28th November 2017
He squeezed her hand reassuringly. A hue of pink flashed across her cheeks and she lowered her gaze. A long thread smeared with turmeric dangled around her slender neck. The vermilion that adorned the parting of her hair shone under the bright lights. He curled his little finger around hers and they circumambulated the fire.
“I’m yours forever, Tarun,” she whispered.
A subtle smile curled up his lips and the grasp around her hand tightened. His eyes conveyed a million unspoken promises that only her heart could fathom.
10th August 2017
Surrounded by armed officers, Aaryan ascended the stairs. The media persons frenziedly clicked photographs. Looking straight into the lens, he posed not displaying an iota of guilt. One of the officers approached him, held his cuffed hands, and guided him to the courtroom. They sat in the second row trying not to make eye contact with him. His breath caressed her back and she felt him sneer. Her hands quivered and her muscles became stiff. The doorway to those horrendous memories threatened to open and crumble everything beautiful around her. Numbness inched through her being as she fought the emotions that strangulated her soul. Just then she felt a gentle touch. Tarun wrapped his arm around her shoulder and she felt like she was surrounded by a quilt woven of warmth.
“Stay strong. You are doing the right thing.” She repeated to herself for the nth time.
The chatter in the room was hushed and everyone stood up as the judge seated himself comfortably. Two learned men stood facing each other. They were all set for a face-off. For them, it was just another case. A case that would add another win to their kitty. Another feather would adorn their colourful hat. But for Tarun and her it was the quest for justice. The justice for which they had braved every storm. They had endured countless ordeals. After spending dreadful nights shielding themselves from the harm they had finally seen the light of day. Hoping that the judgment would put an end to their tribulations, she absorbed the happenings.
The public prosecutor Arjun greeted the judge and spoke, “Your honour, the gentleman standing in the dock is Mr.Aaryan. He is the managing director of ‘Shreyas pharmaceuticals’ and one of the chairpersons of ‘Anandibai Charitable Hospital’. But under the garb of a benevolent soul is a greedy malefactor. He is a cold-blooded murderer who did not wink an eyelid before charring Dr.Mathur and his family to death. Shreyas pharmaceuticals manufacture duplicate prescription drugs and are responsible for the deaths of two children. Those drugs also led to organ dysfunction in many patients. Dr.Mathur had caught the scent of the wrongdoings in the hospital. He reported to the senior doctors but in vain. He filed a complaint at the police station and the officials promised to investigate. But all Dr.Mathur got in return was death threats. But the late doctor was a tenacious soul. Not letting the fear cripple his conscientious attitude, he approached his friend Mr.Tarun, an investigative journalist for help. He was threatened too and when that didn’t stop him from doing what was right, an attempt was made on his life.”
“I object, your honour. Those are baseless allegations made to defame my client. I request the court to save my client from the misery,” the defense lawyer Dheeraj interrupted.
His words disrupted the otherwise free-flowing opening statement made by Arjun.
Arjun looked around, took a deep breath, and strode towards Dheeraj. A subtle smile escaped his lips and he said, “I have evidence that support my statements.”
He paused for a few seconds and continued, “I’m submitting a pen drive that has information the doctor and Tarun collected for the court to review. One copy was burnt along with the Mathur family. But the foresighted doctor had left a copy with Tarun and another copy was hidden behind the switchboard in his office. The documents reveal the duplicate medicine that was administered to the deceased. The doctor with the help of Tarun had sent the sample to a laboratory and the reports confirm their claim. Also, I have enclosed copies of the death threats the doctor received. There is a mention of Aaryan in those threats.”
He walked towards the bench and handed the evidence to the court clerk. It was in turn passed to the judge. The judge inserted the pen drive and adjusted the thick-rimmed spectacles. His eyebrows were drawn closer as he reviewed the documents. The Adam’s apple that moved up and down was visible. His pen scratched against the paper while everyone’s eyes were fixed on him. She and Tarun furtively glanced at Aaryan with their hands entwined all the while. He stood staring at the floor. It felt like he wasn’t bothered by the allegations that were made against him. The mere sight of Aaryan made the blood in Traun’s veins thrum. He had not only killed his friend but he also tried to harm her. Someone he loved deeply. As that thought passed his mind, he felt a shiver down his spine.
“This too shall pass,” Tarun whispered.
She nodded and looked away. He knew that she was trying to suppress the memories that rose their ugly head from time to time.
“The defense counsel can present its case,” said the judge and diverted their focus.
Dheeraj stood up, adjusted his coat, and after the customary greeting, he spoke, “Your honour, my client is being framed. He is a well-educated man with an exemplary reputation in society. His philanthropic deeds aren’t unknown. He provides funds to Anandibai Charitable Hospital and donates a part of his earnings to an orphanage. He also sponsors the education of five girls. Why would such a fine man resort to such unfavourable measures? A year before his death, Dr.Mathur had approached the hospital board asking for a raise in his paycheck. The board complied but it wasn’t to his satisfaction. The good doctor spread false news about my client. These allegations are nothing but an attempt at tarnishing my client’s reputation.”
He took a deep breath and continued, “I’m submitting a report of Dr.Mathur’s conversation with the board about his paycheck.”
The judge reviewed the documents and gestured for him to continue.
“Do you mean to say that the doctor killed himself and his family and burnt his house to ashes just to pursue his vendetta?” chuckled Arjun.
“The public prosecutor must allow me to complete,” Dheeraj’s tone displayed poise.
He took a step forward, looked at Arjun, and said, “Moreover, my client was overseas at the time of the incident. Here are his travel details.”
He handed the documents to the bench and the judge made a note of the evidence.
“I would like to call Preeti to the witness stand,” said Dheeraj.
A few seconds later, Preeti walked to the stand.
“Your honour, Preeti’s mother was one of the underprivileged who received help from Mr.Aaryan. Ms.Preeti, how do you know Mr.Aaryan?” asked Dheeraj.
Preeti stood fidgeting with her stole. A few seconds later, Dheeraj repeated the question.
Gulping a chunk of saliva, she said, “I work as a receptionist at Shreyas Pharmaceuticals. My mother met with an accident. The doctors said that hip surgery must be performed. I’m the only earning member in the family and didn’t have that kind of money. I posted about my situation on social media. Two days later, I received a call from Mr.Aaryan’s secretary. I met sir. He promised me that he will take care of my mother’s treatment. A week later, the surgery took place. My mother is in the recovery phase now. I’m grateful to Mr.Aaryan.”
She wiped the beads of sweat dancing on her forehead with her palm.
“We can hear testimonials like this all day, your honour. This is just an example of my client’s empathetic nature,” said Dheeraj.
Arjun stood up and said, “I would like to cross-examine the witness.”
The judge nodded.
Arjun walked towards Preeti, and asked, “When did Mr.Aaryan’s secretary approach you?”
She looked around and answered, “Fourth of June 2017.”
A victorious smile flashed on Arjun’s lips.
“Mr.Aaryan offered his help just one month before his arrest. Was he empathetic or was he preparing the ground to feign innocence?” asked Arjun.
“You may leave now,” said Arjun.
Preeti left the stand.
“Your honour, I would like to call Mr.Tarun to the witness stand,” said Arjun.
Tarun walked to the stand. He looked at Aaryan and a jumble of pictures from the past cascaded before him.
“Mr.Tarun, can you tell the court about Dr.Mathur?” asked Arjun.
“I met Dr.Mathur at Anandibai hospital a few years back. I had approached him for my mother’s treatment. I also sought his help for my articles and we had become friends over time. Four months before his death, I received a call from him. We met at a cafe. He looked perturbed. He said that Shreyas pharmaceuticals were supplying duplicate medicines to Anandibai hospital and two children had lost their lives. He had filed a complaint but in vain. He also told me that he had been receiving death threats from the hooligans hired by Aaryan. He had recorded the phone calls and also preserved the handwritten notes that were left at his doorstep. With the help of my boss, we approached the officials again and understood that they hadn’t filed a formal complaint in the first instance. Upon insistence, they agreed to conduct an investigation. Hoping for the best, we left the police station. Everything was fine for two months. One evening, I received a phone call from Dr.Mathur. He seemed inconsolable. He told that Mr.Aaryan had cornered him in a quaint alley and warned him to stay away from his matters. Lest he would burn the doctor’s family alive. I was out of town and suggested he move to a safe place. I promised him that I would meet him two days later. But the next evening, he died,” Tarun felt breathless.
“There is no evidence that can prove that Mr.Aaryan was involved in this incident. How do we know that you aren’t weaving a fictional tale?” asked Dheeraj displaying newfound confidence.
“Are you a doctor or a detective? Who wears a pendant with a hidden camera and recorder?”
“I witnessed two children die. I know that I’m dealing with dangerous people. In case, something untoward happened to me, this camera will help you in seeking justice.” Tarun remembered Mathur’s words.
“There is no evidence, your…” Dheeraj was about to finish the sentence.
But Tarun interrupted, “I have proof.”
He retrieved a memory card from his pocket and handed it to Arjun. The evidence was passed to the judge. It was seen that Mr.Aaryan had threatened Dr.Mathur.
“This doesn’t prove that my client killed the Mathur family. The words said in anger mean nothing,” countered Dheeraj.
“Please let the witness finish his statement,” Arjun intervened.
“A week after Dr.Mathur died, I received a call. I was asked to leave the city for good and never return. I didn’t comply and the threatening calls continued. I tried to compile the evidence. I wrote an article and was about to publish it the next morning. But that evening as I drove from work, a speedy truck approached me and I was shoved into a valley along with my car. The car exploded and I was presumed dead. That worked in my favour and helped me in building a case. I lived in exile for six months. But when I came to know that the love of my life was in trouble I reappeared,” spoke Tarun.
Tears rolled in his eyes and he looked at her. She reciprocated with tiny beads cascading down her cheeks.
“Your honour, Mr.Aryan is guilty of murder and an attempt to murder. He deserves the highest level of punishment,” concluded Arjun.
Dheeraj displayed a defeated look. After recess evidence was reviewed. Aaryan was sentenced to life imprisonment.
2nd January 2017
The door opened and a thin stream of light fell on her face. Her eyes had lost their colour and exuberance. She gave Tarun an unblinking stare and he felt a gnawing pain in his chest. He walked towards her and knelt on the floor. He took her hand in his and looked deep into her eyes. The smile that warded off the dark clouds was missing. She almost fainted and he held her. With his index finger, he tucked her unkempt hair behind the ear. Only six months had passed but he felt that she aged considerably. Words rolled in her mouth but failed at making their way out of her vocal cord.
A few minutes of unadulterated silence passed.
“I knew you were alive. No one believed me. But I knew it. My heart beat in synchronization with yours. Had yours stopped, mine would have stopped too,” she said.
Tears that were restrained in those orbs now dribbled down her chin. Not bothering to wipe it, she sat absorbing his features. She ran her hand across his face and felt his warm skin. The sorrow in her eyes slowly seemed to dissipate.
“I’m sorry, baby. I put you in harm’s way,” said Tarun and cupped her face with his hands.
“Why did you just disappear?” she asked.
“That evening, a speeding truck collided with my car and I fell into the valley. My car exploded. But I escaped. Everyone thought I was dead. I felt that I could use it to my advantage. I lived in seclusion and contacted Arjun. He promised that he would fight Mathur’s case. I wanted to contact you and let you know that I was alive. But I didn’t want you to be in the dangerous spotlight. I wanted you to be safe and happy.” Tarun’s voice trailed off.
He gulped the tears caught at the back of his throat and asked, “Who did this to you?”
“I was safe. But could I be happy without you? I didn’t believe even for a second that you were dead. You informed me that you were working on Mathur’s case. I spoke to your boss and after a lot of persuasions, he let me read the article. I raised some pertinent questions about the death of Mathur on my social media handle and it garnered the right attention. I said that you were alive and they tried to prove that I was crazy. A few men broke into the house one night and threatened to kill me. Your boss refused to help and I didn’t know what to do. I thrived under the canopy of your love and your absence strangulated my soul. I had anxiety attacks. The doctor diagnosed it as a case of depression. I was prescribed medicines and that left me drowsy. I sleepwalked during the days and spent the nights dreading for the worst to happen,” she hugged him tightly.
He landed a kiss on her forehead.
“You are back and everything will be fine,” she continued.
He diverted his gaze and looked out of the window. She needed to know the truth.
“The road to happiness is a long one. The path is filled with thorns and the destination seems elusive. But I promise that I will come back for you. Till then, take care of yourself,” he said and the salty beads on her cheeks caressed his lips.
“I will walk with you. Let every harm pass through me first. I love you and will be by your side through the lows of life,” she smiled.
Her smile was like the silver lining. It assured him that everything would soon fall into place.
He inched towards her. Her fluttering lips caressed his and they were transported to a different world. With their bodies entwined they lay on the bed and lost track of time. Tiny droplets of rain coursed down the window pane and the leaves danced in joy. It felt like nature rejoiced in the union of two souls.
17th May 2016
Time passed. They met often. Their love blossomed like a beautiful flower.
One evening, she stood with her eyes closed. Her lips chanted a prayer.
Amid the tintinnabulation of the bells, he proposed, “Will you marry me?”
Flowers drifted in the air and fell on her. It felt as though the universe had given its consent.
“Yes,” she said with tears rolling in her eyes.
20th April 2016
Tarun was standing at the gate.
“Ah, you are serious,” she blushed.
His heart beat louder, with every step she took.
“I’m here to remind you about the promise,” he said with his eyes fixed on her.
She smiled and his heart flipped inside the bony confines.
“There is a coffee shop nearby,” she suggested.
They got into his car and he began to drive. A soft breeze caressed her cheeks and her tresses danced in the air.
15th of April 2016
Limbs soaked in blood lay on the railway track. Children sat by the lifeless bodies of their parents and wailed. People ran hither-thither trying to figure out their next course of action. The injured were carried on stretchers to the ambulance. Treading the path carefully, Tarun clicked the photographs needed for his article. A yellow-coloured stole fluttered in the air. He walked in its direction and it felt like everything had come to a standstill. A young woman was busy wiping the blood off a little girl’s hand with a piece of cotton. Her lips danced as she blew air on the wound. Her eyes gyrated and made his heart jump out of the rib cage. The music that played in the background confirmed that she was the one.
She snapped his fingers and disrupted his dream sequence.
“What are you looking at?” she asked.
“I was looking at you,” he answered.
Her eyebrows arched.
“I was observing your work,” he corrected himself.
She rolled her eyes and turned. From the corner of his eyes, he noticed that a subtle smile crossed her lips.
He slapped his head and settled by her side.
“I’m Tarun. An investigative journalist,” he introduced himself.
She paused and scanned from head to toe. It felt like she was noting every minute detail about him.
“Okay, Mr.Journalist. Can you help me in giving first aid to these kids? You will have plenty of time to investigate the accident,” she said.
Her earrings swayed as she spoke and he couldn’t help but notice that she was staring at him too. He became her assistant and followed her instructions.
“I work at an NGO,” her face was smeared with sorrow.
Understanding the confused look on his face, she mentioned, “I can empathize with these kids. I lost my parents when I was a child.”
Her voice was firm. Though she modulated her tone to conceal her sorrow, her eyes gave her away. They mirrored the emotions that were churning in her heart.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
She nodded and walked to the next patient.
“Which NGO do you work for? How do you gather the funds?” he asked.
She looked around, paused for a few seconds, and asked, “Why are you interested in our NGO? Do you want to write an article about us?”
“I’m interested in you,” his direct answer left her surprised.
A deep sigh escaped her lips and she said, “We can talk about me over coffee.”
He was overjoyed and was about to shriek, “Eureka.”
But she said, “For now let us focus on the job.”
He felt like a deflated balloon but when he saw that her eyes constantly lingered around him, he felt at ease.
The sun began to dip. They were walking towards his car when his hand occasionally brushed against hers. She felt a current creep under her skin and she blushed.
He got into the car and bid her adieu.
She began to walk when he suddenly rolled the windows down and asked, “What’s your name?”
“I thought you would never ask,” she chuckled.
“I’m asking now,” his voice was louder than ever.
“Athira,” she said.
Her name sounded like music to him. Athira meant jasmine. She was the fragrance he wanted to be enveloped by forever. He sat looking at her disappearing form when she turned and smiled at him. His heart danced to the tunes of love and he enjoyed every bit of it. It was the beginning of a beautiful love story.
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