Saturday, July 30, 2011

Between the lines (concluding part)

Read Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

Akanksha and three others sat at a table facing the door. Akash suddenly felt like a bumbling college student appearing for an admission interview. What was this pretty young thing doing with these no-nonsense looking men? Wait a minute, she’s alive. What the hell was going on?

“Akanksha…?” was all he could muster.

“Yes. But now, she’s no longer known by that name.” The guy in the center spoke out.

“Who’re these …?” Akash started, when Akanksha put up her hand. “Come, sit Akash. And from here on, we’ll do the talking. Ok? Let’s get it over with now. Not much time.”

Akash sat and looked at all of them.

“You’ve been taking your ‘mystery writer’ role a bit too seriously, I see – at least the last few months.”

Akash laughed nervously. “But..I thought you had..”


Akash didn’t know what to say.
“Ok, let’s keep it at that. I’m dead – at least on paper.” Akanksha looked at the other men and continued.

“It wasn’t meant to be like this, you know. But you involved my sister, so I’ve had no choice but to make things clear.” She paused. “..and also because, well, we don’t want to jeopardize innocent civilian lives.”

“What do you mean?”

The burly man on the far left spoke now.

“Mr. Akash – your curiosity, and to a certain extent Ms. “Akanksha’s” friendly banter with you…” he looked at Akanksha, who shrugged, “…has, for want of a better word – made our ongoing work, a little difficult to progress.”

He went on some more about patriotism and national security. Akash sat blankly, not sure if he wanted to be there anymore, pretty girl or no pretty girl.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of RAW, Mr. Akash,” the man said. Akash broke out of his trance. “Huh? Yeah.” He looked at Akanksha. “I’ve heard of it.”

“Akanksha is a field agent, involved with collecting intelligence information involving external threats to the country. Just like how terror outfits have sleeper cells, we have counter-intelligence outfits monitoring their moves. It is too complicated for you to comprehend all this now. Just know that we’re on a mission. And we want you to stop your curious moves, starting now. Clear?”

Akash nodded sagely.

“But, that car accident, and...your sister? Does she know?”

Akanksha cleared her throat. “No, she doesn’t – but dad knows. He’s an ex-serviceman. For now, my mother and sister could pose serious problems if they come to know I’m involved with RAW. They’ll also know in good time. But from us. Me – not from you, if you know what I mean.”


Then he remarked. “But Deeksha seemed to know what I was upto, so…”

Akanksha smiled. “I know. She did some background work behind your back. She called Benny, the lobby manager at the Planter’s Haven resort. Benny, is in fact a RAW officer himself.”

“So, you were in that resort on a mission….” Akash started and trailed off, suddenly remembering he wasn’t supposed to be speaking about this a lot. “Ok, I get it.”


“You are advised to cut off all contacts with her sister and be to yourself.” Burly man said.

“But Arun? Why was he killed?”

“Ah him,” the burly man continued. “We need to thank you for that bit, though. You know of course, that we’ve been watching you and Akanksha’s sister. And we were glad you guys stopped this ‘detective’ work for a while. We were almost convinced you guys had given up, when you went and contacted this journalist. And we found that he was in fact with the other guys. He wanted to alert them about us, as he was doubtful about the accident himself.”

“And you …,” Akash wondered.

“We had to eliminate him, Akash,” Akanksha said.

Akash whistled. “Oh boy.”

“Real life, as you know it, is no mystery novel Mr. Akash. We mean serious business here. And you, were almost in the cross-fire.”

Akanksha interjected – “but not anymore. Please go back to your life – get your book published and well, do well as an author.”

Akash sighed. For a minute he wanted to pinch himself. He was talking to real agents, and instead of feeling elated at the opportunity, he wanted to scoot from here. His mind was filled with questions, about Shashank, and the other occupants of that burnt car – but he knew what the answer would be. He thought it best to leave these agents with their work that they knew how to handle.

“Ok, I get the message. But you know Akanksha…I was know, thinking,”

“Don’t think Akash. No point thinking anymore. This is beyond you. I only wish I hadn’t spoken to you that evening.” She looked at her seniors who looked on grimly.


Six months later, Akash sat at his book signing. The usual drill, interviews with papers and magazines. His book was received well.

A couple of weeks later, he received an email from an unknown sender – spirited_reader@gmail

“Nice book, Akash. I hope you win the booker for it. All the best for your future.”

He smiled and shut the message window.

The End

Between the lines (5)

Read Part 1/Part 2/Part 3/Part 4

Akash completed the final draft of his book a couple of weeks later and took it to the publishers. He hadn’t met Deeksha the last couple of months citing health reasons and professional commitments. She had conceded and agreed to meet if any developments happened in the mean time. After that innocent statement, Akash was wary of her and now didn’t trust her as much. Deeksha hadn’t shown any interest in the matter either. They decided it was a one-off incident, though Akash didn’t think so. But he didn’t want to involve himself beyond a point. After all, it wasn’t something he asked for.

Priyadarshini, his editor, asked him to relax in the lobby as she had to wrap up a meeting with an international publication. “Roopa will take it from here, Akash. I’ll meet you in a half hour, yeah?” Apparently, she had taken a look at the soft copy he sent her earlier on request, and had some pointers to polish the draft. She said her staff would take care of it, but that he should be aware of the changes. He’d agreed. First timers don’t have much of a say, anyway. He was just glad his book was on its way to the shelves, finally.

He opened his laptop and launched a browser. The office was wi-fi enabled. After browsing for a few minutes, he went to his favorite online newspaper for the days headlines. On a lark, he decided to look into the archives. What was the date Deeksha had mentioned? Ah, yes – July 26th, 2009. He was registered with the paper and logged on. He smiled at some of the headlines from back then. He was about to scroll down, when the link caught his eyes. “Car crash on the Mysore-Bangalore highway”. He clicked.

Nothing out of the blue. Four occupants, he noted. Akanksha, Shashank, Roger and Fasal. Those were the names. He quickly read the report, and then some related links. He frowned. Some accident that. But it was just an accident. What did Akanksha’s spirit have to say outside of this accident, he wondered. Come to think of it, the whole incident seemed weirder and weirder. Why hadn’t her spirit made contact again?

The more he remembered her face, the more he got drawn into it. He sighed. He read the story again. Wait a minute.

The car was on its way to Bangalore, when the accident occurred.

But didn’t Deeksha say that Akanksha was on her way to Mysore? A lot of things didn’t quite fit here, but he wasn’t able to put his finger on any one. Unless he had access to the investigation files. Which was next to impossible. Then he remembered, Arun, his friend from college, worked at one of the reputed papers in the city and covered crime. He used to at least a couple of years ago. Could he pull some strings? He wondered. But for that, he’d have to tell him the truth. Would he believe him? Would he laugh at him? He might outright refuse him. But it was worth a try.


The number you’ve dialed, does not exist.


He decided to visit Arun personally.

He found Arun and a colleague smoking near the stairway, when Akash waved at him.

“Akash. Hey,” Arun said, throwing the butt out.

They pumped hands and clapped shoulders. “Long time, man.”

Akash nodded and laughed.

“So, what brings you here? Still with that company, umm…,” Arun tried to recollect.

“Yeah, still there. But I’m writing a book, and …”

“wow, cool. Really?”

“Yeah. And I wanted your help on some research.”

“Sure – shoot.”

“Umm, it actually involves a real case, happened a couple of years ago.” Akash feigned vague remembrance.

“Yeah? Here, in Bangalore? Which one?” Arun was all ears now.

“Yeah, related to Bangalore. You still doing crime?”

Arun sighed and smiled. “Stuck to it like glue.”

“Good,” Akash said.

“Hmm,” Arun said. “Chalo, let’s go to the canteen to grab a coffee”.

In the canteen, Akash told Arun about the accident, and Akanksha, skipping the parts.

Arun tried to rake his memory. “I do remember faintly about that one. I got it from one of those press statements they give us at the Commissioner’s office.”

“ok, do you remember the cops doing any follow up investigation?”

“Don’t see a reason why they should have. These guys have enough of crap to deal with inside the city, than to waste their time on a pretty straight-forward accident. Highways are, well, you know – accident prone, and they can’t do much about it.” Arun scratched his beard.

Akash nodded. Arun continued – “unless, the accident involves a politico, or some public figure. You know.”

Akash again nodded. “But you know, from what Deeksha told me, it didn’t quite match. She said her sister was bound to mysore. But the report says the car was on its way from mysore.”

Arun laughed. “Akash, I can’t believe you’re asking this question. Printing errors happen all the time. Even names get mis-spelt. Ages are written wrongly at times. It happens.”

Akash got a sinking feeling this wasn’t going down too well. Arun shook his head. “Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’ll try to find out who the investigating officer was on that case, and put you through. That work ok for you?”

Akash nodded. “that’ll be great, man. Thanks.”

Arun winked. “Anytime.”


Akash learned that a certain Inspector Dinesh Singh of Maddur District, was the primary spot officer for the accident, and the case was then handed over to ACP Bhargav, Traffic, South Bangalore – as the car was registered under the Southern RTO in Bangalore. ACP Bhargav was not in office currently.

Akash went over several newspaper stories from the public library, carrying the accident story and gathered mixed reports. Some reports said the car caught fire near Maddur, others even said near Mandya, a town about 16km away. He was confused now.

He visited the Bangalore South traffic police station, and met the public relations officer.

He stepped out of the police station, a while later, flustered, and confused even further. There was no record of such an accident, and the PR officer outright refused to comment on the subject.

“Please, sir, I have a lot more work to attend to now.”

What was the big deal about a road accident anyway? He learned about the deal the next day when he read the papers. The headline was buried in the third page, city crime news, but when he looked closer, it took his breath away.

“City crime reporter found dead in his apartment.”

Akash had to rub his eyes and read the report all over again.

“Arun Jadhav, a senior crime reporter was found murdered in his apartment, in the early hours of Monday. His wife and son were out of town and learned of the incident later. Arun was on the crime beat of this renowned paper for the last seven years…”

He almost jumped when his cell phone rang.


No answer. All he could hear was a hissing sound, like static from a television.

The line went dead.

He was perspiring now. A few minutes later, his cell rang again.

He looked at the display – it was an unknown number. He slowly pressed the green button.



“Don’t ask any question. Meet me at…”, the caller gave him the location and hung up.

Akash tossed the phone on the couch and looked up at the ceiling. He quickly bathed and changed. He had exactly three hours to be at the location.

Three hours later, a blue van slowed down by his side as he was waiting for the caller.

The door slid open and he was asked to jump in. Before he could even notice the occupants of the van, he was blind-folded and asked to keep quiet. His heart pounding, he obeyed silently and sat for what seemed like eternity. None of the occupants spoke during the journey.

When his blind-fold was finally taken off, he had to squint hard at the harsh light. It was late afternoon, he presumed. He was asked to alight. The van sped away leaving him standing in what looked like a school building.

A friendly looking elderly man approached him from inside the building.

“Come with me.”

He was escorted to a class-room. The door was open. He stepped in.

“Hello Akash.”

Akash stood mortified for a second, as he saw the person in front of him.

Concluding part here...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Between the lines (4)

Read Part 1/Part 2 / Part 3

The hatchback sped past a small town , splashing muddy water from a puddle. A stray dog got out of the way in time.

Inside the car, Deeksha dozed, oblivious to the steady drizzle outside. Akash was silent as well, his mind going over the events of the past weeks, both at work, his book and now – this. They’d decided to take off on a weekend and make a single day trip to Sakleshpur.

A rough patch on the road woke up Deeksha.

“Where are we? I’m sorry, I think I must’ve dozed off,” She said, her voice a bit groggy.

“Hey, perfectly ok. Umm, I think we’re nearing Hassan.”

“Oh, already?”

They started out at day break. Not that it made any difference outside. It still looked like daybreak, what with the wet weather outside, and the Sun deciding to take the day off himself.

“Do you have any plan in mind? What are we looking for there?”

“I have no idea. Thanks to my publisher, I could get a member reference, so we’re allowed to go and just look around.”

Deeksha nodded, looking out.

They stopped at Hassan for breakfast, and got to know a little about each other for the rest of the journey before reaching Planter’s Haven around eleven.


The lobby manager smiled as they walked up the stairs in the portico and stepped into the waiting lounge. Not many guests were around, spare the usual staff, walking around with the same look of urgency Akash had noticed several weeks ago.

“Ah, the author. How’re you, sir? A very good morning to you…and to you, ma’am.”

Akash smiled, wincing slightly at the reference. “How’re you?”

“Great, sir. I was told about your arrival. Mr. Rao personally called me. Make yourselves comfortable, sir. Ma’am.”

He then left to attend to his other responsibilities.

Deeksha immediately decided she wasn’t going to like the pesky fellow. She smiled artificially and looked around. Then her eyes caught something at reception desk, and she tugged at Akash’s hand.

Akash turned to her and she motioned at the large garlanded photo.

“Shashank,” She whispered.

They stepped closer to get a better look. The lady at the counter straightened up. “Yes, sir?”

Akash just smiled without replying. She went back to her work. It was obvious they weren’t interested in checking in.

Akash looked at the photo for a few moments.

Later they walked by the pool-side, each carrying a glass of juice they got from the restaurant. The rain had stopped for some time now, and the Sun was peeping from the clouds.

“He definitely looks familiar. Wonder why I didn’t notice his portrait before.”

They went to the patio where Akash ‘met’ Akanksha, and took a table facing the mountains, and the serpentine road leading to the resort. It was a beautiful sight.

“It’s funny how real she looked. I still can’t believe she’s…”

Deeksha smiled vacantly at him. “Dead.”

Akash nodded. “I do think she wanted me to meet you, though. I don’t know why. But she did.”


“Yes. Just think. She used your name, gave me clues about where you worked.”
“Yeah, but if she really wanted, she could’ve just told you where I worked, right?”

“Hmmm. True, now that you mention it, she could have. I just presumed it was the usual girl act – playing hard to get, and all that. Or, maybe she didn’t want to reveal a lot about herself. After all, I was a stranger.”

Deeksha nodded.

“Hey, while you were here, you ate and then sat here, right? How come nobody noticed it? I mean, you both must’ve ordered something. Somebody’s bound to have seen her, right?”

Akash turned serious now. “You know, I’ve been thinking about that right from day one. After the dinner, we didn’t order anything. We were pretty much to ourselves. It could’ve been just me they saw.”

“Yeah, but maybe the pesky manager can tell.”

Akash chuckled at the reference. “Pesky. I like that. And that he is…”

“He did deny anybody checking into her room 207, right..and ..” her voice trailed off.

“Yes, he just told me that to get me off his chest. The club policy is they don’t share information about their guests unless it warrants a police investigation. Then the red tape…you know the drill”

Deeksha frowned. “Damn.”


They left the resort at around four in the evening, disappointed. Deeksha didn’t want her mother calling her; as it was, she’d already called her a million times.

It was close to nine by the time Akash dropped Deeksha and headed home. He just hoped it was all a dream and that he didn’t hear or see Akanksha again. She hadn’t made contact the last few weeks, so it was fine with him. He suddenly wanted to get on with his life – though he felt guilty for thinking like that. But well, it wasn’t his fault, right? And maybe Deeksha and her folks also would forget about her. It could’ve been a one-off case. Maybe the place somehow brought out some sort of a psychic power in him, which would go.

He parked his car in the basement of his apartment building and walked to the elevator. His mind went back to the events of the day – the ‘pesky’ manager (he smiled at that).

As he stood waiting for the elevator car to come down, he realized, though he told Deeksha he’d met Akanksha at the resort, he’d never really told Deeksha about his ‘search’ for Akanksha that day – him walking up to Room no. 207 and the manager shooing him off.

“He did deny anybody checking into her room 207, right?” Her words rang in his ears.

Continued here...

Between the lines (3)

Read Part 1/Part 2

A week went by. Akash had to complete a lot of work at office, not to mention work on his final draft, and Deeksha was producing a road show for the radio – promoting a new film. They decided to stay in touch in case Akash ‘heard’ anything (from Akanksha), or saw anything. She called him up in between a couple of times, just to be sure. Nothing had happened so far.


Deeksha reached home at around 10 pm and entered the house using her set of keys. Her mom, who usually dozed off on the couch in the living room until she came, muttered something about girls returning at un-Godly hours and cursed the radio job some, before dragging herself to the bedroom. Deeksha’s found her father reading by the bedside as usual. Their eyes met briefly and they smiled.

“Hi pa,” She said.

He smiled and blinked in reply. The warmth in that face was reassuring.

She looked at her parents and sighed. Deeksha hadn’t mentioned about Akash. It wasn’t time yet. She shut the door of her room and changed. She opened the door of the attached bath and was about to get in, when the wardrobe door made a small creaking sound. She turned. The window was open. Probably the wind, she dismissed it.

When she emerged, she found the wardrobe door ajar.

“Ma?” She cried out.


“Did you just come by my room?”

“No. What happened?”


She was about to shut the door when something caught her eye. She reached out and pulled it from the top of her clothes, which were neatly ironed and stacked. It was a business card. She flipped it over. Nothing. She sat on the bed and looked at the card.

“Planter’s Haven.”

Her heart pounding, she called Akash.

“Hi Deeksha.”

“Akash. I found something in my wardrobe.”


“A business card. It says - "Planter’s Haven".”

“You found it in your wardrobe.?"


“So? You said it belonged to Shashank’s father, so your sister might’ve had it. Right?”


“Ok, ok I’m sorry.”

“I happen to pull clothes out from the same wardrobe everyday. I didn’t find it this morning. I found it now.”

She recounted about the creaking of the wardrobe and the open window.

“You think Akanksha…?” He said.

She was breathing heavily now. “I don't know...maybe?"


Next day...

Akash was sitting in his car when Deeksha crossed the road and came over.

She got in beside him, catching her breath and sighed loudly.

“Take it easy,” Akash said and smiled.

She smiled back. “Hi.”

He nodded.

She pulled out the card from the hind pocket of her jeans.

Akash looked at it blankly for a minute.

“This is crazy.”

“Why do you think so?”

“I don’t know Deeksha. I mean, I hardly know you folks. Your sister passed away two years ago, nothing happened. And now, she’s trying to communicate with us. Starting with me – a total stranger. And at a time when your folks …,” he stopped. “Have you told your parents yet?”

Deeksha shook her head.

“Hmm. Good. I don’t think they should know of this yet, at least not until we make sure what this is all about. I guess it’s a no-brainer where we must start.”

“Planter’s Haven,” Deeksha said. “You think we should tell someone else also about this?” She bit her nails, reminding Akash about her sister. But she it was more like thinking out loud.

Akash frowned. “Like, who?”

“I don’t know. Appa, perhaps?”

Akash thought for a moment. “Would he believe us?”

“No. He doesn’t believe in spirits and the other world. And it would just pain him further. He loved Akku to bits. But he’s not the one to show his emotions openly. This might just…”

“Wrong candidate, then.”

She nodded.


“Ha, you must be kidding,” Akash said and chuckled.

“Are you saying we do this ourselves?”

“Do we have a choice?” Akash waved a hand through his hair.

Continued here...