When the doorbell rang, Savita opened it to find nearly six feet tall, rather large, well built man, who appeared to be in his sixties because of the snow white ample hair. He wore an old fashioned navy blue blazer, which usually the policemen or the armed personnel wear very proudly, on most occasions. He sported a thick moustache that matched the white of his hair. Only his eyebrows were less white, somewhat grayish. His dark brown eyes glowed in contrast with his fair complexion. He regarded Savita affectionately but it took a moment more for her to recognize the person as one of the dearest friends of her father.
“Police Uncle! What a surprise!” she cried with joy addressing him as she had always done since childhood.
“My God, Savita!” he said expressing equal surprise, “Why, look at you! You are a big girl now, no longer a petite schoolgirl. Had I met you somewhere else, I hardly would have recognized you,” said he patting her back affectionately. “ I am …er,” he wanted to say ‘I am sorry I couldn’t come to your marriage’ but restrained himself and asked, “Where is your dad?” he didn’t want to remind her of her marriage, for she had lost her husband within six months of her marriage in a motor accident.
She knew at once what he had begun to say and a flicker of sadness swept through her eyes. He continued, “The ba…er” and held his tongue realizing he was talking to a lady, “he hasn’t even cared to telephone me for the last four years”
“He is in the study room, uncle. I will fetch him,” Savita replied with a knowing smile.
“Don’t bother child. I will go and surprise him myself. I know the way,” saying he ambled towards the study room that was at the far end on the right, with windows opening to a gorgeous view of the valley on which the farm fields and plantations were terraced.
He entered the room without knocking, as he was wont to, to find his friend bespectacled and absorbed in studying some account books. A frail man, Govind, had not always been so. Of average height, he had put on too much of weight about a decade ago. But since the death of his wife, then his old mother and a younger brother, he had gradually wasted. Of wheatish complexion, with straight nose and wide eyes, he was a handsome man while in the engineering college, but now his hair had grayed and thinned and wrinkles had appeared on his face. He didn’t even hear the sound of the opening of the door and lifted his chin only when Shivakumar, Shivu to his close friends, cleared his throat deliberately, to draw his attention.
“Aray! Shivu!” he rose from his chair and hugged his friend. “You are looking ten years older than your age Shivu. Now you are indeed an old man.”
“And you look older than me,” Shivu said while the friends eyed each other carefully after relieving each other from the hug. “Why, you have lost so much of weight. Is something the matter?” enquired Shivu with all the care dripping from his eyes.
“Nothing. I am absolutely comfortable now. I was diagnosed as diabetic about a couple of years ago. Since then, taking the advice of my physician really seriously, I have lost weight. In fact, I feel healthier now. Now that I have found a boy to assist me in my business affairs, and who is more like a son to me, I have a lot of leisure. I am really enjoying my life.”
Shivu sat on the divan and said, “If you don’t mind,” lit a cigarette. Govind laughed and said, “As if you won’t smoke if I mind!”
“So how is your life? Are you still posted in Sindhnur?” asked Govind watching the smoke that Shivu exhaled vanishing in the air.
“Yes and no. You do not have a retirement age but I do have, remember? Another week, and I will be out of the police department. I have worked for 34 years and I need rest now. Avinash, my only son, you know is settled in the USA and he wants me to join him. I have not yet decided what to do and where to stay. Last morning I received a summons for rendering evidence in the JMFC court here. I thought it was a great opportunity to meet you and take your advice.”
Like his friend, Shivu also had lost his wife and was leading a solitary life. He had been a thoroughly upright and honest officer and had great reputation for his investigative skills. He could never yield to any pressure, political or monetary, for which he had suffered hundreds of transfers, and the resultant hardships. Nobody could break his integrity. He was unselfishly wedded to his job, more than to his own wife. He fiercely loved his independence and freedom. That is why Govind hesitated for a while before suggesting, “Why don’t you stay with us Shivu? I will have a great companion with whom I can share all my feelings without a second thought. You would be a great help to me. I am asking you a favour, not offering any okay?”
“Govind, I may consider your suggestion, but right now I have to settle all my affairs, attend all the farewell parties and finish a couple of assignments that are lying with me.”
“This is your own house. You can come here anytime,” Shivu said meekly.
Savita entered the room with a tray topped with tea and samosas and placed it on the teapoy and said, “So the old friends are having a heart to heart talk after long long time!”
“It is so pleasant to have the company of Shivu, you know,” Govind replied and Shivu smiled at her and watched her leaving the room closing the door behind her and then said, “She looks happy. Doesn’t she?”
“She has got over with the tragedy. Now she seems back to normal. Thanks to Jay.”
“You mean the guy you alluded to earlier?”
“Yep. He is a gem of a man. Ever since he came here…”
“Have you checked his antecedents?” Shivu cut him.
“Ah, it is your police mentality”
“May be, but one can’t be more cautious about such matters.”
“He came here about two years ago, seeking a job. He is from Gulbarga. He is a graduate in commerce, extremely good-looking and charming. I’d always wished for a son like him. He approached me at the factory without any reference or recommendations and asked me to try him just for one month before continuing. Coincidentally, my senior accountant had just expired and I needed a hand badly to manage the accounts section. I took him on trial.” Govind paused for a while, in order to pour tea into the cups. When finished he handed one to Shivu and took a sip from his own cup before continuing.
“Within the first fortnight, he displayed his genius in account matters, streamlined the whole accounting process by acquiring a software and computerizing the section. Nearly half the staff in the accounts section was redundant now, but he requested me not to fire them. He advised me as to how they could be accommodated elsewhere.
“That was when I invited him to my house for the dinner. For years I had neglected the upkeep of this house, which couldn’t escape his meticulous eyes. He sought my permission and taking Savita into confidence, he began refurbishing the house. Savita suddenly found something to do, and it helped her to come out of her continual trauma. With the help of an interior designer and landscape planner, they converted this house into such a beauty. I was happy because Savita was now coming alive to life and had begun taking interest in so many things about which she’d ceased bothering.”
“You know it well Govind, that one can deceive only those who trust him!”
“You won’t give up, would you? I hadn’t bothered about the affairs of the factory, and the Manager, a long time employee of mine had been shortchanging me. But for Jay, I never would’ve found out his deceit and conceit. Jay could’ve easily made more money by joining hands with the Manager. And then, he would not allow me to fire the culprit, for he was capable of creating labour unrest. I retired him with all benefits of an honourable superannuation. Very soon he could charm all the workers and gained their confidence. I made him the Manager about six months ago.”
“So his career has undergone a meteoric rise, as they say. Where are his parents?”
“He says he lost both of them when he was in his teens. He was the only child. A neighbour took pity on him and supported him till he finished his school. Then he began working as a waiter in a bar and restaurant at night and attended the college during the day. He is a very hard worker, even now I find him untiring in his duties.”
“Naturally you trust him.”
“I trust him with my life, which he has saved once. I collapsed once at 2 in the morning, while trying to take water from the refrigerator. Savita had gone to Bangalore to attend a marriage of one of her friends. It turned out to be a heart attack. Some how I could call him on my mobile, but couldn’t speak. He drove all the way from the staff quarters near the factory, a distance of 15 kilometers and arrived in just five minutes. He’d to break into my house to get me and he took me to the hospital. I was miraculously saved.”
“I see. I’d very much like to meet this man. What plans do you have for his future? I think you have something in your mind. I can sense it.”
“Hmm, Savita likes him.”
“I thought so. What about him?”
“He adores her. I can easily see it.”
“Seems like everything is settled.”
There was a knock on the door and a handsome young man opened it. “Come in Jay, and meet my dearest friend Shivakumar. He is a Deputy Superintendent of Police,” Govind said by way of introduction.
Shivu felt something wasn’t right. Do I know this Jay? Why do I feel I am not meeting him for the first time? He shook hands and found that the young man’s hand was shivering. “It’s a pleasure meeting you sir,” Jay said politely but his face was fallen, not too obviously for Govind to notice.
All of a sudden, the recognition came in a flash to Shivu. This young man had been convicted for a drug related offense and had been sent to Bellary prison. How many years? Yes, seven years and had served three years before escaping dramatically from the hospital where he’d been taken to for some illness that he’d successfully feigned. It was Shivakumar who had arrested him along with several others, in Bangalore. All other boys, being the sons and relatives of the rich and the influential, had been able to dodge the law and everything was pinned on three boys. One committed suicide, the other was still in the prison. There was a look out notice for this Jay.
Shivakumar was an Inspector of Police then. He conducted the raid on a resort where these boys had holed up and apparently having a rave party. He’d expected his superiors to have all the praise for him for grabbing the irresponsible and pleasure seeking off spring of the big shots, however, what he actually got was rebuke and berating for causing trouble. He wasn’t allowed a free hand in the investigation and the real culprits got away. But still Shivu was not sure if Jay was in the clear. And above all, it was certainly a crime to escape from prison.
Meanwhile Jay left the room after taking a couple of signatures from Govind. Shivakumar was absolutely uncertain now, as to what to do. He was torn between his duty and the trust that Govind had placed in Jay. Wasn’t the trust misplaced? Wouldn’t he also be violating the trust that Govind placed in him by not telling him the truth?
Savita served the dinner herself, although there was help. “She has cooked all items herself. Isn’t she a wonderful cook?” Govind asked.
“Yes. Just like her mother was,” replied Shivu thoughtfully.
“It’s all because of Jay that I learnt cooking. In fact he taught me how to cook,” Savita said happily and looking at Jay seated at the other end of the table with all her appreciation. Jay smiled and continued eating.
“Listen Govind, tomorrow after the court hours, I have to rush back to my headquarters. Don’t press me to stay. And I am put up at the Circuit House which is by the side of the court. That’s convenient for me.”
“I knew you would say so. Jay will drop you. When will you be back here again?”
“Soon,” Shivu promised.
All the way back to the Circuit House, Jay didn’t speak and kept his lips sealed. He looked as though resigned to the fate. He stopped the car under the portico and opened the door for Shivu and then he said, “Sir, I am ready to be taken. I know I committed a crime of running away from the prison. But injustice had been done to me in the first place by charging me with what I didn’t do. I had been there to serve the food that my restaurant had sent. Only thing that now worries me is how it is going to affect Govind sir, he is like a father to me. I don’t want to hurt him.”
Shivakumar looked into his eyes and said, “What crime? What are you talking about? I don’t know a thing. And I am retiring in a few days. Please take care of my friend. Good night!” and scurried towards the entrance of the Circuit House.
Jay stood there totally bewildered for a long moment watching the back of Shivakumar. Then with tears in his eyes, he whispered, “Thank you sir!”