He had never seen Tara Dutta look flustered.It took three years and nine months for Chenthil Kumar,Chief Editor of Ulka Communications,to experience that moment.
He entered into Tara’s half tinted glass cabin noticing her perspire profusely.
'Tara,did you know, horses sweat,men perspire and women glow?'He asked.
Tara Dutta looked up, slowly sliding the rimless glasses above her crease less forehead. The short pixie hair cut was a contrast to her soft white top,the hairstyle was slightly darker, with an espresso tone to the color.The point-cut fringe angled to the right side of her face and made her eyes appear more intense and focused. Her eyes perpetually seemed to ask a counter question without really verbalising it.Questions, which people at work always wanted to know, but would never dare ask.
Those high arching brows added to her look of slight surprise and continuous interest. Smartly dressed in a soft cotton white top and a beige skirt, with minimal accessories but for a pair of elegant pearl earrings just about making their presence felt. The long tip of the nose pointed towards her boss.
Chenthil,stood at the door expecting a reaction.But it didn’t come from the expected source.After a few uncomfortable moments of silence he broke the ice.
'Err no, just checking if you were ok?'
'Chenthil,I need to excuse myself for a couple of hours, something has come up.'
Chenthil knew she would preempt all questions he could possibly ask.
'The submissions are ready and I’ve looked into the copy you sent - its ok -I think we can go for print, the meeting with Ismail Associates is taken care of and the
final deck for Dupon Energy is ready -it should be in your inbox as we speak'.
'Perfect as ever,thanks,I will be around when you come back'Chenthil remarked with a hint of disappointment.
'Yes, I will be back, soon' she said.
The ride to Radcliffe was no more than thirty minutes, but today it tested her patience. The counter on the traffic signal snapped her patience.
'Don’t take that road, how many years have you been driving a taxi? Don’t you know which roads to avoid? Come on step on it.'
The driver looked suspiciously at the woman passenger on his rear view mirror. The kohl had smudged, the short hair fell across her forehead. Tara looked up at the mirror at the same time and saw the driver staring at her. She put on her Prada shades to avoid further contact.
The taxi halted at a signal as she thought of Shekhar, her grip on the mobile phone tightened. She clenched her teeth without breaking a single crease on her face. The fights, the nonchalance, the ignorance, each incident floated in her mind one after the other.
The cab started to move again as she flipped through Roohi’s photos on her smart phone. Memories of Roohi’s premature birth, the subsequent slow development had accentuated the cynicism in her life. Her dream of being the perfect mother had been shattered nine years ago when she learned that Roohi developed "Duodenal Atresia" or a double bubble in the intestines. It was hard for her to take this shock after a near perfect seven month planned pregnancy. Doctors couldn’t convince Tara that it was not her fault.Remarkably,Roohi had caught up with the class,and by the time she turned nine,she was like just any other kid.
Finally, the taxi stopped in front of Radcliffe. Tara paid off the cab and rushed inside. The principals office was a quiet place in spite of so many people in the room. Shekhar turned around and looked at Tara,but before he could say something,Tara took charge.
'Ok,here’s what we do now. Shekhar inform the police. Principal sir can I speak to the class teacher, the helpers, the security guard and the janitors right away?' Both the gentlemen looked at each other.
'We already did that' the principal offered.
'No, I want to talk to them again. We need to form a team and comb the entire school' she said keeping the turmoil inside her tightly capped. As Tara went through the drill of speaking to each staff member it became clear that Roohi was not in the school premises.
Tara's phone rang and it was Chenthil calling. She disconnected. A text message followed : Check Facebook and see how O&M put up a similar story you edited today'.Tara ignored the message.
'Ok,that's it Tara,I'm going' Shekhar started to briskly walk out of the principals room.
'Wait Shekhar, are you mad? Where will you find her in Juhu? We need to go with the cops be practical' she said.
'Tara,I can't,Its my daughter'. Shekhar walked out of the room to Tara's amazement. It was after a long time that she had seen the other side of Shekhar.
'Ok, Mr. Principal, I'm going too , can you give my mobile number to the police when they find time to get here?' Tara stormed out of the room without waiting for a response. 'Shekhar wait , I'm coming' she said. Shekhar kept walking without looking back.
'Listen to me Shekhar,lets us first figure out how are we going to cover the area?' she screamed.Shekhar stopped at the Radcliffe exit gate.
'I will cover the Ville Parle station, and roads number one to seven. You cover eight to thirteen.Iskson temple, Prithvi theater and then finally the beach'he said.
'We should first go to the beach' she said.
'Negative, first the, station.'
'Its more likely she would've wandered over to the beach.'
'Somebody could've kidnapped her and would head to the station'
'Shekhar stop it,don't say that' Tara broke down her long standing composure.
The middle aged couple stood in front of the Radcliffe gate barely holding on to hope.Tara broke into tears.
Shekhar took Tara's hands off her weeping face and said 'Lets keep calm,think of the best way to do this. I think we should divide the area,why don't you go towards the beach,and I'll head towards Parla'he said.Tara looked up to Shekhar and nodded without saying a word.
Chenthils incoming call distracted the moment again. The message repeated : Check Facebook.
Shekhar glanced at Tara's cellphone and said 'it just' might be a good idea to post it on Facebook!'
'Facebook?' she said looking up.
'Yes,you know use the power of social media,let people know'
'Yea but the net has enough junkies as well.'
'Well we will have to test our luck, wouldn't we?'
Shekhar and Tara went off in opposite directions, each searching for a common truth,
Read Missing - 3 here.