Still Missing... - Prasenjeet Kumar - ebook
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A gripping tale of love, terror, and the indefatigable human spirit that starts out to rescue love but ends up saving the nation…** From the #1 Best-selling Author **Major Akhil Thapar’s life turns upside down when he steps on a land mine while battling terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir.With his left leg gone, he has to adjust to a new reality. That he is crippled. That his career in the army is over. That he will now be wedded to his wheel chair. Forever.Till one fine morning when he meets Amrita Arora, a witty, smart, and intrepid conflict-zone TV journalist, in the hospital where he is recuperating.They fall in love when Major Akhil discovers a secret about Amrita. A secret that connects the two of them.But everything is thrown off balance when Amrita goes missing. It falls on Major Akhil alone to rescue his love. Little does he know that in his resolve to save Amrita, he would embark on a dangerous roller-coaster mission to save his country.

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STILL MISSING...

Prasenjeet Kumar

Copyright Prasenjeet Kumar 2017

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

The spellings used in this book are British, which may look strange to my American friends, but NOT to those living in Australia, Canada, India, Ireland and, of course, the United Kingdom. This means that ‘color’ is written as ‘colour’ and so on.

I hope that is NOT too confusing!

Edited by: Arun Kumar Ph.D.

Cover Designer: Alerrandre

Disclaimer

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Table of Contents

Part One

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

Part Two

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

Part Three

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

Epilogue

A Big Thank You for Reading This Book till the End

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Part One

1

Her mobile phone beeped. The message was cryptic:

“They’re following you.”

Her heart skipped a beat. This is what she was afraid of. It was time to get out as soon as possible.

She slid her phone in her purse and came out of the hall hoping no one noticed her. She covered her head with a scarf. The street leading to the local marketplace was crowded. She saw men in beards and skull caps walking around her. And women wearing burkhas.

No time to waste, she thought. She walked in a straight direction heading towards the car she had hired. She walked fast, accidentally bumping into one man after the other, and hearing the same phrase, “Have you gone blind?” and even more colourful ones. Again and again.

The street was unswept. Her eyes were hurting because of the dust.

She came across a meat seller who was chopping lamb (or was it beef) using a butcher’s knife. Carcasses hung on rusted metal hooks from the ceiling of his shop. She could faintly make out the body and legs of the animal that were “displayed.”

This could also be my fate. A scary thought crossed her mind.

A vendor selling tea gave her a hostile stare. Probably because she was NOT wearing a full burkha?

She kept walking ignoring the stare. Was anyone following her? Were they closing in on her?

Just to check she turned back. She saw many men walking in her direction. All bearded. And many wearing skull caps. Were they following her? She couldn’t be sure.

The men were walking as if they were not going to any particular place. They were also laughing and chatting in a language she didn’t understand. It couldn’t be them, she wondered. But who knows? Maybe they knew how to stalk without raising an eyebrow.

Her heart raced. Her breathing became heavy. It was almost noon on a summer day and the sun was strong. She could feel the back of her head burn. She walked faster trying to increase her speed with every step.

The street was narrow, cluttered as it was with handcarts selling all kinds of things. The houses, all dusty grey, with sloping tin roofs had stairs, balconies, and projections encroaching on the street.

She felt a hand on her shoulders. Someone grabbed her from behind and pulled her close. She tried to hit him and kick him but he overpowered her.

Someone covered her face with a black piece of cloth. Complete darkness. Her eyeballs pressed against the cloth but she could see nothing. Someone tied her hands behind her back. She screamed, but it was so faint.

The cloth tightened further around her face making it difficult to breathe. She heard the car start. The engine had a distinct diesel clatter. There was a thud sound as if a door had opened.

Someone pushed her, and she stumbled on to something hard. Someone picked her from both her legs and shoved her in. The place felt claustrophobic and smelled of fuel. She assumed it was the boot of a car.

The men screamed something. She heard the metallic thud again. The sound was like the closing of the boot.

The engine revved up. She felt the car move. As she felt every bump, her heart was pounding.

She didn’t know where she was going. Or how much time had passed. Every second felt like an hour.

Then the car stopped.

2

Major Akhil Thapar waited for his wife impatiently. He had parked his black Hyundai Santro in the parking lot just outside the Indira Gandhi Domestic Airport Terminal 1-D.

His eyes scanned for his wife in the crowd. It was a hot and humid monsoon afternoon in Delhi. The sun was smiling mischievously from behind the clouds. Akhil was drenched in his own sweat.

His white shirt clung to his chest and back making it feel tighter. Was it the Delhi heat? Or had he gained a lot of weight that made his clothes feel tighter? He couldn't tell for sure.

Add to that the sound of honking and the smell of fumes and you had created a perfect impatient Akhil.

He’d already checked the arrival display a million times. The display said Indigo Airlines Flight 6E 321 had arrived. Yes, that was the same flight his wife had taken that afternoon. Or was going to take. But, where was she?

He saw many couples coming out of the Arrival section pushing their trolleys. Women smelling of all kinds of perfumes and men smelling of either cologne or stale sweat. But no sign of his wife.

He checked his watch and saw it was 4:30 p.m. He’d been waiting for over an hour.

Did she get lost somewhere? Nope. That wasn’t possible. His wife was an avid traveller. As a journalist, she’d travelled from the same airport a zillion times. His wife getting lost inside the airport was something like getting lost inside your own bathroom. The scenario was funny, but Akhil wasn’t in a mood to laugh.

Did she lose her luggage? And now was battling the airline staff trying to lodge a claim? Possible. He’d read in the newspapers — of passengers’ baggage being sent to New York while they were travelling to Los Angeles. But again, that was impossible at the security-obsessed airport she was flying from where you had to personally identify your luggage before it was loaded in. And all hell would break loose if you forgot to do that.

He took out his mobile phone and unlocked the screen. No text message. His wife used to text him once before take-off and once after landing. There were no messages from her at all in the past three hours.

Akhil had still moved to the airport because may be this time his wife had forgotten to inform him that she’d boarded the flight. You know how these journalists are! For them, reporting national news is more important than reporting their welfare to their fretting spouses.

But now the signs weren’t good. There was no trace of his wife and no communication from her either. Why, only yesterday he’d spoken to her and everything seemed fine.

Was it the heat index or his imagination running wild? But his mind conjured all kinds of scenarios. Did she get stuck in a traffic jam and missed her flight? Had she slipped and twisted her ankle? Did she misplace her airlines ticket somewhere? Had something else happened to his wife?

He’d warned her that this time it was a dangerous mission. But she said she was doing it for her country. Just like he did. She’d told him her job was risky but much less than his was. And that nation came first before everything else, in any case.

Her logic was so powerful that he couldn’t say no.

He called his wife. Her mobile phone was still out of reach. He tried twice but the call didn’t connect.

In desperation, he called her friend Shilpa who worked at the same news station.

“Ummm... I really don’t know,” answered Shilpa, “Maybe she’s caught up somewhere. You know something comes up at the last minute. Relax! If she couldn’t board this flight, she may board the next one.”

“But why is she not picking up my calls?”

“Maybe her phone battery ran out of charge. But I’m sure she will call you from someone else’s phone.”

Akhil was too flustered to argue any further.

One more hour passed and still no trace of her. He wanted to file an FIR (First Information Report) with the police, but he knew it was a tad too early. Maybe his wife had got caught up in something exciting at the last minute that she couldn’t abandon. So, as Shilpa said, she may board the next flight.

She should then inform him. That should be logical.

But unless she did that, Akhil agreed, there was no point waiting at the airport for her. If his wife landed by some other flight soon, she could very well take a taxi. And nowadays with Uber and Ola, there were sure, plenty of options.

Akhil walked to the car park and got inside his car. He winced as his prosthetic leg, or rather the portion above it, acted again.

Despite being a well-trained army officer, he was feeling dehydrated in the Delhi summer heat. Akhil took a sip of cold water from the thermos bottle he was carrying, let his leg come to its senses, and drove off.

***

WHEN AKHIL ENTERED his home, he felt like a stranger tip-toeing in someone else’s house. Even the click of the door echoed back and startled him.

He moved inside and changed in to a more comfortable white t-shirt and black shorts.

Without her, he felt terribly lonely. His home used to be transformed when she was there. She would speak non-stop, and her laughter would make his home come alive literally.

The place still echoed with the countless talks he’d had with her, and the feelings and views they’d shared. She was the person with whom he could discuss almost anything. From religion to politics to money—everything.

Her presence was everywhere inside the house. She had filled every room with exotic indoor plants. One from Madagascar, called Sansevieria, she claimed could clean the air inside the house and make it oxygen rich. Akhil had difficulty pronouncing its name, sense what? So, she suggested he could use its more common name, which was mother-in law’s tongue.

“I like that,” Akhil had said and doubled up in laughter. The reference to the acerbic tongue of his mother-in-law was not lost on his wife, who playfully hit Akhil on his shoulders. That incident always brought a smile to his face.

The living room smelled of lavender. Again her favourite smell. His house was full of silky blue and yellow curtains representing — you guessed it right—her favourite colours.

Akhil admired his wife’s aesthetic sense. She knew what went well with what. He’d spent a lot of time with his wife choosing the teak furniture, spring mattresses, leather sofas, and even the right shade of the smell-free cream paint on the walls.

Akhil stared at the wall clock. It was almost 6 p.m. He switched on his 40 inch LED TV to listen to some news. Nothing new. The same old stuff. Bofors field gun scam, Augusta helicopter scandal.... Being in the military, the news should have interested him. But his mind wandered.

He called his wife again, but her phone was still out of reach. The clock struck 8 p.m. the time when his wife used to call him every evening. But nothing happened today.

He browsed the internet on his mobile phone. The last flight had arrived an hour back. Still no trace of her. He wanted to visit the police station, but knew he had to wait 24 hours before registering her as missing.

Akhil walked up to the fridge and took out an apple. He was in no mood to cook anything. He munched on the apple while surfing channels on the TV.

Around 10 pm, Akhil went to sleep. Alone. The bed, without her, felt too big. But the smell of her perfume was on the pillows. He tossed and turned, but trying to sleep was like chasing a dream.

He had told her it was risky. So many times. Now his mind was split into two—the Optimist and the Pessimist.

The Pessimist was louder. He knew she was on a dangerous mission. And something had definitely gone horribly wrong.

The Optimist asked him to calm down. She was a journalist and journalists worked 24 x 7. And the place she had visited did have poor network. The Optimist reminded him he was an army officer and trained to remain calm even in tense situations.

But the Pessimist was winning today. It wasn’t normal for his wife not to stay in touch with him. Something was wrong.

***

24 HOURS HAD PASSED. And still no trace of her. Akhil was now in the police station and filing a report about his missing wife. The police personnel on duty had the most indifferent look on his face, which didn’t help matters.

“What was the name of your wife?” said the police guy. The tone was cold.

“Amrita Thapar.”

Never lose her. His father’s words echoed in his ears.

He felt tears pricking his eyes saying that name. But he took a deep breath and was soon in control of himself.

3

A year ago...

He woke up in a strange place with terrible pain. Cold was seeping through his spine. He groaned and cried, a supposedly very un-army like behaviour—if you believe what you see in many Hindi movies where heroes soak up bullets and keep on bashing the villains as if nothing happened.

Akhil found himself in strange clothes. Was that a hospital gown? He tried to get up from bed but couldn’t. From the corner of his eye, he saw many men like him lying on beds around him. With all kinds of bandages wrapped around different parts of their bodies. The guy next to him, a guy with short hair and an elegant moustache, had bandages around his chest and his arms. Another fellow’s head was wrapped in a bandage stained with blood.

Akhil slowly came to his senses. He was in a place where everything was white. His gown was white, as were the walls, the bedsheets, the nurses...

A skinny male doctor came to him. The doctor was so thin that he looked like a patient himself. He wrapped something around his left arm and was pumping something. The wrapped around cuff bloated and Akhil felt the pressure on his arm. It throbbed. He was looking at something. And then that wrapped around thing deflated with a whoosh sound.

“Your blood pressure is normal.”

“Where am I?” Akhil asked.

“You’re in the Jammu Army Hospital,” replied the doctor.

Akhil blinked and groaned. Things didn’t make any sense. “Why am I here?”

The doctor explained, but Akhil couldn’t focus well. He mentioned Poonch, Lashkar-e- Taiba, the operation—

Slowly it began to make sense. Things came back in fragments in some sort of a flashback. Akhil remembered being posted in Poonch with 1/5 Gurkha Rifles. Yes, that same regiment which had produced the liberator of Bangladesh, the only living Field Marshall in India, Sam Manekshaw. What a freezing night it was, with the cold air slapping his face. There was snow everywhere.

His unit had information that five Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists from Pakistan were hiding inside a mosque. Akhil was tasked to lead the operation and he with his boys soon surrounded the mosque. He commanded the terrorists to surrender. Instead they heard gun shots.

His men ducked for cover. The sound of blazing guns were deafening. Smoke filled the air. Akhil coughed. His throat was hurting. The terrorists hurled hand grenades. He remembered some of his comrades being injured by the shrapnel.

The gun battle lasted a few hours. Four terrorists were killed while one had escaped.

He didn’t know how it happened. His memory was hazy. He was searching for something in the compound. Till he stepped onto something. The last thing he remembered was—that click sound.

An explosion happened and everything faded into darkness.

“My leg!” screamed Akhil. He was back in the hospital. He removed his blanket and saw the most horrendous sight of his life. His left leg was gone right below his knee. Just a rump wrapped up in bandages stared at him.

***

LIVING WITH ONE LEG was his new reality.

As an Army Major he’d learnt never to give up. Throughout his career, he’d been taught to live in the present. He’d learnt that every problem had a solution. When his senior officer asked him how he was feeling, he would reply, “A little lighter!”

At the surface, he smiled. And tried to be his regular self. But inside, a battle was going on. How he wished to have a normal life, but with one leg missing, he realised he now couldn’t.

He cajoled himself that he was the same Akhil. He wanted his family and friends to view him like the same good old Akhil. But could they see him like that?

But, and there were too many buts...

He’d become a war casualty, a crippled, a label he hated. What he feared now was that he may soon be seen as a burden. He was only 28 years old and the “Young Man” of the family. He was the one who should be taking care of everyone else. Not the other way around.

With his leg gone, he realised he couldn’t even do half of his day’s chores. Activities that required no thinking on his part, needed now an awful lot of planning. Who thinks of how to get up from your bed in the morning and move to your bathroom? For a job which takes less than a few minutes?

But Akhil fell off when he tried to do that. It was natural for him to step on the floor using his left leg.

Now he had to ensure that his wheelchair was at his bedside. Then he had to move slowly from his bed, putting down his right leg first and hopping on to the wheelchair. Every movement needed to be unlearned. And re-mastered.

The phantom pain too was unbearable. And the itching in his left calf, which had been snipped away, drove him mad.  Akhil was waking up during the middle of the night screaming in intense pain. No matter how many pain killers he took, his agony refused to disappear.

***

IN HIS DREAMS, AKHIL often saw himself climbing the top of Mt. Everest. The air so freezing cold he couldn’t even move his lips. He was carrying the Indian Tricolour which he planted there with all the strength he could muster. Then he looked down and let out a loud yippee. It sure felt like his greatest accomplishment.

When he woke up, he realised it was—just a dream. In real life, he couldn’t even walk, let alone climb any mountain.

Akhil found himself crippled with emotions. Whenever he was stressed, he would jog or play tennis. But now, he could do neither and that frustrated him no end.

A part of him was giving up on life. But another part wanted him to carry on. He didn’t see himself as a crippled twenty-something lad who was doomed to a life of misery.

But the more he fought with himself, the more he was losing the battle.

4

Akhil knew he couldn’t give up. And he couldn’t let his comrades lose heart. His colleague Captain Sanjay Thapa had injuries all over his body. Sanjay was hit by shrapnel when the hand grenades exploded. They hurt his arms, chest, abdomen, legs and even his face.

Other soldiers of his unit too were hit by bullets. Akhil knew he couldn’t let them all just brood and do nothing. So, to cheer them up, in that very army hospital in Jammu, he began dancing on his bed, and singing that popular Nepali song they were all so fond of in the Gorkha Regiment.

Akhil just smiled and used his upper body and hands to dance. Slowly he saw his other comrades grinning. They too began laughing and singing.

It was then his eyes fell on her. Till then he had given no thought to women. In between school, and competitive examinations for getting in the National Defence Academy, where was the time? Akhil had gone to an all-boys school where girls were discussed as if they were mermaids—to be only admired from a distance.

And the thought of sharing your life with a stranger was the most dreadful thought that could cross his mind. Much worse than fighting the enemy.

But when his eyes fell on her, he became so self-conscious that he stopped dancing. And so did his comrades. There was pin drop silence in the room. Who was this striking woman who had walked into a hospital room full of men all by herself?

The first thing that caught his attention—were her eyes. It wasn’t that her eyes were gorgeous. They were the standard brown eyes you would find anywhere else in India. But her eyes spoke of determination. That girl had seen a lot. There was steel there, he thought.

He had never met this girl before. But still he could tell that the girl was a born fighter. She’d suffered tremendous hurdles and yet she had fire in her eyes. He could tell a lot just by looking at her face.

She was probably as old as he was. But her eyes made her look mature. Way too mature for her age.

She was wearing a black sweater over shirt and black trousers. Not too showy and not too bland either. She was petite. He guessed her height would be around 5 feet 2 inches.

“She’s a journalist.” He heard a voice.

She smiled and Akhil smiled back vaguely.

“Hi, I’m Amrita Arora.” She took out her hand.

“Akhil Thapar. Pleased to meet you,” he shook hands with her.

***

HE ANSWERED ALL THE questions she asked. After checking her credentials and after getting his CO’s permission. About his operation, Pakistan, terrorist training, etc.

Facing the camera felt awkward. He wasn’t a movie star or a celebrity. Yet he knew millions would be watching him.

He was so engrossed reliving his experiences that he lost track of time. Then he realised that evening had set in.

“Would you join me for a walk?” he blurted out. He himself didn’t know why he said that. Was he attracted to her? Or was he being gentlemanly? Or was he just looking for some female company that evening?

“Sure,” Amrita said.

He placed his right leg on the floor and slowly sat in his wheelchair. Amrita offered help, but he refused. “No, it’s okay,” he said.

There was a small lawn attached to the hospital. Akhil moved the wheels of his wheelchair. And Amrita walked alongside.

“So, did you always want to join the army?” she asked.

“Is this another interview?” he said with mischief glinting in his eyes.

“Yes, Major Saheb. But an un-official one,” she said in the same tone.

“That was a terrible movie. And I’m not as old as Amitabh Bachchan.” Akhil replied referring to the Bollywood movie Major Saheb that starred Amitabh Bachchan.

Amrita laughed. “That was funny. How can you still retain your sense of humour? I mean... even after such a terrible tragedy.”

“Just because you’ve lost a leg doesn’t mean you should sulk for life. Or is that what you meant?”

“Ha-ha. You never answer a straight question with a straight answer.”

“That’s because I’m not straight.” Akhil laughed. “I mean I never thought in a straight line. I joined the army because... well, I joined the army.”

“What sort of an answer is that?” Amrita was grinning.

“Well, as I told you I don’t have a straight answer. My father was in the army, in fact in the same 1/5 Gurkha Rifles I was in, and so it was some sort of family tradition. But yes, I wanted to serve my country. I mean that is the standard official answer, isn’t it?”

“And what is the un-official answer?” asked Amrita. Curiosity dripping from every word she pronounced.

“That I love being outdoors. You know in school, I was a terrible kid in the sense that I hated classrooms. I always wanted to be out, on the playgrounds, on the tennis courts, in the swimming pool, climbing trees.... In my teens, I enjoyed rock climbing. And I was up for anything if it involved being outdoors. In India, if you want that kind of passion to pay also for your bills, then there is nothing to beat the army as a career.”

“You said you were a terrible kid in school. But if you weren’t disciplined, how could you fit well in the army? The most disciplined force in the world?”

Akhil paused for a while to gather his thoughts. And then he said, “I don’t know.”

“That’s it? You don’t know?” Amrita’s eyes twinkled as if she’d just seen a clown fish inside a fish tank.

“I guess discipline runs in my family. As I told you my father was in the army. And so was my grandfather who had fought against Pakistan in 1947. But that I think is a serious reply.”

“Hmmm,” she said.

He looked at the setting sun which had turned red. It was getting colder.

“Anyway, forget me. Tell me about yourself. Why did you want to be a journalist?” he asked.

Now it was Amrita’s turn. “Well, my reasons differ from yours. I’ve personally suffered a lot, but...” she trailed off. “The best way to fight is to expose corruption, scams, maladministration...

“I know that most people see journalism as a well-paid and... what is the correct word?... Oh yes, a glamourous profession. You get to meet celebrities, politicians, bureaucrats, and get to travel to different places....

“Well, yes that’s all true to some extent. But I had my own reasons. Reasons which I don’t want to discuss just now,” she said.

“Fair enough.”

She became quiet for a while. Then her eyes met his.

“Do you ever worry what’s going to happen to you next? I mean you seem so calm,” she said almost in a whisper.

“I do. But I don’t want this fear dominating my life.”

There was something about Amrita. He had not spoken so much to anyone especially after the incident. But with her, he hoped the conversation didn’t end.

She looked at her watch. “I need to go.”

“It was a pleasure meeting you,” he said.

“Your story is truly inspirational. I can understand what it is like to lose a leg. But... you’re very brave. I can also see you battling with yourself and yet trying to be cheerful. That’s fantastic.”

Akhil’s head was spinning with the sentence, I can understand what it is like to lose a leg. She uttered those words in such a way as if she was an amputee herself. But that was thinking too much. Akhil pushed the thought aside.

Amrita took out her hand. “It was nice meeting you too.”

He shook her hand. “My pleasure.”

Her expressions changed suddenly as if she’d forgotten something. She opened her purse and took out her business card. “Before I go, I think I should give you this. Please do stay in touch.”

He nodded and smiled. She turned back and walked to the door. Akhil watched her. Her walk exhibited immense confidence.

Akhil pushed the wheels of his chair and rolled back to his bed. His mind analysing the conversation he just had with Amrita.

5

The doctor checked Akhil’s vitals thoroughly. He looked like a typical army doctor with a moustache, short hair but with a friendly face.

“Your left leg is healing,” the doctor said.

Akhil nodded.

“How’re you feeling?” asked the doctor.

“Better. Trying to get used to my new life.”

And that’s the only thing he could muster. He wanted to say a lot. But couldn’t. He could not mention the battle that was going inside him. The Optimist who said life always had hope.

And the Pessimist who screamed at him that he was finished. It would be better if he had died in that operation. The Nation would have hailed him as a hero. The awards showered on him posthumously would have made his father proud. But now letting him deal with a cripple in his old age...

Akhil kept his feelings to himself. In the army, he wasn’t supposed to share such emotions publicly and demoralise his colleagues.

The doctor nodded. “Be gentle with yourself.”

“How long will it take to heal completely?” Akhil asked.

“Let’s see. May be around 14 days?”

14 days after such a life-altering tragedy didn’t sound like much. But spending those same 14 days in this hospital—was depressing. Akhil didn’t like that very much.

***

AKHIL WAS STUNNED TO see that familiar face again the next afternoon. Amrita! When she entered, she had everyone’s gaze upon her. She was dressed as if she had come back from reporting. Which probably she had. She carried a backpack.

“Hey welcome,” he said.

“Yes, it’s me again.”

She adjusted her sweater and cleared her throat to speak. “Our show was an instant hit.”

Akhil blinked as if it didn’t register. “You mean the interview you recorded yesterday?”

“Exactly. We’ve got a million views.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“Would you like to see the interview?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said. And everyone nodded.

She took out her laptop from her rucksack, and opened the screen. Then she went to some folder, the name unrecognisable and then there was this folder named “Major Thapar interview.”

She double clicked the video file, and the file began to play.

Akhil jumped out of his skin when he saw himself on camera. He was all messed up, and looked terrible in a hospital gown. He hadn’t shaved. And... his face had grown a darker tan.

The interview made him cringe. And his words about fixing Pakistan... He heard his comrades whistling and clapping.

The half-hour interview ended, and the video stopped.

“How was it?” she asked.

“Okay, I suppose.” He could hardly muster any words.

She stared at her watch and then looked at him. “I need to speak to you in private. It is... official.”

“Sure.”

“Can we talk where we talked yesterday?” she asked.

“Okay.”

***

BOTH WERE OUT ON THE lawn again. Akhil on his wheelchair and Amrita walking along. Both remained silent for a while till Akhil cleared his throat to break the silence.

“You said you wanted to discuss something?”

“Oh yes,” she exclaimed. “Your interview was a big hit. My boss asked me if I could have some more sessions with you if that is not too much of a bother.”

“Okay. No problem,” he said.

Akhil noted that this wasn’t something she needed to speak to him in confidence. What was going on? But what the heck? He too needed to speak to her privately.

“How was your day?” he asked.

“Pretty hectic. There was some news about shelling from across the border. So, we had gone in an army chopper to Poonch in the morning to cover that story. A few houses were damaged. And two villagers had been injured.”

He nodded.

She looked at his legs. “How’re your legs?”

“The doctor said it will take another 14 days for my left leg to heal completely.”