“Mumbai airport sucks. I’m sick of waiting...!” Kiara moaned and stretched her lovely, slender frame. A few waiting passengers looked their way in disdain. She rolled her eyes at Rishaan, who simply shrugged and looked away. Kiara could really be annoying at times.
“Baby, I’m getting some coffee, want any?” he asked trying to change the topic.
“Airport coffee? No way!” Kiara made a face.
Rishaan walked away, glad to be away from her for a while. He was getting sick of her constant whining. He hoped a weekend at Goa might cheer her up. She was all wound up after their engagement party. It had been a spectacular affair. Kiara’s dad, Mr. Gupta, business baron and CEO of the K.R Group, had ensured that all the who’s who of Mumbai was invited. Fancy food. Champagne. Dancing. Amidst the entire hullabaloo, in an obscure corner sat Mr and Mrs.Sharma, bewildered by the tomfoolery around them. Mr. Sharma making polite conversation with the few who bothered to acknowledge him as the groom’s father and Mrs Sharma smiling nervously around at everyone in general. At some point in the party Rishaan had glanced in their direction and with a pang realised how much out of place his parents felt at their own son’s engagement...
He sat down at an empty table in the cafe. Lazily his eyes roved the half empty cafe and spotted her seated across his table sipping coffee and reading. It was her book that caught his eye – ‘the world of Fatwa’. It was an unusual book. She was in her twenties, dressed somewhat like a hippie. Messy hair and no makeup but sexy nonetheless. She had on a fringed top and flared jeans and some odd looking pieces of jewellery. As he sipped his coffee, he found himself staring at her every few minutes. There was an air of mystery about her. She finished her coffee and was opening her shabby backpack to take out her purse. He found her tugging at the zipper which wouldn’t open. The bag was overstuffed and the zipper was stuck. Rishaan walked over and before she could protest, took her backpack and started working on the stuck zipper.
“Excuse me, what are you doing?’’ she asked rudely.
“Just trying to help,’’ he said. Suddenly the zipper gave away and the backpack opened. Rishaan gasped at the sight of currency notes stuffed inside. Numerous piles of 1000 rupee notes tightly packed. He involuntarily dropped the backpack. The girl didn’t bat an eyelid. She calmly bent over and picked up her backpack. Giving him a vicious look she walked away.
It took Rishaan a minute to recover from what he’d seen – so much cash? Something isn’t right here, he thought. Then he sighed and walked back to the waiting area. He couldn’t be bothered about other people’s strange whims when his own life was nearing a peripeteia.
Kiara was angry. “Took you so long to grab a coffee?’’
Thankfully, their plane was ready to board.
As they settled down in their seats Kiara said frowning, “I hope it’s somebody nice in the window seat. Why couldn’t you let me do the booking? I could’ve booked us in the business class.”
“Kiara, Keep it down, will you? I just wanted to surprise you with this trip, which is turning out to be a big mistake!”
“Oh, honey. Don’t be mad!’’ she purred looking at him with her deep-brown eyes and gave him that very look that had made him fall in love with her, the very first time they’d met. She had been perfect in every way – right from the pearls around her neck and the pinkness of her rosebud mouth, her tinkling laugh, flowery scent and perfect curves. He’d pursued her relentlessly – fawned and fussed over her until she could resist him no more. Thus began a year of love – of long walks, romantic dates and candlelight dinners. That she was a rich heiress made no difference to him then. His friends cautioned him about their familial differences. But he was obstinate. Rishaan was introduced to Kiara’s family. Mr and Mrs Gupta welcomed him into their world of sophistication, although begrudgingly. Everything in their life was spectacular – be it their sprawling mansion or their pretentious parties. They detested anything that was ordinary. When their families finally met, Rishaan couldn’t help but notice the patronizing way in which Mr Gupta spoke to his parents. Then a month ago Mr Gupta had announced that after the wedding, Rishaan would have to quit his present job, which he loved, to helm his business interests abroad. It meant relocation – leaving his parents behind. Suddenly it was all very overwhelming. Their flamboyant engagement festivities had left him befuddled as to whether he really belonged in their world. But he was in neck deep and there wasn’t much he could do except play along. The Goa getaway was something he was looking forward to clear his mind and rethink his situation.
“Excuse me, the window seat’s mine.” It was the girl from the cafe.
He watched her as she placed her backpack in the overhead locker and thought about all that cash stuffed inside. As she squeezed into the window seat, her lemony scent filled his senses. Rishaan saw Kiara’s nose scrunch up as she critically surveyed the girl’s attire. As the flight took off on its two hour journey, the girls fell into regular banter, as women usually do.
‘’Diya.... what a pretty name!’’ Kiara crooned.
“This is Rishaan, my fiancé.’’ He heard her say. They continued chatting.
Sometime into the flight Diya got up to go to the washroom. Kiara had fallen asleep. Rishaan followed her. He caught her by surprise as she came out of the tiny washroom cubicle.
“Oh! Sorry.” She said almost walking into him.
He caught a whiff of her fruity fragrance and smiled. “You better not leave your expensive backpack unguarded.” It was a wrong opening line.
Her eyes narrowed. “That’s none of your business, Mr. Fiance -to-the-rich-chick!’’
“For someone who dresses like a hippie you do have a sense of humour, not a very classy one though.’’
“Look, I don’t have to take this crap from you , so just bugger off and stop hitting on me with your fiancé right by your side!’’
“Come on, I was just pulling your leg. We could be friends. You look like an interesting person.’’
“Really ? What makes you think so?’’
“I’m usually a good judge of people.’’
“And yet you’re engaged to a pretentious snob.’’
“Hey, that’s my fiancée you’re talking about.” Rishaan retorted angrily. He might be rethinking his relationship with Kiara, but couldn’t let anyone speak disrespectfully about her.
“Exactly! So watch yourself before you go hitting on other girls.” She said and stormed away.
Rishaan was surprised at the inexplicable way he was drawn to this strange girl who unlike Kiara was flawed in every way. She was unconventional and untouched by sophistication of any kind – a polar opposite of Kiara. Yet what he felt for her was almost a primal instinct of raw attraction. He’d never experienced it before. He went back to his seat in a pensive mood, torn between his loyalty to Kiara and his attraction to Diya. The sleepy Kiara slipped her hand into his and snuggled up to him. In the middle of the flight, Kiara woke up to go to the washroom. When she returned, she was too lazy to push her way into the middle seat. And with Rishaan readily offering to shift seats, the seating arrangement changed. With 20 minutes still remaining for the flight to land, a sleep-starved Kiara took another power nap, this time holding Rishaan's right hand more firmly. Rishaan's other hand, though, nervously moved to touch Diya's. Her heart skipped a beat. Diya pulled her hand away. But a defiant Rishaan held her wrist again, this time firmly and more reassuringly. The changing behavioural dynamics between the three perhaps gave out a foreboding of what was to come in Goa. When the flight landed at the Dabolim Airport, Rishaan felt uncanny...his excitement seemed replaced by an unknown fear that he found very difficult to decipher. As they got into their waiting cab, he saw her exchange goodbyes with Diya who left without a glance in his direction. He realised that pursuing Diya was a lost cause. Resignedly, He sat back and enjoyed the drive to their hotel in Panaji. Goa was an intoxicating mix of cultures – Portuguese, British and Indian. He revelled in the exotic sights, sounds and smells of a state high on culture and feni.
“What a great choice of a hotel... I love it!’’ squealed Kiara throwing her arms around him. “And now a nice hot bath to get the awful flight smell off me!” she said. Kiara emerged out of her bath looking resplendent. “Want to hit the beach? Diya says Miramar is a lovely beach and has some great dining options.’’
Rishaan was all ears. “Diya? Your friend from the flight?’’
“Yes, she has put up at Hotel Viva Grande, a few minutes’ walk from here.’’
He cheered up after that and they had a lovely time at the beach. After a really heavy dinner Rishaan decided he needed to walk off all the extra calories.
It was around 8.30 in the evening and the streets were still abuzz with fervent activity. He walked past the hotel where Diya was staying and wondered what she was up to. As he walked further along, he suddenly spotted her on the other side of the road, speaking animatedly with a man. For the first time it occurred to him that she might already have a boyfriend. But on closer inspection, this guy looked nothing like a boyfriend. He was clearly a thug.
“Was she being robbed?’’ He wondered.
Their interaction ended with Diya handing over her backpack to him and walking away with a stony look on her face.
Rishaan on impulse ducked into a shop nearby and waited until Diya went back to her hotel. He didn’t know what possessed him, but quickly started to follow the thug. He suddenly stopped at a decrepit old building and went inside. Rishaan decided to wait. He could sense that something was wrong here. The man came out after a while but the backpack wasn’t with him. Instead he carried a brown duffel bag and strode determinedly towards the beach front. Rishaan followed. The man next stopped in front of a busy cafe and paused looking around. Suddenly the night air was split by the screeching of police sirens. Almost at the same second, Rishaan saw the panic in the man’s eyes and saw his hands reach into his shirt.
There was a defeaning explosion. Rishaan felt himself being thrown up hard against something followed by a blinding pain. He passed out.
He woke up in a hospital. His head hurt and his hand was heavily bandaged. A sleepy looking policeman sat by him. Seeing him awake he asked, “Are you okay Mister? Let me inform the Commissioner.”
A few minutes later, a much distinguished looking police officer came in.
“How are you feeling Mr Rishaan? We’ve informed your fiancée. She’s on her way.’’
“But what really happened?’’
“There was a bomb blast at the cafe and you were hurt.’’ He said in a matter-of-fact manner.
Rishaan felt the bile rise in his throat as he mouthed the next question – “Sir, how many
The Commissioner paused before answering.
“One dead and one injured – that being you. Obviously the only casualty was the guy who blew himself up. “The policeman explained.
“But, it was a busy cafe and I saw a crowd outside the door!’’
“Someone warned us. We got a tip off call about a blast happening at the cafe near Miramar waterfront at 9 pm. So did the cafe owner. The crowd you saw outside were customers being evacuated. Thankfully everyone cleared the blast radius in time, except you.’’
Rishaan was silent. He was thinking about Diya. He felt repulsed at the fact that he had been attracted to a terrorist. He considered giving the police information about her but simply couldn’t.
“You may have to come to the station later for some identification. Beware of anything you tell the media. Anything else?’’ he asked sternly.
Rishaan shook his head wearily. Sometime after the policemen left, there was a knock at his door. It was Diya. His eyes dark with anger and disgust met hers.
“Why are you here?’’ he asked coldly.
“To explain myself.’’
“I’m not interested in the details of how you became a terrorist. I shall report you if you don’t leave this very minute.’’
She cringed at the word “terrorist”. “Somehow, I feel I owe you an explanation. My name is not Diya and I am from UP, Ayodhya to be precise. I lost my parents in the rioting that happened as an aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition. I was five then, unable to comprehend all that savagery around me that destroyed my family. But I was fortunate enough to be adopted by a family who gave me a new name, a new life, a new religion. But childhood had lost its innocence. I grew up with pent-up anger and bitterness in my heart. A few months back I was contacted by an acquaintance from Ayodhya – he too had lost his family in the ’92 riots. We corresponded online for a while. It felt good to open up to someone who could finally understand my pain.
It was he who brought up the idea of retribution – a payback in some way. To hurt society the way it had hurt us. He wanted to know if I was up to it. Avenging my parents’ death would give me closure, he said. I agreed to help him. I knew it was a terrible mistake, but still I did what he asked me to. It wasn’t much. I was to be the ‘courier’ who would carry cash from his ‘source’ in Mumbai to another ‘source’ in Goa. And that’s exactly what I did. But somewhere along the way I realised that killing a few innocents wasn’t the closure I wanted. To this day, I’ve been following two faiths – the one my parents gave me and the other my foster family gave me. Neither of them advocate violence in any way. I realised my folly although a bit late. I couldn’t back out and risk being bumped off either. So I went ahead with the plan – dropped off the cash and tipped off the police and the cafe owner. But you somehow got in the way and ended up here. I’m really sorry.’’ She concluded and looked at him expectantly.
The door opened and a teary-eyed Kiara walked in. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room. Rishaan was overwhelmed. “Diya, I’m not really sure of what to say.’’
“I understand. I just wanted to say goodbye before I left.” She said softly and left the room.
“Rishaan , what’s going on?’’ a puzzled Kiara asked.
“Kiara , we need to talk.’’ He said.
Rishaan watched her come out of the hotel dressed in her usual hippie style and walked over to her.
“So, am I forgiven?’’ she asked.
“I was curious to know what your real name is. Why don’t you tell me over coffee?’’
“Want to go to the cafe at the waterfront?’’ She asked him with a twinkle in her eye.
“The one your friend almost blew up? Sounds okay, but let me do a thorough pat down check on you first.’’ He joked taking her in his arms.
Under the darkening Goan sky, their lips met in a tremulous first kiss.