Joined: 08 March 2011
She lay in her bed, staring at the high roof with her eyes wide open. Sakshi hadn't slept a wink all night.
Watching her father's mutilated body and witnessing his honour being shredded to pieces before her eyes had scarred her for a lifetime; so much so that the visions haunted her in her sleep as well. A sleepless night hardly mattered to her now, yet something was different today.
After a few more minutes of tossing and turning in bed, she gave in to the temptation and sat upright clutching the woollen duvet closer. She had work to do..
Sakshi quickly freshened up and tied her hair into a ponytail. Wrapping a shawl around herself, she tiptoed out of the house, taking care to not disturb her uncle sleeping in the next room.
The cool morning air hit her as she stepped into the verandah and made her way towards her secret spot near the lone mango tree behind their house. She glanced around once to make sure her secret was well guarded and took out her cellphone.
While she waited for the person on the other end to answer, she happened to glance at the faint outline of the Police academy across the river. The nudging feeling she had been having all night returned.
His steady, unwavering gaze while she walked away had made her jittery. Though she had initially brushed it aside as a cop's inherent nature and his kind gesture, the suspicious and inquisitive journalist that she was, kept telling her to look at it from a different perspective.
Just then a husky voice spoke from the other end, snapping her out of her thoughts.
"Sakshi! Finally I get to hear you..", a male voice crackled through the phone.
Sakshi sighed and a faint smile appeared on her face as she remembered her partner.
"There's a new recruitment at the academy, Jay." She paused and thought over it for a few seconds, "I met him today."
She knew she had his attention when he cleared his throat and asked, "What do you need?"
That was the question Sakshi was almost afraid to answer. Her mind drifted to the last night inevitably.
The stranger's eyes held something deep in them; an emotion so intense that she couldn't find the right words to describe it. She felt as though he was guarding a secret or perhaps shielding himself from the world.
Try as much she did, Sakshi could not get it all out of her head. Her years of experience and solid intuitions kept hinting at something far more deep and fishy.
His offering her a lift and then making sure that she reached home safely displayed his kindness and Sakshi wasn't going to be ungrateful for it.
However, the fact that he lied about being new to Dhanaulti didn't go unnoticed by her.
She had caught him twice but didn't let it show. But she couldn't do away with her suspicions as well. She realised the odds were very few but her job had taught her that overlooking even a small clue could be dangerous.
She shook her head dismissing her judgemental convictions and answered, "I need some concrete information on ACP Rawte."
Sakshi paused to think over her words. His name rang in her ears several times during the night, but despite trying hard, she couldn't point a finger at where she'd heard it first.
She released a restless sigh.
Jay heard the name and stared hard at the flooring. He knew who she was referring to. And if he indeed was present at the Academy, they had to pull up their socks and figure out why. But now, more than that something else bothered him.
"Sakshi. You have to be very careful if he is who I think he is. They say he can read minds and break even the best without even laying a finger on them.", Jay warned.
"Is it?", pat came the reply. "We have one more reason to be sure of our success then, Jay. They've sent one of their best to the rescue. Which means.."
Jay interrupted her, "Let's not jump to conclusions already. But yes, maybe you're right."
He quickly scribbled the name on a notepad and said, "Uh. Okay. Let me see what comes up. I'll send you the details as soon as possible. By the way, what happens to your budding friendship with Mrs. Ayesha Rathore?"
Sakshi's eyes widened at the mention of the lady she had befriended a few months ago. "I've told you this before. She's a really nice person and I will not use her for gaining an entry into the Academy, Jay. We have to come up with something else.", she said sternly.
Jay shook his head and stood up, "You're not thinking straight, Sakshi. You're not there to make friends and I hope you haven't forgotten that. There's too much at stake."
Sakshi, however didn't need to be reminded of it. She had made up her mind, "No Jay. I cannot do it. There has to be another way to do it."
She very well understood what the current assignment demanded of her. Though she wasn't new to faking relationships with her clients to seek vital and secretive information, she had her own set of principles too. She was shrewd but not a cheat.
She hated lies and despised liars. It was an irony that she was in a profession where people seldom spoke the truth and sometimes it was better that way, she thought.
Lies and deceit were the perfect masks for one to hide their true self. And she herself was treading along the same path, though half-heartedly.
He figured he had to trust her on this one, "Fine. But quick, Sakshi. The clock is ticking. It's been more than 2 months. And you do realise we're both answerable to people on top. I won't be able to cover for you if you mess this up."
His words rang loud in her ears, reinserting the hidden nuances behind them. She replied confidently, "I won't. I cannot fail this time, Jay."
Soon, the valley was flooded with warm sunshine peeping from behind the clouds.. Sakshi was snapped out of her thoughts by the sound of ringing temple bells ringing in the distance. She rubbed her arms and walked back into the house, shrugging her thoughts aside for the time being.
A little while later, as soon as Professor Khanna woke up, the aroma of ginger tea hit his senses and his feet led him into the kitchen. Sakshi looked at him and pointed at his cup of tea placed next to his newspaper on the table behind him.
"Tu phir bazaar jaakar le aayi? Kitni baar kaha hai Sakshi, main school jaakar padh loonga. Itni thand mein bahar jaane ki kya zaroorat thi?", the elderly man said scolding her.
"Uffo Mamaji. Mujhe pata hai, jab tak taaza taaza khabar nahi padh lete, aapka din shuru nahi hota. Aur waise bhi, chai ke liye doodh toh laana hi tha, saath mein aapka newspaper bhi le aayi.", she replied and smiled heartily.
Her uncle had his gaze fixed on her as she moved around in the kitchen, rolling rotis for lunch and boiling water on the stove for his bath. He felt guilty about the fact that she was staying back in the village for his sake, leaving behind a job which she loved and a life that she rightfully deserved.
He had tried his best to coax her into returning back to Delhi but to no avail. But not anymore..
He looked at her sternly and cleared his throat, "Kab tak beta? Aur kitne din sacchayi se aur apne aap se bhaagti rahegi?"
He paused when she looked up, "Aap phir se shuru ho gaye? Maine kaha na aapse, main khush hoon yahan, aapke saath. Mujhe aur kuch nahi chahiye. Aur waise bhi yahan jo aaram hai woh sheher mein kahan?", she winked stretching her arms playfully.
"Ek rishta aaya hai tere liye.", her uncle stated.
That grabbed her attention, her face paled and she stood up dusting her flour smeared hands.
Professor Khanna looked at her when she sat next to him. "Meri baat maan lo, Sakshi. Shaadi kar lo. Aakhir kabtak aise akeli rahogi, beta?"
When she didn't answer him, he patted her head affectionately.
She looked at him and asked, "Unn logon ko Papa ke baare mein bataya aapne?"
The guilty look on his face answered for him.
Sakshi shook her head and held up her hands exasperatedly, "Papa aur unse judi hui harr baat meri life ka sabse bada sach hai. Sach ko chupakar naye rishtey nahi jodey jaa sakte na, Mamaji?
Aur batakar bhi kya hoga? Woh mana kar denge na? Toh karne dijiye. Jo log mere Papa ki respect nahi kar sakte, woh meri kya izzat karenge?
Nayi zindagi shuru karne ke liye, main apni asli pehchaan nahi chupa sakti, Mamaji."
She paused and inhaled a sharp breath. "Aur waise bhi, ek deshdrohi ki beti se kaun rishta jodega?"
Her voice softened and had an almost painful edge to it. She walked back to the stove and began rolling rotis.
Professor Khanna knew that she wouldn't relent easily. He didn't want to force her into a marriage either. But his ailing body was slowly giving up.
He knew his little girl too well. She was strong and pretended to be even stronger, but inside she would shatter if something happened to him. She had none other to call her own.
Like every other parent, he only wished for her to be happy. He was hoping that once she resumed her work, got married and settled into a new life, the bitterness and resentment harboured in her heart would slowly fade away.
But now, when she refused the fifth marriage proposal without even considering it even once, he was thoroughly disappointed.
He saw her lift the pail of boiling water as she emptied it into a bucket for his bath. He took a deep breath and prayed for her.
He wished a day would come when he would see his daughter marry an honest man; one who would love her unconditionally and shield her from the world's malice. He hoped there was one man in the big world who would accept Sakshi for who she was and heal her with his patience and love..
Sakshi stood in front of the mirror, running a brush through her hair absently. Dismissing proposals and watching disappointment widen on her uncle's face hurt her as well. She knew he only wanted her to be happy. And her heart knew how much she ached to be happy, even if it meant just for a moment.
Like every other teenage girl, she too had woven dreams. She had always wondered if the highly overrated Prince Charming even existed for real and if he did, Sakshi wanted him all for herself.
She hoped one day she would find a man she could love with all her heart. Someone, who would be her best friend, a lover and her husband, all wrapped into one. She wished she had someone who would make her life worth living for, one she could stand beside during good and bad days.
She had hoped for a happily ever after..
But now that her life was toppled upside down and she had turned reclusive, shutting out everything that made her feel happy about it, she only wished she would never meet him.
Sakshi didn't have it in her to bear the brunt of one more incomplete relationship. She would rather let her heart remain intact and let it ache for something she could never have than to face it all and sink into sadness if fate tricked her a second time.
Ayesha shook her head and gave them a hard look. The spicy dalia remained untouched while the two men were engaged in a silent glaring session, under the pretext of scanning the newspaper for a catchy news.
She tapped her husband's shoulder who lowered the newspaper and looked at her over his shoulder. "ACP Rathore, aaj koi special occasion hai ya phir aap chutti lekar ghar par baithnewale hain?", she asked sternly but with a teasing smile playing on her lips.
Arjun lifted his head too and saw her point at the clock hanging on the wall. He suppressed a chuckle upon watching his friend's pitiful state.
The smug smile was wiped off his face when Sameer glared at him and distracted his wife, directing her towards Arjun.
Ayesha crooked a brow and sat next to him at the table.
Arjun groaned softly and began stabbing at the food on his plate. "I should have gone to the mess.", he mumbled.
But his sharp ears heard it and Sameer smirked, "Kyun mere ghar ke khane mein zeher milate hain?"
Ayesha glared at her husband and handed the men a glass of juice each. "Aaj aapka cereal aur toast nahi bana payi. Bina bataye jo aa gaye aap."
And then as if remembering something she turned to him again, "Aapko kuch aur chahiye toh bata dijiyega. Main market ja rahi hoon. Le aungi."
Arjun merely nodded ignoring Sameer's scornful gaze and began eating, "No. This is really good. Thanks Ayesha."
"Aaj ghar jaldi aa jaana, Sameer. Humein mandir jaana hai. Sakshi ne kaha tha aaj sham wahan havan hai. I really want to go.", Ayesha pleaded while handing him his gun and cap.
"You know I won't be able to make it, Ayesha. We're still struggling with arrangements for the new batch. Aise mein mujhe ek hafte ki chutti bhi leni hai. Tum chali jaana and I'll join you there.", he said before glancing at Arjun.
"Waise agar chaaho toh apne dost ko bhi le jaa sakti ho. Thoda dimaag bhi thanda ho jayega janaab ka issi bahane.", he remarked and drove away towards the Academy.
Ayesha saw her husband's softened gaze upon his best friend, when he wasn't looking and knew exactly what Sameer was thinking about.
The night before, after being caught red-handed by her, Sameer had expressed his concern about Arjun leading a reckless and reclusive life. As much as he disagreed with him on several things, including DIG Anand's innocence, he still cared for his well-being.
He wished Arjun would let go of his stubbornness and start living once again but couldn't get himself to strike a conversation with his best friend just yet.
Ayesha, however had found a silver lining amidst the gloominess in Arjun's life. When Sameer too agreed with her, albeit a bit reluctantly, she took it upon herself to voice it out to him.
A little while later, Ayesha placed his books in the shelves and turned around admiring her work. Arjun was busy arranging his belongings into his closet.
His quarters which consisted of a furnished and cozy living room, an open kitchen and a bedroom overlooking the valley, were just next door. They were neighbours, with their houses separated only by a wall in the garden.
The garden was in a bad shape and Ayesha made a mental note to help him with trimming the grasses and planting a few plants once he was settled in. The sight of his empty house reminded her of something and she walked up to him.
Before she could speak, he beat her to it. "Iss jagah se itna pyaar ho gaya ki ab permanently ghar bhi basa liya yahan?", he asked sarcastically.
Ayesha ignored it and shook her head, "Of course. Quarters hain toh kya hua? Ghar toh uske andar rehnewale logon se banta hai na." She paused when he looked away and said, "Ek baat poochun aapse?"
The softness in her voice forced him to look up. When he didn't respond to that, she spoke again, "Kab tak aise akele rahenge aap, Sir?"
His hand stopped midway and he drew it back after folding a shirt neatly. He looked at her with not a hint of anger or offence which surprised her.
"Mere quarters ko filhaal quarters hi rehne dete hain, Ayesha. It's better that way", he said casually.
"I don't agree, Sir. Mujhe lagta hai, aapke ghar ko aur akelepan ko ek saathi ki zaroorat hai. A home is what you need, Arjun.", she said honestly.
Her seemingly simple words had struck a chord deep within him. Arjun leaned against the wall and pondered over what she implied..
It had been years since he had let his mind and heart wander towards a girl. Not that he wasn't interested in relationships or did not believe in the institution of marriage, but he simply hadn't had the time for himself. His training at the academy, his immediate postings and later, his mentor's tragic death had left him with little time for himself.
Years later, he got so occupied with his own anger and revenge that he did not want to let in anyone else into his life.
Though he would never accept the fact that Rathore's abandonment of him hurt him, it also made him feel lonely at times. He was slowly turning into a recluse and there was very little he could do about it.
Each time he saw Ayesha and Sameer together, he sensed the void in his life. He too pined for a family of his own but he was afraid.
He didn't want to disappoint a girl, if he couldn't keep up his promises to her.
He didn't want to hurt that one person who would probably mean the world to him.
Ayesha saw him lost in thoughts and a slight smile crept up on her lips. She knew just what he was thinking and hoped he would act on it soon.
Like her husband, she too wished for him to move past his bitterness and anger and make a new beginning. Though it seemed difficult for now, Ayesha was hopeful that he would go back to being the Arjun, she had known and heard only from stories narrated by Shree and Chottu.
She walked through the now deserted corridor of the Academy, heading towards her husband's office when her cellphone rang.
She glanced at the number and quickly answered it, "Hello Ma. Yes, we'll be there for Bhaiya's engagement. Hum dono kal raat nikal rahe hain."
The mother and daughter's conversation went on for a few minutes unmindful of the fact that someone else had witnessed it too..
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