Chapter One - Gone
'Arrghh...' Sunehri wailed as she tumbled to the ground, due to a peddler who had rudely bumped into her with his cart in the middle of the carnival set up. 'Oho...no one ever looks where they are going...HUNH!!!' Sunehri suddenly squealed aloud, 'All my popcorn. Urgh.' She grumbled from the dirty desert floor, to her sister-in-law's, Maithali and Parvati, seeing the cup of popcorn she had been happily munching upon moments ago, all gone to waste now.
'Oo...don't worry about it Na-nand sa, what's important is that you are ok, aren't you? You didn't get hurt did you?' Maithali came to her aid, helping her up.
'No. I'm fine...but my popcorn.' She moaned, lips pouted and eyes drooping. Maithali shook her head lovingly: the girl was more worried about her food than herself.
'Don't worry, Sunehri baisa, we'll get you another one.' Parvati suggested, bringing the two-twenty volt smile on her sister-in-law's face.
'Really? Yay.' She jumped up excitedly.
'Suno Suno...eik kahani. Eik tha Raja eik thi Raani...' As the girls turned back to go to the popcorn vendor, the curtain of the make-shift theater drew back and the chorus began.
'Ooo...the show...it's starting...' Sunehri exclaimed, now torn between getting her snack or missing the beginning of the show.
'Don't worry Baisa...you go, find us some seats and Jeeja and I will get the popcorn, ok?' Parvati proposed.
'Really? You're the best Bhabi-sa.' Sunehri hugged Parvati, then turned and hurried away happily towards the seats in front of the stage; whilst Parvati and Maithali turned in the opposite direction to go to the popcorn vendor, smiling at their sister-in-law's joy.
Maithali and Parvati had walked only little distance when Maithali spied a stall where a merchant was selling wallets. 'Parvati, if its' ok with you I'm just going to stop and look over these wallets...your brother-in-laws' wallet has become very tethered, but he himself won't buy one so...'
'Go for it Jeeja. You look through them while I get the popcorn.' Parvati nudged Maithali into the direction of the cart as she continued towards the popcorn vendor.
She was next in line for the popcorn, when a gruff voice from behind her made her insides churn.
'You have been very hard to find, and yet very predictable to lure out, Paaro baisa.' The voice drawled dangerously. Dread creeping up her spine she turned slowly to confirm what her rattling heart was already telling her. 'The Major will be disappointed that all it took was a mere puppet show to draw you out of his protection.'
'Bheema...' Her lips shaped the name her voice-box failed to sound.
'Nice to see you haven't forgotten, your "family members" even after daring to rat out your father-figure, Raja-Thakur and dooming him to the world of dug outs, in order to stay alive.' He spat out venomously.
Parvati felt droplets of sweat crawling down from her forehead, to her neck and further down her spine. Sweat which had nothing to do with the heat, the baking-sun above was emitting. She opened her mouth to scream, but found it as parched as the desert land she had grown upon. No voice came, while the carnivorous black eyes of Bheema bore into her. She forced herself to look away from him, as did he. She to look for help, he to find a way out of the fair they both were trapped in. Her eyes landed on Maithali's back, some distance away from her, bargaining away with the seller. Closing her mouth and drawing as much saliva as she could muster she opened it to call out to her, but before any sound could escape it, Bheema's large hand sealed it, muting any distress call she could make. That done, he wrapped his other hand around her waist and easily dragged her away before anyone could notice.
This could not be happening. She could not allow this to happen. If Bheema succeeded in getting her safely out of the carnival it meant her death was certain and with that Rudra's case, his hard-work, the loss of his soldiers all gone to waste. She needed to do something. Act fast. Get someone's attention, if not Maithali's, as the distance between the two was increasing with everyone of Parvati's escalating heartbeats'. But what could she do? Bheema had managed to get her away from the crowd, considering most were headed in the direction of the theatre, which was now performing the story of Dhola and Maaro. A few more minutes and Parvati would become one with the sand she was being dragged across. As she struggled to get free from the man once she had thought as synonymous to a brother, she saw Maithali turn away from the dealer, having made her purchase and look for Parvati. This was her chance and as if it was ordained, the thought came to her and she bit Bheema's hand hard, making him scream and pull away his hand from her mouth. This was her moment. Filling up her lungs with the sandy air, she bellowed as loudly as she could.
'JEEEJAAA!!!!! JEEEJAAA!!! HEEELLLRRRPPP- Her screeching voice was cut off as Bheema now gagged her mouth with her own dupatta. But the damage had been done, Maithali had spotted her. She now charged towards them, screaming out Parvati's name and for help, people began turning and saw the abduction that was taking place. However, it was too late, for Bheema had reached the entrance of the fair where all the rickshaws stood. Shoving one of the drivers out of his rickshaw, he threw Parvati into the seat with him and motored off, just as Maithali, with the other villagers who had come to enjoy the carnival reached them.
Fear gripped Maithali. She had seen that man before. He had been at the Mah-Shivratri festival. The one who had shot at Rudra. He was Tejawat's man which made the situation even more worse, if that was possible. Rudra would go ballistic when he found out what had happened. But he needed to know and now, if there was any hope of saving Parvati then Rudra was it. She ran back into the carnival and pulled Sunehri away from the show, relating to her all that had happened. She was distraught, to learn how her innocent wish had resulted in Parvati's capture. Maithali snapped her out of her guilt as she flagged down a rickshaw and sat in it with her, heading towards the BSD headquarters to alert Rudra.
'Yes sir.' Rudra saluted V. K. Singh and headed out of his office armed with the new information about Tejawat's whereabouts. They were getting close and Tejawat desperate, to have let someone as closely linked to him as Bheema out on an errand. He could taste the victory in his near future. Tejawat in custody. And all his black dealings shut down, forever, thanks to his prime witness and wife: Paaro. Paaro. She too would be free after he was finally caught and tried. Once he was in jail she would no longer have a knife dangling on top of her head. That thought bought him solace. Until a new thought entered his mind, if Paaro would be free from Tejawat's threat, than what?
Up until now he had been with her to protect her or that is what he had told her. That was the only excuse that had worked to keep her in the house, after his right hand had healed and she had revealed her nonsensical vow to him: the vow to leave him in order to keep him alive. It was a ridiculous notion according to him, he wasn't alive because she had asked her god to give his life in return to go out of his life. He was alive, because he just was! But she wouldn't hear it. He had even tried to make her see sense by turning her theories on her, of how if Destiny, as she liked to say it, had brought them together then how could she think that Destiny would want to separate them now. It had muted her for a moment, but then she had just changed the subject saying it was her belief and she knew that bhole-naath had granted his life in return for her promise to leave him and so she must. She had been ready and about to leave when by some miracle his father had managed to make her stay by reminding her that her life was in danger and as she said herself only Rudra was capable of protecting it. Rudra had then caught on to that idea seeing her hesitate and gone on to tell her how being the prime witness not only was she in danger but could not leave his custody until the case was over. Thus she had stayed, although on her terms where she was now back to sleeping in Sunehri's room, wanting to stick to her oath to be out of his life; which she now made sure she was by being out of his way, not coming in front of him or doing anything for him. The last she liked to make him think, but he knew that the pressed uniform every morning, along with a freshly laundered handkerchief was not Maithali's doing. Just as the appearance of his favourite vegetables in break-fast, lunch and dinner wasn't made by Maithali's hand.
But with Tejawat caught, this would change things. She would be free to leave and he would have no reason to stop her. He had been trying work out a way to make her stay, come up with a strong enough reason for after Tejawat was captured, but so far he had had no luck. Every time he would come in front of her she would dodge him and leave. When he cornered her, she wouldn't meet his eyes. Just the way she had done this morning, when he had surprised her by being in the room. She had come in to put his ironed clothes in the cupboard thinking he was in the shower, but when she had turn away from the cupboard she found him blocking her way. She had tried to side step him but he had pinned her to the wall to commence their argument of how her vow was ridiculous and she needn't leave. But she didn't want to listen and struggled with him until, her patience ran out and she fired on him with a question that silenced him.
'Why Major saab?! Why are you so adamant on making me stay? Who am I to you? Just your witness right? So, why the problem with me leaving? You were the one who never missed a chance to remind me that this,' she pointed to the red thread around her neck - her mangalsutra. 'This was only your misfortune. That you tied the knot only to save your duty, while you kept me in the house for your case to keep your witness safe. So why are you so against my leaving now? I thought you would be happy, as this was always what you wanted, so why not let me go?!' Her voice had lost it's flare and she had stared at him doe-eyed, earnestly wanting an answer. An answer that may actually change her mind. But he hadn't been able to give it, instead had released her from his bodily prison. Letting her walk away, hurt, yet again by his silence.
It was true he had married Parvati for that very reason, to save his job. Well that and to avenge his suspension due to her foolish act which had given his bonehead of a cousin the opportunity to get the media suspicious of their relationship and his treatment of her, forcing him into the corner where marriage was the only way out for him. But now...now things were different. He had entered the marriage despising her, wanting to wreck havoc in her life. But too soon into the marriage he had learnt upsetting her only upset him, he didn't know why. So giving her pain was out of the question. Then somehow she had begun to matter to him. Again he didn't know why. All he knew was the thought of her not being in his life, left him with the same hollow, empty feeling he had felt after his mother had left him. She somehow made the emptiness disappear with her presence. Not only that she made him want to actually live life, not just survive, which was what he had been doing all these years.
But now she was talking about leaving, causing the hole to resurface. He couldn't let her leave. He just couldn't. But he didn't know how to stop her either. He didn't know what she wanted to hear from him, or whether there was something he could say that would change her decision. And now time was not on his side either, for the hunt of Tejawat was reaching its' climax. Tejawat captured. The case closed. Then what would he do? How would he stop her?
He was mulling this over, when Aman came running up to him. 'Oh good, you are out of the meeting Sir.' He panted, as he reached him.
'Calm down Aman. What's with the hurry? I was with Singh Sir, not in quarantine that you need to look so relieved that I'm out.' Rudra stated.
'Wha-? No, it's not that sir.' He said catching his breath. Sir-
'Bhai sa...' Sunehri's wail from behind Aman, cut him off and introduced Rudra to his visitors.
'Sunehri? Bhabi sa?' Rudra voiced in confusion, as Sunehri closed the gap between them and hugged her brother, sputtering all over his uniform. 'Sunehri...wha- why are you crying? Wha-?' But he stopped before he completed that question, as he felt a sudden pang in his gut. If these two were looking so distressed and had Aman wired up, that could only mean one thing. 'Paaro...' He whispered in a strangled cry. 'Bhabi sa...what happened? Where is Paaro? Is she ok?' He fired the questions at her seeing that Sunehri was in no condition to answer.
'Devar ji sa...' Maithali sobbed. 'We...we had gone to the...the mela set up close by. P-parvati was so lllow this morning so we th-thought w-we ccould cheer her up...there was a pu-puppet sh-sh-show on...so-
'Yes...what happened? Where is she?' Rudra asked impatiently.
'At the carnival...that that man...who sh-shot at you in the Mah-Shivratri mela...he...he...' Maithali wheezed out.
'Bheema...He what?' Rudra now asked in a deathly voice. Squeezing his crying sister's shoulder hard: for his own support rather than her console. If Bheema had got to Parvati...oh gawd he hadn't...he wouldn't put it past Tejawat's Spaniel...he didn't hesitate from pulling the trigger at him, so why would he at Parvati who was standing between his master and his master's freedom.
'He abducted her sir.' Aman completed the story, as Maithali was clearly finding it more difficult to spit it out the second time round. The shock of what she had seen taking toll on her. Or maybe it was because this time round she was telling it to Rudra.
Abducted. As in took her alive. So then there was a chance. A chance that she may still be alive. After all he knew his wife, she was a fighter. She didn't give up that easily, their present situation was prime example of how stubborn she could be. Although even in that she hadn't given up only was waiting for him to give her a sign: a sign which, for some reason he was finding it very difficult to give. But that was not of relevance right now. Parvati was.
'How long ago did this happen?' Rudra forced himself to turn objective. If he was going to save his wife, he needed to know all the details and that wouldn't happen if he remained subjective and let fear rule him. 'Bhabi sa...Sunehri.' He pulled his grieving sister away from his wet shoulder. 'I need you both to tell me everything. If I am going to save Paaro, I'm going to need both of you to cooperate. Understand?' He said in lower tone, to show them he was not furious with them. He was: but at this moment he needed to prioritize. He could give them an earful later, once Parvati was safely back in the house. 'When did he take her?'
'Ab-about...forty minutes ago.' Maithali choked out.
'Ok...and this...this carnival where was it set up?'
'Tejpur.' Sunehri answered.
'Tejpur...Aman we already had information about Tejawat being there. So there should be officers out there. Radio over the situation to them to get them to start looking for Paaro.
'Tell them Paaro is wearing a yellow ghagra-choli and red dupatta. She is five foot-
'No Devar ji sa. Paaro wasn't wearing that.' Maithali cut in.
'That is what she had on this morning.' Rudra stated.
'Yes, but she changed before she left. She wore a light blue ghagra-choli, with a matching blue dupatta.' Maithali related.
'Ok. Then blue ghagra-choli and her height is five foot four inches, long brown hair and fair skin. Caramel-green eyes, she has a mole on her right cheek next to her ear and-.' Rudra noted off, but stopped seeing their dumbstruck faces' gaping at him. 'What? Why are you staring at me?' He questioned unnerved by their sudden need to pierce him with their gaze.
'I...we...never thought you knew such details about her appearance. I mean Bhabi-sa's her eye colour and her mole, Bhai sa...' Sunehri voiced their astonishment.
'Of course I know. She's my wife.' He blurted out. Then, 'I mean...I'm a soldier, I'm trained to observe...and really this is not the time to question my observational skills. Aman get going. Oh no wait...what was Bheema wearing and how did they leave...' He rounded on Maithali and Sunehri again, 'Did Bheema have a car...it would be easier to track them down if we know what he went on.'
'No. He stole one of the rickshaws that was at the fair.' Maithali conveyed. 'And he was in a black kurta, white dhoti and white turban.'
'Ok. Got that Aman. Go. Manthan.' Rudra shouted over to the guard standing outside his office. He jogged over, instantly.
'Take my family home.' He ordered. 'Safely.' He added, then headed off in the opposite direction, while Maithali and Sunehri stared at him in awe. He had called them his family and instructed his personal guard to take them home safely. The man who had pointed a gun in her face the first time they had met, addressed her with respect and treated her as his family today. Parvati, was right he was changing. The changes were subtle, but in times like these, evident. She had an effect on him, an effect he couldn't shake off and it would be that effect which would save their relationship from the separation Parvati was settled upon. However, an unsettling question rose in the back of her mind, about whether after what had taken place in the fair would there be a relationship to save, for Parvati was gone and the chances she would survive let alone manage to come back were looking less and less as the time passed. Quenching her fear, she left the headquarters with Sunehri, while it bustled nosily in action, desperate to locate Parvati before it was too late.****Edited by ACTywm - 2014-05-31T14:44:54Z
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