“Damanpur!" The Conductor yelled and yanked the string down. 'Ting', the old bell moaned and the driver dutifully jumped on brakes. The bus screeched to stop. Ram, sandwiched on his seat, raised, greatfully stretching his back. He looked around to see his companions, hoping someone may guide him to his destination. They said that Mehras were very famous in that village. There wasn't any. They also said that it was a very small village. "Chala Lawkar!" The driver yelled at Ram, clearly irritated. He himself was sitting with three other people, on a seat meant for two. Ram felt pity for him and got out of the bus. As soon as he stepped out, the bus wheeled out as fast as it could, as if he may change his mind and decide to get out of that place. But when Ram turned his head, he understood the logic of conductor. At the point where he was standing a narrow lane joined the road. On one side of this junction was a sign-board pointing in the direction of lane and saying, `Damanpur 0.5 Km'. Ram stared at the sign-board with his mouth open. It was 9;30 am. The day was pleasant without any sign of increase in heat. But the sky was overcast with every sign of heavy rain. And the most important point was-. He was carrying a very heavy suite case. To walk with it for half a kilometre to the fringe of Damanpur and then to the house of Mehras...he wasn't sure whether he could make it alive! A jeep came running on the broad road towards him. He remembered last night's argument with his mother. "But it is not on the road." She had said. "How far is it?" Ram had asked.“Well not far...."She was saying. "Then its decided." he had said with the tone, he used to convey the finality of his decision. Then seeing her expressions he had said, "I want to give them a surprise mom. I am the last person whom they expect to visit their small village. Even Chaya had gone there when you visited them last time, if now I call them and ask them to pick me up then the whole surprise will be lost." Still his mother was not convinced. After some time he had asked. "Well, is This Damanpur within the range of my mobile network? You know I can't live without it...." And his mother had burst out laughing. She had laughed for nearly twenty minutes when she finally managed to say "Yes". Then she had again burst into laughter. He never understood the reason behind it. So there was Ram, standing in the middle of the Damanpur junction, cursing himself for not accepting his mother's offer. He adjusted his spectacles, ran a hand through his hair and looked at the coming jeep. 'Maybe,' he suddenly hoped, 'this jeep is going to Damanpur. If it gives me a lift...' but he discarded it the next moment. The chance for this was one in hundred! He thought. 'But maybe this is the hundredth time....." It was just few yards away from him, when he saw the red light on its top. It wasn't an ordinary jeep. It was a police cruiser. A chill ran though Ram's spine. Now he hopped that it wasn't bound for Damanpur, and if it was, it wouldn't notice him. It was the golden law of his family. 'Never to be caught even dead with a police officer within ten meters of you. Ram quickly lifted his suitcase and hurried off on his way to Damanpur. He had taken barely four steps when the cruiser caught up with him. 'It wasn't me!' he nearly cried as it stopped beside him. Ram tried to ignore it when a voice called. "Hey, boy!" The voice spoke. Ram froze in his path. “You going to Damanpur?" It asked. Ram considered lying but he saw the futility of it. He had read enough crime novels to know what it might cause. Obstruction in the proceedings of law, misbehaving with an on duty police officer if he discovered the lie, a night in jail because 'I don't like your face kid’! Ram nodded stiffly. "You know the house of Mehras?" It asked again. Ram could now see the face of the officer to whom the voice belonged. It surprised him. The face was like any other 'normal' human being, even a bit kinder. But what surprised him more was that he was looking for the Mehras. Before he could stop himself he asked," Why? What happened?""A theft." The officer said and then looked at his suitcase "You going there?" he asked. "Yes." Ram croaked, "I am new here." "Then come up inside,” he waved, "I will give you a lift." Ram considered refusing but then remembered misbehaviour with an on duty... "Thank you" he managed to say. He opened the door and somehow managed to get his suitcase inside. The cruiser started on its way. "Hi!" The officer said cheerfully," I am Inspector Ganvir.” Ram nearly jumped with surprise. Police officers are never cheerful. 'This is a trap' he thought, "Does he already think that I am the thief?" Ram shifted nervously in his place. "Hello." he finally said," I am Ram." "Nice to meet you Ram." Officer Ganvir said turning back, "You a relative of Mehras?" "Yes sir." Ram replied, "Mr. Mukesh and Rakesh Mehra are my uncles." "Oh." he said staring at Ram. Ram was sure he would next ask to check his suitcase "I was never told Mrs. Saraswati Mehra had three children." The officer mumbled. "Actually," Ram said, "My Mom is her sister's daughter." "Ahl" The officer brightened, "That explains it. How stupid of me!" He chuckled shaking his head. Ram stared at him in wonder, 'Police officers never behave like this. Perhaps in movies, maybe in some developed countries, but not in India. At last not in Vidarbha.' he thought astonished. He had overcome some of his fear by then. He decided to take a risk. "Sir." Ram said, his hands trembling, "What happened there?" "You don't know, right?" officer Ganvir asked, grimly looking at him, "We received a call at 8:00 this morning from Mr. Mukesh Mehra. He informed us that a theft had occurred in his home last night. His diamonds, worth 1.38 crores, were missing from his safe when he checked this morning. The door of safe was also open." "Diamonds of rupees 1.38 crores stolen," Ram said incredulously, "and just two people assigned to the case!" He immediately bit his tongue but the damage was done. Inspector Ganvir looked at him and smiled, "Well, we were sent ahead, the rest of the team will arrive soon." “Of course," Ram said embarrassed, "I am sorry". "No need boy." he smiled again, "In fact I am surprised that you asked me that question. Everybody asks me, 'what are you going to do now?', 'What progress have you made?', 'Why are you so late?’ I think you have a mind for this work." "Well," Ram said flattered, "I read a lot of books sir." "Really?" officer Ganvir said genuinely interested, "Which authors do you like?" "Lots of them." Ram said excitedly, it is not every day that people take interest in your reading habits, "Agatha Christie, Earle Gardner, Lawrence Sanders....” "Lawrence Sanders?!” Officer Ganvir said raising his eyebrows. "Well, he is a good writer sir." Ram said embarrassed. "Of course he is." he laughed and then seemed to think, "You know Ram." He said, now seriously. Ram looked up. "Most of the cases of theft in houses like Mehras are done by either their servants or even family members." "Yeah," Ram acknowledged, "but this is not possible here. The servants have been with the family for a long time. Each member will be ready to swear their innocence. And I can't imagine a family member doing it." "Of course." officer Ganvir said. "But still you never know. I have come across many such cases where the servants who, had been in family for nearly 10 to 15 years have cut throats of their 'Maliks' for a few thousands rupees. I am not suggesting anything in this case. It might be a village thug, or a professional who might have been after Mr. Mehra's diamonds for a very long time. But as you will agree we must consider all the possibilities." "Yeah." Ram nodded. "This is where I need your help." officer Ganvir said. "What?!" Ram nearly jumped from his seat "This is impossible sir. I am too young and....” "Now, now," he said, "Come on Ram, I as well as you know that this has nothing to do with age. It needs an investigative mind and you have it...." "But you have misunderstood sir," Ram said, still astonished, "reading just a handful of books doesn't...." "Hey, now." Officer Ganvir said, "Calm down. I am not asking you to be Sherlock Holmes or something. That's my job. I am just asking you to keep your eyes and ears open. You are a part of family and can reach where I can't. Just keep a look for something suspicious. That's it." "But.... "Ram tried to speak. "Don't you want to find your uncle's diamonds and the thief?" he asked. ‘The age old trick.’ Ram thought. He nodded."You also agree that 1.38 crores is a large amount. Enough to kill even that whole village or betray long faithful relations." he said. Ram 'again nodded, "Yes it was a big amount." He admitted. "Then I need your help." officer Ganvir said solemnly, "Will you help me?" Ram remained silent for some time. The huts started to appear. He could see a big house standing at a distance. "Yes", he said. "Good!" officer Ganvir cried happily. "Now I guess you have a mobile". Ram's face ashen. Just a look at him and everybody seemed to know that he was a mobile freak! "Yes" he said. "Give me your number." He said. Ram told him. Suddenly his mobile buzzed for once and went silent. "That's my number." officer Ganvir said, "Store it and don't tell anybody." Ram took out his mobile. One missed call, it said. Ram stored it in the name of officer Ganvir. "I will keep in touch with you,” the inspector said “and you promise me to call as soon as you get any clue." Ram promised. The cruiser stopped. They had reached their destination. He looked up. The engine was still running. At some distance a huge two-story house stood. "I think that's it sir.” the driver said, pointing towards it. "I think so too." Officer Ganvir said, "Let’s check it." The cruiser moved towards the gate. There was a large distance between the gate and the house. 'That must be the garden' Ram thought. His mother had spoken endlessly about it when she had visited the Mehras. 'Life in an apartment in a big city' Ram thought 'has its disadvantages.' The cruiser stopped directly in Front of the gate. The name-plate announced the names of Mrs. Saraswati Mehra and her two sons. Two guards quickly opened the doors and the cruiser swiftly passed through them. It stopped directly in front of the door. A man was hurriedly coming to meet them. "That's Mukesh uncle." Ram told inspector Ganvir. He nodded and got out of the vehicle. Hello officer." Mr. Mukesh Mehra said thrusting his hand forward, "I am Mukesh Mehra." "Hello.", officer Ganvir said shaking it, "I am inspector Ganvir." The driver was already beside inspector Ganvir shaking hand with Mr. Mehra, when another door of cruiser opened. Ram stepped out dragging his suitcase. He looked up. Mr. Mehra was staring at him. "Ram!" He exclaimed, "What are you doing here?" "Well," Ram said, taken aback by the reception, "I thought I would give you a surprise...." "Of course, of course," Mr. Mehra said, hastily correcting his expressions. The rest of the family had come out by then. All were staring at him. "but why did you come with them?" Mr. Mehra asked, failing to cover his surprise. He was pointing at officer Ganvir. "Did you..." "Actually," Ram spoke up fearing Mr. Mehra would arrive at some wrong conclusion. The Mehras also had the same sentiments about police as his family. And being inside a police vehicle.... "They gave me a lift from the main road." He informed. The relief was evident on everyone's face. "Oh." Mr. Mehra said, finally letting out a sigh and turned to officer Ganvir, "That was very kind of you Inspector." "My pleasure." He smiled and looked towards Ram. Before he could do anything he was saved by one of the servants. Shankar Kaka hurried towards him and snatched his suitcase as if it really contained the diamond. Then Amit, Mukesh Mehra's elder son and Ram's college-mate dragged him into house. Mr. Mukesh Mehra also had a house in Nagpur. His family lived there. Damanpur where rest of the Mehra family lived was in fact his summer retreat. "Come on buddy." Amit said, dragging him inside the hall. Then he collapsed on a sofa. Ram sat beside his friend, staring at him. Tension was written all over his face. "Did they really give you a lift?" he said with his eyes still close. "No." Ram smiled "They dragged me on a gun point, said that I was hiding diamonds in my suitcase." Amit didn't laugh. Ram leaned forward "It must be terrible for you." he said. He could feel it in the air."Yeah." Amit finally looked towards him. "When did it happen?" Ram asked. "We are not sure." he said, wearily shaking his head, "They were there last night when Dad checked. And in the morning, poof! They were gone!" He waved his hands in frustration. Ram placed his hand on Amit's knee. "I am sorry." He said softly. They both were silent for some time. Then Amit said, "The whole family is in shock. Such thing has never happened here. Dad nearly had a stroke. You toil you whole life to earn them and then one day, Boom! Gone! It's stolen. Taken away by some unknown son of a...!" He jerked his hand angrily. Ram silently admired his friend. Even in such grief he had remembered not to use slangs inside house. Amit again fell on the sofa and closed his eyes. Ram didn't move. "I was on terrace, playing with Nisha and Sooraj," Aunt said, now very softly "Early morning can be very pleasant in Damanpur. We were just enjoying the sun, when we heard a cry. We ran down. It came again. It was coming from dad's study and it was dad's voice. 'Gone! Gone!' he was crying." he was silent for some time. Then his voice became shaky. “I will never forget what I saw today in dad's study. Everything was normal except that the safe's door was open. Mom had already reached there and was crying softly. But what horrified me was dad. He was slumped in the writing chair, his eyes unfocused. His whole body was covered with sweat and was trembling. I thought that he would have a stroke then and there. I mean, we all knew that he was keeping something valuable in that safe. But we never knew that it was... so much." He involuntarily spread his hands. "But then dad steeled himself. In this uncle Rakesh was a great help. Together they managed to call the police. The waiting period was a hell for us. Uncle was sitting with dad and Aunty was consoling mom, but she herself was crying. Granny couldn't see or hear much but she had probably guessed everything, for she herself was looking stunned. Everybody was so deep in their grief....." He opened his eyes and looked towards Ram. "Ram, I am very grateful that you came today. I don't know what I would have done without you....." And with this he burst into tears. Ram quickly slid his hand around his shoulders but said nothing. He didn't need to. He knew that his very presence was consoling to his friend. He was feeling very proud at that moment. He was able to at least help his friend. "Hey. Calm down man." He said softly. "What are friends for?" Amit controlled himself "I want him in." he said. "Who?" Ram asked but he knew. "That thief;" He said with fresh anger. "I want him in and fast." "Me too buddy," Ram said with renewed determination, "Me too." -----------------------------------------Mukesh Mehra entered the hall with Inspector Ganvir. The driver, whom Ram guessed as some constable, was close behind. The rest of the family followed them. Amit and Ram stood up to leave. “Hold on boys." Officer Ganvir said, "I want the whole family present here when I speak to Mr. Mehra. That includes you too Ram." He stressed the last line, but only Ram noticed it. He nodded."Are the servants here?" he asked. "I will call them." Amit's aunt, Mrs. Lalita Mehra said and left. A dense silence fell over the hall. Every eye present there was watching officer Ganvir. But he didn't seem to be disturbed by this. His face was an unreadable smiling mask. This continued till Mrs. lalita came back. Shankar Kaka and Lataben came behind her. "So, is everyone present here?" he asked. Mr. Mehra nodded. "I want introduction of all the people present here." The inspector said. Mr. Mehra remained silent for some time and then he said pointing towards Mrs. Saraswati Mehra, "This is my mother, Mrs. Saraswati Mehra. My wife, Sharda Mehra....my brother, Rakesh Mehra....his wife, lalita Mehra.... His son, Sooraj....My son Amit.... My daughter Nisha.... Our servants, Shankar Kaka.... Lataben. This is Ram, my...." "I know." Officer Ganvir interrupted, glancing towards Ram. "Your servants," he asked, "do they live here or in the village?" "Here." Mr. Mehra said, "In the servant's quarters." The inspector eyed the servants for some time but remained silent. After nearly a minute he looked up at the constable. It was then Ram discovered that the constable was taking notes. When his pen had stopped officer Ganvir turned to Mr. Mehra. "Now Mr. Mehra," he said, "tell me what happened this morning." Mr. Mehra took a deep breath and said, "It was my usual morning procedure. I woke up at 6:0s0 a.m., had my tea and went through newspaper. Then I bathed and went to my study.” "What time was it?" officer Ganvir asked. "Uh...."Mr. Mehra thought for a moment "I think 7:30 am." Officer Ganvir nodded. The constable's pen slid on paper. "Then," Mr. Mehra again started, "I unlocked my study door and...." Officer Ganvir sat up straighter. "You mean you keep study door locked?" "Well." Mr. Mehra said uneasily, "It has my important papers and some valuable assets so...." "What about others?" officer Ganvir asked. 'The study must be having a lot of books. What do you do when somebody needs them? What about cleaning? Are you always present there?" "The cleaning takes place in my presence," Mr. Mehra answered, "while I am working there in morning. And yes, my study contains a lot of books, about 700. My family knows about them. So whenever they need any book, they just ask for the key. But I always instruct them to make it quiet sure that the door is locked." "Oh." officer Ganvir thought this over and waited for the constable to catch up."And are you quite sure," officer Ganvir asked, "that the door was locked when you went to your study this morning?” "Yes" Mr. Mehra said confidently. "Oh." Officer Ganvir said, "What happened next?" "Well," Mr. Mehra said "When I entered into the study, I found the safe door open. I was shocked. I remember locking it last night. I ran to it. When I saw inside, everything was present. But the next moment I noticed that the door of the hidden compartment, where I had kept my diamonds, was open. I checked it and...." His voice trailed off. "Hmm" Officer Ganvir muttered, "Did you find anything disturbed there, Mr. Mehra? I mean chairs or tables displaced from their original position. Or something misplaced. Or something, which you remember wasn't there yesterday night but was this morning. Something unusual...." Mr. Mehra thought for some time. "No." He finally said. "Nothing unusual. Unless you consider...." "Unless what, Mr. Mehra?" The Inspector asked patiently. "Unless you consider the window...." He said finally, "I vaguely remember closing it because I was feeling cold. But it was open in the morning." "Are you sure you closed it last night?" officer Ganvir asked leaning forward. "Well I can't say I am sure. But I think ....." he was trying to think hard. Then suddenly he brightened up. "Maybe Amit might remember something." He said and turned towards Amit, "Amit, do you remember it? Were the windows closed?" "Amit!" Officer Ganvir was confused. "How would he know it?" "Because, "Me. Mehra explained, "he was the last one to go in the study. I just remembered. He had come to me last night at about 9:00 pm., I think. He said he wanted some book. Do you remember it Amit? Was the window closed?"All heads turned. Now Amit was the object of sole attention. This made him very nervous. It was some time before he was able to speak. "Uh....." he croaked "I think.....it was closed." "Are you sure?" officer Ganvir asked, staring at Amit. Amit nearly jumped in fright. "Ye-es" he somehow spoke," I.... I.... I am sure." Officer Ganvir kept staring at Amit. "Mr. Mehra, "he said, "I would like to see you study." "Yes of course." Mr. Mehra replied, slightly unnerved by what had happened a moment ago. He stood up to lead the way. "Mr. Rakesh," Office Ganvir said standing up, "will you please stay here and inform me when my team arrives?" Mr. Rakesh Mehra nodded his approval and muttered something like ‘my pleasure'. ".... and boys," he said turning towards Amit and Ram, "I want you to come up with me. Maybe Amit would remember something else," he stressed the word, "unusual." ---------------------------------------------The day passed in frenzy. Ram's head was reeling. He was feeling very tired and dizzy. The police had left at last. Not knowing why and feeling a little guilty at such a thought, they were relieved that the police was gone. The experience was something nobody was going to forget. It started with the study. Ram instantly fell in love with that room. So many books! Two whole walls were covered from roof to floor with bookcases. They had more books than the entire library of his old school, where he had studied till tenth. Ram would have jumped at them, had officer Ganvir not warned them to touch nothing in the room. Then, standing in the middle of the study, officer Ganvir asked Mr. Mehra to repeat what had happened that morning. Again Mr. Mehra said the same thing. Then the inspector leaned on Amit to remember whether the window was open or close. At last Amit confirmed that the window was open. Suddenly the hell broke loose. The quiet atmosphere of Mehra Sadan was broken by thunderous wails of police sirens. Ram's wildest dream was coming into reality. He was soon going to be surrounded by at least a dozen policemen. The thought of two was unnerving, but that of a dozen...! Still, in this condition, Ram was feeling surprised. Twelve policemen! My God, they were taking it seriously! Within a minute they were inside and all over. In another minute Ram and the Mehra family were out in the garden looking at each other! For nearly two hours the house was searched every square inch for any evidence. Only Mukesh and Rakesh Mehra were allowed inside for surveillance. Then followed the ‘little talks' as the policemen called them but nobody was fooled. Even Shankar Kaka could tell the difference between 'talk' and 'interrogation'. A policeman escorted every family member to a corner, so that they could 'talk' alone. Only Ram was left standing in the middle, staring around. This would have been just fine; he didn't want any policeman near him anyway, had not officer Ganvir appeared beside him. Every now and then some officer would appear and officer Ganvir would give him further orders. This continued till evening. At last the moment came at 6:30 pm. when officer Ganvir and his team called the shots and departed with a promise to return the next day. Peace at last! Ram was sitting in the living room with Amit, having just had dinner, when his mobile rang. Ram nearly jumped with surprise when he saw, 'officer Ganvir calling'. "Who's it?" Amit asked surprised by his reaction. "Ah....just a friend." Ram said, hastily going out in the garden. He made sure that he was alone and let the bell ring for some time, hoping wanly that officer Ganvir would loose his interest and disconnect. Bust no such luck for him. Helplessly he brought the phone to his ears. "Hello?" Ram spoke. "Hey Ram." Came the cheerful voice from the other end," How are you?" "Fine," Ram said, trying not to sound sarcastic. But officer Ganvir had picked it up. “I know, I know," he said "This must be a very had experience for you. But we don't have any option. This is very serious Ram. I hope you understand it." He said solemnly. "Yeah," Ram sighed," I do." They were silent for some time. "You want to say something." Officer Ganvir said finally. "No." Ram said, "What would I want to say?" "You want to say something," he repeated again, "about Amit." Ram remained quiet. Then he dared, "Do you really suspect Amit?" "Do you?" Came the question. "No." Ram replied quietly, but confidently. “Me too." Came the answer. "You don't?" Ram asked surprised as well as delighted, "Then why did you.... My God, you nearly scared him to death!" "I did?" officer Ganvir laughed, "well, in fact he is the only person right now, that I am sure, is totally innocent. Though in the light of new evidences my doubt about others have decreased considerable, but still....." "What new evidences?" Ram asked his curiosity aroused. "Got you there, right?" officer Ganvir laughed "Well, we have found a boot print just below the study window. Last night's heavy rain had washed out the others but luckily we got this. It was a relatively fresh mark. When we compared it with all the shoes we could find in the house...." “You didn't find any match?" Ram cut in happily. "No, we didn't." officer Ganvir said, "And anyway it was a size ten shoe which nobody in the family uses." Ram was silently grinning with joy. "We again found the same boot print on a lane going to village from the house." officer Ganvir went on. "What else did you find?" Ram asked. "That's the point." came the reply, "We found nothing else. All the fingerprints on the safe matched with Mr. Mukesh Mehra's. There was not a single unknown print in the whole study, not even on the window." "So what do you think?" Ram asked, leading him on. “Well, strictly in my opinion," officer Ganvir said, "I think it's a professional 's work." "So I can assume that the family is off the hook?" Ram said. "Well, not entirely....” he said slowly," There is a possibility, somebody inside the family might have hired the thief to do the work for himself. Somebody....." "Like Rakesh uncle." Ram concluded bitterly. "I didn't say it." Office Ganvir said quickly. But neither did he deny it. Ram grasped the meaning. "Listen Ram," he finally said," I agree that it might be a professional after all, but just think of it for some time. To do such a thing, he must have needed to know the exact location of the study in the house, number of ways to reach it, about that particular window.....To target it precisely he needed to know that it was just a plain glass window without bars. He was a bit lucky that the window was unknowingly left unlocked. But it didn't matter. He could have simply broken it or unhinged it. But he needed to know it". "But," Ram desperately tried to argue, though he knew that everything officer Ganvir was saying was true, "he could have got it from elsewhere like " he stopped as he realized what he was coming at"....the servants." he said feebly. "Yes," the inspector said, “but we are forgetting an important thing- the diamonds" “What?" Ram asked "what about them?" "Nobody knew about them." Officer Ganvir said, "Only Mr. Mukesh Mehra and his wife knew that he was keeping diamonds worth 1.38 crores in his safe. And the theft was committed with the sole purpose of stealing them. So he had to know about them. We can never assume that he got this information from the servant." "But Rakesh uncle also didn't know about them." Ram said, "Then how can you suspect him?" "I again say Ram, that I am not pin-pointing at anybody," The inspector said patiently, "But just for the sake of argument, are you sure? How hard it would be for a person like Rakesh Mehra to gain this information? A sniff hear or eavesdropping there..... Or he could have directly asked Mr. Mehra and he would have easily told him. It would be a piece of cake for him." Ram remained silent. Then he quietly said," I still don't believe it" though he couldn't find a single reason not to. "I know Ram," officer Ganvir said gently, "I know what you are feeling and I know the reason behind it. You know these people. You like them. You understand them to some extent. This is what I want. This is what I was expecting when I asked you this morning to help me. I am after all an outsider. I can formulate my theories based on what 'I think’ and this may lead me to a wrong conclusion. But you know about them, about their behaviour and you are between them, a part of them. You are the only one who can help me find answers to those questions." Then very silently, very gently he said, "I hope you understand me. Do you Ram?" "Yes" Ram finally said, “I do." He disconnected and stood still, trying to silence the storm raging in his mind. After he had composed himself he again brought up his mobile and replaced the name 'Officer Ganvir' to 'G1'. He then started for the house. When he again sat with Amit, Amit pounced on him."Who was it? You took very long". "Um...." Ram thought quickly, "just a friend." Amit grabbed his mobile to see the name of the latest caller."G1." he read aloud. "A call at this time, of a 'friend' you don't want to tell 'me' about," he said, “A 'friend' with whom you talked to almost fifteen minutes. And the caller named 'Gl', it can mean only one thing...." Amit now turned to face Ram. He was grinning for the first time that day, "Ram, when did you meet her?" Ram just stared at him. --------------------------------Ram was an early riser, or to be precise 'he' considered himself an early riser. He always woke up at sharp seven in the morning. He spotted them around 7:30 am. He was standing on terrace enjoying the early morning breeze and thinking. The Mehra family was unusually still asleep though the servants were up. 'Yesterday's exhaustion,' he thought sympathetically. He was facing the small village. Some fifty odd huts and a large mansion on which he was standing. Though the word must have inevitably spread it didn't seem to have any effect on it. The small village was already up and throbbing with early morning life. It was while scanning it that he spotted them. Four vehicles were fast approaching the village. The sirens on their roof top were gleaming in the soft sunlight, though they weren't active and droning. Contrary to what the movies showed Ram knew at least that the sirens were rarely active even if the vehicle was travelling. 'My, my,' Ram thought looking at the cruisers, 'they must have started at six in the morning at least so most of them should be awake from five in morning. And people say that the police are always sluggish!' He shook his head smiling. Just when he was preparing himself to face the cheerful inspector for the second continuous day the cars stopped in what seemed to be the middle of the village. "What are they doing there?" A voice came from behind. Rum jumped with surprise and turned around. Amit was standing beside him, rubbing his eyes. "I, well....” Ram started to say, still shaken. "They should be here, shouldn't they?" Amit asked, now turning towards Ram. "Well," Ram said, shock wearing off, "I think they must be trying to get the villagers for some 'little talks' with them." "This early?" Amit asked, his eyes bulging. “This is really the only time that they can hope to do it." Ram was now looking at the cruisers. "Yeah?" Amit asked sarcastically, "Why so?" “Because," Ram said ignoring his sarcasm, "Even a half an hour late and they would have had to go searching in fields in a radius of one or two miles to get the villagers." "Wow." Amit said the sarcasm decreasing. "But why do you think that they want to have 'little talks' with the villagers at all? Our house is sufficiently far for them to have seen the thief coming in or getting out of it." "That's right," Ram said patiently, "but Damanpur is slightly away from the main road. The road approaching this house is the only one coming to the village. Moreover it passes through the centre. Surrounded by jungles and fields, this is the only approach road. Thus this is the only way that the thief could have come here. To do robbery here he must have needed to do some inquiries or some observations. So the chances are somebody might have spotted him and mind you spotting a stranger in such a small village is not a very difficult thing. He might have talked with someone, or asked for water or something or simply asked for the directions to Mehra Sadan." Ram explained, "Or it might be possible that somebody from the village is the thief. Someone's relative who had come here to stay and suddenly vanished, or some local who hasn't been seen since yesterday....” "Bravo!" Amit suddenly applauded, "Detective Ramchand has solved another mystery. Bravo!" he applauded loudly. "Detective Ramchand!" Ram laughed in surprise, "Where did you get it? Or is it another one of your creative ideas?" "No." Amit admitted, "I read a book, which had him as the central character." “Yeah?" Ram laughed. “How was it?" "Not much." Amit said. "To put it simply- the Desi version of Sherlock Holmes." "What was the title?” Ram asked. "You won't believe it" Amit said. He was blushing! "Try me" Ram said, still smiling. “I warned you," he shrugged, "It was called, 'The case of the hound of Bhaskarpur." Ram doubled with laughter. "Bhaskarpur!" tears were streaming through his eyes. "So much for originality!" They both fell around laughing. After sometime Ram said, "Let me get it straight. You said that you had read a book named, The...." He suppressed another burst of laughter and avoided the name. “'You' had read a book! Am I missing something here or are you really out of your head?" "Well" Amit said sheepishly, "I sometimes do that." "Really?" Ram said, "My dear friend Amit, who is a legend among friends for hating books, sitting down and reading a novel! The idea itself is impossible to imagine." They again burst into laughter. "Anyway," Ram said," but where did you get it? In the study?" Amit nodded. “It must be having some very interesting books." Ram said. "I guess." Amit replied. "At least that is what dad always tells me. But I had scrupulously avoided them till now. At last with curiosity I decided to try it. I asked for comedy and he gave me that book. So much for his sense of humour." “Is Anyone else in your family aware of your rendezvous with books." "No they are not." Amit said and quickly explained, "Actually this was to be a secret between me and dad. But it got blown up barely after the first experiment." "Why?" Ram asked, "What happened". "You saw it yesterday, didn't you?" Amit said grimly. Suddenly realization dawned upon Ram. "That night!" Ram exclaimed, "So you went into study to replace that book." "Yeah," Amit said, "I deliberately elected that time after dinner so that I won't be disturbed." "Right" Ram said absently and then just to cheer him up he said, "So which book did you choose this time". "That's the point." Amit said smugly, "I couldn't." “Why?" Rain asked surprised. "I had barely opened the door," Amit said "when I heard, luckily, footsteps approaching. I peeped around the corner and saw Nisha coming. Now I couldn't let my own sister, of all the people, to expose my little secret. It would have been like a breaking news story on a national news channel." Ram laughed and quickly stopped as he saw Amit scowling. But he couldn't help smiling. "Then what did you do?" he asked. "What option did I have?" Amit asked frustrated, "I grabbed the book tight in one hand shut the door with another and ran like hell" he said, "I stopped on my way to give dad the keys and went straight to my room. I bolted it shut, hide the book under my pillow and went to sleep." Ram couldn't control his laughter this time. "And is the book still under your pillow?" he asked. "Yes." Amit said. "Then let’s go to your room," Ram said, " bolt the door and have a look at your book." "Why?" Amit asked suspiciously, "what do you want to do with it?" Ram grinned, "Why don't you be a good fan and let detective Ramchand solve the mystery?" Saying this he started towards the stairs turning his back to the cruisers and the policemen who had started to assemble the villagers by then. ------------------------------------Ram had barely reached the third page when he shut the book screeching with laugher. "No more, No more!" he was crying. He had reached the part when he came to know that the detective's assistance was a `Hakkim'. Moreover he was named Watkar. What Ram couldn't understand was that why the writer hadn't named the detective something like Shersingh Holkar! Ram spent the rest of the morning moving around servants trying to get something out of them. He went with Shankar Kaka to `Sabji Mandi’ in the village and chatted the whole way from house to village and village to house. But like a good amateur he got nothing. The only thing noteworthy that he got was that Shankar Kaka was very loyal to 'Mukesh Sa'ab, which he already knew. He went to kitchen on the pretext of helping Lataben with lunch, but she wouldn't allow him to even enter the room. It was only when he declared himself 'an experienced kitchen hand' (his mother would have thrown a fit of laughter) that she let him enter. Within fifteen minutes having seen his ‘expertise' she threw him out. Then Raw decided to try his hand on arts. He went to terrace, where he had heard that Rakesh uncle, a notable artist, was starting his new masterpiece. Rakesh uncle was on terrace all right. He was equipped with every instrument used for painting that Ram had seen and many more that he hadn't. But his canvas was blank and he was just staring at it. “Ah.... Ram," Mr. Rakesh Mehra said, finally noting his presence, "come, have a seat." Ram didn't see any chair or stool, so he kept standing and following Mr. Mehra's lead stared at the canvas. He knew at least that every masterpiece had a name and told something. So he ventured, "what are you naming it uncle?""Umm?" Mr. Mehra said, his eyes still on the canvas, "Oh.. .I’ll call it 'Hating Love.'" "Uh?" Ram said confused," How wonderful!" then he again ventured, "What is it about?" "Well, let me see if I can explain." He said still staring at the canvas, but his tone was of excitement. His mouth curled up in a genuine smile. He seemed to be in a very joyous mood, which Ram would have thought as impossible in the circumstances had he not seen it himself. Mr. Mehra slowly, patiently explained what he wanted to fill on the canvas and what he wanted to show the people. He explained in such an artistic language that Ram tried to catch some of the words going over his head, while he let go most of them. "Do you understand?" Mr. Mehra said at last. “Yes" Rant croaked. "Don't try to fool me." Mr. Mehra chuckled. "I know you didn't understand anything, but neither did I expect you to. You are still young; you don't understand the complexities of life. But you are clever. As you will grow up, you will understand these things. Till then," he smiled, "enjoy the arrival of youth." He kept staring at the canvas. Ram started for the stair, second time that day. By the time he reached them he knew that he had understood more than Mr. Mehra had thought. He again turned; Mr. Mehra was still staring at the canvas. ----------------------------Lunch had gone by very silently. Amit had crept more silently in his room to hid his book in a safer place, namely inside the closet. Ram was sitting in the living room trying to concentrate on his newspaper but his mind kept drifting to his conversation with Mr. Rakesh Mehra. "Hello Ram." He looked up, Mr. Mukesh Mehra's wife, Mrs. Sharda Mehra, was sitting in a sofa opposite hint. "How's your day going?" she asked. “Fine." Ram said trying to smile. “I know." she said with a knowing smile. "It must not be going well, but neither can it in the circumstances." she sighed. “We didn't get a chance to talk properly, after," she chuckled, "your 'grand' arrival yesterday." Ram smiled. "Anyway, how is Vimmo?" she said leaning back. Vimmo meant Vimla, Ram's mother. She and Mrs. Mehra were also childhood friends. 'So friendship runs in the family' Ram had concluded. "Fine" Ram said. "She asked to say hello to you." She smiled "So how do you find Damanpur?" "Good!" Rain said truthfully, "The climate, the mountains, the scenery, everything is beautiful. It's so peaceful here. And..." "And," Mrs. Mehra finished for him, "Your mobile is still catching its network ." Ram blushed. She broke into laugher. "Just joking." she said waving her hands. "Your mother told me this morning...”“She called today?" Ram said surprised. "Yes she did." Mrs. Mehra replied, "She asked whether you are still alive here. I told her that you are alive and living and not to worry about you. Then, she replied, 'his mobile must be still working!’" she chuckled again. "What else did she say?" Ram said more to divert the subject than out of curiosity. "The usual." she grew serious. "She said that our news made it to front page in many national papers and was headline in all the local ones. She said it was the talk of the city." "It must be." Ram said quietly, "They must have been very beautiful.” "Yes, they were." Mrs. Mehra said softly, "But it doesn't matter. They were to go anyway." “Why?" Rain said confused. "Amit's father had landed a very profitable deal. But the finance was a bit problem. It was for such an occasion that he had purchased those diamonds from his profits. So he decided to sell them. He had decided to go today to Nagpur to sell them to a customer he had found." She sighed. "Oh my God!" Ram mumbled, "So what is he doing now?" "What can he do?" she said, trying to smile bravely, "He has to respond to that deal in a week. Though he insists that he will somehow raise money by then, I know that it is futile. He doesn't like to borrow and he is stretched so thin that he can never raise that kind of money in a week. There goes his life's most profitable deal and also a large part of his life's savings." "Hey" Mrs. Mehra suddenly said, this time succeeding in smiling, "But why am I bothering you with all this?" she stood up and started to go to her room. "You enjoy your reading while I go get some rest." Ram watched her walk away marvelling the mental strength of the lady he respected and- The phone rang.“Will you please attend it Ram?" she asked, not stopping."Yes." Ram said and picked up the phone "Hello?" "Sir, can I please speak to Mr. Mukesh Mehra?" A crisp male voice asked from the other end. "Aunty," Ram called, keeping his hand on the mouth piece, "someone is calling for Mukesh uncle". "He is taking nap," she called back, "Ask him to call later." She vanished in a room. "He is taking a nap." Ram repeated, "Can you please call after sometime?" "Uh..." The voice on the other end grew restless, "Can you please then give him my massage? You see, my name is Sagar Dhande, I am calling from...." He chattered for nearly five minutes of which Ram understood very little. When it became unbearable Ram said, "Sir I don't think I would be able to convey him such technical stuff. Can't you call him sometime later?" “Uh.... That's all right I think." the caller said, "I guess I will have to do that overtime after all." with this he hung up. Ram put down the receiver and settled again with his paper. After sometime the print became blurred and he fen into a deep sleep. ------------------------------He woke up with a jolt. Bells were ringing wildly in his head. He glanced at the clock. 5:05 P.M. it said. He had slept for a better part of four hours. He shook his head firmly, but the ringing continued. Then it stopped. Realization came up slowly. He got it. He had got it! He shook his head at his stupidity. How could he overlook such an obvious thing?! Now there remained just one question. Whom should he tell the truth? For he knew was 'The Truth'. Should he tell Mr. Mehra directly? He shuddered at the thought, for the truth was bitter. Or should he tell officer Ganvir, as he had promised? He headed for Mr. Mehra's room. He wasn't there. Ram searched the whole house and found him in an old room. It was Mr. Mehra's father's, Kisanlal Mehra's study. "Come in Ram," Mr. Mehra said, when he saw Ram standing at the door. Though he tried to sound cheerful, the huge sadness was obvious. "Sit down." Ram sat on a chair opposite him. "You see Ram," he said staring at the ceiling “This is my father's study. It has been preserved as it was from the day he died. Whenever I am sad, I come here. This way I feel myself nearer to him." Ram desperately wanted to change the course of conversation. "Mr. Sugar Dhande called earlier this afternoon." He said."I know," Mr. Mehra said and got up. "He called again an hour ago". He went to the showcase covering a wall of study. Ram also went there. "These are the toys my father had bought for me and Rakesh". Mr. Mehra said. The whole showcase was filled with toys. "As we grew up, we threw them away, but our father preserved every single one of them as his golden memories." Ram started at them. He noticed a film of dust. Mr. Mehra chuckled as he saw what Ram was looking at. "Well, we clean them every Diwali. So it’s inevitable; this dust. After all Diwali had been some seven or eight months ago." Ram noticed something else. "You keep it locked?" he said looking at the small lock. "Yes." Mr. Mehra said, "We open it only on Diwalis. I always keep the key with me safely hidden. After all, these memories are too precious to be lost." Ram stared at the showcase for some more time. Then he remembered what he had come to say. He was preparing himself to deliver it and had opened his mouth when Mr. Mehra said to no one in particular “I hope my father was here today". Ram closed his mouth and went out of the room. He went straight to terrace and placed a call to G1. "Hi Ram!" Came the cheerful voice of officer Ganvir, "I was just thinking of you". "How fast can you come here?" Rain asked "Well," the answer came. "I was anyway thinking of paying Mr. Mehra a visit. We are nearly wrapped up here in the village. I will complete some formalities and be there in half an hour". "Leave it," Ram said, "and come here as fast as you can". "Why?" officer Ganvir noted the urgency in Ram's voice, "What happened?" "I have something," Rain said, "which I am sure will help you wrap up this case". The inspector wasted no time. "I will be there in a minute." He said and hung up. Ram went down to Mr. Mehra's father's study. Mr. Mehra was sitting in his chair now. Ram closed the door and occupied the same chair he had occupied five minutes ago. "Uncle, I have to tell you something." Ram said with conviction. "Yes, Ram?" Mr. Mehra looked up. “I know that you won't like it" Rain swallowed, "But I must tell you this before officer Ganvir comes." "Officer Ganvir?!" Mr. Mehra said surprised. "Yes," Ram said, "when he gave me lift yesterday he asked me to keep my eyes and ears open, so that I might get some clues about the culprit." Mr. Mehra's mouth dropped open; his eyes bulged out of sockets. He closed his mouth and swallowed hard, "Why are you telling me this, now?" he asked. "Because," Ram started. "I have found the culprit." "Who?" Mr. Mehra asked numb with shock. "Who is it?" Ram remained silent. After sometime Mr. Mehra said, "Ram, will you do me a favour?" "Anything you say, uncle." Ram said softly, "Anything you say." They could hear the police siren approaching the front gate. --------------------------------------A knock came on the door and officer Ganvir entered. Nobody moved. He instantly noticed Mr. Mehra's presence and stopped dead in his track. "Don't worry officer," Mr. Mehra said "Ram has told me everything about your little discussion yesterday morning." He smiled then shook his head, "That was clever thinking on your part. Your gamble has paid off. Ram here says that he has found the culprit." "He what?!" Officer Ganvir said dumb fold. "Yes." Ram confirmed and then turned to Mr. Mehra. "Uncle, if I say that the culprit is within the family, will you take your complaint back?" "Family....?" Mr. Mehra repeated numbly. "Yes." Rain said. Mr. Mehra remained silent, his head bowed. "And if," Ram said, "I also find the diamonds for you, then will you take your complaint back?" "You found them?" officer Ganvir cried aghast. Mr. Mehra looked up sharply, "Yes. I certainly will.” He said. Ram turned to the inspector. "Do you have any objection sir?” He asked. "Well...." Officer Ganvir started, unsure. "Do you?" Ram asked sharply. “No” officer Ganvir finally conceded. “Now will you for heaven’s sake tell mewho stole the diamonds and where they are?”Ram ignored him and said to Mr. Mehra, “Will you please bring the keys of this showcase, uncle?” Mr. Mehra slowly nodded and went out of the room.“The showcase!” The Inspector said frustrated, “But we had searched it!”Ram faced him fully. “Had you?” He asked coldly.Officer Ganvir remained silent.Mr. Mehra entered in the study and opened the lock.Ram stood up and went to the showcase. He looked at the rack at his eye level.Arranged neatly in a row there were blocks with alphabets on them.Ram picked up the block having ‘A’ on it. “A for,” he mumbled to himself.“Apple” he put the block on the study table.“B for Ball” He put the block named ‘B’ on the table.“C for cat” He put the block named ‘C’ on the table.He lifted the block named D. “D for....” He stopped. “Let’s see.” He turned the block in his fingers. He found the hidden door at its bottom, opened it and poured thecontent down on the study table.“.... Diamonds.” Ram finally said tossing the block on the table. Eight shinning pieces of stone looked up at him. Both officer Ganvir and Mr. Mehra stared at them with their mouth open.Ram walked to the door, “I think I should walk you back to your cruiser, officerGanvir.” he said turning around.The inspector looked up; his mouth still open. “How did you....?” He tried to say, “who....?”“l think,” Ram insisted, “we should take a walk.” Officer Ganvir followed him wordlessly out of the house. As they went out of the front door, Ram’s mobile buzzed. “Hello?” he said pulling it out of his pocket. “Sorry, wrong number.” he said and pulled it away from his ear.“How did you do it Ram?” officer Ganvir finally asked.“Tell me sir,” Ram said, “with a closed room robbery detected first by the owner, the window detected open first by the owner. The window having practically no route of reaching but to dangle with a rope from terrace, the item stolen also known by the owner only... in these conditions who will be your first suspect?”“Why....”The inspector said shrugging, “The ow....!” His eyes widened, “Oh my God!” he mumbled. “How could I...? How could...” He shook his head again in frustration. “Did ‘he’ do it?”Ram nodded.“But how did you know?” he asked.” Did you just guess. . .”“No” Ram said. “Like any amateur in this work, Mr. Mehra made a mistake and I detected it"“What?” he asked, “What mistake?”Rum told him about his conversation with Amit, about what happened that night.“He said he had book in one and hastily shut the door with another. He didn’t ‘lock’ it. But when Mr. Mehra told you yesterday what had happened, he said that he had ‘opened’ the lock, which was true. Obviously he had done ‘it’ sometime at night. He must have quietly gone to the study when he was sure that everyone was asleep. In the excitement and guilt of what he was about to do he didn’t notice that the lock was already open. He inserted his key in the keyhole, gave a few jerks and lo! The door was open! He then opened the window. The fingerprints that you found on it were his. Nothing suspicious. He retrieved the diamonds and this time ‘locked’ the study door. He went straight to his father’s study and hid the diamonds there”.“But how did you guess that they were in the study?” officer Ganvir asked.“The Guilt has its own ways and expressions.” Ram smiled. “it’s your guilt that’s asking me this question. Mr. Mehra said that he had the showcase’s keys safe with him and it hadn’t been opened for nearly eight months. You, already tired with the futile search, accepted it and left the showcase with an overt glance. But what you didn’t see was that a small block named D had been recently disturbed. The dust pattern proved it. It was guilt on Mr. Mehra’s part that he kept staring at that block longingly which confirmed my suspicion and uncovered his folly.”“But the foot prints....” Officer Ganvir mumbled.“Again a trap.” Ram said “A clever mislead deliberately planted. How hard it would have been for a person like Mukesh uncle to produce and dispose a size 10 shoe?” Ram asked. “l told you that his servants are very loyal to him, and I am fairly certain that, that mislead was planted by Shankar on Mukesh uncle’s word.”“Very Good.” The inspector at last cracked into a smile, “l must be the biggest fool in the world.” He shook his head, "But there still remains a big question-The motive. Why would a person like Mukesh Mehra, a successful businessman, do such a thing?”“The motive is simple.” Ram said, “He wasn’t such a successful businessman of late.” He explained, “His profits were marginal and income was low. Suddenly he landed a superb deal. It was profit everywhere. But there was a problem — he needed some finance. This was the occasion that he had purchased the diamonds for. But the greed took over. He had also had an insurance policy on them. Selling the diamonds now would have been a waste of his money. So he stole, in other words hide, his diamonds so that he would automatically get the insurance money and would also be able to keep his diamonds."“How did you come to know about the insurance?" officer Ganvir asked.“Sagar Dhande.” Ram smiled to himself.“Sagar who?” he asked confused.“Sugar Dhande, an employee of the insurance company, which have a policy on Mukesh uncle’s diamonds, had called this afternoon.” Ram explained, “Luckily I picked up the phone. It seems that while thinking about finance for the deal Mukesh uncle had suddenly got this idea of insurance money and had made a call to confirm whether the policy was still intact, though he knew that it was.” he finally stopped.They had reached the cruiser.Ram said, “Sir, you have to understand that though Mukesh uncle had done such a thing, it was a deed done in the obsession of greed, which was only momentary. He was extremely guilty when he realized its effect on others, especially his family. It may be called a wrong decision at a wrong time. If he had a chance he would have happily reversed it.”For a long time officer Ganvir just started at him. At last he said, “Ram, you are a good guy.”Ram smiled, “Thank you.”“I hope we will meet again.” He said. “No sir." Ram shook his head, “It’s nothing personal but I hope we won’t.”“Right." officer Ganvir chuckled. He got in his cruiser and drove away.Ram turned and started towards the house. He brought the mobile, which was still in his hand, up. The call was running for eleven minutes. He looked up. A man crept out of the shadow of the big Banyan tree. He was also holding his mobile in his hand. Ram disconnected the call and faced Mr. Mehra.“I hope you understand me Ram.” He said.“I do.” Ram replied simply.Then very slowly, very softly Mr. Mukesh Mehra said, “Thank you.” and hugged him fiercely.THE END

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