Friday, 12 September 2014

The Scribbler’s Orchard: Part 1

Team Name: Scribblers' Orchard

Shekhar woke up with a start. The doorbell was ringing, with urgency. He had fallen asleep on his writing desk, resting his head on the keyboard, thinking over the incidents that took place in the past week in his life.  He looked at the wall clock with half open eyes. Half past eleven. ‘Must be Tara,’ he inhaled audibly and ran a hand over his bald head. Nowadays, any ringing bells brought only bad news. Irritated at this thought, he got up from his desk to get the door.
‘Clink’ went the dirty tea cup left on floor. He ignored it and chose to answer the door first. But the leftover tea was spilling out on the floor, between cigarette butts and ash. He glanced at it sadly. He remembered how Tara hated his messy ways.  He hastily pulled a paper from his desk and covered the spill. Then he dragged his feet to answer the still ringing doorbell.
 Shekhar Dutta had wanted to change the world. He was the evolving face of courageous and dedicated fire brand journalists of India. He was already the established nightmare of corrupt politicians, exposing them on social platforms and brewing up quite a storm.  One of his recent posts on bringing back black money to India quoted a hacker’s post in a popular forum. It had revealed the details of many politicians and their bank balance which gained him more popularity and support. Tara used to worry a lot about him always inviting the ire of influential people. ‘Why don’t you join me instead?’ She would say. He would shrug and smile.
Even before he opened the door, he could smell her presence. Shekhar suddenly felt that his hands were made of jelly. He wanted to just leave everything and vanish into an abyss. Their eyes did not meet when she walked in. Crumpled business formals, mussed up hair, puffy eyes and slumped shoulders… Tara looked poles apart from her old self. Unhappy, accusing and angry. She walked off to the bedroom wordlessly. Shekhar stood there for a while, not able to decide what he should do. A pall of gloom had descended around them. Pictures on the wall in front of him were mocking him. Pictures of him and Tara, on their adventures, pictures of Roohi…
‘…Roohi,’… a numb sensation ran through his spine and as he stiffened, his hands nervously searching his French beard for answers. All the pain came back, suddenly pouncing at him and stabbing him with its many serrated nails. Roohi, their chubby, bubbly little girl, who had been the core of their lives together, was now the center of their two different worlds, like an amoeba nucleus.  
Of late, rather than being parents, Shekhar and Tara were acting like two contestants pulling at the opposite ends of a rope in a game of Tug-of-War. In order to defeat each other, they were using all their might. But it was Roohi who ended up being pulled apart. He looked at the pictures again, and his self-doubt rose up, high, like a snake’s hood, threatening his very existence. He wanted to give up his million twitter followers in exchange for little Roohi.

It had been two days since Roohi had gone…

Shekhar was nervously pacing his little home office. He checked the time for a hundredth time. He could not calm himself down since he had heard from Jennifer Joseph.
‘Mr. Dutta,’ a ringing female voice had addressed him on the phone, ‘I just might have found something very valuable for you.’
Shekhar could not believe what he heard. The entire episode had unfolded in front of her eyes. Being a photographer, Jennifer was trying to find the best angle to shoot the old church when it happened. She could see them from her vantage point without ever being seen.
Her words were replaying in his mind like an old cassette.
Shekhar could not stop himself from running up to the door when the bell rang this time. She smiled and Shekhar could muster up a weak smile in reply.
‘Hi, I am Jennifer. May I come in?’ Shekhar nodded, mesmerized, and slid to one side as if in a trance. She entered, all her bracelets tinkling, her heavy camera swaying delicately with its strap wound around her wrist, as she walked. The camera strap was half covering what appeared to be a tattoo.
She reached the center of the room and stopped, and then she turned towards Shekhar, as if asking where to sit. Shekhar, staring blankly, motioned with his hand and she smiled again. Then she sat on one of the lounge chairs, simultaneously placing her camera on the coffee table.
Before she could say anything, Shekhar blurted out, ‘Does anyone else know about it?’
She seemed ready with the reply, ’No. I know it is important for you and kept it a secret.’
 She immediately reached for her camera and switched it on.  
Shekhar suddenly realized something and asked, ‘Would you like to have a glass of water?’
‘Sure,’ she smiled.
Shekhar contained his impatience and went in to bring a glass of water. When he came back, she was shuffling through the images while her many bracelets jingled and tinkled. Shekhar sat down.
She picked up the glass of water and placed the camera in front of him. He picked it up as if on cue and adjusted his glasses to have a good look. The girl had captured pure gold! Shekhar smiled, for the first time in many days.
‘People must have seen you coming here.’
‘I am not scared, Mr. Dutta.’
‘The Orchard is surrounded by news-hungry people nowadays. ’
‘No worries, they can think of me as one of them, what with my camera and my casual look.’ Then she paused, and added as an afterthought, ‘I am leaving for Kochi tonight. May God bless you Mr. Dutta, and may you find your daughter soon.’
“ Read the next part of the story here

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