The judge banged her grovel and was visibly angry, as she signaled both the lawyers to the bench while Ria walked back to her seat… tears still flowing down her cheeks. She could feel Gaurav’s eyes on her but she continued to stare at the floor, her hands clasped in her lap. Keith sat next to her saying nothing but she was grateful he was there… The judge spoke. “We break for a half an hour of recess and Mr. Khandagale, by the time we are back I hope the complainant will have composed herself to continue the proceedings and do I have to remind you that this kind of outburst wont be allowed in my court…?”
“…I am sorry your honour, that was absolutely uncalled for…I will see to it that the decorum is maintained…”
The judge left the court room through a door at the side and Keith turned towards her. “… Ria … come on lets go out for some air…” She nodded and wiping her cheeks she stood up and started to follow him.
“Ms. Narsimhan….” Khatiyal came upto her followed by Gaurav and Manek. She looked up to see Gaurav looking into her eyes with intense emotion and she looked away as tears threatened once again. “…Uh…Ms. Narsimhan, you did well there… we have this under control now… amazing poise and…”
“…That’s enough Khatiyal… lets resume in a while…” Gaurav spoke in a soft but stern voice and Khatiyal walked away without giving her another glance.
“Manek have brought the vehicle…?”
“…Give me the keys… its parked at the same place…?” Gaurav asked without bothering to wait for Manek’s answer as the later handed over the keys. “…we will be right back…” He came forwarded and took Ria’s hand in his and walked out of the court room. Ria didn’t speak anything but reveled in the comforting warmth of his hand engulfing hers as she wondered why nothing else gave her the kind of solace, he did… and where was he taking her…?
Gaurav dragged her behind him through a cul-de-sac of corridors and finally they emerged out from a little gate where there was no reporter laying in wait to pounce. They walked towards a Wagon R parked in the corner and Gaurav opened the passenger seat for her and shut the door once she got in before he moved towards the driver’s seat. Soon they hit the main road which was relatively empty. He drove for about a couple of minutes till they reached a park…near what she felt was Viman Nagar park…? Parking the car under a large peepal tree he got out and Ria followed him. He walked towards the park entrance, which barely had people at this hour and stood looking at a statue planted right in the center. Ria looked at him with questioning eyes, but knew he would tell her what he wanted to in due course of time… He held her hand again and they walked towards the statue and it was then she read the name on the plank: “Late… Tribhuvandas Ahuja…” Oh was he Gaurav’s grandfather…? Gaurav touched the plank and looked up at the statue and Ria had to squint at the bright light inspite of it being cloudy.
“…Ria… meet my maternal grandfather… and Nanu…?” He looked at the statue again. “…Nanu meet Ria… she saved my ass just like you always did…You would be good friends with her you see…” Gaurav chuckled. And it was then she saw moisture in his eyes. She placed her other hand on his hand in her palm and he looked at her. At that moment in that park surrounded by the sounds of breeze, chirping of the impatient birds and a mild cacophony of the people talking, the world came to a halt and all Ria could see was Gaurav standing before her with an innocence of a child written all over his face as he wished to talk his heart out… but would he…?
“…Sir…? Are you…alright…?” She asked softly and Gaurav looked away as if woken up from a daze.
Gaurav nodded still holding her hand. “…Ria, my Nanu built this park… this was a concrete jungle and their home was a little away from that lane over there…he wanted the children in this neighborhood to enjoy outdoors… to have fun in open non polluted air…” He pointed towards the direction of bungalows. “… Actually he and Nani were separated for a long time even before I was born. Nani had moved to Kolkata where she had her ancestral home but then guess what…? She came back and they lived together only for my sake because… my parents dumped me on them and they didn’t want to leave me alone… Ria… they… they stayed with each other for almost eighteen years only so that I could get some sort of permanence in my life… and what did I do…? I… I just threw it all away… All their sacrifices… everything… down the drain…I wonder what they must be thinking from up there…” She saw his throat bobbed as he looked at the statue blinking rapidly.
“..Sir… I don’t know about your past… but what what happened to Swara… if it really happened… it wasn’t your fault… so why are you berating yourself…? Your Nana and Nani … I am sure they loved you enough to stay together in spite of their differences and they must be seeing what work you have done at the hospital and Parijath… how you have helped people actually live by giving them hope and dignity… I am sure they must be proud of you… Do not put yourself down sir… its very unbecoming of you…”
He looked down at her face and she saw his face going through a varied change of emotions as he opened and shut his mouth twice wanting to say something but only tightened his hold on her hand. “…Ria… thank you… thank you for everything you did…” He spoke candidly.
“…Don’t have to thank me Sir… I only sided with the truth…” Ria spoke with confidence in her voice but deep within she was breaking down. Right now, she had to be strong for Gaurav, because he was just a little while away from knowing his fate…She had all the time in the world later to mope over her feelings.
They walked towards a man selling Ice creams and he got them two cones. “…My Nanu used to buy me an ice cream every day much to Nani’s chagrin and she would immediately give me hot water to drink once I got home…” Gaurav smiled reminiscing his past as he looked away in oblivion.
“Sir…um… we have to go… its time…” She said after she had finished her cone. He nodded and they walked towards the car. The return journey was in silence and she kept looking at him only to find him more relaxed and looking back at her every now and then. Something fluttered in her belly and she couldn’t help but smile but the very next moment she saw the court approaching and her smile fell… They walked via the same route and reached the court room just in time for the hearing. As they walked in he squeezed her hand once before he let it go and moved ahead to take his seat. Ria sat with Keith waiting in bated breath as the Judge walked in. Swara had come too but her head was bowed and back hunched as it she had given up the battle.
Ria had been stunned at her outburst earlier in the day, wondering why the woman had to stoop so low… But somehow it reeked of a deeper foul play. She knew Swara didn’t have the IQ needed to plot something so sinister… was there someone above her…? The ringmaster who ran the show…? She shuddered at the thought. Who would go to such lengths and planning to incriminate Gaurav? And most importantly… why? Did it have anything to do with his past…? The judge’s clearing of her throat brought her back to the present.
“Ms. Sawant come over to the stand…” Khatiyal spoke out as a defeated Swara walked to the stand and gripped the handles tightly. “…So Ms. Sawant… as you said earlier… you had a tough life and all that… I am not interested… just tell the court did my client Dr. Gaurav Chopra do the heinous deed that you accused him of…? And… tell the truth this time…”
Swara shook her head. “… No… he… he didn’t do it… nothing… we never had any affair… I am sorry…” She started to sob and suddenly looked up at Gaurav. “…I am sorry Gaurav sir… please forgive me…” She started to weep and for a moment Ria’s heart went out for her.
“Point to be noted Your honour… and with this I appeal to the court to squash the FIR… but there are a few facts which need to be clarified and I would like to question Ms. Sawant if you permit…” The judge nodded and Khatiyal continued. “…Ms. Sawant the medical reports claimed you were raped. So why don’t you tell the court how did you make up the circumstantial evidences…?”
“…actually I was in need of money… I hated my life and I wanted luxuries… I barely made ends meet with my salary… My mother used to take me with her to those rich homes she frequented to offer her services and the luxuries I saw money could get you… I wanted them… at least some of them… I made up stories about our affair in office so I could attract men… but inspite of trying so hard all I got was losers… And one day… about 10 months back…I got a letter… telling me of a lifetime opportunity to earn a lot of money… I was salivating… i just had to implicate Gaurav sir… I was told he would just get some punishment which he would pay up and escape but I would get to earn a lot of… money…” She looked up towards the ceiling and continued. “…I don’t know who sent that letter but a bundle of cash was regularly kept at the mentioned location…I… I hadn’t seen that kind of money in my life before… so… so … I gave in. I.. I roped in Sudhir from the NICU… He had a bone to pick with Dr. Gaurav who had reprimanded him multiple times for misbehaviour…” That Ria was shocked was an understatement. Sudhir was such a bastard… “… And Sudhir agreed immediately. He helped me spread further the rumours about an alleged break up and last Tuesday he was with me in the bar. We knew Gaurav sir would be alone that evening… Sudhir had already stolen the phone on Friday evening when Dr. Gaurav had left earlier than usual and Karuna was on a tea break…. We had Ram Singh… the waiter already involved who gave us insider information and he roofied the drink… When Dr. Gaurav went into a trance I… I… seduced… him… He didn’t even know what happened…” At that moment Swara glanced at Ria with a strange look. “…He just thought… I was someone else… I don’t know who… but Govind did the rest using the condom… I then marked him with my nails and clicked pictures. We had disabled the CCTV so our footage was missing… I waited till Thursday to make the official complaint and to file an FIR…” Swara sobbed into her dupatta and looked at Gaurav. “…I am so sorry…”
Khatiyal looked back at Swara and spoke in a tone dripping malice. “… But the medical examination revealed rape… How on earth did you manage the feat…?”
“…It was my boyfriend… he likes it rough… I made him do me hard, and then went for a medical knowing very well that the results officially would be out only on the following Monday and then on Tuesday we got the other evidence… so. We told the doctor that the condom was missing and then on Tuesday we gave the sample. All that was needed was a drop for the DNA match and it was done…. Easily… but that was arranged by Sudhir… he had some contacts in a lab and they helped us get a pre-dated report….” Ria’s chest clenched and she hated Swara and Sudhir with a rage she didn’t know existed.
“One last question Ms. Sawant… why 29th of July…? Why not any other day…?”
“…Actually, there was this party and I knew Gaurav Sir never attended one… so I could have evidence to indicate he wasn’t there…and it was raining… to go ahead with our facade…” She looked at Gaurav again and said. “…I am so… so …sorry Sir… I didn’t intend for you to suffer like this…”
“…That’s all your honour… in addition to the case dismissal I demand stringent punishment for Ms. Sawant, Sudhir and her boyfriend… all of who have played with legalities which itself is a crime…” Khatiyal bowed to the judge and got back to his seat.
“Mr. Khandagale… anything else that you wish to say…?” the judge looked above her reading glasses.
“No, your honour… there is nothing left…” Khandagale sat down with a thud on his seat totally surrendering.
The judge rubbed her eyes and said. “…I have to say this is the fastest fast -track trial I have ever seen in my life… strange are the ways of life and every case gives me a lesson or two. I applaud the tenacity of your material witness Dr. Chopra, not everybody has the guts to stand up there and answer pathetic cross examinations… at the same time I am appalled at the lengths people stoop to for materialistic gratifications….” She spoke, looking at Ria and Swara in successions. “… Nonetheless, considering all evidences presented and also considering Ms. Sawant’s revelations, I hereby dismiss this case and instruct the police to arrest Ms. Sawant and her accomplices and file charges under IPC 209… for false charges and claims. If Dr. Gaurav wishes to he can file a defamation case against Ms. Sawant as well as others involved for mental agony. The court is dismissed…” She banged the gravel and walked out. The lady constables came forward to arrest Swara who made an exit hiding her face in her dupatta. Khandagale shook hands with Khatiyal and made his exit as quickly as possible.
Keith came upto her and held her hand as they followed Gaurav and Manek outside the court towards the exit. She saw the swollen ocean of reporters each trying to get a byte of the case. Apparently they had already heard about the judgement… news traveled much faster in their circles indeed.
‘Dr. Gaurav… would you press charges…?’
‘… do you think there is anyone else involved…?’
‘…What is your next step Dr. Gaurav…?’
‘…Ms. Ria… what you said… was it true…?’
‘…Ms. Ria… why did your ex-fiance speak out like that…?’
‘….Ms. Ria… tell us about your rendezvous with Dr. Gaurav that night…’
The questions inundated her senses and she would have collapsed with giddiness if Keith hadn’t held her hand tightly. Somehow the police managed to get them to the exit safely and she saw the police van with Swara in it… as it waited for the area to be cleared. Ria was very close to the van as she waited for Gaurav and Manek to get the car. Suddenly someone patted her shoulder. Keith stood talking to a constable whom she identified as Paranjape sipping a cutting chai and she turned around. It was a lady constable who asked her to accompany her to the van… Ria looked at Keith who was busy in conversation and went along with the constable to the van where Swara waited with tear stained eyes.
“You have only two minutes… speak up all you want…” The lady constable moved towards the other side while Swara whose other hand was held by another constable sniffed tears and said. “…I am sorry Ria… I didn’t mean to do any of this… and in my wildest of dreams I didn’t know you would be involved… except well…last Tuesday…” Ria was confused. What was Swara indicating…? Swara continued. “…Be careful Ria… that bossman is quick sand… he will pull you down slowly and surely… and there would be no way back… stay away Ria… its dangerous… he is dangerous…”
“…Wait… Swara… do you even hear yourself…? After all that happened…?”
“…I am only telling you because you were the one person genuinely good to me…at work…Now, I am doomed… save yourself when there is still time…”
“…why are you telling me all this Swara…?”
“…that’s because I know you are in love with him…and last Tuesday do you know whose name he uttered when I…? It was you Ria… it was you…”
That was the last she heard before the constable returned and shut the door and the van pulled away. Soon Gaurav came in with the vehicle and Keith and Ria got into the back seat. Throughout the drive to the safe house, while the others discussed the ramifications of today’s judgement, the only sentence that echoed in her ears was, ‘…it was you…’
Copyright Disclaimer: All content posted here is a work of fiction and original work based on the author’s imagination. There is no intention to disrespect any person or faith. Any resemblance to any person living or dead or any community is purely coincidental. No part of the content can be copied, reproduced or posted anywhere else either entirely or in parts, without the consent of the author.