Ria was in an upbeat mood as she moved towards the hospital. She had never thought getting back to work here would be a thrilling anticipation in itself… and though she tried to contain her excitement the bounce in her steps gave her away. She had missed the regular bus so she had to resort to a share rickshaw… Usually she avoided it for the crowd but today nothing mattered. She wanted to reach the hospital even if she had to grow wings and get airborne!! Besides she had left her phone at home… she berated herself for it. Of all the days she had to do it today… what if there were messages for her from…um… Preeti… Of course, who else would want to message her…? Would Gaurav be looking forward to see her as well? She checked the time… the rains had caused traffic snarls and she was still stuck. She would definitely be late for work… but would Gaurav call her to reprimand her? She realised she was blushing… Oh no… Ria get over yourself…. The only dampener in her spirits was the impending meeting with Vikram tomorrow… Not that she cared about his opinion but thought she deserved closure on that front.
She was over an hour late as she reached the hospital gate, her almost healed leg starting to give her little trouble and she regretted leaving her phone home. She was dropped quite a distance away which couldn’t have happened if she could book an Uber… Nonetheless, she increased her strides and moved towards the entrance unable to burst the bubble of excitement coursing through her. To her surprise she was even looking forward to her work with her colleagues.
As she huffed her way through the reception, she saw there was a new flustered receptionist instead of the overt Swara. Did she actually leave the job? Ria had heard Swara had loads of financial commitments though she didn’t know details. Nonetheless here was a huge change and the other two receptionists were trying to train the young scared girl. Ria felt for her as she shuffled her way inside waving to the other two.
“Hey… here comes my bestie…” Preeti screeched startling her and she couldn’t control her laughter as the boisterous woman rushed to hug her with a box of chocolates. Wow… the assorted ones which she loved… Preeti’s mother ran a little business of the same and she knew Ria loved her creations. Ria was grateful for Preeti as her friend… Preeti whispered a sorry into her ears even as the others came in to welcome her. But soon they had to return to work and decided to catch up in the lunch break. Ria too had to get back to her pending workload which she knew would have shot up… But she looked forward to it. She walked into her little cabin and took in a deep breath of the now appealing antiseptic fragrance and sat to immerse her self in work. As expected, the workload was huge but she was engrossed in work loving every second. She didn’t know when the time had passed when she heard Preeti frantically call out her name.
“Ri…Ria… just…just come out to the tea room… somethings on the news… come fast…” Preeti gasped in between breaths and rushed ahead calling someone else on the way.
What had happened… Ria wondered… as she shut the current file and shuffled her way outside. Her leg was aching a little but curiosity got the better of her as she moved towards the tea room located on the ground floor itself where she worked. She saw it was crowded to the brim with many employees looking at the screen wide eyed. She looked in the crowd and caught Preeti’s eye who waved to her and she had to cut through the crowd to reach her… there was some commercial going on…what were they watching?
“..hey someone change the bloody channel… check another news channel…” someone yelled.
“…the assholes… all have commercial going on at the same time…” someone else said…
“…are just wait it out yaar… barely take a minute…” it was Tushar…
Ria was lost in the cacophony of the conversations going on when the commercial got over and the news anchor… good lord… Arnab Goswami, got back on TV. The Republic TV guy always got on her nerves with his screaming and her appa loved the guy. Her home at night felt like a battle ground with every man on Arnab’s show screaming to give the bytes. She must have zoned out when she felt Preeti pressing her palm.
‘…. In the events following the arrest of the prodigal member of the Chopra clan of the famous Chopra group of hospitals, Dr. Gaurav Chopra… for the rape of an employee from the head hospital branch in Pune…. Has shaken the medical fraternity. The Stree mukti morcha is up in arms and is demanding the strictest punishment… So viewers what do you think…? Will the accused go scot free due to the power of wealth or will the survivor get justice…?’
The room which was silent suddenly burst into a chaotic rumble of opinions even as Preeti spoke into her stunned ears. “…Who do you think Ria…? I mean… really…rape? Why does he even need o do it when he has women throwing themselves at him…?”
Arnab got back on TV with visuals as everyone listened… Ria’s heart was in her mouth as she saw grainy images of Gaurav hiding his face as the police led him outside what appeared to her like his residence, into a waiting van. Her eyes filled and she blinked away tears still unable to come to terms with the news… but the next part of the howling anchor actually pulled the rug below her feet.
‘…And there are fresh reports coming in. The special court had granted the police a five-day custody and the section 376 has been imposed which has made this a non bailable offence. Well, it looks like money and power don’t always stand a chance where justice s concerned and as we can see the stree mukti morcha had been celebrating with banners stating, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL… Also coming in is our correspondent Arti Gupta reporting right outside the premises of the prison where Dr. Gaurav Chopra has been held for questioning and further investigation. Over to you Arti…’
The onsite reporter came into view and Ria’s breath stopped watching the crowd gathered outside the police station, even as the reporter spoke. “… here as we see there is huge crowd of protesters gathered and the pressure on the local police is paramount given the sensitivity of the case and the high profile status of the accused. As per what we have been able to find out, the survivor’s identity has been kept under wraps but she worked at his hospital and was frequently subjected to sexual advances and harassment, silenced with threats. Finally ,on 29th of July as the city was brought to a stand still with the incessant rains, the accused had visited the survivor on the pretext of being stranded and drank himself to glory after which he allegedly forced himself on her that night. Police have recovered circumstantial evidences which directly place the accused in her house at the time of the incident. The medical reports of the survivor indicate the possibility of rape… over to you Arnab…”
29th July… good heavens it was the same night she… Ria blocked out everything around her. A feeling of euphoria suddenly emerging within. That was the night he had saved her… he was with her. How could he rape that woman…? Not that she believed he would… never… She was with him alone for the entire night and she had never felt safer. The man couldn’t have done this… Then all of the sudden the bubble burst… Why didn’t he say anything? Keith… she had to call Keith… Fuck … her mobile phone was at home. And she couldn’t tell anyone here without raising suspicions… Oh God how could she help…? Suddenly there was commotion around again as someone announced the police had arrived and all had to get back to work as they called one employee at a time for questioning.
What? Wouldn’t it be great…? Everyone only had good to say about him, didn’t they? Ria was beginning to feel better. She went back to her cabin amidst muttering where everyone speculated different theories and mostly everyone wondered who the employee was… One of them suddenly deduced it had to be Swara… The guy was from HR… he had to know everyone. The murmurs again began as Preeti caught up with her. “…Hey that flirt Swara… what do you think Ria… they both weren’t present at the party… do you think he may have done it…? But Swara was sleeping around with him… for quite a while then why did he have to … Oh… is it because she left him…? You know… men and their egos…”
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell Preeti the truth that he was very much there in the party venue. But something stopped her…She had to talk to Keith once home and she couldn’t go till the police were done with. Unfortunately, the questioning took longer than anticipated. The TV room was shut by the police in order to not influence the probably witnesses however in todays times of active mobile phones it was tough. Preeti barged into her room with her phone. “Hey look at this… Looks like bossman was busier and murkier than what we knew about him…” This was another news channel showing a leaked report from an old case… though grainy it was a file picture of a young Gaurav face partly covered and in handcuffs… Accused of rape and eventual murder of two…? What? The background of the scene of crime wasn’t Indian… wait… Dubai police? There was another picture of Gaurav standing next to a high-end car with a caption… ‘Son of the Chopra Scion caught for rape… Too much money and alcohol….’ As Preeti went on and on as to how appearances were deceptive, Ria was lost in thought. It was surreal and Ria was beginning to get worried. She knew she couldn’t be wrong in judging Gaurav… could she? He had been nothing but caring towards her and that NGO he ran, Parijath… there everyone worshipped him. She was no great judge of people but she definitely knew a rapist wouldn’t be treated with respect this way and if he indeed was one, it definitely didn’t show anywhere… But she had seen Vikram first hand after he was stone drunk… so did Gaurav… accidentally…? She hugged herself and shook away the thoughts. The date was indicative that it wasn’t possible…. Irrespective of what happened in the past.
By the time it was her turn it was 8PM in the evening and every employee was asked to leave after the questioning unless they were employed in emergency. There were strictly forbade from discussing anything asked. Ria was waiting outside the interrogation cabin that was set up tentatively, when Preeti emerged. She could speak but Preeti looked lost and on the verge of tears. She entered the room and sat opposite the two investigation officials and there was a woman constable too.
They asked a few basic questions about how long she had worked here and the type of work she did here. “So… Ms. Narsimhan, how do you describe your reporting boss…?”
“…um… He … he is kind as well as authoritative and it has been a great learning experience since the past one month ever since he was my reporting boss…”
“…Do you think he can… do what he has been accused of…?”
“…No sir… I… I don’t think so…”
“Ms. Narsimhan… is there anything you want to add on here…? This is the time. Later you wont get any opportunity…” The officer asking looked onto her eyes. Ria was trembling within but held her fort.
She was then asked to leave and she couldn’t wait to rush out of the building. It was dark outside but nothing compared to the dark future Gaurav faced for this crime which he was falsely accused of. She usually would have been worried about reaching home this late, knowing the poor state of public transport in the rains but today she was in a daze. Suddenly as she neared the gates, lights flashed on her and she had to step back to cover her eyes. The vehicle came and halted next to her as the window drew down. “Ria… just get in please…”
Oh Kieth… thank God. She looked around and quickly got into the passenger seat.
“…Wait Ria …listen to me… Did they ask you anything…? I mean I know police was there… you didn’t have your mobile switched on… Did you tell them anything about Parijath…?” Keith spoke quickly as they drove away.
“…no Keith I spoke nothing… In fact I wanted to speak with you… but left my mobile at home… Keith… he didn’t do it.. you know it…”
“…Ria… he… he doesn’t want anyone to know about that night…”
“…Why Keith… Why be blamed for something he didn’t do…? Also he is so influential… family and all…”
“…That’s because he believes it will expose you and Parijath… Uh… Parijath has been hidden away… with the locals fiercely protecting it and Gaurav sir has kept his name from being associated with the organisation because of his past… You must have seen the leaked pictures… goddamn concealed records… I wonder how people got them… and his family… well i think you missed the news… the Chopra Group has washed its hands off the case officailly… ”
“…What…? They don’t believe in his innocence…?” Ria was stunned… but given her own background she shouldn’t have been surprised. But why… did they do this… with the kind of money and power they had they could have worked things around… that’s what she had seen in the papers whenever something like this had taken place. God there was a lot more than what met the eye… definitely something to do with that past of his.
“…Keith…I… I don’t know about his past but this… he didn’t do… and we can’t let him get punished for this… I won’t be able to live with my conscience…”
“…Ria… I am so glad… you think like that… we have to convince him… you have to actually. He won’t listen to me… so tomorrow…Saturday… will you come with me to the police station…?”
“…Of course, I will Keith…” Ria finally felt a little at ease since the time she had first heard the news on TV that morning. Keith and she barely spoke and he dropped her outside the gate.
“…Ria… the visiting time would be around 12pm tomorrow… I will text you when I will pick you up once I check the status… and …thank you for agreeing to do this…”
Ria saw Keith looked fatigued with bags under his eyes. She was touched by his loyalty… “Of course, Keith… you take care… see you tomorrow…”
She went home to a still brooding father and a silent sister. But she had better things to worry about and immediately went to her drawer to take her phone and switched it on. It beeped with messages from Preeti and Keith… She checked all of them and there was one from Vikram… Oops she had totally forgotten about him.
‘Meet me at Golden Palace hotel tomorrow for brunch… the Swargate one… 11AM… and hope you have given our relationship another thought…’
That was so typical of Vikram. He knew that place would be very far from her home. Over an hour of travel. Though she dreaded it, she agreed. She had to close that chapter of her life. But then what about visiting Gaurav…? that held greater priority… She googled and checked Gaurav was held in Swargate police station, which was about two kilometres from Golden palace… Thank God for small mercies! She texted Keith to pick her up from Golden palace about 10 min to 12 PM and hoped she could stick to her schedule… worse she hoped the perennially late comer Vikram kept the time tomorrow.
As she went to bed that night hearing Arnab bellowing from the TV in the drawing room, mostly about the hot case of the doctor investigated for rape, she was sure of one fact… she was definitely going to tell the truth… she knew it was not going to be simple. She had an even greater Herculean task before her… to convince Gaurav…
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