Episode 9

NOT GUILTY

Meanwhile, Inspector Khan met up with the informer, Jatin.

“As you can see, this is a roadside bar. A friend of mine, Suresh, works over here. He overheard a man talking about the attack on the home minister and immediately called me up. I rushed over here to meet this guy. According to Suresh, he is a party worker for the opposition party and though not fully involved, knew everything about the planned attack. Before he could get away, Suresh, somehow with the help of his people here were able to grab him and lock him up in the storeroom.” Jatin explained.

Inspector Khan was surprised and exclaimed, “I don’t understand. I mean… I am not questioning your way of work, you people have always proved helpful for the police department, yet, I can’t help understanding why you people have a gone a mile ahead for this case.”

Jatin smiled and replied, “Well… I think Suresh can answer that.”

Inspector Khan had called for backup, and they arrived in time.

“Officers, these people have rounded up a prime suspect in Sameer’s hacking case and who also has information about the attack on the home minister. Take him into custody and then we will interrogate him.” Inspector Khan ordered and the officers duly complied.

Suresh walked up to Inspector Khan and said, “I live in the same locality that Sameer lives. My mom had suffered a stroke, and there was a taxi strike that day. There was no way I could take her to the hospital. I never saw Sameer in that locality before; however, I don’t know why… he took the responsibility upon himself. He took Mr. Govardhan’s car, against all odds was able to reach the hospital in time and save my mother.

I am indebted to him, sir. A total stranger… he came out of nowhere, and saved my mother’s life. I have heard about his past. It cannot be true, sir. A good soul like him cannot do this. You have to save him, sir… and we will do whatever it takes to support him. He is a hero to us.”

Inspector Khan didn’t say anything. He walked away from the place towards his car. He sat silent for some time thinking about whatever Suresh said.

“One good deed… that is all, just one good deed. One good deed can go a long way, yet, we don’t understand the value of that one good deed. Mr.Juneja controlled half this city playing on the people’s fear, while Sameer… just one good deed and he has taken control of this entire city.” Inspector Khan thought with a smile.

At almost the same moment, Ritesh was sitting on the footpath. He was battered and bruised due to the bashing he received from the people. He had somehow escaped from the angry mob; however, his friends were not that lucky. He was in pain yet, he was enraged at the situation he was in. His mobile was ringing; however, he was in no mood to pick it up.

His mind rushed through all the events that happened within this year, right from how he met Anita, how he met Sameer, the way Sameer insulted him in front of everyone in college, how he planned the hacking of the college systems… he them remembered going and telling this to his father. His father was wild with temper, “What the hell have you done, you idiot? Always… always up to no good. I am trying to protect my name yet, my own son… my own goddamn son is hell bent on destroying it. What the hell do you know about planning and executing? You are nothing but a novice, you idiot. What were you thinking? What the hell were you thinking?

There will be an enquiry set up, the police are not going to just look at the facts in plain sight and make a judgment. There will be questions raised; people involved will be made to answer. Do you have any idea about all this? NO, YOU DON’T. That is because you act before you think. Your anger, your rage… that is going to be the reason for your misfortune. You better stop doing all this nonsense or there will come a day when your father will not be able to save you. I am not going to always be there for you, so start using your brains.”

Ritesh took out his mobile and looked at the screen. There were 25 miss calls… his dad was trying to call him. His thoughts again went back to what his dad said after the college systems were hacked. He remembered how early in the morning his 2 goons were caught by the police and they ‘confessed’ that it was Sameer who told them to. The principal was standing there; he was furious and wanted a thorough police investigation. However, Mr. Juneja came right on time. He along with the police inspector was successful in making the principal understand the situation and not continue with a police investigation. The principal agreed to instead rusticate Sameer.

Now, with Sameer becoming the hero of this city and invariably getting all the support, the case has been reopened. Ritesh clutched his head in despair, there was nothing he could do, there was nothing his father could do, and he started sweating profusely out of fear and desperation. He would be jailed and he would not be able to prove innocent under any circumstances.

“I did all this; I am responsible for the situation I am in. I will make it right. I do not need anyone.” said Ritesh.

He dialed a number and waited for someone to answer.

“Yes brother, what can I do for you?” it was one of Mr. Juneja’s goons, Rafiq.

“Rafiq, do you know where those men are? The men who hacked the college systems?” Ritesh asked.

“Of course. After all, I made them go underground. I, however, heard that the police have reopened the case. I don’t think they will find them for only I know where they are.” Rafiq answered.

“Rafiq, there is no guarantee that they cannot be find. Anything is possible. That being said, I want you to kill them. Kill them, Rafiq and dump them in a place where no one will find them.” Ritesh ordered.

Rafiq went round eyed, he was hesitant to answer. He took a deep breath and said, “Ok brother. As you say. It will be done.”

Ritesh hung up the phone. He got up from his place and slowly trudged towards the place where he left his car. His car was in the same place; he got on the driver’s seat and checked the shelf near the gear box. His prized handgun was kept on it, he took it in his hands and clicked a button that revealed the magazine. It was fully loaded. Satisfied, he loaded the magazine again and cocked the gun. He took out his mobile again and dialed another number; it was the contact number of the professor that provided the reserve keys and the password to the room and the college systems respectively.

“Professor, I would like to meet you now. I hope it is not a problem.” said Ritesh.

The professor was startled receiving Ritesh’s call, he stammered, “Sure… sir… I… I am at home. Come and meet me.”

Ritesh disconnected the phone, started the car and stepped on the gas. He, soon, reached the professor’s house and parked the car a few feet away from the professor’s home.

He contacted the professor again, “Professor, the matter I would like to discuss with you is a bit important. I would like you to come outside where my car is parked. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not, sir. I am coming.” The professor replied.

“And yes, please bring the spare keys of that college systems room with you. No questions please, professor. I will explain everything.” said Ritesh.

The professor agreed and hung up the phone. Ritesh took his handgun, attached a silencer and hid it behind him as he waited with baited breath. Soon, he saw the professor coming. Ritesh looked around to see if anyone was looking at them; it was that part of the night when everyone was in their homes either having their dinner or watching their favourite programs on TV.

“Sir, I have come. I brought the keys too.” said the professor.

“You are aware of the fact that the hacking case has been reopened, isn’t it?” Ritesh asked.

“I am, sir. Inspector Khan was in the college and was questioning a lot of people. I am scared, sir. You have to do something or we will all get caught.” said the professor.

“Well, professor, I cannot save all of them. Besides, I need to first save my own ass before I can think about the others. As for you, professor, I have only one solution.” saying, Ritesh took out his hand gun and brutally shot the professor at point blank. The professor yelled in pain and fell on the ground, dead.

Ritesh did not wait, he took the professor’s mobile, and was about to get on the car when suddenly, he saw another car coming from the right. The car stopped a few feet away. Ritesh was shocked as he saw Anita coming out of the car with the driver. They came forward and could make out the fallen body of the professor.

Ritesh was not in his senses now. He, immediately, fired at the driver who was hit on his left shoulder. Anita screamed in despair as he rushed towards her driver, however, Ritesh ran towards her and put the gun on her head. People in that locality had heard Anita’s scream and were all coming out. Ritesh realized that he had to escape or he would be done for.

“I will blow your brains out, Anita, if you dare open your mouth again. Get into the car or I swear I will kill you.” saying, Ritesh dragged Anita to her car. Anita was at gun point; she couldn’t do anything except listen to every word of Ritesh. She got on the front seat while Ritesh got on the driver’s seat and sped away. The people in the locality had gathered over there and helped the driver to sit up. One of them decided to call the ambulance while another called the police.

Meanwhile, there was a knock on the door at Sameer’s home. Sameer had finished his dinner and was getting ready to sleep.

“Must be Govardhan sir. Who else can it be at this time of the night?” Sameer thought as he opened the door revealing a surprise.

“Dad, what are you doing here at this time?” asked Sameer.

“Why? Do I need to fix an appointment to meet someone like you?” asked Mr. Malhotra.

That was a weird question that Sameer had no answer to; he stepped aside to allow Mr.Malhotra to come in. Mr. Malhotra looked at the room, it was almost the same size as Sameer’s room, however, that room was a part of their house and was more cleaner. Sameer watched in silence as Mr. Malhotra just kept looking around. He then saw the washroom, had a look at it and then came out. A light breeze was coming from the window which Mr. Malhotra noticed; he went and looked out of the window.

“They call me a man of principles and ideals, a man who never gives up, a man who can fall yet, still rise up against any challenge that life would throw at us. It is those same ideals that I wanted to imbibe in you and Dia, however, you never ever showed that zeal that I had. You were always lazy and happy-go-lucky, and try as I may, I could never make you look at life seriously.

However, it is only when I threw out of the house, it is only when I came to my senses that I realized that… that you are my son. My blood runs in you and that all it required was to tell you that we are not that different.” said Mr. Malhotra, Sameer was trying hard to grasp what his father was trying to say.

Mr. Malhotra then looked at his son and narrated a story that was enough for Sameer to understand his father’s predicament.

“My father sent me to shimla for my collegiate studies. I was of your age and believe me, I was just like you, never serious with my life, never had any ambition or goals… yet, I was happy in my world and my family. So it was obvious I didn’t want to go to a hostel, yet, my father felt that I needed to be disciplined for the life that lay before me.

I don’t think anything changed. I was still the same, perhaps because I may have not been studious but I was intelligent. A trait passed on Dia and you. One day, I was hanging out with my friends and I was introduced to a senior, Balki. He was another good for nothing yet, there was a reason why he was ‘respected’ by everyone. He was a son of big shot in shimla, he had all the bad habits.

I was mesmerized by this guy and we would always hang out with him. It just happened that, one day, he wanted to take us all to a bar in the heart of the town and I was interested. Back then, Sameer, there was no debit or credit cards… they were still not introduced. Father used to send me money through the speed post facility. Father used to send me around Rs. 1000 a month, I never needed that much and I would end up saving a lot. Balki said that he needed Rs.2000 from all of us. I was still in my world of fun and therefore, the amount did not sound alarming to me.

I checked my envelope and found that I had the required money. I took them and gave it to balki. We were having a ball at the bar, however, I did not want to drink. Balki’s friends forced me to, it was intentional as I can clearly see now but didn’t realize that time. The drink was strong, just 2 glasses and I was out of my senses. Slowly, I lost touch with reality, I fell to the ground and before, fainting, all I could hear was a police raid and people running around because of it.

I woke up to find myself in the police lock up along with my friends. I could see the principal of my college and 2 more teachers speaking to the police officer. The principal had bailed us out and we received a strong warning. As if that was not enough, our parents were called in. My father was furious with me and slapped me real hard. The sound of that slap still rings in my ears.

“Is this the reason why I send you money every month, you good-for-nothing wretch? You have no concern how much I toil day and night so that you can peacefully complete your studies and have a future, yet, you waste my hard earned money on all these nonsense. No more pocket money from now onwards.” my father said.

I was sad and felt guilty too. It was my entire fault. Everything was back to normal; however, my father was still disappointed with me. As usual I did get a speed post from my father… just Rs. 250, no more eating outside whenever I wanted to; I had to depend on the free lunch and dinner the college provided.

I was sitting in my room, one day, and thinking about the day at the bar. I kept thinking if… if anyway, it was possible to turn back time, but it was impossible. I was angry at myself. Suddenly, something clicked inside me. My conscience was not pricking me anymore but giving me a signal that I may not be able to turn back time, but I can make things right, prove to my father that I do have concern for him.

The same day, I went for a walk in the evening. There was a small restaurant just close to the college. The owner of the restaurant, Steve, knew me because my friends and I used to regularly come to feast on his delicious puddings, cakes, pastries and a variety of omelettes that his restaurant was popular for. Hesitant, I still walked up to him for help.

“Hey there, Puneet! How are you?” Steve asked.

“I am alright. I…ah… Steve uncle, I need your help.” I said.

“What is wrong? You don’t look so good. Everything alright?” Steve asked looking concerned.

“Steve, I need a job, a temporary one if possible.” I replied.

Steve couldn’t believe what I just said. Before, he could ask anything, I explained my situation and narrated the incident at the bar.

Steve started laughing and then said, “He he! Seriously!! Just 2 glasses and you went out cold. You really need some schooling from old boys like us. Anyway, jokes apart, I understand the situation you are in, and I must say I am proud that you understood that you have committed a mistake. How many boys of your age take the slightest trouble to even feel guilty about what they have done?

All in the past now, son. Look around you, it is past 5 pm and the crowd is already coming in. That is where my issue starts; I would love to have an extra pair of hands. It comes to a situation where I have to leave this table of mine and take orders. You can help me out in 2 ways – either you take care of the register here or you take the orders from the customers. Be assured, I will pay you handsomely.”

My joy knew no bounds. I had no issues working as a waiter, my mother used to tell me that no work was big or small. I wasn’t doing this permanently, I was doing this to prove something and I was confident I could do it.

After 2 months, I was working as usual at the restaurant when Steve asked me to take the order from table no. 15. I took out my notepad and walked towards the table; I didn’t notice the couple and asked, “Yes sir, your order?”

There was no answer. I heard a gasp from the lady and I looked at the couple. It was my mom and dad. My dad stood up shocked, I was surprised too yet, I took a grip of myself and once again asked, “How may I help you, sir? Would you like to have some tea and pastries?”

Steve noticed it and walked towards the table. He did not know that they were my mom and dad. Being the owner, he attended to them like regular customers, “Any problem, sir? Has my employee misbehaved with you?”

My father did not speak; he noticed that people in the restaurant were looking at us. He sat down and ordered for bread omelette and tea. I noted the order down and walked up to the chef. After my parents left, I told Steve about them. Steve was surprised but then understood why they were behaving oddly.

“Steve, if you don’t mind… my parents must be waiting for me. Let me go and meet them.” I said.

“Oh, come on, son. I understand everything. Go on, kid, I will take care of things here.” Steve gave the permission to leave and I immediately rushed towards the hostel.

My parents had come down to meet me and also pay the fees too. I took them to my room and made them comfortable. My father did not ask, however, my mother wanted to know.

“Don’t worry, mom. It is just for 3 months. It is the peak season here so Uncle Steve required some help at his restaurant. Just helping him out. Besides, it pays to have a bit of experience. I got to know a lot of things in these 2 months, so I can say I am bit prepared.” I assured my mother.

My mother was proud of me while my father was still silent. When it was time for them to leave, I took out an envelope from my bag and gave it to my father. My father didn’t understand at first, so I opened the envelope and showed him the content.

“I do understand how hard you work to fulfil our dreams. I may have not done it before, but I do now. There is Rs.2000 in this envelope, the same amount that I gave or lost for going to the bar. Please keep it.” I said.

My father was shocked, slowly, a smile sprouted and he hugged me hard. I felt so proud of myself that day. He then looked at me and said, “Son, there will be a time when you will have a family of your own. Your son or your daughter will try to follow in your footstep. See to it that the example that you created for yourself today is the same that they see and they do. I may have been angry with you, yet, we are humans… we all make mistakes, but I never stopped loving you or caring about you.

Your kids may also make the same mistakes, it is ok to be angry, yet, do not leave them. Always support them, let them know, that whatever happens, you will always be there to protect them, love them, and educate them. I bless you, my son. God bless you.”

Mr. Malhotra looked at Sameer after completing the narration. Tears welled up in his eyes as he walked towards Sameer and said, “I looked at the photo of my mother and father in my room and this incident, out of nowhere, came to my mind. I remembered what my father said and took myself to task for forgetting it.

I became so much inclined to my ideals and my principles that I forgot that you and Dia are after all my kids. I should have supported you, protected you, yet, I turned out to be your enemy over here.”

Sameer watched as his father started to cry profusely. This was the first time he had seen him cry. He then remembered what Govardhan had said when he first came to this locality – The world never turns their back to anyone. The world is only oblivious of the fact that there are a few good people out there who deserve to be trusted, deserve to be loved and honored. The world is blind, it is deaf and it is we who should make the world see what it needs to see, make it listen what it needs to hear.

He then looked at his father again… his father, his family… they were his world, they were everything to him yet, when his mom and sister came to meet him, he allowed his anger to take control of him. However, now, he realized that the world… his world… believed him now, they knew the truth. Sameer touched his father’s hand; the latter looked at his son.

“I remember my grumpy old man telling me that men don’t cry, and here you are here… crying like a bollywood heroine. It is ok, dad. It is ok. We were all puppets to a situation, however, the situation is now under our control.” said Sameer.

Mr. Malhotra wiped his tears and then smiled.

“Come back home, son. We all need you. Wait, I will pack your stuffs for you.” said Mr. Malhotra.

“Whoa! Dad, seriously!! You threw me out of the house without any of my stuff. I had to take a loan from Govardhan uncle to buy the ones I am wearing. The only prized possession I have is that costly yet stupid mobile you gave me.” exclaimed Sameer.

Mr.Malhotra stared at Sameer, the next moment; they burst out laughing and then hugged each other. Govardhan came in and his joy knew no bounds to see the father-son duo in a tight embrace.

“God bless you and your family, Sameer. God bless you all.” said Govardhan.

At Sameer’s home, Mrs.Malhotra was sitting at the dinner table and constantly checking the clock.

“What happened,mom? Is something bothering you?” asked Dia.

“Your father went somewhere without telling us. I am worried where he has gone off to. He has not even had his dinner and he needs to leave early tomorrow.” Mrs. Malhotra replied.

Suddenly, they heard a vehicle come and stop next to their house. They walked out to see if it was their vehicle. Mrs. Malhotra and Dia gasped in surprise and happiness as Mr.Malhotra walked through the house gate with Sameer. Dia ran towards Sameer and looked at him, Sameer was about to say sorry for the way he behaved with her before but was cut short as Dia hugged him. She was crying profusely and Sameer consoled her.

“I am back, Dia. I am back. Stop crying now.” said Sameer, wiping Dia’s tears.

He, then, looked at his mother and walked towards her. It was the same thing with her too. Some of their neighbors had come out of their houses to see what was going on, they knew Sameer’s family for so many years and felt so happy looking at the family united once again.

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