I bend myself and interlocked my hands. I would often sit like this whenever I am in deep thought. It was past midnight, and the dread of something grave had insidiously gripped my mind. He had never been late, neither gone anywhere without informing me. But now what made him do so? As I was wondering, a sudden knock on the door shook me.
Who could be at this time? Surprisingly I went out to open the door, but there was no one!
I am residing in flat no 203 which has a narrow lobby and a residence of Mr and Mrs Rodrigues. I know they sleep early. There was no other noise except dim light from outside which penetrated through the window over the wall. Suddenly I heard a sound of footsteps as if someone is stepping down the stairs. A fear permeated through my spine.
I was shocked at this intrusion, soon I reconciled myself, maybe it’s just an illusion; anyhow I retraced my steps towards my room.
I was married two years back to a man from a Brahman family. He was tall, fair skinned and broad-shouldered. It was love at first sight. I first met him in an IBP, a local bank where I was working as a customer relationship manager while MK had joined as an Assistant manager of the finance department. The first year went easy and happy but suddenly an unexpected happened.
It was morning 12th June, Mohinish had woken to appear normal, but I could see through his face that he is tense. On other days, he would shout to invite my attention and get things hurried up, but that day he appeared calm, quite strange. Maybe an office tension!
I look at the watch, it is 10 oh my Gosh! He is never late; sweat began to appear on my forehead. I dialed his number several times but no response. I called his office, but the secretary replied
“He had not turn up in office today.”
“What?” he had never done this since the day we were married. I was literally shocked.
I called all his friends and relatives, but the answer was negative. His parents had already expired as far I know about him, he was the only son. It was all the more surprising when I found that Mohinish was not with Rihan too. Rihan was Mohinish best friend and his colleague.
As soon Rihan came to know, I am alone, he turned up.
“Don’t worry, he will come back”. The night passed and still there was no message from Mohinish. Without wasting time, we rushed to the police station and filed his missing report.
Now two months have already passed, I am still not aware where he is? Every day I would visit the police station and reply would be the same, “We are searching”.
As I was yawning and tossing from one side to the other on my bed, the doorbell rang again, this time it was ferocious ringing, and the time, was 2. Meanwhile, Rihan had already left, with a promise to again come back in the morning.
Somehow I skidded towards the door and peeped through the keyhole. Yes, there was someone outside in a white shirt.
I shouted who is it? A familiar voice touched my earbuds, “open the door fast”. I could not resist opening it.
My eyes were wide opened and face anguish and surprise. I stumbled but the two hands extended to hold me from behind and brought me inside.
Mohinish appeared totally different, with beared and eyes swollen, it seemed he had not slept neither shaved all these days. Finding him in this situation, I fainted.
When I regained my consciousness, the sun rays were falling through the window panes. He bent over me. I could see he was tensed. His eyebrows had twitched and a scar could be very well seen on his face.
I got up and blurred,”Where were you all these days? Your’s phone was also switched. I started blurting out questions one after another in a single gasp without even waiting for his reply. Incongrocusiouly, he replied, “I will tell you everything, but first bring ne something to eat, I am hungry”.
I hurried towards the kitchen to find sausages, sandwich and a warm glass of milk. He ate like a savage.
“I must inform Rihan”, but he snatched my mobile insisting me to keep mum.
Why I asked. He retorted, “We are in danger”.
I could see his eyes raging in both anger and fear,”We have to get away from here. Quick pack your bags.”.
With curiosity in my eyes and languishing, I packed the stuff whatever I could to move towards the car which was parked in the lonely basement. But as soon Mohinish was going to open the door, I heard a gunshot. A bullet flied passed me causing jingle on my earrings, and crossing Mohinish’s shoulders to make a hole in the wall.
Without wasting a second, he jumped behind the wheels and took up speed, as several gunshots roared through the air. I turned back and only ten miles away I could see few men in black were aiming at us. And one middle aged man suddenly turned up from the corner and aimed at the black people. “Fast to the police station, I shrieked, instead Mohinish crossed the BH road and speeded towards highway. I caught a glimpse of sign board, Kamaon Hills.
I could never imagine someone could try to kill us and we would have to leave our home this way. Was it a dream? As far as I know, Mohinish do not have any enemy, then why someone should try to kill us? I had to keep quiet as our life was in danger and he was driving very fast, any reaction on my part could distract him making our car rolling down. I tried to look behind, but Mohinish shook my head while his other arm was controlling the wheel. He shouted, “Do not look behind, cooperate with me, everything will be alright.”
I try to bend my body but felt a pain on my waist so I rested my head on his shoulders and closed my eyes, as car whirled through the turns on the mountains. I went into a deep slumber but Mohinish continue to venture. After three hours of continuous drive, a sudden jerk woke me up.
I peeped outside the window to look where we had reached. There was a check post where few cops were handling the traffic, while on the corner two men were gossiping with each other. I turned towards Mohinish but he was talking to a stout, middle-aged cop. He had a huge moustache which was pointed upwards and eyes were sharp as a dragon sword.
Curious I asked Mohinish, “are we still in danger”, but he replied “No, we are safe now”.
Just few miles ahead from where we were, we saw a huge board, probably of a restaurant. The board was clear now, it displayed, “Westwood Resturant Welcomes You”. Ahead, towards the edge of a cliff, we found a small restaurant which looked quite cool. A wooden roof was constructed of ancient style. Its door painted brown. I nodded at Jack, which was enough for him to understand that we need to freshen up. He applied the break just in front of its door.
The restaurant was stationed on a cliff, appeared to be hanging on it. We went inside and took our seat near the window which opened to the beautiful view of the hills and a deep gorge.
Its interiors wore a look of a traditional Himachal. Its Kathkuni or Kathkundi style interlocked with cedar and raw stones give it distintive identity which is so unique of the state. Ceiling was covered with red bricks, and the lamp stood hanging spreading its tentacle around.
On the other side, few seates were occupied by few men. I noticed the corner table had a South Indian couple. Their complexion was black, but they appeared iconic. Man was in his white Kurta while woman in her traditinal cream sari with red borders. From their gesture, it turned out they are the first time visitors, and possibly on a honeymoon. There was silence yet I can feel inner turmoils, restlessness had draped my soul.
I could make out, he was saying something “bad luck we have again missed them, next time I won’t leave them.” I alerted Mohinish but he was busy ordering a beer bottle, two chopsuey mixed vegetable noodles.
I again tried to bring Mohinish’s attention towards the couple, he nodded,”Yes I know, but we should not react, just remain quiet, and enjoy the lunch ”
It was a sumptuous offering, and after paying the bill, I went to wash, but on my way, I tumbled and hit the table making a glass of water overflow on the sari of the same woman. I immediately covered my face with my scarf, apologised her with a hand gesture and before she could raise her voice, I rushed towards the wash.
Meanwhile, Mohinish was already in the car. I also instantly freshened up and speeded up to take my seat beside him.
I looked back and saw the duo howling and screaming, but we were now far away. I got sarcastic over my small victory and Mohinish too grinned.
When we were quite far off, Mohinish excitedly shrieked, we have reached our destination, look. I raised my eyes to see a huge gate in front of me, as if road has ended. Over the gate was written “ ‘Indian Army Cantonment” , and beside it I could dimly see a small building as fog had blanked the area. As far as my eyes could reach there were few cottages with gardens in each one of them. It was nestled amidst the Himalayas decorated with Deodars on its slopes. It was overwhelming, a Dev Bhoomi (land of gods), a heavenly site. There was literally peace in its very aura.
On the other side, the landscape was radiant blue with multicolored flowers and leaves were giving a refreshing look. I got so immersed in its beauty that I forgot everything. I even forgot that a few hours back our life was in danger.
Just as I was wondering where I am, a soldier came running towards our car and gave a big salute to Mohinish. We then stepped down from the car, and after compulsory security checks, we were headed towards a waiting Jeep which took us to a cottage, where a middle-aged man was waiting to greet us.
He was short height, robust face but with no wrinkles. Both the men shook hands and we entered. The cottage was simply giving an ethnic look. I was surprised to see Mohinish’s photo hanged on the wall.
Sometimes I would look at the photo and sometimes at Mohinish. We all seated while coffee was served. Yes, Mohinish said, “This is my uncle, Brigadier Ragbeer”, my dad’s younger brother. This is our home. My dad was a Major, but he left us early as he succumed to his injuries during the Indo-China war of 1962. He fought bravely and was also posthumously honored with Param Vir Chakar.
Now this where we would live for couple of years, his uncle too grinned and remarked with soft tones, “Yes child, you would live here and believe me you would not have any problem.” Mohinish continued, today I am going to reveal you a truth. I know it would be shocking for you. “let’s get into in our room”.
Meanwhile, the dark clouds had covered the sky, and rains started to dip the landscape, darkened trees and bushes with its droplets. The bedroom was small but very beautiful, decorated like of newlyweds. But for me, it was a strange evening with the husband about whom I knew very little. I didn’t know how many secretes were hidden for me. I could never expect, man who is my husband and a simple and an average looking bank employee could have so many secrets! Am I dreaming or it is true? I was filled with anger and tears, hardly able to understand, whether I should cry or smile.
Mohinish sat in front of me, and looking at my eyes, started, “I am not a bank employee but a Special Investigative Officer of a secret cell, Indian Crime Branch”, and showed me his I-card. Oh! “How could he hide this secret from me”!
I could not reveal you my identity as I was not supposed to tell you or anybody else. My job in a bank was a part of the undercover operation, to unravel one of the biggest scandals of the year involving hundred crore rupees. I need to unravel CEO of the bank, with the suspected involvement of the political leaders, smuggler and gangster. It was a matter of national security, so we had to take each step very cautiously. There was also a risk of terrorist action.
“When I joined the bank, I never knew I will meet you and will fall in love with you”. All happened so suddenly. I was perplexed, on one hand was my duty and on the other were you. After the couple of meetings with you, I knew you are my dream girl and I was quite confident that you would understand me”. I looked at him and said, “Yes, I understand”, though I was not able to reconcile to the fact that he had hidden his identity from me. But afterall he is soldier and what had been destined had happened.
I had collected ample of evidences, he continued but Mahesh Chander of Kalagauan learned about our mission and led his men to catch me. They did not intend to kill me but somehow took ample evidences from me.
So that day when I was going to come out of the bank, I stumbled upon a woman, and just I was going to appologise the lady, four men had already placed their guns on me.
As it was semi- crowded I did not do anything except to surrender myself. They took me into a remote building, at the outskirts, where I was tied up and locked. “Will I budge” never. They beat me with iron rods. Escape seemed to be impossible, but not for me. At the time they were tying me, I had already sent signals to my team.
Soon my team reached the spot. Scuffle started, and exchange of fire shots filled the air. In the exchange, a bullet pierced my left shoulder, and I fell to the ground. I was completely unconcious. What happened next, I don’t know, but all their men were killed and I was shifted in the Army hospital.
My men did not inform you our mission was not over yet and there could be danger to your life too. Rihan was guarding you. Yes, Rihan is an Inspector. He along with his two men had been keeping a watch on you.
I remembered two men were looking at me when I was buying grocery.
“But do you know Rihan is martyerd, and those two men had also attained serious injuries, they are in a hospital now”.
Rihan had shot dead all the men who were firing at us, but more gunshots came unexpectedly from behind and struck him dead, our two other soldiers were also wounded.
Like an innocent child he continued, “I cannot afford to lose you. You are safe here”. As I was feeling quite dumb, “do you understand” Yes, I replied.
It is a small place, yet very peaceful and people are very nice. If you want you can become a teacher in the school over there. I have made all the arrangements.
These words, brought tear in my eyes. I did not cry because I had to live here in this remote area but Mohinish will be going back to Delhi, the next morning to windup his mission.
That night we slept in each other arms as the rains lashed the window panes. A sound of the winds and the thunder covered the snoring of his uncle.
Next morning was another clear day, Mohinish had now worn his uniform and I went to the kitchen, where I met women. She had already prepared our breakfast. After greetings, I stepped out. The atmosphere was lively again
Mohinish had his breakfast and he too joined me outside. “Looking so lovely’, am I right? Yes, I said but not without you.
“Don’t worry I will be back very soon. Mohinish took his bag and meanwhile a Jeep halted in front of us and two men stepped down and gave a big salute. Another man, short heighted but solid build up also alighted down from the back of the jeep. His name is Abdul. MK nodded at him and he went inside the cottage to be with the uncle.
I am leaving Abdul behind to take care of you and uncle. He is a good man. You can send any message to me through him.
With this he embarked on the jeep, which roared out of the gate, fading beneath the mountain curves. I was now in the care of these domicile Himalayas, which stood guarding this small town like soldiers.
Mohinish would be back or not, I was not sure, the only thing I know was I had to now live to wait and to live for these children of the Himalayas”, as few Children passed through the gate with their School bags on their back.” How fast the time changes, no one knows.