A Reputation Tarnished

18 months passed by, and the training of the new batch was complete. Post the final assessment, it was revealed that out of the 40000 candidates that had joined, only 35000 people qualified to be security elites including Karan, Shekhar, Jenny, Poorna and Avesh.

“I can’t believe Avesh qualified. That slime ball… he still stalks me, and irritates me.” Jenny exclaimed.

“Well, he is good at what he is, but not all men are like Karan or Shekhar. And if he had been irritating you, why haven’t you complained about it?” asked Poorna.

“I could have… I should have… yet, I don’t know. He hasn’t made any such advances towards me that could be serious enough to complain about.  I need solid proof of what he is up to, and the fact that he is still here is because I haven’t come across any other woman complaining against him.” said Jenny.

“Hmmm…that is strange, maybe he likes you… and is being flirtatious. Yet, his intentions are not really clear. Have you discussed this with Karan and Shekhar?” asked Poorna.

“They are aware, it is not that I need them or want them to ‘protect’ me for such an issue. Even Karan told me to raise this issue, however, I declined. He didn’t discuss much about it after that.” Said Jenny.

“Well, there is no discussion. He knows your worth considering what you did to him in the first day of combat training.” Said Poorna, with a giggle.

Jenny stared at Poorna, she smiled and then blushed while remembering that incident.

“Yo girls!! Congratulations and celebrations!!” Shekhar greeted.

The girls turned around and greeted back.

“Where is Karan?” Poorna asked.

“You don’t know. And Jenny, what are you doing here? The girls are looking for you.” Shekhar responded.

“Why? What happened?” Jenny asked confused.

“Come on, Jenny. You are being modest now. You have top scored with 99.97%, and have broken an age old BASE record. Karan is at a narrow second… 99.95%. While the boys and girls are hailing Karan, they are also looking for you. They have even ordered a cake for both of you.” Said Shekhar.

Jenny was surprised, and after hearing about Karan’s performance, a smile sprouted.

“Let’s go, I don’t want to miss my own party.” Said Jenny.

Shekhar and Poorna laughed at that comment, they quickly headed to the training hall and indeed, found that the candidates had brought a cake. A lot of senior officers including the General and the Major General joined in to congratulate the candidates, the group saw the General congratulating Karan, they joined in and sure enough, the General shook hands with Jenny too amidst a thunderous applause.

“Sir, a picture please with the top 5.” Said the official photographer of BASE.

“Oh yes, please.” Said the General.

While Jenny and Karan stood with the General, Poorna, Shekhar and another candidate joined in for the photo. Jenny stared at Poorna and Shekhar, she was shocked to know that they were all in the top 5.

After the photo session, Jenny confronted Shekhar and Poorna, “You love birds are also in the top 5, and you didn’t tell me.”

“Well, Jenny… what can I say! We are a bond so strong, even our performances have proved that. We are inseparable and all I pray for is that in the coming time, we remain the best… in our friendship, in our life, our performance… and our destiny too.” Said Karan.

“Not for long maybe. As I said, we will be assigned to different squads. We may get a chance to bond during breaks or maybe on an outing, however, when in a squad, we will have to live and work according to the culture of that squad.” Said Shekhar, looking concerned.

Karan nodded his head in disagreement and said, “Don’t worry, Shekhar. If that is the case, we will take every opportunity to meet up. Do not be concerned about it and wreak your mind about being separated. We are friends but at the end of the day…we are soldiers and we have a job to do.”

The others agreed at Karan’s statement. That very moment, Major Ratan had an announcement to make, “Alright, people, listen up. Once again congratulations to all of you on your graduation. BASE has a tradition to welcome the new recruits on board. It started off with something solemn, though I don’t want to discuss about it considering it was really boring. Times have changed and in keeping with the changing times, BASE is hosting a party in your name.”

There were loud cheers among the graduates. Major Ratan somehow silenced everyone again and continued, “You are all welcome to the party. It is a start of a journey… a journey to glory, to be a winner, to be the ultimate security elite bred to combat against the ills of this society. We never know what our future holds but there is no use worrying about it. Life is short, so… live it to the maximum and enjoy the party. Cheers!!!”

Cheers and howling erupted again, Karan walked up to Shekhar and said, “Time to bring out the singer in you. Opportunities like this cannot be missed.”

Shekhar stared at Karan and reacted, “I warn you, Karan… you open your mouth and put me in trouble at the party, I will rip you apart.”

“We will see about that, dude. Time to light the party on fire.” commented Karan.

3 days after the graduation ceremony, a grand party was hosted and almost everyone who graduated turned up. As Karan and Shekhar moved towards the entrance, they checked their attire.

“I hope this is enough” said Shekhar.

“Oh come on! A handsome guy like you… wear nothing and you will still have girls thronging you.” Commented Karan, as Shekhar scowled at him, not amused by it.

As they entered the party hall, the party had already begun and people had hit the dance floor.

“Well, what do you know? The place is already heating up.” Said Karan, as he watched the ladies in their hottest attires, something which even Shekhar couldn’t take his eyes off.

As they came forward, Shekhar’s eyes fell on someone familiar. It was Poorna in a pink mini skirt and Shekhar looked at her from top to bottom.

“Whoa, whoa, brother… easy, stop staring like that.” Said Karan.

“She is looking so beautiful. I mean… just look at her.” Said Shekhar, his hands were shivering now.

“Well, that she is. No doubt about it.” Karan agreed.

Shekhar noticed someone else too and looked at Karan confused.

“What happened, Shekhar? Why are you looking at me like that?” Karan asked.

Shekhar took a grip of himself, took a deep breath and with a smile asked, “Well, Karan… have you become blind? Look who is dancing with Poorna?”

Karan stared at Shekhar confused and then looked at the lady dancing with Poorna. It was time for Karan’s jaw to drop. It was Jenny, in a black mini skirt. Karan could only stare at her as Shekhar started to giggle uncontrollably.

“Just look at her Shekhar. She is not just beautiful… she is a Goddess.” Karan commented.

As the music changed, Jenny and Poorna now noticed Karan and Shekhar, they called them out to dance with them.

“Well, Karan… didn’t you say you wanted to light the party on fire? Let us show them who the boss is.” Said Shekhar.

Karan smiled in agreement and the duo joined the ladies. They danced to the fullest enjoying every moment. Soon, the music changed to a more romantic theme. Karan realizing the change looked at Jenny; the latter also could just stare at him.

“I don’t know whether to make the first move. I am not sure if… if… Karan, what are you thinking?” Jenny thought still looking at Karan.

Karan couldn’t take his eyes of Jenny. He looked into her eyes and thought, “Should I jump in? Should I invite her for this dance? Maybe… maybe, next time. I am ready to wait. I am ready to give ourselves the time to know each other.”

Karan and Jenny then saw Poorna putting her arms around Shekhar while the latter, without a second thought touched her waist. They danced looking nowhere except each other. Karan looked at Jenny again and said, “Let us go and find a place to sit. We will join them once the music changes.”

Jenny was at first taken aback. She felt a bit disappointed but then realized that Karan was feeling shy. She thought, “So my handsome gentleman is quite shy. No issues… I am ready to wait.”

The couple walked away from the dance floor and found a place to sit. They watched the people dance as they enjoyed having some light snacks and drinks. Shekhar and Poorna were then tired from their dancing and therefore, walked away from the dance floor and joined them at the table.

“I never knew BASE could hold such an amazing party.” Said Poorna.

“They hold it every year… not just for the graduates, but for everyone. It is a way of socializing where the juniors get to meet the seniors albeit in a more informal way than a solemn way.” said Shekhar.

Suddenly, the music stopped and everyone was either surprised or disappointed. Then, Major Ratan stepped up on the dance floor and welcomed the guest, “Good evening people. I hope you are enjoying the party. I want to hear it from all of you.”

Everyone present cheered and howled in agreement.

Major Ratan continued, “Sorry for stopping the music abruptly like this. I thought that… everyone of us over here have a hidden talent. You people have come to become the ultimate security elites; however, there are definitely people here who are good dancers or singers. So… anybody who wants to showcase their hidden talent, now is the time.”

There were murmurs going around after the announcement with each group trying to push their friends to dance or sing. Karan decided to drop the bomb on Shekhar.

“Sir, let us begin with the one of the top performers. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you, the singing sensation… SHEKHAR!!!” Karan announced and it was followed by loud cheers among everyone.

Poorna stared at Shekhar and then at Jenny, the latter was also taken aback by this development.

Shekhar got up from his seat and pulling Karan close, whispered in his ears, “What the hell, Karan!  I told you to keep your mouth shut!”

“Come on, buddy!! You have a talent that the world needs to know. Why do you want to hide that? You dreamt of being a security elite, and that dream has been fulfilled but this… this is your passion… and you never know where our passion can take us. This is your chance.” Karan tried to motivate Shekhar, the latter listened and with a deep sigh, yielded.

He walked to the dance floor, took the mike from Major Ratan, looked at the crowd and with a smile, sang a few popular numbers. The crowd including Karan, Jenny and Poorna swooned over his voice. Some of the songs were romantic numbers and Shekhar was even more motivated looking at Poorna looking nowhere but him. After, Shekhar finished, there was thunderous clapping and as he walked away from the dance floor, a lot of people including seniors too were patting his back.

Motivated, more people walked on to the dance floor to showcase their talent, some were good dancers, some were singers… there were a few poets and stand up comedians too… and after that, music started to play again. Dinner was served, some decided to have their fill while the others continued to dance.

Suddenly, there was a commotion. Shekhar, Jenny and Poorna who were dancing couldn’t understand what was happening at first but when they saw the reason, they were shocked. It was Karan who was behaving like a mad man. It looked as though he had drank a lot and was now not in his senses. He was yelling at the top of his voice, dancing like crazy and was repeatedly falling down.

Shekhar walked ahead and tried to control him, however, Karan pushed him back. The music was stopped and everyone was watching in disgust. Jenny came forward, not able to believe what was going on. Karan then spotted Jenny and somehow, moved close to her.

“What have you done, Karan? Why are you behaving like this?” Jenny thought.

Karan was not in his senses; he walked towards Jenny and started passing lewd comments much to everyone’s shock. Shekhar and Poorna couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Tears welled up in Jenny’s eyes, angered she punched Karan so hard that the latter fell to the ground and was knocked out.

That very moment, General Bakshi came out with his officials to check what the commotion was all about. Seeing Karan lying on the floor, he looked at Major Ratan. Major Ratan explained what happened, there was no expression on the General’s face, however it was certain he wasn’t happy.

“The party is over, people. Go back to your rooms. We will discuss about this at BASE.” The  General ordered and the people had to listen. Disappointed, the people left the party floor. Poorna walked towards Jenny, the latter was still in tears and looking at Karan. Shekhar walked towards Karan to check on him and then looked at Jenny; the latter wiped her tears and walked out of the party hall.

The next day, Karan was called to the trial room. He realized that he was at fault for whatever happened and decided to remain silent. He listened to the eyewitness accounts carefully, and one thing was certain that no one had any clue as to what lead to him going haywire when just a few minutes before, he was in his senses. Finally, it was Jenny who gave her account of the incident. There was hesitation in her voice, yet she still went ahead with her account. Karan was shocked when he got to know of the lewd comments that he had passed towards Jenny, he tried hard to remember what had happened yet he couldn’t.

“Cadet Karan, you have heard the eyewitness accounts. Do you have anything to say in your defence?” The General asked.

Karan sighed deeply and said, “I am not much of a drinker, sir and that is something Shekhar just told about me. I drank only about 2 pegs at the party which is not enough for any one to go out of their senses. This is enough to prove, sir that someone spoiled my drink which led to whatever happened after that. That is all I can say in my defence, sir.”

Murmurs followed after Karan’s comment. Shekhar, Jenny and Poorna looked at each other, they felt that Karan had a point, so did all the other people. The General raised his hands indicating everyone to be quiet.

“All we have with us is eyewitness accounts and a few video clips that just shows that you were not in your senses. If you or anyone over here has any proof that someone spoiled your drink and there is no fault of yours, you will not have to face any charges.” Said the General.

Karan kept silent while all the other people, including Shekhar, Poorna and Jenny checked their mobiles to find anything that can prove the former’s innocence but not a single person had any video of anyone spoiling Karan’s drink. The General had no other option but to bring the trial to a conclusion.

“Until and unless you have something to prove your innocence, there is nothing we can do for you. What you did may not be a heinous crime, yet your behaviour and irresponsibility at the party is not what is expected from a security elite. You are the top performer of this batch and that is the only reason why we will see to it that your punishment is not severe and you receive the consideration that you deserve. However, Ms. Jenny, if you would please stand up.” Said the General.

Jenny stood up, after which the General asked her a question that put her in a fix, “Ms. Jenny, when a person is drunk, he reveals nothing but the truth. There is no exaggeration or manipulation of facts, which is one of the reason why alcohol is also considered by many as… a last resort solution to get the truth out from a person.

That being said, Karan over here last night passed those lewd comments and they were directed only towards you which means that he has revealed what was on his mind… whether you both like it or not.

So Ms. Jenny, we ask you whether you will want to press any charges against this man?”

Jenny couldn’t answer the question, she felt choked and was on the verge of shedding tears. She could only look at Karan and think, “Did you do it on purpose? Is there something that you want to tell me? You were always open to me, to all of us… what are you hiding? Why are you silent?”

Karan couldn’t look at Jenny, he was filled with remorse and all he could do was to keep silent and accept whatever punishment was to be given to him.

Poorna nudged at Shekhar and asked, “Shekhar, what if she presses charges against Karan? What will you do? Say something, Shekhar.”

“There is nothing we can do. Karan has committed a mistake and like it or not, he should face the charges put towards him.” Said Shekhar.

Jenny sighed deeply and looking at the General, said, “I don’t want to press charges against him. What he has done, he is guilty for it and that is enough. He is one of the best performers and I don’t want his career to be spoiled because of this incident. He deserves to be a given a second chance and I know, if given, he will prove himself… and I will wait for that day.”

There were murmurs again in the trial room, there were some who smile and acknowledged whatever Jenny said and then, there were those who were not happy with that. Poorna looked at Shekhar again, the latter was smiling. He got up from his seat and went outside.

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