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One chapter of the DS story is done... posting it for review here. Suggestions and criticism are welcome.
Daya's powerful frame vanished out of the door, shoulders slumped and gait careless. He couldn't bear to see it. He did not want to shout; the engagement function was still in progress and guests were applauding as Shreya and Siddharth posed for photos after exchanging rings. The din masked his voice; he turned back to see the rest of their teammates still focusing on the function. Quietly, he slipped out from midst of the crowd and tiptoed out of the hall, past the brazen statues and pillars adorned with candles and lights. The voices grew fainter as he exited the building out into the cool night, wind blowing softly through the rows of Ashoka trees lined along the pavement, their red blossoms glowing in the moonlight.
"Daya?" he called again, his voice now powerful and much clearer.
"Abhijeet?" came the reply at once. From the end of the path, Daya walked forward into the moonlight, his coat still limply slung over his shoulder. "Tum, yahan bahar kyun aaye? Andar function abhi chal raha hai na?"
"Ye baat toh mujhe tumse poochni chahiye", said Abhijeet quietly, walking forward. "Daya..." He paused. He knew exactly why Daya had walked out of the hall, crestfallen and broken. He didn't want to rub salt on wounds.
Daya seemed to have realized, though he unsuccessfully tried to cover up by looking extremely interested in a fragrant blossom that had just landed on his shoulder. "Woh... actually ek phone aaya tha. Wrong number. Socha thoda bahar tehel loon idhar... garden kaafi accha hai na", he said, not making eye contact.
Abhijeet remained silent for a while. "Baat sahi hai. Chalo, ab bahar aa hi gaye hain toh ek round maar aate hain garden ka."
"Haan theek, chalo", said Daya at once, looking only too eager to get as far away from the hall and its occupants as possible.
They walked through the pavement, striped with shadows of the trees, moonlight glinting off the smooth marble of the path. The noise from the within the hall grew fainter, as did the lights streaming out from its windows. The night felt deserted; in the middle of the garden, an ornate fountain was softly gushing water in the form of a small artificial stream flowing through crevices in the stone. The low drones of cicadas and high chirps of crickets mingled. The mournful hoot of an owl reverberated through the night air.
Daya followed the path up to the fountain, folded up his coat and slung it over the nearest bench before slumping down on it. Abhijeet sat down next to him, looking at his friend focusing intently on one of the lotuses in the fountain pond.
"Kya hua Daya?"
"Kuch nahi, boss", answered Daya, not taking his eyes off the flower. "Kaafi tagdi raat thi. Thak gaya... ab party varty karne ka mann nahi hai. Bas ghar jaake so jaaun, kaafi hai."
"Haan yaar, woh toh hai", nodded Abhijeet. He couldn't deny Daya had a point. The night had indeed been harsh; finding out about the murder in Siddharth's room, investigating quietly with a handful of teammates so as to keep the matter under wraps, explaining everything to Shreya, the mission to find and rescue Siddharth and finally apprehending his uncle and sister... it was hard. None of them had come expecting such a turn of events. More than the others, he knew how terrible an ordeal it had been for Daya. All of it.
"Yaar... tumne bahut accha kam kiya aaj. Duty aur personal life ke beech ka farq, sach mein ek example ki tarah rakh diya tumne, sab ke saamne."
Daya was silent for a few moments, slowly lowering his gaze from the pond at last. He didn't turn. "Ismein badi baat kya hai. ACP sir se, tumse, apne Freddy se, Salunkhe sahab se... sab se dekha ye maine, itne saalo se. Aur humein jab pata chala ki Siddharth begunah hai, usko main maut ke muh mein kaise chhod deta?"
"Haan Daya, par phir bhi..." said Abhijeet softly. He was not sure how to proceed with this discussion, ease the pain which he knew was stabbing like fiery daggers in the heart of his dearest, brotherly friend. "Tumhe nahi pata jo tumne kiya, woh kitni badi cheez hai. Tumhari jagah koi aur hota toh pata hai kya hota?"
A sad, wry smile lit up Daya's lips in the moonlight. "Shurkiya boss, par ab bas bhi karo. Ye jitni tareef kar rahe ho meri, main 0.1% bhi uske laayak nahi hoon. Mujhse kya kya ho gaya, tum jaante ho."
Abhijeet looked up sharply. "Daya, please..."
"Sach toh sach hai na Abhijeet", continued Daya, his tone heavy. "Ek ladki ke liye humari 17 saal ki dosti khatre main aa gayi. Sach mein meri jagah aur koi hota, toh pata nahi kya hota..."
"Yaar bas karo", said Abhijeet loudly; a few night birds in the nearby bushes tweeted in alarm. "Woh sab hum nipta chuke hain na. Waada kiya tha ki ab aisa humaare beech phir kabhi nahi hoga. Phir wohi baatein kyun dohra rahe ho?"
"Tumne toh mujhe maaf kar diya Abhijeet, par main khud ko kaise maaf karunga?" said Daya quietly. "Ek baar bhi nahi socha, aisi baaton se kitna bura lagega tumhe!"
"Maine kaha na mujhe tumhari kisi baat se bura nahi lagta!" said Abhijeet desperately.
Daya smiled again, now looking back up at the moonlit pond. "Abhi bhi tumne theek se jhooth bolna nahi seekha na."
Abhijeet felt a sudden chill shoot up his spine. He had last heard those words from Daya's lips in a terrible, terrible situation. Did he not understand? Did people think he was an emotional fool, deciding to opt for a transfer because of an argument? Had they not known what he had faced, endured and vanquished for the past seventeen years of service in the department? Those were not what hurt him. His body and heart were steeled against petty physical and emotional wounds. But when it came to someone he'd grown to love as his own brother, the only one to whom he had opened his inner vulnerable self to and who had filled his once dark and closed heart with the light of love and friendship... that hurt. A lot.
"Bas Daya", he said, a little more forcefully than he had intended. The sudden upsurge of those bitter memories seemed to have strengthened his resolve to settle the issue once and for all. "Tum jaante ho kaise kaise waqt mein humne ek doosre ka saath diya hai. Jab poori team mere khilaaf rahi, tab bhi tumne mujhpe bharosa kiya. Ye sab baatein chhodo na yaar."
For a long while, Daya remained silent and impassive. "Dil kuch zyada hi bada hai tumhara, boss. Pata nahi mujhe kya ho gaya... kya kar daala mere saath inn sab ne." He paused again, silently staring at the water cutting trenches into the silt by the grass. "Main jo sapne mein bhi karne ki soch nahi sakta tha, mujhse karwa daala inn jasbaton ne. Pehle Sonali, phir Poorvi aur ab ye... mujhe toh lagta hai kisi ko chahna hi gunah hai. Jab bhi maine kisi ko chaha, kuch na kuch zaroor hua. Aur iss baar, ek baar phir meri galtiyon ki saza tumhe mili."
At long last, he slowly turned to look at Abhijeet. "Tumse phir sorry bhi keh nahi paaunga, Abhi. Upar waale ne tum jaisa dost diya mujhe, aur maine..."
"Maine kaha na yaar, bas kar. Ab rulayega kya?" exclaimed Abhijeet, fighting back an impulse to spring to his feet. "Aisa kuch nahi hai! Dekho, galti meri bhi hai. Tumhari khushi ki chinta mein maine tumhe sach nahi bataya... nahi bataya ki Siddharth Shreya ka cousin nahi fiance hai. Pata tha tumhe kabhi na kabhi pata chal jaayega... par tumhara dukh dekhne ki taaqat mere paas nahi thi. Tumne bas mujhse ek sawaal poocha, jiska jawab main de na saka. Kisi ko bhi dukh hota na, agar bharosa karne ke baad aisa ho toh. Galti meri hai, Daya. I am sorr-"
"Ab tum kyun shuru ho gaye?" said Daya loudly, looking straight into his eyes. "Aisa kuch nahi hai yaar, tumne kuch galat nahi kiya. Mujhe... mujhe aisa kuch nahi laga."
"Tumne bhi theek se jhooth bolna kahan seekha hai", said Abhijeet quietly, with a hint of a smile.
Several seconds trickled by. The water gushed on, crickets chirped and the owl hooted again, more loudly this time. Daya's expression didn't betray what he was feeling within, and Abhijeet almost felt afraid he had crossed the line. And then, for the first time that night, he broke out into a wide smile and chuckled. Abhijeet laughed with him, feeling a heavy weight slowly ease off his heart. That had been his primary objective, his aim that night - to see his buddy happy and smiling.
"Nahi sudhrode tum, boss", said Daya, shaking his head.
"Aakhir boss kiska hoon?" winked Abhijeet, clapping him on the shoulder. "Kya yaar Daya... tum bhi na."
"Pata nahi kaise sochne laga tha Shreya ke baare mein aise", said Daya, idly prodding at a stone with his boot. "Karna tha duty pe dhyaan, aur kaise chakkar mein pad gaya."
"Ab chhodo bhi, yaar", said Abhijeet. He was glad to see his mood growing lighter by the minute, and felt it was finally safe to speak his mind. "Dekho... insaan hain hum sab. Feelings hoti hain humari. Ussi mein toh insaan hone ki khushi hai. Ek doosre ko chahna, ek doosre ki fikr karna... kyunki hum sab ek parivaar hain. Kismat ne humare apne humse door kar diye... par badle mein humein ye CID ka parivaar de diya. Par pyaar ka matlab sirf ishq waala love' hi nahi hota hai na."
Daya was still for a few seconds. And then, he nodded slowly. "Pehle aisa kabhi nahi socha maine Shreya ke baare mein. Phir pata nahi kya ho gaya... ab lagta hai sab meri bewakoofi thi."
"Nahi Daya", said Abhijeet. "Koi bewakoofi nahi. Tum Shreya ko chahte ho jaise tum team ke har member ko chahte ho, bas. Salunkhe sahab, Freddy, Purvi, Sachin... humare sab saathi. Kamse kam pichle saal se maine jo bhi dekha tumhaare andar, mujhe toh wohi laga. Ab apne aap se pooch, apne andar... kya mehsus karte ho tum."
Daya was silent longer than ever at his words. He began slowly pressing the stone deeper into the moist soil with his boot. He turned his attention towards another one, only to realize it was a well-camouflaged toad which croaked in alarm and hopped off towards the pond. Both of them shared a light laugh over this, and Abhijeet deftly observed Daya's expressions, seeking any hint of what he was actually feeling.
"Ek aur round ho jaaye, Abhi?" asked the latter. "Baithe baithe thak gaya."
"Haan haan, kyun nahi?"
They exited the fountain's area and moved farther onto the northern side, with its rows of rose bushes and fruit trees, creepers entwined around their dark trunks. Ivy spread over the boundary wall. Two night birds were flying together overhead, their mating cries soft and soothing. Daya looked up at their silhouettes against the moon as they walked, his countenance quite impassive.
"Agar woh sach mein mujhe chahti, toh natija kuch aur hi hota", he said quietly at last.
Abhijeet remained silent. Their walk had slowed down as they moved through the bushes beyond which a line of pansies reared prettily.
"Jab tumpe mujhe maarne ka ilzaam laga tha..." Daya continued, still looking up, "tab usne sab ke saamne tumhe -"
"Woh rehne do yaar", said Abhijeet quickly. "Usne apni galti maan li na. Ab purani baato ko kyun yaad karein?"
"Baat sirf utni nahi hai, Abhijeet", said Daya. "Baat ek mindset ki hai. Uske baad toh humne uske baare mein kuch nahi bola. Par ab phir..."
Abhijeet remained silent again as Daya observed the birds playfully tussling overhead, his eyes narrowing. He knew Daya was recollecting many things. The disastrous first meeting at Shreya's house, their unpleasant meeting by the lake, the fiasco at Tarika's birthday party, the news of her engagement in the bureau.
"Mujhe toh yehi lagta hai ab ki inn sab ke baad, agar humare beech pyaar jaisi koi cheez hoti toh sab kuch vaise ho jaata", said Daya finally, coming to a halt and idly plucking a flower from the jasmine hedge. "Na woh mujhse kuch bol paayi, na main. Siddharth ke saath ab kitni khush hai woh. Aur main..." he smiled wryly, plucking a couple of leaves off its stem, "Siddharth ko bachaate waqt hi faisla le liya tha maine. Ab doosron ki khushi mein hi apni khushi hai na."
Abhijeet nodded slowly. "Baat toh sahi hai."
"Woh sirf meri teammate hai, Abhijeet", said Daya calmly. For the first time, the subtle knot in his voice seemed to ease. "Hum dono galat fami mein thi. Humaare beech kuch hona nahi tha... hum ek team mein hain, co-workers hain aur ek doosre ko support karte hain, utna bahut hai. Uske aage kuch tha hi nahi, bas humari galat soch thi."
Abhijeet smiled, and put a soft hand on his shoulder. "Tumhare himmat ki daad deta hoon Daya... sach ko qubool karne ki himmat. Teammates hona bhi toh bahut badi baat hai. Hum sab ne khatarnaak se khatarnaak maukon pe ek doosre ka saath diya hai. Par agar team ke beech ishq hone laga, toh duty par bhi asar padega na."
"Bilkul padega", said Daya, absentmindedly plucking a few petals from the flower. "Aur ACP sir toh kabhi nahi chahenge ki officers ek doosre ke baare mein aisi feelings rakhein. Duniya mein kitne purush aur mahilayein ek doosre ke saath kaam karte hain, ek doosre ke kareeb bhi hote hain par bina ye ishq-visq ke chakkar mein pade huey. Humaari bhi bahut female colleagues thi. Asha ko hi dekho. Ab apni Purvi ko dekho. Mera sochna hai woh sahi raasta hai."
Abhijeet nodded and patted his shoulder. At long last, he felt relaxed. A weight had lifted off his mind and soul. Things seemed to be going right at last. But there was one thing still left... the root of the majority of their problems in that crisis.
"Tumne abhi bhi uss letter ki sacchayi mujhse poochi nahi, Daya", said Abhijeet.
Daya chuckled. "Ab farq kya padta hai, boss. Sab kuch toh khatam ho gaya. Mujhe pata hai tumhaari koi badi majboori hoga, aur tumne jo bhi kiya meri aur sabki bhalayi soch ke hi kiya hoga. Mujhe koi saboot nahi chahiye... tumpe humesha bharosa rahega mera."
Abhijeet smiled sadly. "Tumhe nahi chahiye, par mere dil pe jo bojh hai, uska kya? Mujhe bhi ab tumse sab sach bata dena chahiye. Jaise tumne kaha, ab sab khatm ho chuka hai... kamse kam tumhe toh ye jaanne ka poora haq hai."
He put his hand into his coat, and pulled out the still sealed letter. Daya eyed it with a little surprise.
"Tum isse apni jeb mein liye ghoom rahe the?"
Abhijeet smiled again. "Mann maanta hi nahi tha, tumse baat chhupana. Pata tha bataane ka waqt jaldi hi aayega. Ab ye lo... aur suno, main Shreya ko ye letter kyun nahi de saka. Meri taraf se, ek baar phir tumhe sorry."
Daya took the letter, and before a surprised Abhijeet calmly tore it in half, envelope and all. "Katha prarambh kijiye, Prabhu. Sun raha hoon."
"Accha..." said Abhijeet, looking slightly alarmed by his tone and actions. "Bataun?"
"Bola na", repeated Daya in a bored voice, tearing each half of the letter into quarters.
Abhijeet slowly and steadily revealed the truth. All of it. Daya's eyes grew wide.
"Ye kya bol rahe ho??!!"
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