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The next day, the 4 of them were again greeted by the morning rush as they came down carrying their bags. There were more people around today, moving furniture around, bringing in others, and making other changes to the room. Riya stood in the middle, talking to Advocate Bhatia and two other gentlemen. She seemed to be in a good mood today, as she was smiling and laughing openly in her conversation. The lot of them were discussing some papers which the advocate held and Riya was nodding now and then. She then took a plate of sweets from a maid who was hurrying by, with a smile and offered it to the men.
Shree: What's going on?? What's with all the people?
Chottu's sensitive nose had picked up a clue however and he declared happily "Jalebis!!!"
Rathore and Arjun gave him 'the look'.
Rathore: Really Chottu, can you stop dreaming about food for a second?
Chottu: Er...sir, I wasn't dreaming.
He pointed to the plate heaped with Jalebis which Parag kaka brought to them. He offered it to each in turn, beaming. Shree n Chottu grabbed at them, like they were starving, goofy grins on their faces. Parag extended the sweet to Arjun, but before he could accept or refuse, he took it back immediately with a "Sorry Sirji, I forgot you don't like meeta."
Arjun was taken aback for a minute. Rathore looked amused as he took a Jalebi, while Shree n Chottu pointedly looked away, as they Arjun's face darken into his familiar scowl.
"Lekin aaj to thoda sa khayiye na sir" Riya came up to them, looking positively excited.
Arjun still irritated by events snapped "Kyun? Yeh bhi prashaad hai?"
Riya laughed: No sir, though I offered it to Durga ma first. No, this is because, it's my birthday today!!!!
Everyone gaped. They had completely forgotten that it was her 25th birthday today!!! They stood silent, not sure how to cover up this blunder on their part. Then Shree and Chottu went up to her and grabbed her in an immense bear hug, shouting out thunderous 'Happy Birthdays'. Between the two of them, she was laughing, smiling and finally protesting that she was suffocating. They let go off her as she beamed at them.
She looked just like a twelve year old girl, not a 25 year old woman, he thought. Bubbling with excitement and enthusiasm on her birthday. He thought of Roshni. He recalled how she used to be treat her birthdays with quiet maturity. For her, a wish, and spending some time with him, that was the extent of it. And here was Riya Mukherjee, almost like a child. Somehow, he should have been irritated at that, but instead, he just found it refreshing. She was a complete contrast to Roshni, and though that one fact should have kept him disinterested in her, it only made him more curious.
Rathore smiled: Happy Birthday Riya...sorry we...
Riya waved a hand carelessly in front of her: its ok sir, in between all this, even I would have forgotten. And Thank you!!!
Rathore looked at Arjun, who looked right back silently. Rathore then slowly turned it from a staring match to a glaring contest, and still Arjun just stood unperturbed. Riya mouthed a silent 'it's ok' to Rathore, who crossed his hands in front of his chest in a huff. Riya took up a Jalebi, broke half of it, and offered it to Arjun "Sir, please have it. It's my birthday after all, and it's only a half since you hate sweets so much."
Arjun ignored her and was about to walk away, when she grabbed his hand and thrust the jalebi into his palm "Everyone is entitled to at least one day in the whole year on which they feel good about themselves. On their birthday. Please don't spoil that. Eat the sweet"
Though she said the words quite as a request, smiling even, her tone and posture indicated that she was challenging him. Which left 2 people staring at her jaws dropped, her chief looking at her eyebrows raised, and Arjun Rawte grasping half a jalebi in his hand, looking at her incredulously.
Putting an end to the standoff, Advocate Bhatia and the other 2 men came to them. The advocate put out his hand to Rathore with a smile "Thank u so much. For everything." Rathore shook the hand "It was our duty Bhatia ji, and when it was Riya, we couldn't just let it go, could we?" Bhatia nodded in agreement and offered his hand to Arjun, who hastily transferred the jalebi to his other hand and clasped Bhatia's hand.
Bhatia: Aap log inse miliye, Devesh Arora aur Ravindra Agarwal.
Riya: Devesh ji is the head of the Hope Trust and Ravi ji is the head of operations in Delhi.
The men exchanged hellos around and then left to manage the left of the rearranging that was going on. Rathore looked at her quizzically and Riya hastened to explain.
Riya: I have transferred the house and property to various charities. This place goes to the Hope trust, they are involved in housing homeless children, juvenile delinquents and helping all of them get back to society...you know providing them basic needs, educating them, counselling if required and such..they are doing great work, and they are having some problems here in Delhi, with finding space...
Bhatia: which has now been solved, thanks to you...But really sid you have to give it all up? I mean just...
Shree: Hanh Riya, everything???
Riya: Money and wealth becomes important to those who have use for it. Whatever am I going to do with all this property? And when those kids have to stay on streets, how can I have such a big home to myself? That's just stupid!!!
Riya: Yes sir, stupid. ...Excuse me Sir, I have to just go get my bags...
She walked away, they kept looking at her and Bhatia smiled fondly "She's just like Viraaj ji sometimes..." She came back with her luggage, her clothes changed too, into the formal attire she usually wore and Shree pouted. "Aww Ree, u looked better in those salwar suits..."
Rathore: Acha? Do you want to wear something different to work from tomorrow onwards Shree? Something in which you will look better?
Shree pouted at him too: Sir...kya sir...mein toh abhi se itna handsome dikhta hoon...toh kya zaroorat hai?
Saying this much he walked away like a little schoolboy, as Rathore went after him with a stern "Shree!" Riya chuckled along with Chottu, who took her bag as well and walked to the waiting car outside. Riya glanced at Arjun and started to follow Chottu, when Arjun stopped her with a "Riya"
Riya: Jee sir?
Arjun stood without saying anything, just looking at her.
Riya: Sir?? Kuch kehna tha aapko?
Arjun: Hanh, woh.
He looked at the jalebi in his hand, and after a moment's hesitation, he put it into his mouth, quickly chewing it down and swallowing. Riya felt a tinge of happiness at the sight, and she was sure it was reflecting on her face overtly, so she composed herself. Arjun cleared his throat and spoke in his hard voice.
Arjun: Acchi bani hai.
Riya: I'll tell Parag kaka, he will be pleased.
Riya: He made them.
Riya was clearly amused now. She enjoyed his discomfiture, well at least she enjoyed teasing him around it.
Arjun: If you leave, all the staff..
Riya: They will be staying on. They will be working for the trust now.
Arjun: That's good.
Riya gave u, sighed: chale sir? Our flight is in 3 hours.
Arjun nodded and started walking towards the door, as she too turned to make her way out. Chottu n Shree were just coming in to call the two of them, and hence wear witnesses to what happened next. Arjun went whooshing by Riya, and as he passed, he stopped for a fraction of a second, turned slightly and said to her "Janamdin Mubarak ho Riya"
Riya was stunned for a second, as were the duo at the door. "Thank you, sir?" It sounded almost like a question, but she couldn't help it. He didn't acknowledge her by saying anything, merely put on his glares and walked out. The dynamic duo waited for him to pass by, and then literally bounded up to Riya, who still had a half puzzled, half pleased expression on her face.
Chottu: wah re Jalebi bai!!! Tumne jalebi se cutting chai ko haraya!!!
Riya, annoyed: Kya? Tumhara dimaag kharaab hai Chottu?
Shree: Uska dimmag toh theek hai Jalebi, lekin lagta hai kisi ke dil ko tumne jalebi se jalaya...aaah!!!
Riya had twisted his arm behind his back "Shut up Shree! Kuch bhi bolte rahte ho!!!"
Shree: Leave me!!! Pick someone ur own size Jalebi!!! Like Chottu!!!
Chottu guffawed: Jalebi!!! That's a super nickname!!! Arjun sir ki jale...
Riya let go of Shree and instead caught hold of Chottu's earlobe "Stop calling me that!!"
Chottu winced in pain while Shree danced away from her singing Jalebi bai. Riya chased the two of them trying to knock their heads together.
Goodbyes were almost done. Most of the staff had cried, with Parag kaka still letting the tears flow. It was only after Riya promised to come visit as much as she could, that he smiled a little. Finally, she hugged advocate Bhatia. She held onto his arms, her eyes moist "Thank you for being more than just a lawyer and a brother to me Harin-da. Thank you for all these years, for everything."
Harin Bhatia let his own tears flow as he said "If you ever need..."
Riya chuckled: I know, I have you on speed dial.
Harin laughed too: Well, good luck Riyu. Make us proud.
Riya: I'll do my best Dada...And if anything regarding the legal issues of property arise...
Harin: I know, I know..Don't call you, deal with it on my own.
Riya: Yep, Perfect...well then, I guess this is goodbye everyone...
She smiled widely at every one and got into the back of the cab. As the car slowly rolled out the driveway, she turned back and took in the mansion, and all the people who stood in front of it, waving at her, some crying, some smiling. She put her hand out of the window, waved at the lot of them, and said to herself "Goodbye."
It was almost 6 pm. Rathore and Arjun walked into the conference room, where Riya sat scribbling fiercely, a load of papers and files in front of her. Shree and Chottu were silently arranging the folders for her, glancing at each other apprehensively. 4 empty cups sat in front of Riya, as she sipped from a fifth.
Rathore announced "We are going to Sikkim." Shree was excited in a second "Like on a trip?" Chottu was really puzzled "Vacation? In Sikkim? Sir I think Shimla or Darjeeling will be better."
Rathore gave both of them disgusted looks, while Arjun clarified with a smirk "What do you think the ETF is? A holiday package? We have a case in Sikkim. Why would we be going on vacation?"
Riya said as a matter of factly, without looking up from her writing "Because all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?"
Arjun scoffed at that and muttered "Stupid" and the next second he was hit by a flying pen on his shoulder. He looked at Riya murderously, who calmly stood up to retrieve her pen. Rathore was shocked for a second and then warned her with a "Riya!"
Riya bent and picked up the pen: Sorry sir, slip of the hand.
Arjun: Theek se kaam karna bhi nahi...
He was stopped by the pen directly poking into his chest as she held it there, her eyes narrowed and breath quickened. Shree and Chottu ran to them quickly. "Acha? If I am so bad at it, why don't you do all the filing and report making from now onwards? Hmmm?"
Rathore raised his voice now "RIYA!!!"
Arjun was furious now. What did she think of herself? He was about to grab her by the hands, when Shree beat him to it. "SIR!!!" he exclaimed, pulling her back, "Please ignore her Sir, she...she has had a lot of coffee today. A LOT." he indicated the cups on the table. Chottu murmured " That's like her 2nd batch sir..."
Riya shook Shree off and glared at him. "I am fine" Arjun looked at her, unsure whether to be exasperated or angry with her. She looked back at him defiantly.
Rathore: Riya. Rawte is your senior officer. Do I have to tell you how to behave to your seniors?
Riya looked at him sheepishly and murmured a sorry. Then she glanced at Arjun with furtive eyes and said "I am sorry Arjun sir." He shook his head, annoyed at the levels of irritation she caused him daily.
Rathore: And why are you drinking so much coffee? It's obviously messing with your head and it's bad for your health as well Riya.
Riya: I have to finish all this paperwork sir, and it's...well it's pretty long and boring...and I can't get through it without any stimulants...
Rathore looked at the pile of papers and files on the table. He made a decision. "It's fine Riya, leave it...You can come back and deal with it. SLOWLY. Right now, take a break and I need you to collect data on the case we are going to investigate. So go freshen up and come back. We have a flight at 10.30 tomorrow morning to Bagdogra."
Half an hour later, Rathore laid down the facts before his team.
Rathore: It's a missing case. A Buddhist monk, the abbot of the Sanga Namchi monastery in Gangtok has been missing since today morning. He was supposed to receive another monk today, who was coming to the monastery, but he wasn't present to welcome him. A thorough search was made, but no trace of him could be found.
Chottu: Local police?
Arjun: The local police were not alerted. We have been contacted by the home ministry instead to solve this case.
Riya: Lekin home ministry ko ismein kya interest hai?
Rathore looked at her for a second thoughtfully. He had been thinking the same thing ever since he got the call. "The ministry sees that this is a sensitive issue. The religious implications could cause problems in the state and they don't want an issue like that. As such, even the media is unaware of this story. Riya, I need you to get as much as info as possible before we leave tomorrow"
Riya: Yes, sir
The team disbanded for the night. The next morning the office was abuzz with sounds of phones ringing, key tapping and general conversation. They were trying to piece together all the information from different quarters. Even in the airport, Riya was talking to someone and making notes in her diary. She told Rathore that she would give a full report once she was done, on the way to the monastery.
They boarded the flight, and Rathore, Shree and Chottu sat together, leaving Arjun n Riya to occupy the 2 remaining seats next to a middle aged woman, who gave them an approving glance. Arjun sat next to the aisle, while Riya sat in the middle, and smiled at the lady. After the flight took off, Riya was just about to take out her diary and papers to deal with the last bits of information, when the lady caught her hand and whispered to her, though loud enough for Arjun to hear. "You both make an amazing pair." Riya was flustered, and glanced at Arjun apprehensively, who had already turned dark with anger.
Lady: You and your husband, you make a great pair!!!
Riya blushed at that and managed to say: Jee..A..aunty, he's not my husband..
Lady: Oh...oh..I guess your boyfriend, then?
Riya was flummoxed whether she should calm Arjun down or clarify to this lady first. Going by past experiences, she turned to Arjun and said "Sir, I swear I didn't do anything, she probably just assumed...I'll explain to her.."
Arjun spoke quietly, but she understood that he was quite angry: How can she just assume Riya? Something in the way you behaved, your body language, your expressions, something must have given her that idea. So don't say you didn't do anything. I'll just switch places with Shree or Chottu.o happen
He looked over to their seat, but neither of them were looking his way, they were busy in chatter, while Rathore was looking out of the window. Riya on the other hand was growing slightly angry.
Riya: Sir, Maine kaha na, it's not my fault. Please don't blame me for this. All these old aunties tend to make these kind of remarks when they see a coup...a man and a woman...it's just easier and sensible to not make a big deal of it and leave it..
Arjun was listening to her, though he was still resolutely looking towards the others. Riya spoke once more "And it would be better if you wouldn't insult me by changing seats now." Saying this much, she turned to the lady beside her, and giving her a quick smile said "Aunty ji, he's not my boyfriend, fiance or husband. He's my senior at work. That's all."
The lady was surprised for a second, then she smiled and apologized to both of them. Riya acknowledged the apology, and said it was alright, while Arjun merely nodded. Riya pulled out her diary and papers and started with her work.
Riya: See, it's such a small issue, and for this Sir, you were getting so angry.
Arjun didn't reply to that, instead just looked straight ahead, trying to clear his mind. Riya silently went about her work. After about half an hour, he found the silence weird. She was always talking to him whenever they were alone, that not hearing her speak was strange. He glanced at her, and was saw why she had been so quiet. She was asleep, her face tilted towards him. She was probably very tired, he thought, with all the work yesterday and today morning. So when the stewardess came with the food cart, he silently beckoned her to be quiet and not disturb her. He bought a juice for her however, and kept it on her table. After the airhostess left, he turned back to stare at her. She had the remainder of a smile even now, as she slept, on her face. She looked serenely happy. Suddenly, he saw with increasing alarm, that her head was sliding from the headrest in her slumber, and towards him. He had to stop her, or her head would soon be resting on her shoulder. Yet, he hesitated, and then, just as he was raising his hands, something unexpected happened. She opened her sleepy eyes all of a sudden, and took in the sight. She realized what was going to happen, and quickly shifted her head and sat up straight. Arjun was startled, he hadn't expected her to do that. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and glanced at him, with his hand slightly inched towards his shoulder. She understood what he had intended to do, and slightly embarrassed said "Sorry sir, woh mein neend mein.."
Arjun quickly put his hand down and said "There's no need to apologize, you didn't do anything." Riya was puzzled. What was it with this man!! When she didn't do something, he expected her to apologize, when she did, he was saying there's no need. Really Riya!! How much more confusing can a person be!!! She was shaking her head and trying to organize her things, when she saw the juice box. She was quite thirsty and was going to ask the airhostess for some water anyway, so she was surprised to find the juice. Arjun's voice explained "I thought you wouldn't have had time to have anything properly in the morning, so..."
Riya: Thank you sir, I was thirsty...
She put the straw into the packet and drank deeply, trying to hide the smile that was forming at the corners of her mouth.
Riya: Waise sir, I would have preferred coffee...
Arjun: No way!! You are not drinking coffee for a long time Riya!
That led to her laughing out loud, and even Arjun had a slight grin on his face. Rathore, Chottu and Shree stared at them from across, not understanding what was so funny.
They landed at around 12.30 in Delhi and took a transit flight to Bagdogra, which landed at around 3 in the afternoon. They rented an Innova from the airport and started their drive towards the monastery. Riya finally gave them all the details she had compiled.
Riya: The Abbot of the Sanga Namchi monastery, Dechen Zachoeje was discovered to be missing from the monastery at about 7 am yesterday morning. He was 72 years old, and has been the abbot for about 27 years. He was highly knowledgeable, compassionate and respected by all. Frantic searches were made to find him, to no avail. He was slated to receive another monk, Gomin Eila, at the monastery today. Gomin was coming from Nepal, where he was for the past 18 years, to ascend to the title of Chaesol of the Sanga Namchi.
Shree: Chae...what now?
Riya: The Chaesol. It's like a position just below the abbot, like...the Vice President of the monastery. Their previous Chaesol passed away last month due to a heart attack, so the abbot himself went on a journey to find another monk to take the title. The Chaesol will also usually ascend as the Abbot, if the previous Abbot steps down or passes away. The Abbot was also facing health issues due to his age and he wanted to make sure that a proper Chaesol was elected soon.
Rathore: This older Chaesol, the one who died, was there anything fishy about his death?
Riya: No, I checked his reports, it was a natural death all right. After his death, the Abbot shortlisted 4 other high level monks to become the Chaesol, and finally decided on Gomin Eila. The Abbot visited him in Nepal last week and discussed matters, following which Gomin came down to the monastery yesterday. Zachoeje was absolutely supposed to be receive him, or else it would have been considered extremely insulting to Eila. But after he failed to turn up, they raised the alarm.
Arjun: Who informed the ministry?
Riya: One of the monks there, Dharma Shiron, used to work as an aide in the ministry before he...he gave up on material wealth and decided to become a Buddhist. He convinced the senior monks that the ministry would keep things at a low profile and find the Abbot. They were already anxious about the religious tension this could cause and the decided that this was probably a better option.
Chottu: Seems to be a knotted case...
Arjun: Well, then it's upto us to untie those knots...
It was almost 9.30 when they drove up the hill atop which the monastery sat. It was a big compound and flags fluttered in the night wind. They were staggered by the sight, as they stopped in front of the monastery doors. A single lantern hung near the door, and other than that the structure was completely pitch black.
For all the likez n commentz last week, a pix worth a 1000 wordz, so herez 2000...
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