Udita was numb. She could not feel a thing, neither the embraces nor the handshakes. And then like a sudden gush of water, tears flowed down her cheeks as she started weeping profusely. It all had to come out – the pain, the anguish, the struggle and at last the sweet victory.She was exhausted and overwhelmed with emotions. Flashes of her ordeal played out in front of her eyes and she felt as if someone had pushed the rewind button of her life. Her thoughts raced back to that fateful day – the day that transformed her life forever and shook the very core of her being; the day that made her cognizant of her immense inner strength and resilience which were hitherto unknown to her.
Udita was supposed to meet her best friend, Tara, at their favorite hangout place, Café Coffee Day. She was waiting in the outer seating area of the café which was facing the road. It was a busy street with traffic at its peak for the day. It was time for office goers to head back home, thus making it difficult for pedestrians to cross roads. To avoid encountering traffic jam, she had started early from her office. She expected that Tara would arrive tardily as always so she decided to order their favorite cold coffee, Devil’s Own, in the meanwhile. Just when Udita stood up to move inside, she spotted Tara waving at her from the pavement across the road. She gleefully waved back and signaled Tara to cross vigilantly while she waited.
Udita’s mobile started vibrating and she groped for it inside her handbag. Uday had always complained about how one could never find anything that one needed inside the bag because of the mess that it was. She flashed a fleeting smile as she thought of him and took out her mobile to answer the call. Before she could do so, she heard a thud. She hastily dumped her mobile back into the handbag and turned around to find a clamorous mob. She inferred from the chaos that an accident had occurred and hurried to the spot to help, while simultaneously looking for Tara in the crowd. After struggling her way through the swarm of people, she was shocked beyond belief when she saw Tara lying there in a pool of blood.
She somehow managed to gather her senses and rushed Tara to the nearest hospital with the help of few people who had volunteered to accompany her. She got to know from them that when Tara had stepped on the road, which was relatively empty at that moment before it would have got clogged again with vehicles, an over-speeding Renault Duster had hit her and escaped. Apparently, Tara could not have moved back to save herself because it all happened in a split second due to the tempo of the car which seemed out of control. A man who was standing on the sidewalk beside Tara had the presence of mind to quickly note down the number of the vehicle, but was only partly successful. Fury engulfed Udita and she wished she could put the person driving the car behind the bars right away. But, at that moment her priority was Tara’s life and she silently prayed that her friend, her soul sister would survive. Tears wouldn’t stop trickling out from her eyes, just like the blood wouldn’t stop oozing out of Tara’s body.
Tara was declared dead on arrival and with that a part of Udita died a quiet death too. Udita wanted to scream but it seemed like she lost her voice. She wished this was a horrible dream and that she would wake up sweating, and Tara would then laugh at her bizarre dream. But, that was not to be! It then struck Udita that she would have to inform Kamana Aunty about Tara’s demise. Kamana Aunty had lost her only daughter and Udita could not muster courage to share this news with her. Her heart broke into million pieces when she thought about Ruhi, Tara’s 6 year old daughter. She glanced at her mobile to make the call and noticed 9 missed calls from Uday.
After talking to Aunty and Uday, Udita took a seat in the reception area of the hospital. One of the men from the accident site who had assisted her all this while benevolently offered her a small cup of tea. She looked out of the window past the mango trees. Her mind was an entangled web of thoughts of her beautiful memories with Tara – their first meeting in the college hostel, their endless late night conversations when they shared their thoughts and dreams, their noisy laughter echoing in the hostel premises causing much agony to their warden who would never tire of warning them, and their tears which brought them closer. A lifetime bond of friendship had formed which they were sure would survive the test of time. It was a special friendship that had no place for any kind of inhibition and formality. They traversed their own paths in different cities after completing post-graduation with Udita joining an IT giant and Tara working in an advertising agency. Later, Tara resigned to pursue her passion for writing professionally post her divorce and destiny brought the friends back together in the same city.
The tea had turned cold, just like Udita’s cold, impassive face. She was jostled out of her reverie by the arrival of the police. The man who had made a note of the number of the Duster was also present and the police got on to their job immediately. They recorded the statements of all the witnesses including Udita and went about it professionally without much ado. It appeared that it would be a cakewalk for the police to investigate the case based on all the information they had gathered and the footage that would be obtained from the street cameras. Udita was certain about this being an open and shut case, and assumed that justice would be meted out.
Over the course of the next few days, Udita discovered that the offender was Madhav, the nephew of a high-ranking local politician, who was driving under the influence of alcohol. What she thought was an obvious case of hit and run ended up becoming complicated day by day. The series of unanticipated visits to the police station had begun. Udita realized that the politician was using all his power to hush this up through an out of court settlement and was trying to influence the eye-witnesses. But Udita was not the one to get bogged down. She used her intelligence and popularity among her friends to create awareness about the case on social media. It helped that Tara was a revered writer and soon there were strong campaigns and protests everywhere seeking justice for Tara. The struggle for justice continued over the span of many months and Udita was almost on the verge of giving up at one point. She felt like she was just going around in circles and all her efforts were proving to be futile. But, her love for her deceased friend gave her the vigor to carry on undaunted and then there was no looking back.
During this period, Udita was at the receiving end of well-meaning advice as well as threats from all around.
“Why are you making your life difficult? For your own peace, just settle this out of court. Justice is anyway not going to bring your friend back”, was the advice she received invariably from her well-wishers.
During one of her police station visits, she was forewarned by a head constable.
“You are unnecessarily inviting trouble for yourself. It is better you let go and withdraw your case. Nothing is going to come out of this clash. Don’t you know the history of the fate of hit and run cases involving big names? ”
His tone was menacing and Udita could gauge that he was trying to intimidate her. She clenched her fist with rage. She wanted to give it back to the man clad in the uniform which warranted that he support and guide her.
“Do not give me unsolicited advice. You focus on your job. I will focus on mine,” replied Udita sternly and marched out of the office, irate.
This battle had also started affecting her relationship with Uday. He did stand by her initially but when the matter kept dragging on, he started losing patience. He could observe how Udita was consumed by thoughts of Tara most of the time. One fine day, the inevitable happened and Uday gave her an ultimatum when they met over coffee at Café Coffee Day.
“Look Udita, I understand what you are going through but this is getting out of hands. Your life has become all about the case and you are not the Udita I fell in love with anymore. Even my family is unhappy with your involvement in this case. I somehow managed to convince them about it till now but I cannot do so anymore. They already had their reservations when they learnt that you are an orphan and now this. How much can I fight with them? You have to choose now between this relationship and Tara’s case.”
Udita could see this coming so she wasn’t surprised. Yet, those words felt like daggers piercing through her heart and she felt a twinge. She did not utter even a single word in response but her eyes spoke volumes. Uday found his answer in those indomitable and fiery eyes. The place that had snatched her soul sister from her had also taken away the love of her life.
In spite of all the hurdles that were being thrown her way, Udita kept pursuing the case with unwavering resolve. She knew in her heart that Tara would have done the same thing if the situation was reversed. Udita had to do this for friendship, for righteousness and for society. There was continued pressure from both sides – the powerful and the commoners. Udita was conscious about the fact that something had to be done to disturb this equilibrium to make their side of the case stronger. That is when Udita had a chance encounter with her childhood friend Amaya, who had recently returned to India from Australia. Amaya was a fearless freelance journalist and was aware of this case.
“Sting Operation? And that too a live one? No! It is so risky”, exclaimed Udita on Amaya’s suggestion.
Gradually, Amaya’s idea of getting Madhav to confess his felony through a sting operation grew on Udita and she realized that though this was risky, it would be a major turning point in the case if they could pull it off. She had confidence that she could outwit the dimwit Madhav and lure him into a meeting on the pretext of an out of court settlement. Though Madhav was instructed by his uncle to stay away from directly getting involved in matters of the case, he was just too tempted to close the case for good and take all credit for it. The meeting happened in a hotel room and the meticulously planned sting operation was successfully streamed live with the help of Amaya and her friends from the media. There was a huge uproar post this incident which eventually led to the arrest of Madhav.
“Udita Maasi, what happened? Let’s go home.”
Ruhi’s words brought Udita back to the present. The court’s verdict was out and Madhav was found guilty. Udita had lost so much in her quest for justice but had also found greater purpose in life. She held little Ruhi’s hands gently and walked out of the court followed by Kamana Aunty. Her own words that she had once spoken in jest were ringing in her ears.
“Tara, Ruhi is such a sweetheart. Only you think she is a little devil. I will adopt her and we will have fun together.”