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"Ja rahe ho?"
Mahendra was standing on the other side of the cubicle. He folded his hands on the top of the walls of the cubicle, and leaned against it.
"Haan…Muhje fauran bulaya gaya hain…Headquarters se koi emergency hain humare juridistricion main…" He barely looked up, hastily gathering his personal effects. Mahendra could not help the faint smirk on his features. The flurried Rajesh was comical, in every aspect. His impeccably ironed shirt was now a patchwork of creases and stains. He rushed about, without pausing for a moment. He glanced at the desk, satisfied, and strode in to meet Usmaan.
"Thank you sir. Aap toh jaante hi hain, mujhe abhi ke abhi nikalna hain." He said.
Usmaan nodded, taking in the general appearance of the officer. The matter was an emergency was an understatement.
When Rajesh strode back to his cubicle with a purposeful stride, he was surprised to find the rest of NCB there. Kartik held out a hand, and Rajesh shook it, slowly.
As Mahendra shook his hand, he drawled, "Kabhi Mumbai aaye toh milke jaana…"
The last was Brinda. He flashed a smile at her, which she reciprocated. "Bye…"
"Bye." He replied, not without a particular tenderness.
Ten minutes later, he was gone through the doors, and down the stairs. A few minutes later, a white car pulled out of the premises. Brinda was standing near the whindow, looking down. Mahendra and Kartik were opposite to her.
Usmaan was standing in the door of his office, watching the trio.
Brinda sighed as she looked away from the window, and at her colleagues. Kartik was looking at the disappearing vehicle, with his stoic expression, and Mahendra gazed at it with an inexplicable smirk.
Suddenly he sobered up, as he looked at the road, and an air of hostility appeared in his countenance.
He looked up, to find Brinda studying him, faint creases on her forehead, and a frown on her face. Her head nodded imperceptibly, and she turned to walk away.
Kartik slapped Mahendra's shoulder. "Peeda chali gayi."
"Itna bhi bura nahi tha…"Mahendra replied, playfully elbowing Kartik.
"Kya kaha? Mujhe laga ki tujhe to wo pasand nahi tha…Chai piyega?"
Mahendra nodded and the two buddies walked across the road to their favourite tea stall…
Kartik lifted the cup to his lips, and looked at Mahendra surprised as the latter was looking at somewhere in the distance.
"Kahaan kho gaye?"
"Kuch nahi….bas, soch raha tha."
"Tujhe dimaag hain sochne ke liye? Toh fir kaam main kyun nahi lagata?"
Mahendra made a face.
"Wo chod. Vidya bhabhi aur tera beta kaise hain?"
"Acche. Agar Vidya ko pata chal jata na, ki Rizwaan ke pita kaun hain-"
He broke off, as Mahendra spluttered.
"Tune bataya toh nahi na?"
"Kaam ki baatein ghar pe nahi batate. Tumhare case main baat alag hain. Juli-"
A stare from Mahendra caused the rest of the sentence to drown in the tea.
A car stopped in front of a bungalow and Usmaan got down from it. He swung open the whitewashed gate. The garden was empty, but there was the sound of a radio coming down from the upper floor. He sat on the porch steps contentedly. The day had given him much to think about. He rubbed his face with his palms and then disappeared into the house.
As the sun came down to the horizon, and the shadows lengthened, he picked up a pail and started watering the roses.
"Usmaan, you are home early." His mother remarked as she sat on the outdoor swing, watching him.
"When did you come?"
"Abhi. Paanch minute ho gaye."
He kept the pail down, and went to sit beside her.
"Remember the Delhi Officer I told you about?"
"Wo aaj chala gaya waapas. Shayad koi emergency thi, toh usko wapas bulaya gaya…Par mujhe hansi iss baat ki aaie…Na Kartik ya Mahendra ko wo accha lagta tha, par uske jane ke waqt sab ko thoda bura laga, shayad."
His mother smiled sagely. "Ek mahine ke saath hone ke baad, we get used to the person, even if we dislike him…"
"And what if we hate him?"
His mother gaze at him, surprised at his sudden question.
"What if we hate him? Hate him with a passion, and if the only objective in our life is to destroy him?"
She took a deep breath. Except for the creak of the swing, everything else suddenly seemed silent to him.
"Then," she said, keeping her small warm palm on his big, rough one, "We find a new objective…something else to live for…."
She got up a moment later.
The sun set and the skies were washed with different hues of red. As they disappeared, and first stars made their appearance, he had not left the place. He still sat there, swinging.
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