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HAND IN HAND – Chapter 13

HAND IN HAND

The Reunion Of A Story

CHAPTER 13

 

“Thank you for meeting me here,” Karan shook his hand with a young man. Fair, well built and tall, the inspector smiled at Karan while they shook hands. Wearing a black polo t-shirt, jeans, shoes and black shades, it was hard to identify Ajit as a Senior Inspector in the Crime Bureau. They stood in the work-shed of an old abandoned factory that Karan had recently purchased. “Not a very nice place to meet, but I wanted this conversation to remain discreet.” Karan added.

“It’s alright, Karan. I hadn’t seen you in a long time either. I wish we met under better circumstances. I heard about the accident. Karthik did tell me the accident was silenced as there were no eye witnesses. We assumed it was just a regular mishap and the silence was to avoid publicity, until you called me earlier. Anyhow, what can I do for you?”

Karan walked over to his car, dumped his coat into the seat, took out a notepad and pen and walked back to the front of the car. “Ajit, the accident did happen. We did silence it to avoid the publicity. But that’s not it. I have reason to believe it’s a planned assault and this isn’t new for me, getting threats. But people actually planning and taking action, that is new. I think all of this was staged to get me. I was supposed to take that vehicle to office yesterday, but I took the other one so I’d drop it off for regular service.” Karan went on to explain the incidents to the old friend from school. He made sure he wrote down everything he picked up from Surbhi while talking to her and listed out any possible suspects for the police. Handing the notepad over to Ajit, he said, “I was still considering to counsel with you and check if I should file a legal complaint.”

“That wouldn’t be a good idea yet,” Ajit said, sitting on the bonnet of Karan’s car. “The problem is that none of whatever you’ve said leads us to any clue apart from a blue sedan. I don’t think that’s a lead good enough for the police. Even if it was, it’ll all backfire if this was a random accident and you know how media works. I’ll do one thing. I’ll get some of my men to look up the matter off the records. I’ll let you know if I find anything this week. I may not be able to help after that. I’m moving out to Mumbai. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“It’s alright. If you need anything else or have any information, just call me. Good luck in Mumbai, though. You’ll get to live quite the cop life out there,” Karan managed to smile, trying to set a lighter tone to the conversation. “Yeah, right. Your sense of humor is improving, I’ll give you that. Anyway, I’ve to get going. We’ll meet up some other time.” Ajit shook hands with Karan before leaving in his car. Karan got back into his car, drove back into the city.

After almost half an hour of driving through the busy streets of Bangalore, he stopped to a screeching halt in front of that one store he could never stop visiting. The Ice Cream Store was one of his favorite spots in the city. For the last two years, his dieting regime had prevented him from eating here, but he would make sure he’d take the delicacies back home. Hesitant to go inside, he waited in the car for a while. “Why? Why am I doing all this? I haven’t even tried to get near her life, and still she went through so much. If I let her into my life, I’ll end up destroying hers.” Karan rested his head on the back rest, trying to gain control of his emotions. He felt guilty for everything that happened to Surbhi. Had he sent her back to the United States the day she got her job, things could have been a lot better. Atleast, he knew she would be safe, far away from him. “I should send her back right away. Any more time, and she’ll come under the danger my family is already in. After all, I am Sharath Singhania’s son, the man capable of destroying everything and everyone close to him.” At that moment, he punched the steering so hard, the horn went off, and a security guard, noticing that there was someone at the driving seat, came rushing to him.

“Sir, would you want to visit the store?” the security guard asked politely, “There are other people waiting to park.” Karan had almost forgotten where he was. “I’m sorry, I’ll drive out.” Just as he turned the vehicle on, he got a call.
“Karan, Ajit here,” said the voice from the other side. Karan was alert now. “Yes, tell me Ajit. Anything for me?”

“Yeah, man. The blue sedan guy is this local thug, trying to loot people. He stole the car from some guy. It’s a remodeled Skoda Rapid, painted in that color. It’s not easily identifiable. There have been three cases filed with the same M.O. My guy nabbed him around ten minutes ago. He’s clean. Apparently, he was following your vehicle in the hope that you’d stop somewhere and he’d rob you out. He went nuts right after the truck rammed into the car. We found the truck driver too. He’s alcoholic, but his story checks out. The owner was ready to pay compensation, as long as you don’t book any charges. I don’t think there’s any kind of assault. But just to be sure, I’ll check their backgrounds once again. But apart from that, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.”

“Oh,  alright. Thanks a lot, Ajit. That was quite fast.” Karan was relieved. After bidding goodbye, he turned the vehicle off and walked into the store. “Red Velvet, with vanilla ice cream, and no chocolate syrup” he placed the order. He smiled as one of the staff packed the dessert with care. He paid the money and walked out with the container. He drove home as quickly as possible. He left the car and keys in front of the porch and called Ganesh to park the vehicle. He wore his jacket quickly, and walked inside with the cake and ice cream. To his surprise, no one was there in the hall. The scene when he came home on Saturdays was usually all the three ladies watching some Bollywood movie and making plans for Sundays. He walked to the kitchen to keep the cake in the refrigerator. Keeping the cake in the refrigerator, he went back to his room. He entered the room, scanning through his mail on phone.

“Why are you so self-obsessed, Mr. Singhania?” Surbhi jumped up from the couch. “What the hell?” Karan was startled. He soon retained his composure. Avoiding any eye contact possible, he walked towards his bedside table and kept his watch and phone. “Ms. Kapoor, I understand you do not feel the need to ask my permission to walk into my room anymore, but at least don’t scare me. Also, may I know what you’re doing in my room?” Karan took off his coat and walked into his wardrobe to put the coat back on a hanger. “We’ll get to that in a minute, but tell me, I’ve seen you pride on your instincts and reflexes, and just when you walked in, you didn’t even bother to see if anyone was there. I mean, it’s possible someone could be hiding in here to make an assault. Or you know, some sniper could be hiding over that building,” Surbhi stopped to point to a tall apartment complex that was a couple of roads away, but was close enough to see the details. “Life is not Call Of Duty, Ms. Kapoor. I have better things to worry about than some imaginary sniper trying to aim for my forehead. Now, if you’re finished, I’d either like you to leave my room, or tell me why you’re here. I would prefer the former.”

“Your sense of humor is kind of pathetic. No, not ‘kind of’, it is pathetic,” Surbhi retorted. “I came here to thank you for arranging everything in Chandigarh. I would have done a good job myself, but you know, you were considerate, and I think that’s a start to a change in your behavior. And I think I should really appreciate that.” “So, are you thanking me or appreciating me?” Karan from a few months ago would have just walked away from such conversations, but the Karan now was a different guy. Maybe he still hated conversations like that, but the fact that it was with Surbhi increased his tolerance by a notch. “Please don’t bother to answer that. It was rhetorical. You could have come over after I came home. Why did you have to sit in my room and wait till I come?” “Oh, I was streaming ‘Silicon Valley’. There’s a router in this room, so the reception is better than the guest room. Have you watched it?”

“Do I look like I am a guy having time to watch Silicon Valley?” Karan shot another rhetorical question. He thought it was best to avoid such topics. “Yeah, you do have a point. You’re not wasting your life like me. You’re living the dream. Anyway, I want to know why you said you like Chocolate instead of Red Velvet. Didn’t you want me to know?”

“I think you’d find the answer to that question in the refrigerator.” Karan just walked away into the walk-in wardrobe. He was relieved that his family was out of danger. He was at a loss of words to answer questions that Surbhi usually asked, and he would always leave her the option of interpreting his actions. He could not muster enough courage to be vulnerable with her, in the fear of expressing what he felt. Karan grew up learning that no one cared how he felt. All that people cared about was how he could sort himself out despite all that. He didn’t like it, but he blended in. He learnt to bury everything he felt deep within him, and just focus on what he had to do. Soon, he became comfortable with that way of life.  He was prepared for a dull, smooth and monotonous life that he could lead on a personal front. But this girl had walked into his life, and she took it by a storm. He feared that his life was changing dramatically, but he was ready to face it as long as it happened because of Surbhi. He was reluctant to agree, but he knew there was a mystical spark that brought them together. It was only a matter of time before he caved in. For the first time in years, he wanted to tell someone how he felt. One moment, he felt he was doing the right thing, the next he would grow skeptical about the same. Deciding it wasn’t the time to worry about it at that moment, he quickly put on a plain white shirt coupled with his favorite denims, folded the sleeves up to his elbows, put his watch back on and walked into the hall, only to find Surbhi staring at the container now on the dining table.

“What are you doing Ms. Kapoor?” Karan asked, jolting her from the trance. “I was just thinking if my recipe is better than this one right her? I know for a fact it is, but then if I didn’t eat this, you’d feel bad. Wouldn’t you? Or maybe that’s what you wanted, for me to doubt my own capabilities. You didn’t trust my ability to make a good cake, so you went ahead and brought this one, just so you could say this cake is better than the one I could have made.” Karan could bet Surbhi said all of that in one single breath.

“Do you even listen to yourself when you speak?” Karan was flustered. “Now, I didn’t have any of that in my mind. I just didn’t want you to make a mess out of the kitchen when Ma’s not there. Moreover, this is Bangalore’s finest. I thought you should taste it. But if you really don’t want to, leave it back in the refrigerator, and it’ll be gone before you know it.” “No Mr. Singhania, I didn’t mean it that way. Anyway, I’ll get you a fork, just wait,” Surbhi panicked at the thought of losing such a tempting cake.

“I don’t eat that anymore. No sugar,” said Karan. “Come on Mr. Singhania, it’s not like you haven’t had any cheat days so far. And a little cake and ice cream does no harm. You can shout at me sometime this evening, and I’m sure all those calories will burn right away. Also, I don’t want you to stare at me eating. It’s going to be a mess and you’re not going to like it. I say you become a part of this celebration. Hang on until I get another fork.”

“Alright, make it a spoon and a bowl. I do not want to be party to this mess you claim you’ll make,” Karan didn’t have to resist much. Also Neha and Shalini weren’t there to throw him dirty looks. “Oh boy, you’re so not getting a spoon. And definitely not a bowl,” Surbhi seemed pretty serious about that. Karan started to feel a little uncomfortable. Why would she want them to eat in the same bowl? Wasn’t it going to be weird? As the thoughts raced his mind, all he could say out loud was a squeaky “Why?” “I’ll tell you why. You take smaller bytes with forks, because you can’t handle quantities like you do with spoons. And you’re not getting a bowl, because I would have to share the dessert equally with you, which is very disturbing,” Surbhi had her theories.

“Whatever, but I am not eating in the same bowl as you are if you’re not going to keep it clean,” Karan had his terms and conditions established before the grand dessert. “Fair enough. But, you’re going to have a two of these kind of slices without complaining about your diet if I don’t like this cake and decide to bake one of my own the next time. Is that a deal?”Surbhi was just too excited that things were going normally.

“I’m sure it won’t come to that.”Karan was resisting the argument, but giving up wasn’t his way either. She finally returned from the kitchen after heroically figuring out where the forks were. He waited till she had the first bite of it. To his surprise, she didn’t react. She seemed to close her eyes and went blank without expression. She slowly pushed the bowl towards him. “Mr. Singhania, this cake, right here, is literally ambrosial.” Karan finally took a deep breath. “I thought you didn’t like it. You didn’t react for such a long time.” “Because it would be a sin to not enjoy each bite to the last bit. Pun intended.” Karan let out a gentle sigh, and leaned back. He took the bowl into his hand, and carefully scraped out a tiny piece of the cake without the frosting and ice cream. She smiled at how much he tried to avoid the cake, even after getting on board with the cheat day conspiracy. “To what do we owe the pleasure of such divine food, Mr. Singhania? I’m hoping for some good news.”

“I don’t think we have anything to worry about the accident, Ms. Kapoor. The car definitely was following you. But the truck was just a case of DUI. The guy in the car was a local thug. He’s safely put into custody right now. We don’t have to worry about a planned assault. I think that’s pretty decent news, considering the stress of yesterday.” Karan was relieved.

“That’s great news. It should have been the accident that sent my head spinning. Anyway, life can return to normalcy.” Surbhi said, while taking another bite of the cake. Sitting on either side of the corner of the dining table, they relished their first dessert together. Karan’s mind drew him back to the banquet in Santa Clara. He could never forget how beautiful she looked. With every passing day, what he felt for her just grew stronger. He sat there, looking into her eyes, as she dug deep into the dessert with a child-like happiness. If that precise moment, lasted for an eternity, he would have given anything to be a part of that spectacle. While Karan was lost in his thoughts, Surbhi looked up to find him smiling gently at her. She let out a gentle smile, and gently tapped him in the shin. “Mr. Singhania, what are you looking at?” She tried to be as soft and calm as possible. If she got loud, chances were, they’d get into an argument.

“Huh?” Karan suddenly pulled back to reality. Relenting that he let himself do it over and over again, he murmured, “Coffee.” Surbhi covered her mouth with her left hand and let out a cough. She smiled, “Sure, coffee. I can see that.” He knew she had caught him. He got a little defensive, “Ms. Kapoor, I’m not joking. I haven’t slept much last night. I need my caffeine. I’m going to make some. Do you want a cup, too?” Surbhi took the fork from his hand, put it in the bowl, and stood up. “Well, if you’re offering to make some, I’d hate to deny; but with milk and sugar.” They both walked into the kitchen. She put the dessert bowl into the trash can, and washed the forks under the tap before tossing them into the dishwasher. Meanwhile, Karan took two mugs, put sugar and hot milk in one, piping hot water from the thermos flask into another, and waited for the decoction to drip. As soon as the last of the decoction dripped into the coffee container, he poured them into the mugs. He put a spoon in each, left her mug on the kitchen table and tapped the spoon against the wall of the mug and turned back to leave with his own mug, without saying a word. Surbhi was busy looking at something on her phone that she did not realize he had left until after a long time. She picked her mug up and went back to her room to enjoy the coffee Karan had made for her.

 ———————

“Please, Mr. Singhania,” Surbhi was on the verge of begging. It had been a week since the accident. While Karan was a lot more amicable towards Surbhi, with him being less hostile towards her, he hadn’t stopped worrying. He almost led a curfew at home. He had been very serious about no one leaving home without letting him know and the ladies were, in fact obeying his command, albeit fearfully. And whenever they did want to go out, he’d make some other arrangement that did not involve them having to go out of the house. Surbhi took her time to heal, both from the shock as well as body ache that seemed to be recurrent after she refused to take the analgesic.

She walked into his room with him this time, before he slammed the door shut. Of late, Karan seemed to have decided not to raise his voice while arguing with Surbhi. He found avoiding the talk to be a better way to gain control over the situation. But clearly, that strategy didn’t seem to fare so well. “I am not going to tag along with you to a mall, even if I were to let you go. But that’s moot because I’m not letting you go.” Karan was cautious, a tad too much, one would say. The way he saw it, despite the incident in the past week not being an assault, it had opened up a possibility of one. At least a few more days, he’d have to be vigilant. “Listen, the only reason I’m asking you to come with me is because I know you wouldn’t let me go alone; that, and because you have an extremely boring life.” He suddenly cracked his knuckles, and crossed his arms, that almost stretched the sleeves, to reveal his very distracting, and well toned biceps. A standard maneuver, and Surbhi realized she just needed another minute to hammer the last nail in the coffin.

To anyone else, it would seem as though Karan had made his mind and was not going to amend his ruling. But Surbhi knew better than that. Whenever he was about to lose to his own decision, he’d change his body language to appear stern and decisive, playing the other person’s mind. “Listen, Mr. Singhania. You’re going to trap me in a hell lot of work load, and I’ll probably go back to the states in a couple of weeks. I’m not asking you to let me go every day. Just today. And I’m not asking to go alone either. Aunty can’t play. I can’t play alone. Neha isn’t into bowling. And I am looking for someone competitive. I think the description fits you. So, Neha and Aunty will be at home. You’ll be with me. Are you trying to protect someone else apart from the three of us?”

Karan realized it was pointless to keep things to himself, especially when it came to Surbhi. Laying it out was the best way to come to a conclusion. “I think it’s too early to think no mishap will happen soon. I just have a bad feeling about this.” “That’s the thing, Mr. Singhania. We keep looking for a window of opportunity all through. But when a wide door presents itself, we are led to the delusion that it’s a trap.”

“With good reason and experience,” Karan added. “Agreed,” nodded Surbhi, “But how long will you avoid every opportunity living in the fear of falling into a trap.  I get that you are only taking precaution. But escaping life to keep it safe, that’s just as bad. Moreover, if you believe staying at home is safe, Ma and Neha are safe. As for me, I trust you, more than myself, with my life. I mean, if it had been any other way, I wouldn’t have flown all the way from home just because you sent a mail and a video attachment.” She knew she’d hit the right spot. The effect on Karan might have been varying from a meltdown to the guilt of not trusting her judgement, but any one of those effects was good enough to cause a genuine change of heart. She was contemplating what she had told him, when it crossed her mind, she had called Shalini Ma. She revered her own mother, despite having no recollection of her. She remembered not being able to get herself to address Anjali as her mother, because she thought it meant losing a painful, yet real memory of a parent she had lost. But oddly today, she didn’t feel odd calling Shalini, Ma. She tried to contemplate, but soon realized Karan was about to say something. She shrugged off the thought and tried to focus.

“Alright, if you’re that insistent, I’ll come with you. However, it doesn’t mean I agree with you.” “Right, because life doesn’t ever get that good. We all compromise, Mr. Singhania. I put up with you, you put up with me. It’s that simple.” Surbhi tried to lighten the mood. “So, get ready. I’ll see you in the living room in an hour.” Surbhi was visibly excited. She walked up to the door and realized something as horror struck her face. She turned back, walked up to him, until she was awfully close to him. She held him by the lapel of his coat, pulled herself up to his face, almost terrifying the man. “You’re wearing denims, a tee-shirt, and sneakers. No coat, no collar. No formals. I don’t want people to think I have no friends so I come to bowl with my security detail. And if I find any of that on you, trust me, those abs that you’re trying hard to keep in shape won’t help when I throw a solid right hook to your eye. Understand?” “Yes, ma’am.” Karan smiled.

“Good.” Surbhi still kept her serious face, before she let go of his coat. Setting the lapels straight with her nimble fingers, she hurried back to her room before it became awkward for either of them. She had supposedly planned everything. Or so she thought. The entire plan was to set up a ruse to make Karan relax the curfew to give Neha and Shalini some window. If that did not happen, she would still be able to give leverage to Neha to blackmail her brother to let her go to an outing the following weekend. But she was in complete denial of the fact that she wanted to spend more time with him. She was surprisingly fast. Dressed in faded black denims, a black tank top with graphic print of Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine, a white button-down cotton shirt left unbuttoned, sleeves folded to her elbows, paired with a white sports watch, she quickly combed her long black hair, which came up to well below the shoulders curling up a bit towards the end, until she was convinced she looked her best. She didn’t remember being worried about dressing ever. But this time was different. With Karan, she wanted things to be perfect. She was messy, unplanned, and spontaneous, yet meticulous, far-sighted, and decisive. She checked herself out in the mirror until she lost count, and each time trying to convince herself that it wasn’t a big deal. But the matters of heart could not be comprehended by the mind.

She picked the black vanity bag, and walked out of her room to find Karan tying his shoe lace in his room.  He stood up and started combed his hair with a brush. Surbhi was blown by the way he looked. He was wearing a granulated white cotton tee-shirt with a graphic print of Darth Vader’s face, or rather a mask and a huge “STAR WARS” title printed below the mask. Paired with faded black denims and white sneakers and a black chronograph watch, he was exuding confidence like a fashion model, and was just as handsome as he would look on any other day, perhaps more. Surbhi was in awe with his biceps, more so since the sleeve had fit perfectly onto his biceps, not too lose to make him look thin, or too tight to cause discomfort.

“Wow! I did misjudge your latent sense of fashion, Mr. Singhania,” Surbhi walked in. “What do you mean?” asked Karan, still looking into the mirror. “I expected you to have tee-shirts, but not graphic prints. I’ll be surprised if you even know something about Star Wars.” Surbhi was still amused looking at him. She playfully knocked a punch to Karan’s abs. “Ms. Kapoor, just because I run a multi-national company doesn’t mean I’m immune to pop culture. But I’m sure we’re not here to discuss the Skywalkers.” He had walked to the door by then to settle his sneakers.

“Of course, we’re not. My apologies. Shall we make a move?” Surbhi grinned from ear to ear.

“After you,” Karan let out a faint smile, pointing outwards with one hand as he held the door open for Surbhi with the other.

To be continued…

Karthik K R

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