Editor: Read Chapter V here.
Anjali was on top of the world. Rajesh had been extremely pleased to see her as she emerged from the airport wearing a yellow salwar kameez, her hair flying in the breeze. Although, the police jeep was not very comfortable, the policeman at the wheel was a good driver, and took care to avoid potholes and bumps. Rajesh sat next to her, but they couldn’t say much or even hold hands because of the driver and the police constable sitting behind them cradling a rifle on his lap. Intimate conversation and anything beyond that would have to wait till they got to Rajesh’s bungalow at Gadchiroli.
‘What did you tell your parents?’ Rajesh had asked her at the airport, just as she had come out.
‘Project meeting in Bangalore!’ she grinned. Rajesh had frowned and that had irritated her, but then she forgot about it. Having come all the way to Nagpur, there was no point in getting annoyed over minor irritants. The scenery was breath-taking; part of it forest land and the rest of it rugged mountains.
‘Any sign of the big fish?’ Anjali asked, and Rajesh frowned once more. Anjali could have slapped her forehead. It was silly of her to ask such a question in the presence of the gunman. What if they told others that the Additional Superintendent had been discussing operational matters with his fiancée?
Anjali knew that Rajesh had a cook and a maid and while the former was hopeless the latter was excellent. But what sort of people would they turn out to be when she met them? Would they take to her? After all, she would be their memsaab in less than a year, wouldn’t she? She was planning to do a bit of cooking, but the bulk of the time when Rajesh was away would be spent training the cook to make edible food for Rajesh. The man had lost weight, but whether it was on account of the strain his work or due to bad food, she didn’t know.
She knew Rajesh had a microwave, and the aaloo parathas she was carrying with her could be warmed and eaten. She had even packed some lime pickles and hopefully Rajesh’s kitchen would have a supply of curd.
She would have to get Rajesh to invite all his colleagues to dinner. Would they invite the DIG and SP or would they merely get his direct subordinates to congregate for the banquet she would arrange? Could Rajesh get a few extra hands to help out for just that day? She would have to be presented to the DIG at some point during the week, she presumed.
‘Sir, Rajesh refused to bring me here and so I came here on my own,’ she would tell him with a smile. If that didn’t floor him, nothing else would. What about the DIG’s wife? She wondered. It was indeed important for Rajesh that she should get along with the wives of his superiors, she knew. What if the DIG’s wife took an instant disliking to her? From what she had heard, she was a dragon who made every one of her husband’s subordinates run errands for her. No, she would have be pleasant to the dragon as well.
They reached Gadchiroli in just under four hours. The sun was setting and Anjali could barely contain her excitement. However, Rajesh was looking rather glum, as if something was weighing him down. Once they were inside Gadchiroli town, Rajesh took a deep breath.
‘I’ve arranged for you to stay with a Professor Bina Morkar. I don’t really know her very well. I’ve met her only once, she teaches at Gondwana University, but DSP Kumble knows her very well. She stays alone and has agreed to have you as a guest,’ he told her stiffly.
It took Anjali a few moments to register the implications of what she just heard. Her mouth fell open and she stared at Rajesh, a fixed icy glare which Rajesh had never seen before, but it was not totally unexpected, given the circumstances. She couldn’t say anymore on account of the driver and the police constable. Soon the jeep came to a halt outside a small single-storey house, with a tired looking three-foot wall running all around it, and a rickety gate that was ready to fall off its hinges.
Thankfully, the police constable stayed inside the vehicle as Rajesh and Anjali got off.
‘And you made this arrangement because?’ Anjali’s voice was harsher than the rasping of a rickety gate’s latch.
‘Because this is Gadchiroli and out here unmarried men and women don’t mingle together. I have a reputation to maintain, you see.’ Rajesh had the air of a guide introducing Gadchiroli to an innocent tourist.
‘Rajesh, you have to be joking!’
‘No, this is the best I could come up with. Tomorrow, when Professor Morkar heads off to work, I’ll drop in and spend some time with you. Mind you, she has a full-time maid and so we’ll never really be alone.’
‘I guess I’ll never set foot in your bungalow?’ Anjali asked, her heart sinking.
‘You will, of course. I will take you there for an hour sometime.’
‘For an hour?’
‘Maybe two. It doesn’t matter. I have a maid and a cook who will make sure we are alone and your reputation won’t suffer. And I will get you back to the Professor’s house before it gets dark.’
They were silent for some time.
‘What does this Professor Bina Morkar teach?’ Anjali asked.
‘At Gondwana University,’ Rajesh supplied.
‘I know silly, but what subject does she teach?’
‘To be honest, I don’t know.’
‘Is it likely to be electronics or computers?’
‘I dunno, but I doubt it? Why? What difference does it make?’
‘Because I would really enjoy staying with someone who teaches something to do with IT. So that I wouldn’t miss my job even when I am on holiday in Gadchiroli. I would hate it if this professor turns out to be from the liberal arts.’
‘Anjali, I am damn sorry, but there was nothing I could do.’
‘Rajesh, as long as the most learned and honourable Professor Bina Morkar turns out to be someone I can discuss software and binary GCD algorithms with, I shall have no complaints.’
‘So, when do I get to see you or talk to you alone? I mean, when do I see you next?’ she asked, gritting her teeth.
‘I told you. Tomorrow,’ Rajesh said huffily as he rang the bell.
Bina Morkar turned out to be a pleasant woman in her early fifties. After Rajesh left, Anjali realised that the aaloo parathas were still with her. She considered calling him on his mobile and letting him have them. He loved aaloo parathas and it was not really his fault that Gadchiroli turned out to be such a backwater.
‘A penny for your thoughts, my dear,’ she heard the rather prim and proper Professor Bina Morkar say.
‘Professor Morkar, would you like some aaloo parathas for dinner? I made them early this morning, but they should be still nice, once we heat them.’
‘Of course my dear, I’d love to have some. We have lots of curd to go with the parathas,’ she added.
Featured Image (Cover): Nisha Joseph
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