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The team got out of the car, and looked around them. Nobody seemed to be about and they stood perplexed for a minute.
Shree: Arrey, this looks more like a haunted house setting than a monastery. What's with all the lights?
Chottu: Yep, it's pretty creepy...what should we do?
Rathore: Knock on the doors or something. They knew we were coming right?
Riya: Hanh sir, I called them and said we would be here by tonight.
Arjun: well then, knock...someone's bound to hear.
Shree n Chottu stared at the heavy metal doors and shook their heads.
Shree: Chottu, you'll have to throw yourself at these if you want even a tiny bit of sound to reach anyone inside...
Chottu scowled at him and stepped forward to knock. But before he could, they heard the sounds of the door being opened. It swung open to reveal 2 people and they stepped forward. The one in front was smiling amicably, he looked to be in his late 20s and looked quite handsome, with his brown eyes and muscular arms. His head looked to be recently shaved, and had a slight buzz from the hair growing back. He brought his palms together in greeting and said "Welcome. You are from the ETF aren't you? We were expecting you, and I was delegated to wait and receive you. Sorry about the darkness, but the monks go to bed at 9pm. I hope you had a good journey, my name is Dharam Shiron. Please come in."
So this was the former employee of the Home ministry, who was the reason that they were here, Arjun thought, as they stepped inside to a corridor. They looked around as Dharam shut the doors. It was simply furnished, with a few wall hangings here and there, and a giant Buddha statue in front of which incense sticks sat burning. The air smelled heavenly. Arjun was reminded of Roshni's pujas, and then of Riya with her aarthi thaal. He frowned in annoyance. These days, putting her off his mind seemed to pretty difficult.
Rathore made the introductions and when he came to Riya, she couldn't help but blush a little at the way Dharam looked at her. He seemed to be looking at her as if one admires a painting, his eyes alight with curiosity, his smile conveying something more. As she said hello, he looked lost. When the other monk touched his arm, he was jolted back. He smiled again, wider this time, and Riya saw his dimples. "That's a nice name, Riya ji."
Riya protested: Jee...thank you...and please just call me Riya...
Dharam smiled: Ok...and everyone please just call me Shiron.
Shree n Chottu didn't fail to notice the admiration that Dharam seemed to be showing towards Riya, though Arjun n Rathore seemed oblivious. He had led them towards their rooms, stopping in front of a door and telling Riya that this was her room. Shree looked at him suspiciously and asked "Dharam Shiron seems to be a strange name though and you don't very look north eastern to me."
Shiron laughed and said "That's the name I took when I joined Sangma Namchi. My real name was Aditya and I'm from Mumbai actually. It's actually a misconception that all Buddhist monks over here are of north eastern origin, Shreekanth ji. It's true that about 95% of them are, but not all. Like me and Rokan Sangha here"
He indicated the other monk, who smiled at them in a disinterested sort of way. He was younger, looking to be in his late teens. "He's actually a distant cousin of mine, we entered the monastery together. It was hard at first, wasn't it Rokan? Getting used it now, aren't we??"
Rokan didn't look very enthusiastic, in the way he nodded with his weak smile, but Shiron seemed to make up for that with his bubbling enthusiasm.
Rathore: You used to work in the Home Ministry before right?
Shiron: Yes, until 2 months ago...And then I had this calling...Anyway, you must be tired, please go to bed. Riya ji...sorry Riya, as I said, this is your room. It's more of a dormitory, where all the travellers stay when they come up to see the monastery, but no one else is here currently. The men's dormitory is further along, please follow me gentlemen.
Riya opened the door as the rest of them went their way. She bid them goodnight, but Shiron's voice was loudest as it called back to her "Goodnight. I hope you sleep well."
Riya was taken aback for a second and then she smiled, nodded "You too"
The men were settled in their dorm. Arjun and Rathore were already getting ready for bed, removing their guns and putting it above their futons, within easy reach. Shree pulled Chottu towards him for a quick secret whisper.
Shree: I think he likes Riya
Chottu: Kaun Arjun sir?
Shree: No yaar!! That's a separate movie...I'm talking about that Aditya...I mean Shiron..
Chottu: Oh!!!! Hanh yaar, mujhe bhi laga...the way he seemed to be looking at her...
Shree: like a love lost puppy...kuch to hai...
Chottu: Arrey nahi yaar!!! It can't be!! He's a monk!!!!
Shree: Toh kya hua?? He's only a recent joinee, he can drop out if he wants and change courses...
Chottu: Shree, this is not college or anything...being a monk is a serious thing...he gave up such a prestigious job for that...it's like his dream I think...
Shree: Kya baat hai Chottu...you want to be a monk too??
ChottU: NO WAY!!! I won't do anything which affects my hair!!! Did you see how those guys were shaved. I love my hair!!!
Shree: hmmm..You know even with that hairless head, he looked quite good..he was quite handsome...
Chottu: Shree...are you sure that the issue is him liking Riya and not actually you liking him??
Chottu was giggling and Shree threw a pillow at him, which landed on Arjun instead.
Arjun: Shree, do I have to throw you out of here? You'll have to go sleep in the car.
Shree: ehh..no Sir...I'm sorry sir...actually I was aiming for Chottu...
Rathore: Go to sleep all of you!!! We have a lot to do tomorrow!!!!
At 4.45 in the morning, a bell clanged somewhere, waking all of them up from their deep sleep. The weather was pleasantly cold, and it was quite hard to leave sleep behind. Arjun however, was up in a flash, followed by Rathore. Shree had to be dragged out of bed by Chottu. By 5.30, they all walked out through the front door. Riya was already there, sitting on a bench a little away and sipping from a clay cup. The monks of the monastery were going around the building, chanting and memorizing prayers from texts. Riya was watching them intently, when the four of them walked upto her. She said good morning and poured them all tea from the brass pot and into the tiny cups.
Rathore took the cup: Thanks Riya, lekin itni subah subah chai?
Riya: woh actually Shiron made it and gave it to me...
Chottu perked up and nudged Shree, who was trying to go back to sleep on his shoulder. At that precise moment Shiron went past them, chanting and smiling at them. Again his eyes seemed to rest on Riya, and he smiled wider, as she returned his gesture.
Arjun was a tiny bit irritated and as Riya tried to poke Shree awake and give him the tea, he noted wryly "Seems like you have a fan." Riya succeeded in handing Shree the cup, who was wide awake now, as Chottu whispered into his ear "Shiron made tea for Riya!" She was surprised by Arjun's comment "Sir?"
Before he could answer however, Shree jumped up and exclaimed "He made tea for you?"
Riya: He made tea for everyone and don't jump so much Shree, you'll spill the tea on Chottu.
He wasn't done teasing her, but Rathore came near them just then and he shut his mouth. As they watched the monks go round again, Riya pointed to an elderly monk.
Riya: Sir, that's Norbu. He was the abbot's closest confidant. Like an attendant and friend combined. He was under the tutelage of the abbot for many years
Rathore: So if something was going on with the Abbot, he would be bound to know.
Riya: Yes sir, and that monk over there, he is the to be Chaesol.
They all looked to see a tall, lean and distinguished man, walking by them, with two younger monks following closely.
Chottu: He looks pretty cool. Can't believe he lived in the mountains for so long.
Riya: He is supposed to be one of the greatest monks. Apparently, he stayed without food or water for weeks when he was there. His disciples had to sometimes force him to eat. All those qualities and a great mind were what made the abbot choose him to become the Chaesol, according to my reports.
Arjun: Those two following him are his disciples?
Riya: Yes, they never leave his side. They were both orphans when he found them, and took them under his care. They seem him more as a father, than a teacher.
Arjun looked at impressed. Even if she made rookie mistakes once in a while, there was no denying that she was the best when it came to research. If there was something to know, she would find it. Rathore echoed his sentiments when he said "Nice work Riya. We'll start our investigation by talking to Norbu then."
It was 6.30 when the monks finished their prayer rounds. They started making their way towards their different duties, when Shiron came jogging up to them. He stopped by Riya, who pulled her jacket closer against the cold. He smiled at her in his charming way, and told her "The cold will decrease in a few hours, when the sun comes out."
She smiled back at him "Ok." The other 4, who were looking at the view from atop the hill, turned around and watched their exchange.
Shiron: You should all come and have breakfast now. It's in the dining hall, towards the end of the corridor.
All of them nodded and Shiron turned to go. Then he turned back, grinned at her shyly, and held out his hand to her. "Aapke liye"
Riya was startled, and unsure what to do. Arjun peeked at his half closed palm, turned upwards. Something red was inside. Flowers?? He immediately thought. Was this guy giving her flowers??? He's a monk!!! What was he doing!!!
Chottu n Shree saw the slight blur of red too, and were confused too. But then Shree nudged Chottu to show him Arjun's face, which looked angry and irritated. And his fists, which were clenched. "Could it be, that he's jealous?" Shree whispered super softly to Chottu. "Could it be, that you are destined to die by Arjun sir's hands?" Chottu whispered back, earning him a grimace from Shree.
Arjun stood there with bated breath, confused even about why his breath was like that. He almost mentally willed her not to take it, but that is exactly what she did. She held her own palm forward, and Shiron took his own closed one forward and dropped his gift into it. "I grew it myself, in the garden behind the monastery. It will be delicious, I guarantee. I'll see you after breakfast" He jogged back down the path, grinning like a schoolboy.
Riya stood there, jaw dropped, while Shree n Chottu leapt forward to look at which exotic flower Shiron had presented her. Arjun edged a bit closer despite himself, his face still set hard, and Rathore was just plain irritated.
Chottu urged Riya to show them, with Shree jumping excitedly beside her. When they finally saw, Shree half exclaimed, and then delivered in a monotone "ITS...A...tomato..."
Even Rathore was intrigued. "A what?"
Riya answered "...tomato...sir...it's a baby tomato..."
Chottu: why on earth did he give you a baby tomato????
Arjun smirked. He couldn't believe the guy just gave her a vegetable. Was he out of his mind? Did he have any idea how girls' minds work? He was out and about in the world until 2 months ago, so why was he behaving like he was from Mars??
They started walking down the path towards the monastery for breakfast. Riya was still perplexedly looking at the baby tomato, rolling it around her hand. Shree n Chottu were still arguing, when suddenly Shree exclaimed "Riya!!! What do statistics say about guys gifting girls something which they have painstakingly made or say...raised themselves?" Riya wasn't paying attention to him, still contemplating the tomato, and replied out of habit "In 95% cases, it means that the guy might be interes..." She realized what Shree was implying, and was jolted into the present by his and Chottu's joint chuckles. She latched her left hand onto Shree's right ear and as he yelped, said "Wanna die?"
Arjun: Will you people stop with this idioticity and come? We have a case to solve and if you want to waste your time discussing stupid vegetables, maybe you lot should become gardeners. Samjhe??
Chottu whispered: Wow, he seems pissed. He's not even saying the ya samjhau part...
Shree: yeah, like U better understand...
Riya hissed: Shut up, both of you!!
Rathore heard that, and looked at Arjun, slightly in thought. He did seem to be over reacting a bit. Had it something to do with Riya again? He ventured "It's only a tomato Rawte, calm down. Aur Riya, next time, maybe you should get some for us too, hmm?"
Riya had devoured the tomato and exclaimed: Sure sir...it's true what he said...it's delicious!!!!
This had the effect of Arjun stalking off ahead of them, and Rathore smirking. Then he was thoughtful again. Was the innocent Riya beginning to get to the tough Rawte? He was concerned with that train of thought. It could not bode well for both parties. No..he was over imagining things. Sure, there was a certain tension between the two, but he was reading too much into the situation. He put it out of his mind and they sat down to breakfast.
Riya was stealing glances at Arjun, thinking about how he had marched ahead in a huff. What was he getting so angry about? It was just a tomato. The more she thought about it, the more she was finding it amusing. In fact she couldn't help but smile now, as she thought about the way Shiron had run off.
Two people noticed her smiling to herself. The first one gave a scowl and resolutely turned the other way, thinking to himself, surely she's not thinking about that monk. What was it to him...let her think what she wants. Arjun attacked his breakfast fiercely with that thought, while the monk in question was also staring at her, hoping the smile was for him. Until Rokan called out to him, "Adi, you have stop looking at her like that..The lamas are bound to notice.."
Shiron sighed and turned his attention back to his plate. "You're right. But she's so beautiful and when she smiles...her pretty eyes light up...she exudes so much energy...it's like..."
Rokan raised an eyebrow and whispered "Dude. You are supposed to be a Buddhist monk. You aren't supposed to even think of girls."
Shiron: What? yeah, well...Hey..don't call me dude...and you are not supposed to call me Adi either. It's Shiron and Rokan. And that's how we are supposed to address each other here.
Rokan gave him a disgusted look: What? Like Batman and Robin?
Shiron shook his head wearily: Whoever had the idea you would make a good monk??
After breakfast, Shiron introduced them to Norbu, who was a short middle aged man, his pleasant face troubled by the Abbot's absence.
Shiron: Rokan and I are going to fetch wood now, Elder monk Norbu will lead you to anything you need. I'll see you later.
He smiled his infectious smile at them once more and left.
Shree: Are all monks like that? I though being one made you sort of subdued...like calm...
Norbu smiled: Shiron is one of the most enthusiastic of the members here. We don't tell anybody here to adhere to a strict code of rules. It's true that certain habits and practices are not allowed, but we encourage inmates to be more or less themselves. Buddhism and being a monk doesn't mean giving up who you are. You just need to have a clear heart and pure intentions.
They stood in the main hall they had come into the previous night. The incense still burned, and Norbu adjusted the sticks, bowing his head respectfully before the Buddha statue.
Arjun: Tell us what happened exactly yesterday.
Norbu: We rise at 4.45 every day, and prayer rounds begin at 5.30. Yesterday, the abbot didn't join us.
Rathore: Was that usual?
Norbu: yes, sometimes the Abbot spent prayer hour alone in the prayer hall upstairs meditating. That's why no one found his absence odd. We also thought perhaps, with the new Chaesol arriving, he wanted to check arrangements on his own.
Arjun: after prayer hour?
Norbu looked distressed again: I went up to his room, to inform him that breakfast was served. That's when I saw, he wasn't in the room, or in the prayer hall. We searched everywhere...but...it was terrible, the Chaesol was arriving at 8'o clock and even by 7.30 we couldn't locate the Abbot..it seems the Abbot was missing from the night itself...
Arjun: How can you say that?
Norbu: I left a glass of water near the bed every night. The Abbot had a habit of waking up around midnight and drinking that. But the water was untouched and even the bed looked far too uncrumpled...
Rathore: And the room...have you tampered with it in any way?
Norbu: No, we left it untouched...we...confirmed that the Abbot was nowhere on the premises, and decided we had to let the authorities know...that's when Shiron said it's better not to get the local authorities involved. He was the one who said that the room should be locked until you got here.
Rathore: we need to see the room, please.
Norbu led them upstairs, all the way to the third floor. On the way, Rathore asked a few more questions.
Rathore: About the Abbot...has he ever gone missing like this before..I mean, certain holy men go off on...
Norbu: I know what you mean. But the Abbot was not prone to...spiritual quests like that. He was a deeply knowledgeable and brilliant person, any answers he wanted, he found from within himself. He believed that the mind and the heart were the greatest forces in the world. For him, everything he needed was here between these walls.
Rathore: when was the last time anyone saw him?
Norbu: I was the last person to see him, at around 8.45 pm, when he retired to his room.
Rathore: And the Chaesol...Goman Eila...how did he react to the disappearance?
Norbu: He tried to put us all at ease, consoling the elder monks, that the Abbot would be found soon. He was against calling the police into the monastery though.
Norbu: The sanctity of the monastery would be affected, he said, and that we should try and locate the Abbot ourselves...perhaps, he had gone out on his own...we should wait, he said...That's when Shiron intervened and said the Abbot could be in trouble of some sort...and we should let the authorities know...
Rathore: Why would Eila say something like that? About the Abbot leaving on his own...you said that wasn't likely...
Norbu hesitated: Well...
Arjun: what is it Norbu? You have to tell us!!
Norbu: It may be nothing...but...there was a monk here...about 15 years ago..His name was Thevo, he was about 13 at the time... he was a terror in his village, fighting with all the locals, stealing from their shops and houses...his parents had brought him here, so that he could change... he was an unwilling disciple... he was unruly, and always doing something or the other he wasn't supposed to, getting into trouble, back answering all the monks...The Abbot turned a blind eye to all that, and tried to reason with him, show him the path of truth...but it was no use..finally the last straw was when he brought alcohol into the monastery...that the Abbot couldn't bear...He finally snapped, and gave up...He kicked him out of the monastery, only, when he went back to his village happy, his parents...they banished him from there too, told him never to come back, they never wanted to see him again. To them, their son was dead...That was too much for him I think..he came back here that night and said that the Abbot was responsible for his parents hating him like this...he swore revenge...he said he would come back, when both his parents were gone, he would be back and he would have his revenge on the Abbot and the monastery...His mother died some years ago, and his father...his father was the last Chaesol..He came into the Sangma Namchi saying he wanted to atone for his son's sins...So the Abbot took him in...Though he personally held himself responsible for all that happened...
Norbu sighed: He believed he shouldn't have reacted the way he did...In his anger, he said, he had forgotten that he was a teacher, that it was his duty, no matter what to bring Thevo onto the right path..But he failed..and that was his greatest sadness all these years...he spent a long time looking for Thevo, but couldn't find him...he always said that it was a grave mistake he did on his part, and he would never have peace, until he asked him for forgiveness. Though his father never blamed him, he saw the Abbot in high esteem, in his mind, the Abbot believed that he had wronged Thevo...
Arjun: So you think...Thevo might have heard about his father's death, he might have come back to take revenge as promised.
Norbu nodded: Its possible I guess...all the other monks also seem to think so...but we haven't seen anyone like that around..I mean...
Rathore: sometimes, things will be right before our eyes, and we won't be able to see it...
Norbu confused: I am sorry, what do you mean?
Rathore: Kuch nahi, aap jaayiye, we'll just check this room now...
After Norbu left, they started their search of the room. It had only a few furniture. A small low lying table and seat, a futon, and a small chest of drawers. A Buddha statue stood on the table, and Arjun seemed to be staring at it intently.
Riya suddenly exclaimed, holding a thick book from the drawers. "Sir, it's his personal diary!!"
Rathore: Skim through it Riya, and see if you find anything related to his disappearance.
Riya hesitated: Sir..it's his personal diary...are we supposed to?
Rathore: If this was a murder investigation, we would. And since it may help us in locating him, just go ahead...
Riya nodded and started reading through the diary.
Chottu spoke up "Sir, if what he said is true, isn't it possible Thevo could have hurt the Abbot?
Arjun: yes...it is...
He suddenly saw something and bent down to look at the statue carefully. It was a medium sized one. About as big as both of his hands put together. He took it up and examined carefully. He showed it to Rathore, pointing at the bottom. A small dot, which he smudged with his finger, making it a crimson blot. "Blood"
They all stopped what they were doing, and stared.
Shree: blood..that means someone attacked him here...Could he be...dead?
Riya and Chottu, and even Shree looked shocked saying it.
Rathore: Shree, your equipment...
Shree immediately got out a sprayer bottle and black tinted glasses. He sprayed the luminal on and around the area of where the statue was and they all took turns with the glasses examining the scene. Within 30 seconds, a small patch of blood appeared on the ground and a smaller smear on the statue.
Rathore: Someone attacked him all right...Right in this room...but this blood smear...it's small...
Arjun: yes, it's more likely someone knocked him out and abducted him...
Rathore: Something is going on here...something very fishy...I still don't understand the ministry angle...
Arjun: yes, we best check up on that...Shree aur Riya, look into why the Home ministry would have any interest in this, don't heed the apparent religious implications theory that they put forward...
Rathore: And while you are at it, get everything you can on Dharam Shiron also...
Riya opened her eyes wide, but didn't say anything. Arjun was pleased. Finally, they would find out the truth about him. Something was off with that guy, but just what?
Rathore: Anything so far in that diary Riya??
Riya : nothing sir..I concentrated on the last 1 month...it just says about day to day activities, and the meetings he had with Eila. His Nepal trip and such. And what Norbu said is true, he was quite distressed about the Thevo issue. He discussed it with Eila too. It seems Thevo was quite an artist, and so was Eila. That's how they got talking about him. Eila presented that picture to the abbot on the last visit.
Riya pointed to a painting hanging on the wall, a landscape, showing an orange red sunset over a green rice field. It was a beautiful picture, and as they stood admiring it, Goman Eila walked into the room.
Eila: I hope I'm not disturbing you in your work.
Arjun: No, of course not, we were just admiring the picture. It's beautiful. The rice fields contrasting against the setting sun.
Eila looked at the picture and smiled: of course, rice fields in Sikkim are world renowned..but tell me...How is your investigation going? May I offer any help?
Rathore: if you could tell us, why you were hesitant to call the police after the Abbot went missing.
Eila: I just wanted to maintain the decorum here...The monks, most of them are very old. They were already distressed at the missing of the Abbot. I didn't want the police to come in and instil further worries in them, that's all. But then that young monk, Aditya...no Shiron...he convinced me otherwise...
Arjun: You said that the Abbot might have gone off on his own...
Eila: I thought it possible...some sort of deep meditation perhaps...
Rathore: but the Abbot was not one to go meditating out of the monastery premises.
Eila shrugged and sighed: Then where is he?
One of Eila's disciples came into the room, bowed to him and whispered. "Excuse me, I have to leave. Some matters need my attention." Eila excused himself and left with his disciple. Finished with their searching, the team too left the room. They went back to the dorm, and Riya and Shree set about doing the research as told.
After 2 hours, they had lunch in the dining hall, along with the monks. All through the meal, Rathore and Arjun looked distant, looking around the table thoughtfully. The other 3 noticed and Shree commented "They can't quite figure it out. That's the look they have on now."
Chottu: How can you tell?
Shree: oh, just look. That's Arjun's sir's trademark "Kuch toh choot raha hai Rathore" look. Only now, even Rathore sir has it. I'm telling you...They are both onto something...
Chottu: I guess so...but what I wonder...Arrey Riya, maybe they have decided that your new admirer is the culprit...
Riya: He's can't be the culprit!!
Shree: So that means you agree he's your new admirer??
Riya: Shree!!That's not what I meant!! If he's the culprit, why would he call us in?
Chottu: Cover his tracks?
Shree: exactly...so no one will suspect him...
Riya: I don't believe it.
Shree: well, we'll know for sure when we get those files we asked for...
The files in question were waiting in Shree's inbox when they came back from lunch. They huddled around the laptop as Shree nervously opened the mail. They stared at the screen incredulously, and right at that moment, Shiron walked in, knocking at their door.
They looked up to see him with that trademark grin on his face. "Hey guys!! Any progress? And anything I can help you with?"
Arjun and Rathore straightened up. Rathore spoke in a sharp voice "You can start by telling us who you are."
Shiron looked confused "What? What do you mean?? I already told you who I am...What..."
Arjun turned the laptop on the table towards him. Shiron looked at it for a minute, then bent his head, as if deep in thought. When he looked up, he still his smile, but it was a zealous smile now. His eyes were slightly narrowed, but they looked fiery. All together he looked a different man, almost like a laid back business tycoon. His voice was smooth and confident as he asked "What exactly would you like to know?"
Joined: 08 February 2010
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