Siddharth sat transfixed in his chair. He was in a total state of shock. The newspaper headlines were glaring at him and the TV channel was repeatedly showing the same scenes.
His manager Rohit knocked and peeped into his room. “Sir, the TV guys want to interview you. What should I tell them?” “I don’t know, but I don’t think I am in a state to see anybody. You handle it!” Siddharth turned his face and looked aimlessly out of the window as Rohit left the room.
The cell in the police station was stinking with the smell of sweat and tobacco. The temperature outside was close to 40 deg C. Inspector Dalvi was shouting at the havaldars asking them to clear the mob outside the police station. Anjali sat in a corner on the floor. Her party dress was totally out of place under the circumstances. She remembered how happy she had been wearing her favourite new black dress for the party last night. She could never have even dreamt that the party would end in such a manner. Her eyes were red with crying and lack of sleep. Her head was throbbing with pain. It was more than 12 hours since she had come to the police station and neither Siddharth nor anyone from her family had called for her or come to see her.
“Can I speak to Commissioner Ranade? This is Siddharth Singhal from Singhal Industries. I am his friend.” Siddharth waited for a response. “Ranade here”, was the reply. “Ravi, this is Siddharth here. I need your help regarding Anjali Sharma.” They both agreed to meet at the Rendezvous Club, a place where the rich and famous spent their spare time. Siddharth quickly dressed and without looking around just got into his Mercedes Benz and drove away. He felt as if everyone around was giving him piercing looks. At the Club, some people were lazing around. Siddharth occupied one of the corner tables and waited for Ravi. His mind kept on going back to the events of the previous evening. His heart was sure that Anjali was innocent and had just been framed. But he did not know how to prove it. “Hi Sidd, tell me what can I do for you?” Siddharth narrated the entire episode. Ravi had already read about it and also seen it on TV. “Yes, I know it. Unfortunately all the evidence is pointing towards her being guilty. She was caught red handed. But let me see what best we can do. For the moment you go to the police station and bail her out.” “Do I need to go personally there?” Siddharth knew it would add more spice to the scandal. “No, you can send a trusted person, but do it fast. Also get hold of a good lawyer.” Ravi shook his hands and bid Siddharth good bye.
On his way to his office, Siddharth was passing the ‘Lovers Pride’ a café known for its exotic food and great ambience, but it was his favourite place where he and Anjali had spent many evenings holding hands and whispering to each other. This was also the place he had proposed to her. Anjali was from a middle class Indian family that lived on earnings of her father who worked in a Government establishment. She was not from his caste, in fact from a so-to-say lower caste. Both these things were against the ideal bride for the one of the country’s most well known and prosperous industrialist’s son. Siddharth’s family was into coal mining and related industries for generations. Siddharth was the most eligible bachelor in the city when he met Anjali at a private party hosted by a friend. He vividly remembered the first time they met. She was very shy and just smiled, but she had the most beautiful smile and Siddharth instantly fell in love with it. He was reminded of the fairy tale Cinderella when he saw her. She was not a stunning beauty, but had an innocence and charm that would make any man fall in love with her. By the end of the party it looked as if they knew each other forever.
The car screeched to a halt at the signal and Siddharth came out of his trance. A nearby news paper stand had the picture of Anjali on the front page with the caption, “Industrialist’s fiancée found drug peddling”. A tear drop fell from Siddharth’s eye. He was sure Anjali was being framed. He felt a sudden rush of emotions as the picture of Anjali crossed his mind. He had to do everything possible to save her.
“Sir, Madam has reached home. She must be expecting your call.” Rohit’s phone call made Siddharth feel better. “Sure, I’ll call her right away.” For some time the phone rang and then the voice message said “The person you are trying to reach is not responding. Please try later”. Siddharth waited for some time and called again. This time the phone was answered by Anjali’s mother. “Sorry beta (son) she is sleeping. She had been awake the whole night. Can you call later?”
Siddharth had to do something fast. He contacted the best lawyer and asked him to take the case. “Money is no problem, but you have to see that she is out of this soon.”
Siddharth had noticed that recently Anjali had started to behave oddly. She was actually trying to behave like the Page3 people. Siddharth often told her that he loved her for what she was and if he wanted to marry a Page3 person he had a lot of choice. “Just be yourself my Cinderella, I love you just the way you are!” he would tell her.
Siddharth reached home around four o’clock. His mother and father were sitting in the drawing room. They glanced towards him and his mother made a sarcastic remark to his father, “Now you know why I tell you that we should mix only with people of our stature and not bring the scum of the slums to our house?” “Sarla, this is no time to say such things.” His father remarked. Siddharth could bear it no more. He blurted out, “Mom would you want me to leave her in the lurch had we been married? I love her more than you could imagine. Please don’t add fuel to fire.” Saying this is left the room. Siddharth had had a tough time convincing his parents that he wanted to marry Anjali. He had been very firm and finally they had to give in much against their wishes. Today they had a chance to get back at Siddharth and he knew he was on weak ground. He felt very hurt and lonely.
Siddharth picked up the phone and dialed the number he hated to dial. “Shalini, this is Sidd. Can you tell me exactly what happened yesterday?”. “Oh Hi Sidd, what a pleasant surprise! How I wish you were here so that you could see into my eyes and see how hurt I feel for you.” Shalini was acting, as usual, in the manner that always irritated Siddharth. “Can you please tell me fast, I have a lot of work,” Sidd sounded curt. “Aha, the lover boy is trying to save the damsel in distress? How romantic. I wish I had someone like this” Shalini said. “Please Shalini, come to the point. Tell me each and everything that happened yesterday.”
Shalini told him that the party began at ten. It was a very private party at the Khanna residence. Your fiancée came in around half past ten. She was accompanied by a handsome guy. Siddharth’s heart missed a beat. He knew that Anjali was so good that anyone would instantly fall in love with her, but she was not a cheat. He was keen to know who this person was. “I really don’t know, but a couple of people around seemed to know him. Just after midnight, the party was in full swing and all were dancing; most of the people, including your fiancée and her new found love were a bit out with all the drinks. Suddenly everything came to a standstill as the police siren was heard and everyone started to run here and there. The Inspector asked everyone to stay quiet and co-operate with the search. One by one they searched everyone and let them go if they were clear. When it came to Anjali, from her handbag a small white cloth bag was removed and in it were the deadliest of drugs. The police immediately arrested her and that was the end.” Siddharth kept the phone down. Who was the guy, he had to know.
Siddharth rang the bell of the house of the Khannas. He had met them socially but did not know them too well. The servant opened the door and led Siddharth in. After a while, Mr. Khanna came to the room. Siddharth explained the reason for his visit and requested Mr. Khanna for the address of the person who had come with Anjali to the party. There was a brief silence, and then Mr. Khanna nodded his head. “I have never met him personally but from what I understand, he is some upcoming film star. We were also surprised to meet him, but since he had come with your fiancée we presumed she knew him. Siddharth felt like he had hit a dead end. All he could gather was that he was an upcoming film star. There are so many of them. How could he catch him? Also there was not photograph to help. Siddharth left the Khanna residence dejected. They however promised him that they would try to help him as much as they could.
Siddharth called Anjali’s phone. This time she answered. “Hi Love, how are you now?” Siddharth tried to sound as loving as possible. “OK. But why did you not come to see me at the police station. You too believe that I am a drug peddler isn’t it?” She was crying and shouting at the same time. “Calm down dear, I need no evidence for you to be proved innocent. However, that is not how the judicial system works. I have to do everything possible to get you out of this as soon as possible. I need your help. Please tell me who that guy with you at the party was?” Siddharth knew that Anjali would not like that question. There was a pause; “Oh, so you even doubt my integrity now?” and she cut the phone. Siddharth felt helpless. He dialed Ravi’s number and told him the happening of the previous night and about the mysterious person who accompanied his fiancée to the party.
Mr. Khanna called on Siddharth’s phone. He told Siddharth that they found out from some of the other guests who were speaking to the guy that his name was Pritam Srivastava and he worked in regional films as a hero. Siddharth thanked Mr. Khanna for the information. He started to browse the internet for the name Pritam Srivastava and again hit a dead end. There were hundreds of them with the same name and at least a dozen who were film actors. But Siddharth felt nice that at least he had got some clue.
Siddharth printed all the possible pictures and gave them to Ravi. He told Ravi that he should send the police to Shalini’s house to identify which of these pictures matched the mysterious guy with
Anjali at the party.
It was already two days since Siddharth had started his search. He decided to visit Anjali at her home. When he reached her house, he saw Anjali chatting with a handsome guy. There was an awkward silence and then Anjali’s mother called Siddharth inside. No words were exchanged except a formal hello. Anjali looked pale and sad. Siddharth did not like that at all. He shook hands with the guy and introduced himself. “Hi I am Pritam”, came the reply. Siddharth was shocked and it showed on his face. But better sense prevailed and he looked with a straight face. Anjali’s mother came with tea for Siddharth and told him that Pritam was from their community and a successful actor. We are lucky that he likes our daughter. Siddharth wanted to protest, but decided against it. He decided to befriend Pritam. He asked him about his upcoming movies and his schedules.
While leaving Siddharth gave a glance to Anjali and for a moment their eyes locked together. He saw that there was something she was hiding from him. He waved good bye and left her house. He came home and rang Ravi. He told him the happenings and Ravi was happy. He assured Siddharth that now Siddharth should leave the investigation to him. He would deploy a CID agent to track the movements of Pritam.
Siddharth lay on his bed almost after being awake for 48 hours. His back was hurting but he was feeling good that there was some progress in the case. What had made Anjali take that step was what was intriguing him.
It was two weeks since the raid had happened at the Khanna residence. It was the first hearing of the case for Anjali. Siddharth was sitting in the audience of the court. Both the lawyers were arguing the case well. The judge adjourned the court for one month for the next hearing. Siddharth approached Anjali. She gave him a smile but it was far from her enchanting smile that he had fallen in love with. “I don’t see Pritam around. Is he on a film shoot?” Siddharth asked her. “I have no clue, and I don’t care!” her response was different from the one at her home and it gave Siddharth some hope. “Can I take you to ‘Lover’s Pride’ for a cup of coffee?” Siddharth asked her with a smile.
They sat at their favourite table. Siddharth felt as if all was well again and he had got his Anjali back. There was a long silence and then Anjali spoke. “How have you been? You have been doing a lot for me, thank you for it.” Suddenly the café manager came to their table and told them that they should leave from the rear door as a frenzied mob had gathered in front of the café and there were some TV journalists with cameras waiting for them to come out. Siddharth phoned his driver to bring the car towards the rear door. He thanked the café manager and left in the car. Siddharth shook Anjali’s hand and gently kissed it. They bid goodbye at her home and Siddharth left with happiness in his heart.
When Siddharth reached home he saw Ravi waiting for him. His face looked grim. Siddharth led him to his room. “There has been a murder. Pritam was found murdered in his farm house in a drunken state. When the security guard was questioned as to who visited him and the police showed him the photo graph of Anjali he confirmed it was her.” Siddharth’s head was spinning. He told Ravi about his visit to the café just about half an hour ago. How could anyone who has committed a murder behave the way Anjali behaved with Siddharth?
Anjali once again found herself in the police station. But this time Siddharth decided to accompany her and personally get her bailed out. He led her to his car. His driver was sent home and he drove himself. “Tell me Anjali what is all this? I cannot believe that I loved someone who could brutally murder someone. Tell me all this is false and you are being framed for it.” Anjali was silent and then she began to weep profusely. “My lips are sealed Siddharth. I suggest you leave me to my fate. Forget that we ever met.” She opened the door and walked away. Siddharth ran after her but before he could catch up she boarded a bus and went away.
Ravi met Siddharth in his office. “There has been some more progress in the case. The drug mafia leader’s whereabouts have been found. We want to catch him red-handed. You will pose as a drug peddler who wants to do business with him. It is all set up. It will be great evidence to make our case for Anjali strong. I know it is dangerous, but the mission is totally secret and you are our best bet.”
It was close to eleven o’clock. Siddharth touched his mother’s feet while she was asleep. In his heart he asked for her blessing to make his mission successful. Dressed in black shirt and black trousers with a bullet-proof vest beneath his shirt and dark glasses of the type that can be used at night, he walked out of his house. The car was waiting for him. He quickly got into it.
It took about two hours for him to reach the edge of the dense forests. The area was hilly and had very bad roads. Deep into the forest there was a large opening with a huge bungalow. The security guards were standing with automatic guns pointing towards the car. One security guard came and peeped into the car. Siddharth showed his identity card and the car was let in. Siddharth was shocked to see the mansion inside in the shape of a fort. One person came out and checked the credentials of Siddharth. He didn’t say anything. After what looked like fifteen minutes a huge ugly looking guy came out. He was chewing paan. He shook hands with Siddharth and spoke in a very loud voice. “I am happy to work with you Sir, but I will want all the money in cash and foreign currency. You get me the money I get you the material. A win-win situation.” He laughed out loud displaying his dirty yellow teeth. Someone came with some papers and there was a ceremonious signing of the contract. Then this huge man called out to someone saying, “My dear Manju darling, send the drinks and sweets. Come out yourself, we would like you to meet our new partner in business.” When the lady came out, Siddharth was shocked. She was Anjali. But she pretended she had never met Siddharth and greeted him with a namaste.
Siddharth returned from the forest and boarded another car waiting on the side of the road. This car was being driven by Ravi. He took the small device from Siddharth and shook his hands. He gave the contract copy to Ravi.
The TV was blaring the news ‘Most wanted drug mafia leader’s residence raided and leader arrested. Most of his gang members including his concubine killed in the encounter’. A picture of the mafia leader and Manju flashed on the screen.
Ravi and Siddharth were seated comfortably. “Now tell me, when did you realize that Anjali was innocent?” Ravi asked Siddharth. “I knew it all the way. But when I saw the lady at the mafia leader’s house I knew something was wrong. When I returned that night, after handing over the device and papers to you, I went straight to Anjali’s house. I was so happy to see her and I knew there was no way she could reach her house before me. Since her parents were still asleep, Anjali took me to her room. What I saw there was strange. There was a picture on the table of two identical girls. When I asked her who this was, she said, “That is my twin sister Manjari or Manju as we fondly called her. She works in the film industry.” Then the pieces fell together. The link with Pritam Srivastava and his murder by her twin Manju fell into place. She murdered Pritam because he was using her for money and over a quarrel she murdered him. She had already managed to woo the mafia leader so that she could get into films easily as the connection was well known to her. “At Khanna’s residence she had set me up. She told me Pritam needed some company while she was away for a film shoot. She had put the drug packet in my purse without my knowledge. Someone was supposed to pick up the packet from Pritam but the police landed before that” Anjali was crying. Siddharth held her close and consoled her.
The court stood up clapping. The judge had passed the judgement that Anjali was innocent and released with full honours. Siddharth was standing in the audience. Anjali went up to him and hugged him. Tears of joy were flowing freely. “I love you” was all she could say. “Me too!” Siddharth felt as if he was on the top of the world.