‘The terrorists are after me… ’ Before she could complete her sentence, blackness enveloped her and she crumbled into the ground in a heap as she fainted.
As she opened her heavy eyes, she felt as if she had been drugged, with her head hurting. She tried to sit, eyes snapping open at once, but immediately groaned with agony when her head started throbbing. As her vision cleared, she saw that a concerned, friendly Sardar was peering at her, sitting beside her, sprinkling water on her face.
‘O Ji. Tussi thik toh ho?’ The man asked in Punjabi whether she was fine or not.
Snigdha was fully alert now. She sat up carefully and looked around before saying urgently,
‘Sardar Ji, please take me to the police or army picket right away. I was kidnapped by Al Faran group and my friend is still there. I must save him as soon as possible.’ Snigdha said in Hindi.
‘Kya baat kar rahe ho jee? Aap chalo mere sath. Mei Srinagar ja raha hoon. Sab think ho jayega. Tussi chinta mat karo jee.’ The Sardar asked her to come to Srinagar with him and assured her that everything would be fine.
Within one hour, Snigdha reached Srinagar, which meant that the terrorists had hidden her quite close to the capital city. Once she reached the police headquarters, things moved very fast. Although her team had left, Snigdha was put under tight security, in a comfortable guesthouse where not even the press was allowed to meet her. Snigdha went through some gruelling sessions with the police where she told them about the location of the camps, the descriptions of her captors and about Roshan. The police commissioner knew about Roshan and went into immediate action by forming a team of highly efficient commandos for a combing operation in the forest area described by Snigdha. She was pleasantly surprised to see the quick action taken by the forces and the police. Within a few hours her brother Sumit landed in Srinagar to take her back to Delhi. Feeling refreshed after a long hot bath in days, Snigdha sat wrapped in a blanket. Sumit handed her a cup of hot broth.
‘You are looking thin Sidhi! Ma would not be very pleased to see this.’ Sumit observed in his trademark funny style.
‘Bhaiya! I have come out of the most terrible time of my life! Mom must be scared to death. If at all she will be upset it will be to tell me, ‘I told you so!’
‘Oh Yes! Never the one to let go of a chance like that! But then we never listen to her anyways.’ Sumit said smiling broadly.
‘I know, I was stubborn enough not to listen to her. But I can’t avoid challenges. This is my work. How would I know that someone out there is planning to kidnap me?’
‘True! That’s why, I’ve chosen a sedate, boring field like management. A good take home salary. A big plush house. No liabilities. No risk. All pleasure!’
‘Lucky you!’ Snigdha smiled at him. But in her heart of heart she knew that, in his own way her brother too had that reckless spirit. To lead his life on his own terms, without bothering about what the world thinks. Probably, that’s why he appeared so normal even after knowing that she had just returned from facing death itself! He wanted her to be normal, to feel relaxed and not panic. She was grateful for her brother’s light and humorous bantering.
‘Come on, now it’s time for us to get going! The more you will stay here, the more the security and media people will hound you. The only place where you will be absolutely safe is Delhi. So we are going to stay there for a couple of days before going to Pachmari.’
‘Yes Bhaiya, time to go. I’m just waiting to hear some news about Roshan… ’ The name slipped from her mouth. Like everyone Sumit was also aware of Roshan’s identity now as the media had splashed breaking news of Snigdha and her saviour, the famous journalist from BBC and his recent stay with the most deadly terrorist group Al Faran. He had turned into some kind of hero. Processions and candle marches had already started all over India for his safety and release. Snigdha had just switched off a high decibel panel discussion on a leading English news channel where, top journalists, politicians from major parties and social activists were engaged in a heated discussion on whys and hows of Roshan’s involvement, and his heroic deed in saving Snigdha while jeopardising his own life. She had found it hilarious to see the starched, white collared, stiff necked pseudo intellectuals discuss the pros and cons of Roshan’s actions and a situation that they had never ever come face-to-face with in their entire life. It was very easy to pass judgements and comments on the whats and whys of such situations while being so far away from the reality. Thankfully till now she had been able to evade offers of media to come out and give statements and interviews.
‘You can’t do much Sidhi. The entire J&K administration, intelligence and political machinery are involved in searching for Roshan and nabbing the terrorists. It will just be a matter of time before he is found if he is… ’ Sumit stopped before he uttered the forbidden word, looking at Snigdha’s aghast expression.
‘He will be alive. I know he is alive. He has to be alive!’ Snigdha’s voice rose vehemently, emotionally, making Sumit look at her sharply. He could feel the throbbing feeling in his sister’s voice and could see some strong emotion burning in her eyes for this man Roshan. He came and sat beside her and held her shoulders.
‘It will be alright. Control yourself. You have been so brave. It’s just a matter of few days Sidhi. You sitting here and getting worried can’t bring him back fast. Now we must leave for the airport. We have to catch a flight.’
Snigdha nodded, biting her lips. She got up, zipping the thick jacket she was wearing over her light blue denims. The jungle was colder. Here she didn’t feel so cold. Or was it that her resilience had increased? She had become immune, like Roshan? Flashes of Roshan’s strong body, his rippling muscles, his long limbs, tender touch, soft and gentle voice penetrated her mind. And she slowly moved towards her dirty, torn, dilapidated backpack which brought back flashes of memories to her.
As the flight landed on the domestic airport of New Delhi, Snigdha like an automaton walked out in the smoggy, chilly weather of New Delhi which she was so used to for the last so many years. She had always loved the winters in Delhi. But surprisingly, she couldn’t feel the bite this time. She watched the typical airport traffic, the sleek underpasses leading to the city. She saw the heavy traffic, the huge neon direction signs, the automatic traffic lights, buses and cars jostling to move ahead each other, without really seeing them. Cold air blasted her face, from the open window, but she welcomed it. Her disturbed mind needed to feel something. She just couldn’t take her mind off from the image of Roshan’s unconscious form on the jeep and shuddered to think what he must be going through right at this moment. His mission to unearth the underbelly of Al Faran and his purpose to do the most path breaking story in the history of journalism lay thwarted, destroyed. The risk he had taken when he had entered the camp today seemed worthless and in vain. And Snigdha felt frustrated because if it hadn’t been for her, today Roshan would have quietly withdrawn leaving no imprint, and taking the credit to bust the most dangerous terrorist outfit in the Indian subcontinent. Her heart swelled with love and pride for him, for his courage and guts to stand by her even in the midst of utmost danger, to shield her, to protect her and to bring her back to safety. Even till the last minute, he had somehow proved his integrity and gallantry. She wished she had gone with him! Snigdha closed her eyes and laid her head on the seat of the cool cab they had taken. Oh how she wished she had gone with him. Atleast that way they would have been together. Sighing deeply, Snigdha let her head loll on the seat, as she felt her eyes drooping in exhaustion.
The cab jerked to a hault and Snigdha woke up, wiping her eyes to get out of the grogginess. As she climbed out, her cell phone rang. She took out the ringing phone out of her backpack. Looking at it as if she had seen it for the first time in her life, Snigdha saw the name flashing on the screen. It was Dimple calling.
‘Pick Up Sidhi. There was no network in Jammu that’s why we were getting no calls.’ Sumit said, taking out his overnight bag from the back seat.
‘Sidhi Sidhi Sidhi!!!!’ Snigdha jumped at the screaming voice of Dimple at the other end as she picked up. ‘How are you? Are you back?’ Dimple screamed.
‘Yea Dimple. Calm down, calm down. I am back. Just reached home.’ Snigdha said dryly. Trust her hyperactive friend Dimple to be the one to call her first. Now the BBC of Delhi would be informing everyone and soon she would receive a barrage of calls from innumerable people. She was sure, Dimple would be putting an update on her arrival on facebook in no time!
Wowwww! Am dying to hear what all happened to you!’ Dimple squealed.
‘You mean you want minute by minute account of who all pawed me, beat me and nearly killed me?’ Snigdha’s dry humour was never far behind.
‘What are you saying? You went through all that?’ Dimple had shock in her voice. Snigdha decided not to make her stupid friend panic and asked her to come to her place to know the juicy details in the late evening.
After that there were indeed incessant calls from her family, friends and colleagues. Nitin was apologetic for leaving Srinagar, besides being terribly worried. He assured her that they finally got terrific footage, including the one that had created such a drama. He told her that he would wait for her to recuperate before she could re-start her project’s post-production. The most disturbing call was from her mother.
‘Mom! Please stop weeping. I am absolutely fine. It was just for a few days that I was in the camp and not much harm came my way.’ Snigdha was in danger of crying herself. She had realised that lately she had developed this miserable habit of weeping at the drop of a hat. Maybe her hormones were awry or she was getting old. It took another twenty minutes for her to convince her mother that she was absolutely fine and would be joining her as soon as she had all the medical check-ups that had been advised by the army officials. Staying in the jungle could have transferred some infection to her which needed to be checked.
Sumit fixed up an appointment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences with Dr. Varun Arora, one of his GP friends who called her at 9 am next day empty stomach. Though the house had not been used for the last 20 days or so, it was fairly clean. Snigdha rang up her maid who came to do the cleaning once a day, then settled down on the cane sofa, with a fluffy cushion in her lap. Before she realised, her brother was in the kitchen pottering about.
‘Hey Bhaiya! What are you doing? You won’t find anything in the fridge. House was locked for the last fortnight or so.’
‘I know Sidhi. How about black tea?’ He called from the kitchen, dropping a metal pan, making her wince. His head popped out, an apologetic smile on his face.
‘Ooops sorry! Didn’t break anything. Would you like maggi or something?’ He asked.
‘Nah not hungry right now… black tea would do. What about dinner?’ Snigdha asked.
‘I think we should order something. You have home delivery menus?’
The black tea was soothing, and soporific unlike black coffee. She felt very tired and wanted to lie down for a while, shutting her mind to all thoughts of Roshan and the last few days. Dimple would be anyways, digging out the whole story from her later in the night, making her relive each moment again. She knew her friend and her perceptive eyes that rarely missed anything in Snigdha.
Snigdha gave a few menu cards to Sumit and went inside her bedroom to lie down for a while. Her old pillow felt feathery soft under her head, making her compare it with another pillow, which was warmer, softer with a life of its own, with sinews and heartbeats, with a musky fragrance that filled her with longing. She remembered, the feel of Roshan’s chest under her face, his strong arms cuddling her, and his feather light kisses on her hair when he thought she had been asleep. Oh Yes! She remembered it all. A smile played on Snigdha’s lips, her long lashes fluttering on her cheeks, her mind swirling away to another realm, pushing her deeper and deeper into a mindless sleep.
‘And then he killed that terrorist who dared to touch you? Is that so?’ Dimple’s eyes were like saucers by now. Snigdha sighed and looked away before correcting her.
‘Dimple, he did not kill him, he hit him so hard that he fell unconscious and we were able to run away easily from there! After that, we had to run for I don’t know how many hours and miles before we looked for shelter and spent the night.’
‘OMG! You spent the night with one of the most handsome men I’ve ever come across!!! I can’t believe your luck man!’ Dimple’s incredulous voice was on the verge of hysteria.
‘Hold on, hold on! How do you know he’s the most handsome man you have ever seen? I mean when have you met Roshan Khan?’
‘Sweety! You don’t need to meet celebs and high fliers to know about them! He’s there in all the newspapers, magazines, TV channels for everyone to see. Drop dead gorgeous, tall, dark and handsome, rich and famous, adventurous to the hilt… words fail me totally! And you spent the night with HIM?’ Dimple looked at her with a ridiculous expression on her face.
‘Dimple! We were not in some five star hotel, having our honeymoon night together! For God’s sake, you asked me for a verbatim account that’s why I’m suffering your wide eyed assumptions. I was in bloody hell, running for my life in one of the most deadly and perilous situations, where a single bullet fired by the terrorists lurking in every nook and corner of that deep jungle could have killed us flat in two seconds.’ Snigdha shuddered remembering the spooky night.
‘Sorry Sidhi. I just got carried away when you described how Roshan saved you. It must have been one hell of a miserable night for you. But how did he get caught finally?’ Snigdha noticed that Dimple was not one bit apologetic and had curiosity written all over her face. She decided to finish her story if she wanted to be left alone from her nosey and extremely curious friend who she knew wouldn’t leave her alone till the whole sordid story was out. Dimple was more curious to know what happened between her and Roshan it seemed.
Sighing heavily she finished the story, slowly, trying her best not to express her inner turmoil and knotted feelings for Roshan. By the time she had finished telling Dimple the entire sequence of events till she was found by the Sardartruck driver and later rescued by the army and police, she felt exhausted, spent, head bowed down, hands twisting her thin cardigan’s front. Pin-drop silence followed after that. Then Dimple said in a soft voice,
‘You are scared and worried stiff about Roshan’s safety, aren’t you Sidhi?’
Snigdha lifted stricken eyes to Dimple, knowing that it would have been terribly tough for her to hide her inner feelings from her best friend.
‘He really left an imprint on you Sidhi. I can see your troubled eyes, and it’s not just worry and empathy for a fellow human being in trouble. It’s much much more than that. What exactly happened between you and Roshan?’ Dimple came straight to the point.
‘He was initially very angry because I had messed up his well laidout plan. He was confident that in spite of my abduction, he would have somehow single-handedly planned my release. My running away like that had not only put me in grave danger but his plan lay abandoned as he had very conscientiously decided to run after me to save me from the mouth of danger. Thus making it clear to the Al Faran that he was NOT one of them but from the enemy’s side. I felt guilty and helpless but grateful too because he took upon himself to help me and protect me to the extent of finally getting the noose around himself and yet helping me flee. All this has shaken me to the core Dimple. Have never met such a brave and conscientious man before and I feel…’ Snigdha stopped abruptly, unshed tears making her voice thick, head bowed staring at her knotted fingers.