“What? Ravi! Are you sure you heard it right? Did you send someone else? Did you-Did you send someone who knows Roohi?” Tara was in a frenzy. She looked at Ravi, Shekhar and Jennifer for someone to say that there was a mistake.
Shekhar took a huge step towards her and held her.
“Please don’t panic, she wouldn’t have gone far.”, Ravi replied.
“He- He must have made a mistake.” said Tara, her eyes full of tears.
“Shekhar! There-There must have been a mistake. The constable doesn’t know my child well.”
Shekhar held a palm on her cheek, “Let us try to find her Tara. Stay calm and think clear.” That is all he could offer her. His heart was in his throat. He wondered how he managed to talk so calmly.
Ravi replied, “He knows the child. The children there said that someone had already picked her before the constable reached. We have sent a team. ”
“I got here half an hour ago. I saw Roohi playing there. They wouldn’t be far.”, Jennifer placed a hand on Tara’s shoulder.
“We’ll find her for sure.”, she said it convincingly but wasn’t sure herself.
Shekhar looked at Jennifer, signaling her to be with Tara while he excused himself to make a call.
Tara couldn’t even imagine what Roohi was facing right now. She looked at Sudheeran.
“Finally you got what you wanted!? To hell with your myths and beliefs. Now my child is missing. Where are your ideals, justifications, threats and sneers?”
Shekhar tried to calm her, “Tara relax. Tara…”. He kept checking his phone every two minutes.
She pushed him aside, “Where is your Amma? Why aren’t you talking? Wear that sneer on your face! Come on!”
Sudheeran Varma who was silent all the while, was surprisingly in his clear mind. He didn’t answer Tara’s questions. Instead, “Ravi, you have sent a team in search of the child outside the temple right?”
“We need a team to search the temple premises and the interiors.”
“Okay. That will be taken care of.”
“I will be back in a while.”
“You can’t just leave Mr. Varma! You need to help us.”, it was Shekhar.
“Shekhar, trust me. I’ll give my life to save that child. I caused all this and I am doing my best to bring your child back.” He placed a hand on Shekhar’s shoulder and walked away.
Jennifer looked at Tara. When Tara held her eyes, she pointed towards Sudheeran and nodded. Tara nodded in affirmation. Jennifer left the office without another word.
Sudheeran went outside the temple. His mind was racing. This wasn’t supposed to be like this. Things were supposed to go easy. He felt responsible, at the same time helpless. He knew a person who could help him. He knew where to find him.
He began walking towards the forest. On the way, an old man asked him, “Are the procession preparations going well?”
“Yes, they are.”
“Can’t wait to feast my eyes on our Amma.”
He smiled at him with a lot of effort.
What do I answer to all these devotees? I am the treasurer of their Amma. I have failed in my duties.
He increased his speed. He didn’t want to tell anymore lies. He didn’t want to face anymore of those genuine smiles. He took a left swerve and entered the forest through a narrow shortcut. He heard the crickets chirping and the birds singing. The forest floor cracked and cackled under his feet. He looked around for the man who could give him some answers.
As the forest began to thicken, he slowly lifted the tip of his kasavumundu, folded it up, and tied it as a knot around his waist. The mundu was up until his knees and it helped him to walk easily through the forest.
He heard some movement from far ahead and stopped. Someone was approaching him.
“Well well! Who is here?” a man wearing ochre robes and long hair was smiling his broad smile.
Sudheeran smiled, “I want to meet him. Now!”
“You know there is a time for everything, don’t you? Well, it is not the time yet. I am in a hurry. Must get going. Return to the temple.”, he walked away without another word.
Sudheeran decided that he couldn’t go back and face the crew without an answer. He walked further into the forest looking for the banyan tree. That was his sign since his childhood. He knew the village, the forest and the entire neighborhood very well. Some habits never changed. Whenever he took this path, he watched out for the banyan tree on the right side and took a right turn immediately after the tree. He did the same now. The forest floor began to descend.
After about another 15 minutes down the forest path, he reached the huge boulder. As though he was expected, a man stood near the boulder smiling at him.
“Welcome! Devi’s dearest!” he greeted Sudheeran.
“I really need to meet him.”
“I’m afraid you can’t.”
“Oh! Is he not here?”
“you can’t meet him now. Come late in the evening.”
“he is here. Isn’t he?” sudheeran tried to enter the cave.
The man in a jiffy, held a stalk barring his entrance into the cave.
“My mother has always taught me to revere the saints. I need answers and I’m not in my right mind. With all due respect, I ask you to let me in.”
The saint did not budge. With surprising agility, Sudheeran pushed the stalk and the saint aside and stormed into the cave. He scanned the cave with his eyes from left to right. He doubled back and his eyes widened. The tiny figure of a child lay on a heap of leaves on one of the slabs. He ran towards her only to be blocked by the man he came for.
“What are you doing?”
The madman replied, “You know many paths. But not always the right path. Trust me! Leave the child here and go back.”
“The child will be with us.”, Jennifer walked in. Ramaswamy didn’t try to stop her. Sudheeran looked surprised but saved his curiosity for later.
“Whatever your motive is, it is not happening!”, Jennifer looked into the eyes of the madman.
“I have only good intentions
The girl was sleeping peacefully. Sudheeran used this chance to go to her and picked her.
Shivaswamy took a step forward when Jennifer said, “The police will be here in a while. You may win over the two of us. But not over the entire team.”
He looked at the madman and got his signal. He let Sudheeran take the child.
Soon, Ravi and the team reached. Tara was unaware of her surroundings. She grabbed Roohi from Sudheeran and without a backward glance walked out. She had to leave immediately!
The team took the madman with them.
“Why? Why did you do this?” The inspector was ready for his usual interrogation. The madman was seated in the temple office. His stalk was on the table.
“I did that for your good”
Ravi seemed visibly irritated.
“The perpetrators. They are closer than you think. They are with you. Among you!”
“How do you know? Who are they?”
“I don’t know who they are but, Amma knows. I act according to her will. So do you. So does the entire prapancha.”
“Amma.. Amma Amma! Stop blaming her for everything. It is time that you own up for your madness”
“Your brain talks, your mind talks, your conscience talks. You must know what to listen to.”, the madman said calmly.
“Ok. You are under arrest. Now let us see, if Amma helps you to get out of this”
“Amma wants you to know one thing.”
“One dusk, you will miss the nightingale’s music badly. Set her free and she’ll sing her song.”
“Whatever that means”, Inspector murmured under his breath and walked away from him.
Tara was enraged. Shekhar and Tara had decided to take Roohi directly to the hotel and leave Kerala. But Sudheeran had managed to stop them and bring them to the office.
“I want to leave! NOW!!”
“Tara! Please understand the situation. People are waiting for the procession to happen. You cannot just walk away now”
“Who can stop me? My child is in danger and I know it. What kind of mother would I be to put her in trouble again?”
“I can totally understand your feelings but you will have to stay for my sake. For the people and their belief.”
“You know what? I dont care about any of those. I just want to leave now”
“Please. This is my request”
“I am not in a position to help you Mr. Varma. I am really sorry”
“Then I should insist that you should stay?”
“Your husband will stay behind the bars forever. I will personally see to that, he never gets out” Sudheeran felt guilty. He felt confused. He didn’t know what else to do.
“You cannot intimidate me like that.” Tara looked at Jenny. “We will expose the fact that the idol is fake.”
“Sadly, you cannot”
“Remember, right now everybody thinks that your husband is the thief and you will do anything to make him look not guilty. The other news channels will lap this up. You can say goodbye to your normal life, including Roohi’s”
“There will be someone who can see the truth and will take my side”
“It is a long process. And you have forgotten my name and influence in the society. You people should stay here and cooperate. I don’t know what will happen otherwise” Sudheeran left the room in a flash.
“I don’t know what to do.” Tara was in tears. She looked at Jennifer
“I think we should keep Roohi safe first.”
“She is not safe here.”
“I have an idea.”, Jennifer said.
Cyrus picked up the call. The caller Id said it was Jenny. He picked up the call and listened to her.
“Cyrus! The child has been found. Tara is in a very bad state. We need to keep the child safe. The culprit is among us. So said the madman. So you are the only person away from his watchful eyes. Can you keep Roohi safe?”
“Sure. Thanks for trusting me with her”
“Thanks” Jennifer said.
“Anytime!”, Cyrus cut the call. It has been a week since he met Jennifer. She entrusted him with something this important. He smiled. He liked it. She trusted him. He liked everything about the way she trusted him.