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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dead End Street - LBC Post

The Loose Blogging Consortium, a small group of bloggers including Rummuser, The Old Fossil, Maxi, The Old Fossil, Maxi, Shackman and Ashok,  have been blogging along together for several years now, traditionally on Fridays.  With my hectic life, I often don't make it by Friday, but I blog along nevertheless.  I thank the group for the continued inspiration to blog when I otherwise wouldn't  have done so.  This week's topic Dead End Street is contributed by Maxi.


As far as I can make out, a dead end street is a pretty negative concept.  It prevents your easy escape and generally leads to nowhere.

I grew up on a small cul de sac in Dublin's north side and I wouldn't have that negative concept about dead ends.  True, once you drove into the cul de sac (dead end road) you'd have to turn around and go back again to get out. But it was okay.  Our mothers could let us go out to play on the road when we were young  and know we weren't going to wander off too far.  One of our neighbours used to call it 'the keyhole' because of its shape.  Just because you walk or drive into a dead end street, it doesn't mean you can never leave.  Merely retrace your steps and you will find your way out again.  This is also true of life.


Now to add to this topic - two weeks ago, I didn't know them from a proverbial hole in cyberspace.  Now they're like family.  I'm talking about the Bards of the Blogosphere, the blogging group I was inducted into by the Indian blogging hub, Blogadda.  This team, to which I'm honoured to belong, are co-writing a thriller novella and we're loving every minute of it.  We've just finished round two and are waiting to know will we be eliminated or not.  I hope we stay in the game until the end and better still, win the contest.  That way, we'll get our book published.  But win or lose, we're all enjoying the project hugely.   So this topic is not a dead end street for us.  It's a most rewarding and exciting project.

I'll give the links to the various posts containing the chapters, currently existing as blog posts on their respective author's blogs. Please check out the story and follow us.  You can find interviews with various Bards (A Bard a Day series) at my book blog, MBB. Please check us out and read our story if you have time.  My fellow LBC member  and rakhi brother Rummuser assures me he's following the progress and loving the story.  


AND NOW:  THE BOOK  (still a WIP/Work in Progress)

Week 1: 
Chapter 1 - Princess' Day Out
Chapter 2 - The Weekend Brunch
Chapter 3 - The Journey
Chapter 4 - The Phone Call
Chapter 5 - Through the Eyes of a Stranger
Chapter 6 - The Princess and her Pied Piper
Chapter 7 - Shadow play turns real
Chapter 8 - Mysterious Tattoo
Chapter 9 - The Confrontation

Week 2:
Chapter 1 - I'm coming to get you, Princess
Chapter 2 - The evening before
Chapter 3 - A Good morning
Chapter 4 - Trigger happy
Chapter 5 - The Calm before the storm
Chapter 6 - What lies beneath
Chapter 7 - Pandemonium
Chapter 8 - Whodunnit
Chapter 9 - The Divulgence

It's currently a free read online, with the different chapters found at the various blogs of the writers. The story will reach it's penultimate climax and conclusion in the coming week. Please visit, follow the story and above all, respond. Leave comments on our posts and Facebook page.




The Bards of the Blogosphere are on Facebook:  Find 
us here

Image above "Brick Wall" courtesy of Artur84 at freedigitalphotos.net.  The two Bard images above are courtesy of the Bards of the Blogosphere.

Looking forward to the coming week.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

I'm Coming To Get You, Princess - Part II - Chapter 1 - ROMANCE BLOOMS IN KOCHI





                                                                                                                                                              To see the previous chapter  (Part I, Chapter 9), go here                                                                                                                                                             


(Three weeks earlier)

Jennifer waved her journalist’s pass at the security man and walked down towards the conference centre at the hotel, which was just a stone’s throw away from Kochi’s famous Marine Drive. She felt elated to be covering this international conference in her native city.  It was a beautiful  summer morning and there was an air of magic, almost expectancy, in the air.  Her keen eyes, as always,  were on the lookout for a suitable photo opportunity.  Her attention was taken up momentarily by a couple and their cute daughter.  The mother was an impressive lady in a designer sari and a short, almost shaven designer haircut which showed off her sharp features to their best advantage.   The father was  a pleasant looking man sporting a goatee, who looked most uncomfortable in the suit his wife had obviously made him wear for the occasion.

“You know, Shekhar, as the Americans say, you clean up good.  You look so handsome in that suit.  You really should dress like this more often.  Shouldn’t he, Roohi?” said the woman, looking towards her young daughter for support.  The young one, a complete cutie aged around ten, Jennifer guessed, giggled and nodded, obviously agreeing with her mother.”

“I’m outnumbered as usual,” groaned the man, in mock despair.

Jennifer smiled.  A happy family is a lovely thing to see.  Will I ever belong to a family like this? She thought about it and shrugged inwardly.  Maybe, someday……

“Well, well, well!  If it isn’t little Jenny Joseph!  And what brings you here, may I ask?” said a voice from behind, interrupting Jennifer’s reverie.

Jennifer swung around to see who had spoken and found herself gazing into the smiling eyes of Cyrus Daruwala.  Cyrus!  Her old associate and sparring partner from her days in Delhi University.

“Cy?”  She couldn’t quite believe her eyes.

“Jenny?” he replied, not quite believing that it was really her, either.

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times.  It’s not Jenny.  It’s Jennifer.  Jennifer Joseph.”

“I’ve always called you Jenny.  And you always called me Cy….  In fact,  you just did.”

“Just did what?”

“Called me Cy.”

“Did I?  Oh……”  She was caught.  But only for a moment.

“Ha!  I don’t know what came over me.  I must have been distracted,” she replied coolly, acting like she couldn’t have cared less.

“Anyway, what brings you here?”

“What brings me here?  I’m a Kochiite, remember?  I’m a freelance photographer and journalist, covering this conference for a national publication.  And you?”

He smiled.  “I’m with an NGO called Tamso Ma Jyotirgamaya,.  We are militantly anti modern slavery.  We’re a pain in the neck to a lot of politicians and establishment people.  But there’s no other way to pursue your cause, other than by being a persistent pain in the neck.”

“Anti-slavery?  This conference is against human trafficking.”  Jennifer could feel her curiosity rising.

“Human trafficking invariably leads to slavery of one sort or another, whether it’s domestic slavery or sex slavery.  There’s no basic difference between the two except that sex slavery tends to leave the victims stigmatized for life.  We work against slavery in all its forms.”

Jenny was fascinated.  “So, after you completed your BA, you didn’t bother going for the LLB as you’d always said you would?”

“Oh, yes,” he replied.  “I most certainly did.  I completed LLB and LLM at JNU.  In fact, I’m working towards my doctorate.  Legal knowledge is extremely useful in my line.”

“Indeed,” she replied.  Well, Cyrus had always been committed to causes of some sort or another.  It was only natural that his educational choices would reflect that commitment.

“I must say,” he said, changing the subject, “I’m impressed with your beautiful city.  Kochi is…….well, amazing.”

“Yes,” she replied, pride obvious in her voice.  “It’s known as the queen of the Arabian Sea.  It’s rich in culture and history and it’s a big naval and commerce centre.  I don’t know why it’s not considered to be one of the more prominent cities in India.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s no way less than the big four cities.”

“Big four cities?” Cyrus was intrigued.
“Yes. Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata.  You know what I mean.”

“There’s Bengaluru also, nowadays.”

“Right.  And Kochi’s no way less than any of them.”

“Jennifer, I was just thinking.  Maybe you’d like to show me around?”

“Sure, I’d love to,” she replied, to her own surprise.  She’d always considered Cyrus Daruwala to be an arrogant braggart, but for some reason, she was warming to him.   She didn’t quite understand it herself.  “Maybe we could go for a walk on Marine Drive when the day’s session is over.  It’s one of our famous city walks.”

“Great.  Why don’t we swap mobile numbers and catch up later, then?”

“Okay.”  Jennifer was starting to have second thoughts.  Did she really need to spend the evening with Cyrus Daruwala, listening to him pontificating on the evils of slavery? Not that it wasn’t a worthy cause, of course.  But the Cy she knew of old could be a pain if he had a bee in his proverbial bonnet about something.  Which was usually most of the time.

But as they swapped mobile numbers, she found herself looking forward to their meeting later on.  He had matured a lot, she could see that.

“How are things with you, Jenny?  Jennifer, I mean,” he added, correcting himself.  “Your boyfriend won’t have a fit because you’re meeting me later?”

“No worries there.  I’m not in a relationship at the moment,” she replied, a little embarrassed.  Is Cyrus Daruwala checking me out?

“Surprising,” he replied, with a grin.  “I’m amazed you haven’t found some nice Mallu man yet, to make an honest woman out of you.  I’d honestly imagined you’d be married to someone called John Matthew by now and that you’d be the mother of two kids called George and Mariamma.”

“Why, you…..” she replied, stung.  “No.  No John Matthew on the scene right now.  And what about you?  I’d have thought you’d be married to some nice Parsee woman called Perizaad by now, with two kids called Darius and Nargis.”

Cyrus laughed long and loud.  “No sign of any Perizaad on my horizon.  You’re still the same Jenny Joseph.  Always up for an argument.  And please, don’t bother correcting me again.  You’ll always be Jenny Joseph for me.  I still remember how you always used to ask me how come all the Parsee men you knew were called Cyrus.”

“And you always used to ask why all the Mallu women you knew were called Mariamma, and I’d always tell you that you knew very well that wasn’t true and you’d say I was different.”

“Well, that was certainly true.  You always were different.  So Jenny, this evening, then.  I’ll call you up on your mobile at five o’clock sharp.  Be sure you don’t switch it off.   I’ll be waiting for you in the reception of the hotel in any case.”

“Okay, Cy.  I’ll be there.  See you later.”

“Looking forward to it.  See you later……..Jenny.”

*****


And the story continues here.......

 “Me and my team are participating in ‘Game Of Blogs’ at BlogAdda.com. #CelebrateBlogging with 
us.”
 
The team Bards of the Blogosphere comprises of DivsiPRBPeeVeeArpitaDatta Nupur,SulekhaMaria and Roshan.





All's Well That Ends Well - LBC Post

I have been so very busy these last few days that I thought today was Friday and of course it wasn't. So with even more apologies, I present this belated LBC Post.  When the LBC group where throwing topics into the mix, I came up with the idea of using Shakespeare plays as post titles.  He's a tried and tested writer.  He was one of the few writers who actually made a living from his work and his body work still manages to enthrall readers centuries after he died.  That's a unique achievement and very few writers could hope to emulate that.  Unless, of course, your name happens to be J. K. Rowling.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from blogadda.com, the Indian blogging hub.  I love blogadda because they give me books to review and regularly send me emails telling me how awesome I am. Yes, really.  I bet they say that to all the bloggers, but so what?  A compliment's a compliment, right? And let's face it, I'm not even an Indian.  Well, okay, only by marriage, but still.......

So imagine my surprise when I actually got a call from the blogadda office recently asking me if I'd registered myself for the #CelebrateBlogging event.  I had to admit that I hadn't.  I have a humongous workload lately.  My washing machine is broken, my part-time cleaning lady regularly has domestic emergencies and doesn't show up, I have several high maintenance members in my household who very often need my attention NOW.  And then there is the pile of book reviews I haven't yet been able to do.  Do I need extra commitments?  I don't think so.

Yet something told me to go for it, to register for this blogging event.  So I went to the Blogadda website and registered for the #CelebrateBlogging event.  A few days later |I got an email from Blogadda introducing me to nine Indian bloggers.  Roshan (known as Doc), Datta, Priyanka RB, Priyanka V, Divyakshi, Arpita, Sulekkha, Nupur and Neeraj.  Unfortunately, Neeraj had to opt out because of personal circumstances, but we,  the rest of the group, formed a small community known as Bards of the Blogosphere.  We are now in the throes of writing a nail biting crime thriller, yet unnamed, in competition with 29 other blogging groups.  

We've connected on WhatsApp and are having a blast writing this book.  We have been given a set of characters by blogadda, around which to build our story.  Really, how do nine different writers with nine different styles come together in a virtual sense to write a book?  Well, we're nine chapters in and all I have to say is, it's been a wonderful project so far.  I never saw myself as a thriller writer, but all I have to say is it doesn't hurt to come out of your comfort zone and stretch yourself a bit. It's an amazing experience.  I've only ever written ghost stories, sweet romances and family dramas before this, as well as features and blog posts.

It's a fairly young group - mostly in their twenties and early thirties, so at 51, I'm probably the elder lemon of the group.  But in order to bring some balance, I feel it's only 'write' that the senior members of the community should also be represented.  So here I am, doing my bit for the older folk as regards representation.  I'm the only non-Indian in the group too and so far as I know, maybe the only one inthe whole event, altough I couldn't be to sure of that.  Anyway, I'm glad I signed up for this, I'm having the time of my life.  Today, we got the news that we were through tothe second round. Having said that, we have also come to know that no team is eliminated yet.  But we're through and for now, we're delighted.  I hope we remain in the Game of Blogs till the end, so we can finish our story.  If we eventually win the tournament, our book will be published.  Which would be great.

Please like our page on Facebook  You can find it here.  And find our story here and follow it.  A new chapter is published every day and is available on each blogger's blog, depending on who's writing that day by day.  We need a cheering squad and  feedback on the story.  We'll love you to bits if you support us, we promise.

That's all very fine, I hear you say.  But what does this post have to do with the title?  It just so happens that as well as being a Bard, I'm a member of the Loose Bloggers Consortium, a group of international bloggers who blog on the same topic once a week.  The post title is the topic given for this week, by this writer.  Obviously, the best possible end to this particular story would be if the Bards win the Game of Blogs tournament.  So let's see what happens, shall we?

Thanks to William Shakespeare, the Bard of Stratford on Avon, for the inspiring title.  Thanks to the LBC for continued blogging inspiration and to the Bards of the Blogosphere for their commitment and continued support for the current WIP we're all working on.  Not to mention the two "BOB" images above.  And thank you to freedigitalphotos.net for the first image above, "Old Book Spines" by Matt Banks.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Game of Blogs -Team: Bards of the Blogosphere - Chapter 5


To see the previous chapter, go here.



CHAPTER 5

Roohi sat at the breakfast bar eating her cereal.  Shekhar poured her a glass of juice.  Tara usually helped get their daughter ready for school in the morning.  But today, she was going to office  early for a meeting.  As she usually needed a while to get ready, Shekhar was doing the honours.

“Just finish your breakfast, Princess and tell me when you’re ready,” he said.  He usually walked her down to the door of their apartment block for her school bus.  But right now, he had something else in mind.

He walked across the apartment quietly and stood in the doorway of his bedroom, watching Tara get ready for the office.  Having already expertly draped her sari, her lithe form was swathed in designer georgette, adorned with a funky, geometric design.  Her fair, well tended skin gave the impression of  her being a lot younger.  Her expertly cut, short, hair, actually razor-trimmed at the sides, in no way belied her femininity.  Shekhar observed her try on a pair of earrings and reject them with a grimace.  Feminine she may have been, fashionista to boot.  But no one could ever make the mistake of thinking Tara Shekhar Dutta was a pushover without coming to grief.  The thought brought a smile to his face.

She was quite a force, this woman of his.  At work, she was formidable indeed.  But at home, she was the perfect wife and mother.  His wife, Roohi’s mother. 

In the mirror, she spotted him observing her quietly.  Their eyes met.  She smiled.  Or rather, they smiled at each other.  Through the mirror.  It was a special moment.  A moment of understanding.  No words were necessary.  Then Tara continued hunting in her jewellery box for just  the right pair of earrings.

They hadn’t been able to get it together for months, mused Shekhar.  Roohi had been sleeping in their bed every since Kochi.  But she’d settled down a lot, lately.   It was time to get back to normal life again.  Tonight, they’d let Roohi fall asleep in their bed and once asleep, Shekhar would tenderly carry his daughter to her own room and put her in her own bed.  Then he and Tara could resume their intimacy.  Excitement, mingled with desire, thrummed through his body,  Tonight…….

“Daddy!  I’m ready, come, walk me down to the bus.  Mummy, bye bye!”

“Bye, Princess!  Come here and give me a hug,” said Tara, holding out her arms to her daughter.  Mother and daughter embraced tightly.

“Be careful with your mom’s make up, Roohi.  She’s just spent the entire morning putting it on,” cautioned Shekhar, playfully.

“Hmph!  You spend no time at all getting ready,” Tara rejoined, looking at her husband’s T shirt and track pants in mock horror.  “At least one of us has to make an effort.”

Shekhar rolled his eyes and pretended to groan.  Roohi giggled.  “Mummy!  Daddy!  No fighting, please.”

“We’re not fighting.  This is how we have fun,” Shekhar said, laughter in his voice.

“And Princess?  I want to hear all about the general knowledge quiz tonight.  Okay?  Now hurry up and catch your bus.  Or the busman will drive away and leave you here.  Shekhar, get moving.”

“I’m on it, Tara.  Come on Roohi, let’s go,” replied Shekhar.

On the way down the stairs, Shekhar ruminated on their family situation.  A happy, loving, family life, but there were underlying problems.  Shekhar just couldn’t kick that anxiety about Roohi.  He couldn’t even look forward to a night in bed with Tara without wondering if the child would be okay.  If only, he wondered, if only some relative could be persuaded to come and live with them and keep an eye on the Princess when he and Tara were otherwise engaged.  Both his mother and Tara’s mother were tied up with family matters back in Kolkata, however and there were no unmarried aunts who could be prevailed upon to  uproot and come to Mumbai.  Something would have to be worked out, that was certain.  As they reached the gate of their building, the school bus came into view.  Just in time, thought Shekhar.

*****
“Aao Rajkumari.”  Ramesh Jatav, the young bus conductor, helped Roohi on to the bus with a smile he kept especially for her. 

“Why are you calling me Rajkumari, bhaiya?  My name is Roohi,” replied the little girl, as she always did.  The tall, thin youth just smiled.

Tum to Rajkumari ho,” he replied.  He always said the same thing.  Roohi was always Rajkumari for him.  In fact, few people who knew Ramesh could ever recall seeing him smile.  His expression was usually solemn to the point of sadness.  Polite, simple and hardworking, Ramesh’s life was overshadowed by a  terrible sorrow. A  sorrow which was the result of a tragedy that had occurred in his family, at his village in his native Uttar Pradesh, a number of years earlier.  But for some reason, young Roohi Shekhar Dutta had brought a little happiness back to the youth’s life.  Few people would ever know why.

He kept a watchful eye on the children as the bus drove on, noting who was sitting with whom, who was absent that day and so on.  Satisfied that all was in order, he surreptitiously  watched young Roohi as she interacted with her fellows.  That little girl was the living image of his late sister, Pooja.  An image of Pooja, smiling, came into his mind.  His eyes filled with tears, which he dismissed immediately. Pooja was gone and was never coming back.  His beloved younger sister.  His rajkumari.

“If I’m a rajkumari, then you’re a rajkumar,” she would say, laughing, whenever he called her by that special pet name. Ramesh winced.  Rajkumar indeed.  What sort of rajkumar couldn’t even protect his own  sister?

His life was here and now, in Mumbai, looking after the the vehicles of Pandeyji, a UPwala entrepreneur who ran a fleet of buses.  Ramesh cleaned the buses and the garage and helped the driver on this school  run.  He even slept in the bus, as his meagre wages didn’t allow for a proper lodging.    The youth had a dream.  He would become a driver and save up enough money to buy a bus of his own.  He’d start his own fleet and make enough money to call his parents to live with him.  He hoped to get married one day, raise his children here in Mumbai and hopefully take better care of his family than he’d been able to take of Pooja…..

Roohi, the little rajkumari, laughed and the sound gladdened him.  For some reason, that little girl, who had the merest presence in his life, had brought hope to his heart.  The idea that maybe one day, things really would get better.

*****
Here I am, waiting near the school.  Your bus will arrive soon.   You’ll be the third child to get down from the bus, under the watchful eye of that thin young lad who acts the role of bus conductor.  That will be my cue to come up to your side and quickly spirit you away.  It will happen so rapidly that no one will realise you’re gone until you cannot be found.  By then, you will be far out of reach.

There will be a hue and cry and your parents will probably go crazy with sorrow. I wish there could be another way, but sadly, Princess,  there isn’t.  If you’re a good girl and cooperate, perhaps, when this whole business is over and put to rest, I’ll be able to return you discreetly to your family and you can claim back your life.  But that all depends on how things go.

I’ve been stalking you, Princess.  I know your routine as well as I know my own.  I know when you reach the school and when you leave.  I know when you reach home, too.  This is the day I’ve been waiting for.  The day when I take  you away.  You’ve become a danger to me, Princess and I can’t leave you at large when that danger continues to exist.  Which, for now, it certainly does.

I’m wrapped up tightly in gloves and a muffler which covers my my lower visage.  I can’t be seen to stand out, but I can’t leave myself recognizable either.  I just hope this plan is successfully executed, because I’m damned uncomfortable in this get up.  I had to pay a small fortune to get a taxi driver to wait for me.  I told him that you were my daughter and that I had been unable to meet you since my divorce.  I explained that your grandparents weren’t allowing me to see you and that all I wanted was to spend a couple of hours with you and that I’d call him back to return you home.  It took several thousand rupees to make him understand.   Ha!  I’ve always found that money speaks louder than words.

Yes, here comes the bus.  I know what I have to do.  I’m coming closer.  I see your form appearing in the doorway beside the thin lad.  Yes, you are descending and soon you shall be in my grip.  I’m waiting.  I’m beside you now.  I grip your hand firmly and attempt to sweep you away quickly through the crowds, before you even realise what is happening.  I see your eyes look up at me with wonder and surprise, just as they did the last time we met in……….

Uff……I’m feeling a blow to the side of my head.  Where did that come from?  My Princess has slipped from my grasp and is now sobbing, held in the arms of a woman, possibly a teacher from the school.  Who is my attacker?  Uff……another blow.  My assailant is none other than that thin stripling of a lad who is speaking to me in broad Uttar Pradesh Hindi.

Saala……….yeh meri choti behen hai…….haramzaada…..main tera khoon peejaoonga….he’s telling me that this little girl is his sister.  That  girl could not be this lad’s sister….impossible.  I don’t have time to debate this matter…….I’ve got to get out of here.  Fast.  I gather my equilibrium and give the lad the biggest punch in the ribs I can possibly muster and make a run for it.  Thankfully, I manage to extricate myself from the chaotic situation with seconds to spare and make a run for my taxi.

“It’s no use,” I tell the driver as I get in to the car.  “I’ve got to get out of here.  They’ve mistaken me for a kidnapper.  Drive on.”

*****

“Please!  Can someone kindly tell me what ‘s happening here?”  Jennifer Joseph pushed her way through the crowd and found Roohi, sobbing in the arms of Mrs. Purnima Saxena, a teacher who  had been travelling on the same school bus along with her two children, both studying in the same school.
“Aunty!”  Roohi seemed happy to see Jennifer.  Jennifer realised from the buzz going on around that there’d been a kidnap attempt and that Roohi had been rescued by the bus boy.

“It’s okay, I’m a family friend,” said Jennifer to Mrs. Saxena.  “See, I’m calling her mother right now,” she added, taking out her smartphone.

*****
Ramesh Jatav sustained some fractured ribs and a smashed nose as a result of his encounter with Roohi’s would be kidnapper.  Yet he’d never felt better in his life.  It was as if a cloud had lifted from above his head and the sun was shining through again. That dark cloud of helpless misery, which had fallen upon him the day his sister Pooja’s lifeless body had been found in the sugar cane fields, molested and left for dead by a gang of upper caste youths, had somehow lifted.  He had saved his rajkumari.  And deep down in his heart, he felt that Pooja was smiling down on him.

*****
Tara was in a meeting when her secretary interrupted her unexpectedly.  “This had better be good,” murmured Tara, who had been in the middle of giving a dressing down to two members of her  staff who had failed to deliver on an important project and had literally been kept afloat by the extra efforts of other dedicated colleagues.

“Tara Ma’am, there’s a woman on the line called Jennifer Joseph who is insisting on speaking to you.  She says she has urgent news about your daughter.”  Sonali, the secretary, sounded somewhat nervous.

“About my daughter?”  Tara was intrigued and not in a positive way.  “Put her on the line.”  Sonali put the call through. 

“Tara Dutta speaking.  Jennifer, what’s the matter?  Is everything okay?
“Tara, everything’s okay now.  But it seems that there’s been a kidnap attempt on Roohi down at the school.”

“What?”  The normally unruffled Tara Dutta’s horrified reaction made everyone sit up.  Tara pulled herself together.

“Thanks for letting me know, Jennifer.  I’ll be there right away.  Catch you later.”  Putting down the phone, she looked up, into the enquiring faces of her  office staff.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to bring this meeting to an abrupt end,” she said.” An urgent personal matter has come up and I have to leave immediately.  I’ll try to get back later.”  She looked towards Vinod Chawla, her second in command.  “Vinod, I’m leaving the office in your capable hands.  I know I can rely on you.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied. 

“As for you two,” she added, looking at Sonakshi Saran and Anil Singh, the two employees under fire. “I’ve said all I had to say.  I’m giving you both one more chance and I’m telling you not to mess up again.  There’s no room on my team for members who aren’t one hundred per cent dedicated.”
“Yes, Ma’am.  Sorry, Ma’am,” came the replies.  The pair, in spite of extreme carelessness, had been let off with a caution.  Their relief was palpable.   It really could have been so much worse.

*****
Tara generally used the office car  to travel  to and from work and for trips during working hours.  That way, she could multi-task while travelling.  However, today she was just glad to be able to sit back and be  driven to Sengar International School.  Her mobile rang.  Shekhar!  She picked it up immediately.

“Shekhar!  Has the school been in touch with you?”  The school had Shekhar’s number for  emergencies.  He was generally much easier to reach than she was.

“Yes.  Have you heard?”

“About an attempted kidnapping on Roohi?  Yes.  Jennifer Joseph phoned me.”

“Jennifer Joseph?  How does she fit into all this?”

“No idea.  I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.  Where are you?”

“I’m at the school.  I think we should go in together.  You on the way?”

“Yes.  I’ll be reaching in two minutes.”

“Great.  See you then.”

Shekhar and Tara met at the school gates.  They entered nervously, the earlier light mood having been replaced by fear, grief and confusion.

They were ushered into the principal’s office.  Mr. Vikram Singh Sengar, the Principal and proprietor of the school,  was an impressive and scholarly looking man who shook Shekhar Dutta’s hand and offered a gracious ‘namaskar’ to Mrs. Dutta.

“Mr. and Mrs. Dutta, we have all received a great shock today.  Thank God for little Roohi’s narrow escape.”

“Where is Roohi?”

“She’s in the sick room right now, being tended by the nurse.  Mrs. Saxena is with her.  She’s one of our teachers, who usually travels on the same bus as your daughter..”

“Yes.  I know Mrs. Saxena,” said Tara, nodding.  “Has this matter been reported to the police?”

“Certainly.  The police have just been questioning Mr. Ramesh Jatav.  He is an employee of the bus company who  witnessed the attempted abduction and  attacked the kidnapper, giving little Roohi the chance to escape.  The poor lad has sustained some injuries, however and I asked the bus driver to take him to the hospital.  I’ve told them that the school will bear the charges for the young man’s treatment.

“I’m ready to bear the charges.  That young man saved my daughter and it’s the least I can do.”  Shekhar was adamant.  If that fellow had put his life on the line for Roohi, Shekhar was forever in his debt.

“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Dutta.  Our school is committed to the welfare of our children and even though that boy is not our actual employee, he saved one of our children and we’re ready to do whatever we have to do to help him.  Our school is committed to that.”

The couple sat in the principal’s office and drank a cup of tea prepared by a school ayah as Mr. Sengar related what had happened, as conveyed by Mrs. Saxena.  The Duttas  were humbled and grateful when they heard of Ramesh’s bravery.  Normally a tough cookie, Tara Dutta was seen wiping away her tears with a handkerchief.  Next, the police questioned Tara and Shekhar, asking if they had any enemies, any disgruntled former servants, for example.  Tara and Shekhar couldn’t think of a single one.

Unless…..Tara wondered.  She was a tough boss at work and had no mercy on subordinates who failed to deliver.  She considered herself firm but fair, but was there anyone in the past, someone who had slipped her mind, who might have considered a revenge like this?  No.  She’d never  sacked an employee, although she might well have humilated one or two along the way.  Her tactic was  usually to move the offending employees to a desk where they couldn’t possibly do any harm until they just got bored and left.

Enemies?  No, not possible.  Still……

“I’m the editor at the Daily Reportage.  I’ve been told I’m a tough boss.  You have to be, in the world of jouralism.  But I don’t honestly think I’ve ever made enemies.  Not in the dangerous sense, anyway.

“But, as an editor, have you ever published stories that would upset anyone?  We’ve come across cases where newspapers can make some very powerful enemies because of the stories they’ve published.  You might have to think this one over.”

Tara bit her lip.  There was no one who instantly sprang to mind.  Unless………there was that story she had commissioned from Shekhar himself on the matter concerning a certain  government minister .The incident which had occurred at the same hotel in which they’d been staying.  Shekhar had been covering a conference for a foreign publication and because the expense allowance had been rather generous, he’d brought Tara and Roohi along.  As they’d been staying in the same hotel, they had taken the opportunity to claim exclusive coverage of the story.  But no, every newspaper in India had covered that story.  Anyway, the Daily Reportage always tried to keep its reports neutral and non-judgmental.  No, this story couldn’t have been any more controversial than anything else.  And Roohi – Tara’s heart sank….Roohi had had a horrible experience at that hotel – so bad that she’d never talked about it.

Holding back her tears, Tara fought to regain her composure.  “Officer, I really can’t think of anything right now.  But If I remember, I’ll be sure to get in touch with you and tell you.”

“Please do, Ma’am.  It would help us greatly in our investigations,” said the officer.

“May I see my daughter now, please?”  Tara’s question was directed at the principal.

“Certainly, Ma’am.  Kanta!” he called, obviously addressing an ayah, who appeared, clad in a simple sari and stood humbly before his desk.

“Please take Mr. and Mrs. Dutta to the sick room to see  their child,” he ordered.  Obediently, the woman led the way.

Roohi burst into fresh tears when she saw her parents, obviously feeling relieved and secure again.
Tara hugged Mrs. Saxena and thanked the teacher for taking care of her child.

“Ah, no need to thank me, Mrs. Dutta.  She’s just like my own child.  I’ve been travelling on the bus with her for years now.  But that boy, Ramesh, oh, Mrs. Dutta, he’s a hero, I tell you.  He’s from a village near Gorakhpur, my native city and a very simple, gentle boy.  But he noticed that fellow the minute he put his hand on Roohi and he fought like a tiger.  I’ll never forget what I saw today.  I’m so proud of him.”

“We’ll meet him and thank him for sure,”  said Shekhar.  Roohi didn’t speak at all about the incident, just clung to her parents and wept.  She’ll be sleeping in our bed for a while longer, mused Shekhar.  She’d probably be off school for the rest of the week and would probably  have to be dropped to school by her parents in future.  Which was a pity.  As an only child, her parents had been particularly interested in making sure she interacted with her peers as much as possible and the school bus had always been the first option they’d considered as a way of getting her to mingle with other children.

Once at home, the Duttas put Roohi to bed and sat blankly, staring into space.  Tara called the office and informed that she was taking the rest of the day off.  When she heard her mobile ring, she didn’t have the wherewithal to answer it.

“Answer that, it might be the office,” said Shekhar.

“Sod the office,” replied Tara, making a face.  But she picked it up anyway.

“Hi, Tara.  It’s Jennifer here.  Just wondering, how is Roohi?”

“In shock,” replied Tara,  “We’re all in shock.”

“I hope you don’t think it’s too forward of me, but could I possibly come around for a while?  I’d like to see Roohi and perhaps you could use a helping hand……”

“That sounds like a nice idea,” replied Tara, brightening up suddenly at the thought of some upbeat company.  “Please come around if you can.”

*****

Jennifer Joseph had been somewhat prepared to see Tara  perturbed and upset after her horrible experience that morning.  But even she was surprised to see to see the usually  cheerful and confident Tara looking down and defeated, as if she’d been kicked in the gut.  The two women hugged each other the minute Tara opened the door and Tara dissolved in tears and sobs.  Jennifer held the taller woman, soothing and reassuring her.

“I can’t tell you how I feel.  I am so helpless.  To think that someone would try to take away my child.  I can’t be without Roohi, she’s my life.  If something happens to her, it’s all over for me.”

“There, there,” said Jennifer, as if calming a child.  “Your Roohi is fine.  Nothing is going to happen to her.  She’s fine, remember, she’s fine. Fine. There are so many people looking out for her.  Just see how that buswala protected her?”

“Yes.  Jennifer how come you were down at the school today?  Hasn’t your daughter left the school?”

“Yes.  I was down there this morning to complete the final formalities regarding my Caroline’s transfer.  The school in Shimla gave me a few days to get everything together and I had to mail the documents positively by today.  Caroline's  dropping out was done in such a hurried manner.  I was just on my way in to collect the documents from the school office when I noticed the commotion and I was so shocked to see that Roohi was the child at the centre of it.  I’d have liked to have waited at the school to meet you there but I was in a hurry to send those documents by courier, so I said I’d catch up with you later.”

Tara nodded. “Thanks for letting me know this morning.  I feel as if I’ve been run over by a steamroller.”  She shook her head.  “The shock of it all…..”

“Where’s Shekhar? And Roohi?”

“We put Roohi to bed for a while as she was very disturbed and tearful.  Shekhar has gone to lie down with her and just reassure her that we’re here for her.”

“She’ll be fine, I’m telling you.  As for you, you look like you could do with some sleep yourself.  Tell you what, why don’t you go to the bathroom and wash your face?  I’ll make us both a cup of coffee.”

“You want coffee?  I’ll make it for you, just a minute….”

“No, you won’t, silly.  I’ll make it for you.  You’ve just had a nasty shock and you need looking after.  That’s what I’m here for, okay?  Now go and wash your face, I’ll find my own way around the kitchen.  I’m rather good at that, actually.”

Obediently, Tara did as she was told.  Jennifer went into the kitchen and found a saucepan and some instant coffee granules.  She located the milk and sugar and in no time the coffee was bubbling away on the stove. 

Jennifer went back to the drawing room and saw the drinks cabinet.  She spied her prey, opened the cabinet and lifted out a bottle of Black Label  scotch whisky.  “All the better to make you sleep, my dear,” she murmured, adding a large measure to Tara’s cup of coffee.

*****

“What kind of coffee is this?” asked Tara.  “It tastes a bit unusual.”

“It’s Irish coffee, my dear.  Well, if you can call Irish coffee made with scotch whisky Irish, that is.  I ran into some Irish people at a conference I was covering last year and they got me hooked on this stuff.  Apparently, the so-called Irish coffee you get in hotels doesn’t even come close.”

“Hmm.  It’s nice,” said Tara.  “I could get used to this.”

“By the way, I have to apologize, but I just robbed some of your husband’s Black Label whisky to make this.”

Tara smiled.  “That’s not my husband’s whisky.  It’s mine,” she said. 

“Oh!  You drink whisky?”

“I don’t actually.  I just got it from the office as Diwali gift.  I keep it to serve guests.  We  don’t really drink spirits.  I do enjoy a glass of wine occasionally.  As for Shekhar, he likes a beer now and then.  That’s it.  But this Irish coffee?  Hmm, lovely.  I’m beginning to feel quite warm and happy inside now.  You must show me how to make this.”

“Oh, there’s nothing to it.  According to my Irish friends, you just make your coffee whatever way you like it and add a good measure of the whisky.  That’s it.”

“I get it.  Hey, I feel I’m getting really sleepy now.  You must have put more than a drop or two into this.”

“If you’re sleepy, I’ll say it’s good.  Go on to bed, have a rest.  I’m here and I’ll keep an eye on things until you wake up.”

Tara opened her mouth to protest, but the lure of sleep was way too strong.  So she slowly got up and went to the unoccupied bed in the spare room, lay down and let sleep take over.

*****
Tara woke up to the sound or Roohi’s laughter a few hours later and the sound gladdened her mind.  Still giddy with sleep, she got up and walked to the drawing room, where Shekhar, Jennifer and Roohi were watching the re-run of an episode of a  popular comedy show.

 It was as if nothing had ever happened.

Noticing Tara, Shekhar got up and came over to her and took her in his arms.

“Had a good sleep?  Feeling better?” he asked.  She nodded.  Shekhar  hugged her  more tightly.  “It’s going to be okay,” he whispered reassuringly.  She placed her head on his shoulder and sighed.

“Mummy!”  Roohi was by their side, holding up her arms to get into the hug as well.  Tara’s heart melted. 

“Hey!  What a lovely photo that would make.  I should click this one, but I think I won’t.  It’s way too private,” said Jennifer, with a smile.

“Jennifer, Roohi and I have made some dinner,” said Shekhar.  “We’re ready to eat whenever you are, Tara.” 

Tara looked over at Jennifer.  “Thanks,” she said, with all the gratitude she could muster.  “I’m feeling so much better now.”

“Don’t thank me too soon,” replied Jennifer.  “You haven’t tasted my cooking yet.”  Everyone laughed.  The atmosphere felt warm, safe and secure.

“Okay, then.  Let’s have dinner,” said Tara.  “Then we’ll see.  Personally, I have my doubts as to whether it’s safe to let Shekhar loose in the kitchen.  I try to avoid doing that whenever possible.”

“Well, if you don’t like the fish, you can blame him.  I made the rice and the sabzi.  And little chef Roohi, here, made the salad,” replied Jennifer.  “Come, let’s eat.”

*****

“So George is doing so well at the momen, getting such a lot of work and making such good money, we would rather not miss out on this chance,” said Jennifer, later, when they were enjoying a post dinner cup of coffee.  No one wanted alcohol.  It didn’t feel right with a child present.  Jennifer was explaining why she didn’t live with her husband at the moment. 

“You must miss him.  And your daughter too.”  Tara frowned.

“Yes, of course.  But, see,  in about two years, he’ll hopefully have made enough money to buy us a good house.  Not to mention enough money to see us through for a while.  He’ll come home to India and start up a  business here.  If Caroline wants, she can leave the boarding school and live with us again.  At least we’ll have stability in our lives by that time.  Meanwhile, I’m here in India for Caroline in case she needs me and I’m trying to build up my portfolio as a photojournalist.  I’m not one of these women who just wants to live off their husband’s earnings.”

“It’s not just about money, though, is it?  There’s the matter of creative satisfaction also,” said Tara.
 
Jennifer nodded.  “True,” she said.  “The sacrifice will be all worth it in the end.  The truth is, George and I got married because we were in love.  But we were way too young and we hadn’t even established ourselves at the time, that’s why we’re looking after that area now.  Anyway, no regrets.”

“Indeed,” said Shekhar.  "All the best to both of you.”

“Thanks.   Anyways, I’d better leave or it will be late when I get home.  I’m staying with some friends of my husband’s family and they worry about me when I stay out late.  They like to close up the house early and sleep through the night.”

“Don’t you have a place of your own?”

“We’d leased a flat in Bandra for a couple of years, but the plan to send Caroline to boarding school meant that the flat would have been too big for just me and a complete waste of money, so we didn’t renew the lease  this year.  I moved in with the Menon’s along with Caroline just on a temporary basis when the lease expired, but with the problem of Caroline’s admission to boarding school getting held up, I didn’t really have time to look for a place for myself.  I’ve put my name down on the waiting list for a few working women’s hostels, but apparently, those waiting lists are endless.”
Tara looked at Shekhar enquiringly.  He nodded.

“Jennifer, would you like to live with us?  This flat’s pretty big and we have a spare bedroom.”  Tara looked at Jennifer, whose eyes widened in surprise.

“Are you certain?  But,no.  I couldn’t impose.  You guys hardly know me, for goodness sake.”

“I know you cook great food.  And you get along very well with all the three of us.  We’re all working in the media, so we have lots in common.  What do you say?”  Tara wanted her answer as soon as possible.

Jennifer looked lost for words.

“Why, I’m overwhelmed.  This is a lovely home. I’d be honoured to live here.  How much rent are you expecting for the room?”

“We don’t need any rent.  Actually, we’ve been on the lookout for a responsible adult to live with us as we need an extra pair of eyes and ears to be around for Roohi.  Tara’s job is very absorbing and I have a lot of writing commitments which demand  heaps  of background research, which is time consuming.  Even though I work from home, I can’t just drop everything and run every time Roohi needs attention.”

“So what you’re looking for, basically, is a live-in  companion for your daughter?”

“Yes.  Exactly.”  Shekhar was straight to the point.

“Well, I could certainly do that.  My work is very flexible.  I often brought Caroline along with me when I was working and Roohi’s a lovely child, no trouble at all.  Very cooperative.  I think we could do this.”

“That’s great.  Will you need some time to think it over?  Do you need to discuss this with your husband?”  Tara wanted to make sure this was all for real.  It seemed almost too good to be true.

“Not at all.  If it’s good for me, it’s good for him.  When could I move in?”

“Right now, if you wish.”

“So I’ll go tomorrow and collect my stuff from Menon’s and tell them I’m leaving..  And I’ll stay over tonight.  How does that sound?”

“Perfect,” said Tara, relief washing over her.  The day had turned around completely.  A day which had begun on a happy note, then turned into a horrifying experience that the family could never have contemplated, had finally turned around.  Peace reigned again in the Dutta household by the end of the evening.

To continue this story, go here...http://oneandahalfminutes.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/bob-chapter-6-the-princess-and-her-pied-piper/

*****

 “Me and my team are participating in ‘Game Of Blogs’ at BlogAdda.com. #CelebrateBlogging with 
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The team Bards of the Blogosphere comprises of DivsiPRBPeeVeeArpitaDatta Nupur,SulekhaMaria and Roshan.