking over Naren furiously typing away on his laptop. He rubbed his face… frustration rearing its ugly head up… again. He just hoped Naren could trace something and link up something from his past and the present fiasco. He looked at the bespectacled lanky guy who ran a huge security firm. He had given the seed capital to twenty-two-year-old Naren three years ago and today the guy was the most sought-after security expert in Pune and even across India. He had over hundred employees but whenever Gaurav needed him Naren personally attended. He thanked the Almighty for these blessings here and another one back in the pad over Karma. He sincerely hoped there wasn’t any connection of the past and the present but within his hearts he knew the truth. As he walked towards the window of his 11th floor penthouse, usually his favourite place in the house, today he was anything but calm.
Manek walked up to him and touched his shoulder. “Gaurav…” As he turned to his friend, he said, “… nothing… Gaurav there is nothing indicating any kind of movement of documents or any kind of petition filed… nothing at all. This is something different…” Manek sighed. “…Gaurav… I had hoped to find something… you know it would have been easier to deal with a known entity. But… this is… sinister enough… what do you think…? Who it must be…?”
“…I wish… I knew… Till now I thought someone in Dubai must have mobilised things here… But there are no records… means its someone on the sly… someone very powerful… and Manek…I… I think this case is definitely linked… any news about this woman…Swara?”
“…Gaurav, she is in an undisclosed location…surprising considering her poor financial condition and also difficult to find out but I am personally tracking her background… But so far there is nothing at all… neighbours have spoken about a boyfriend… but no more information… Still… I am probing more… Khatiyal has sought to obtain her bank details… that should be out hopefully….”
Gaurav nodded and Keith came with the news of a car waiting for him downstairs. Gaurav picked up his clothes and other necessary stuff for the upcoming four days and before leaving he looked at both Keith and Manek. “Ria will be kept out of this… she is already involved in the mess and I don’t want her getting dragged further down…” They both nodded in agreement.
He left the place with Keith. Manek stayed back to secure the house electronically and work things further with Naren.
Where the hell were, they? Ria wondered for the nth time as she paced the confines of the drawing room. There was sporadic information on the news channels, about the Chopra Group of hospitals’ member also involved in a rape case, finding his prized possession vandalised. A shudder had gone through her body seeing the pictures of the damage caused to the garage and the car. There was no mention of anything else though. Some reporters were talking about some personal vendetta because of the bail hearing outcome on Monday. She had tried calling Keith and though his phone kept ringing he didn’t answer it. She had texted him and then given up. She couldn’t even eat the lunch she had prepared from where Keith had started off in the morning. A simple dish of Kadhi Chawal… apparently their equivalent to her comfort food…curd rice. But her appetite was all gone.
Just as she was about to call Keith again, the door lock clicked open and Keith and Gaurav entered carrying a couple of bags. She stood rooted to the floor with arms folded as anger began to take over the pangs of anxiety that had gripped her since morning after that phone call. Keith and Gaurav stopped in their tracks as they saw her expressions and Keith gave her an apologetic look as he rushed to the kitchen talking something about cleaning up… Gaurav kept the bags down and walked towards her. Ria blinked back hot angry tears even as she continued to stare at the tall man, fatigue evident on his face and body language. She instantly felt for him and relaxed her stance turning around to go back to her room.
“Ria… wait…please…” He spoke softly making her stop and turn around. “…Uh… are you annoyed…? I mean…”
“…Sir…I was… I was worried all morning and afternoon… not knowing anything about you all… especially when I saw those images on the news channels… I didn’t know… whom…whom… to call… Keith wasn’t answering… I was shit scared…” She went on rambling even as tears began their journey leaving hot trails down her cheeks.
He walked forwards and wiped her cheeks with his thumbs and it was then she realised, she was actually crying. She held his hands, and dropped her forehead on their joint palms… He tightened his hold on her palms. “…Ri…Ria… Hey… I apologise Alright? It was all my fault… I had to settle things and we got delayed… Don’t worry everything is taken care of…”
Something told her he wasn’t telling her the truth but she had no energy left to ask anything else. She nodded and let go of his hands…immediately missing the comfort they had provided her with.
“…Uh… Ria… pack up your stuff again… we are going away to Parijath till Sunday… I …Uh…I need a calm head to prepare for the hearing…”
Thank God… she was losing her nuts here. She longed to catch up with Kalyani and others and this would give her a good opportunity. She nodded and went back to her room to pack her stuff. Soon they were on the road and darkness was just setting in as they made the turning for the main gates of Parijath. She was here a little over a week ago and she didn’t realise how much she had wanted to get back, before now. As soon as she reached the entrance a boisterous Kalyani came up to her grinning from ear to ear and they hugged each other.
“Welcome back Didi… we are so happy you are here… come… lets go inside…I will introduce you to the others…” Ria looked at Gaurav who was staring at her with a strange expression on his face. She had seen that when she was hurt that night and he had been taking care of her and though something fluttered in her tummy she didn’t know what it meant. He nodded his agreement and asked the supervisor to arrange to take their bags upstairs.
Ria lost count of time as she mingled with the other women in Parijath and also visited their little factory they called it. There was a huge hall divided into many units with two feet partitions and so many of them were involved in developing something creative. Right from beautiful sweaters to wall paintings, to ceramic paintings, they did it all… They were winding up for the day when Ria and Kalyani had steeped in and waved at Ria proudly displaying their creations. Wow they were a bunch of talented women. Kalyani told her they also conducted classes for the children in their care after school hours. There was a tiny manufacturing unit right behind the main building which she hadn’t seen last time. She heard the murmurs before she saw, they embroidered saris and dress materials. Some fabrics were been painted with designs. She was told they worked in shifts and this shift had just commenced. She was told they supplied to retailers across the state and even some outside and were falling short of time. She could see the women were very happy doing what they loved. There were some women from the local village too who came in the day shift, Kalyani told her.
As they walked along the little lane of the premises, in the dark with the ubiquitous streetlights being the only source of illumination in the large stretch of the road, Kalyani told her the stories of the women she had met. Most of them were victims to trafficking including Kalyani herself who was a child bride. She was brought to Mumbai by her in-laws who sold her off to a brothel madam because she couldn’t provide the family heir. However, she was repeatedly raped by the customers and had become pregnant four times which made her doubt if the problem with being childless had been her husband… However, four terminations of pregnancies by a quack in a local clinic in the red-light area, ensured she could never conceive again… One day Kalyani and some of the other young girls all of them barely eighteen, escaped from a weak back door and ran catching a state transport bus, which brought them to Talegaon. Someone directed them to Parijath where they were welcomed with open arms. Kalyani was in tears as she told Ria how since last four years, they were healing both from the physical scars as well as the emotional ones thrown at them by their own. Similarly, Kalyani told her about some others who were victims of ill-treatment for dowry and some had barely escaped death… She also told Ria about a couple of them who were acid attack victims. Some of them were still being protected here by giving them anonymity and it was then Ria understood why Gaurav didn’t want to involve Parijath… The man had been the epitome of humility and selflessness. She had never heard of anyone who cared for other humans like Gaurav did. Ria looked around with tears of her own as she saw the place Parijath…which like it’s namesake had spread the fragrance of optimism and self-respect in these women. She suddenly felt guilty of complaining about her life… just like the last time she was here. She had good education and a job…Her resolve to be independent from her parents’ shackles became even stronger. She then went with Kalyani to the kitchen were many of them were involved in various stages of cooking. The aroma was something that caused her stomach to growl and since she hadn’t eaten lunch, she was terribly hungry. Kalyani laughed and gave her a plate of Upma they had prepared for the evening snacks which she relished… Kalyani told her they would meet the children after dinner and Ria really looked forward to it.
Though they told her to go to her room the same one where she was put-up during her last visit and they would get her dinner there for her… she staunchly refused. Cooking was always therapeutic for her and she got involved with whatever process was left of making dinner and in the next half an hour or so she felt she was one of them. She also got into the grove as a professional speaking to build up confidence in a couple of women talking to her. One had left her abusive husband of twenty years and missed her children. Gaurav was helping her fight for custody but she had very little chance. The other woman in her fifties was thrown out of the house by her brother-in-law after her husband died and since she wasn’t educated, she had blindly put her thumb impression on the documents handing over all her money to the relative. She was now a student of the women’s night school started by Gaurav which also included women from the village and seeing its success the headman had requested Gaurav to start one for the men too, which was still in the pipeline. Ria was in awe of these women who were trying to build up the broken pieces of their lives and felt it was she who was learning from them.
Ria’s respect for Gaurav rose notches higher so did the feelings she had tried to repress… After dinner which was an elaborate affair which was systematically conducted, she accompanied Kalyani to the children’s wing on the first floor. She first saw the little kids, some as young as four months who were taken care of very well by the assigned staff. She chuckled as some of the curious ones were trying to glance at her from their respective cribs. She tried mixing around with the toddlers. Some came to her easily while some were shy and hid behind Kalyani. Kalyani told her these children were all up for adoption, some were already taken, and they were here till the legalities were completed. “You know didi…? It’s the most painful moment for us when these children leave with their adoptive parents but we also are happy with the fact that they are getting permanent and loving homes…” Ria smiled somberly at Kalyani who looking lovingly at the children as if they were her own and she hoped that some day Kalyani who was barely 22 years old, could find happiness of her own as well…
They then went to the little wing of children who needed round the clock supervision. The wing housed children of all ages but most of them were vegetative. Kalyani said, most of them were abandoned by their own parents and some were abandoned after their parents passed. Ria’s heart went out to them as she saw they were oblivious to their surroundings and only cried in pain or if they were unable to express hunger or thirst… Why God why…? But she also saw the women who were diligently involved in taking care of these angels. Kalyani said Gaurav got in doctors and therapists for these children regularly so that they wouldn’t be in pain for the number of years they live. Ria blinked back tears while all she wanted to do was give Gaurav a hug telling him what a beautiful soul, he was…
Finally, the last stop for the day was when they reached the wing of older children… the oldest was twelve. Ria was dead on her legs but still wanted to meet the kiddos. She heard some commotion and as they stepped in the common hall, her heart did a somersault as she saw a Gaurav clad in blue jeans and shirt, sitting on the floor surrounded by all the children as they watched the movie, ‘Finding Nemo…’ She couldn’t take her eyes off the scene as they all burst into laughter and she had never seen such carefree expressions play on his face before. A little girl who seemed disinterested came up to him as he picked her up and played with her, she took out some tiny trinket like toys and put them on his palm even as he laughed and posed for her. He then whispered something into her ears and she burst out laughing leaning into Gaurav as he protectively hugged her even as her eyes drooped with sleep, while they continued to enjoy the movie.
Kalyani whispered. “… I think Didi… we should come back tomorrow before they leave for school… Now that their Dada is here, they wont care for anyone else…especially Pari, he is her favourite person in the world…” Kalyani chuckled and they both left the hall. Ria went upstairs to her room and as she lay eyes closed on the bed after freshening up and changing into comfortable pajamas, the vision of Gaurav surrounded by children and playing with Pari flashed before her eyes…She sat up on the bed with a start as realisation set in. She didn’t know the exact reasons though but it had to do with the man who’s soul was pure, the man who was kind hearted going miles for people who were practically strangers, including her… the man who was ready to give himself up to protect these same people, her inclusive… the man who only gave selflessly expecting nothing in return. She knew there was something that held him back from accepting appreciation in return… she just didn’t know why…but she was now omnipotently aware of one fact.
She was undoubtedly, deeply in love with Gaurav…
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