New author here, with a new story. Kind of nervous as some giants of devotee fiction are regular contributors here. I know the expectations are high and English is my second language.
This is a three part story (could become a four part... Haven't really decided yet!) and here's only the first part. I know that much relating to the tags aren't here, yet. They start to come from the second chapter. So, please wait for it. I'll try to post the second chapter soon.
Do leave comments to let me know how you've liked it so far.
The Iron Ring
“You cannot be doing this to me Sandipda!” Indraneel put down his drink and shook his head. “I thought you invited me for a nice evening of relaxing with a drink, and then out of the blue you drop this on me!” Sandip burst into his jolly laughter seeing Indraneel’s reaction. Indraneel was visibly annoyed and fuming.
“Relax man!” Sandip patted his friend on his back. “You’re acting like I’ve given you a death sentence.”
Indraneel got up from the balcony recliner to pour himself another drink. Going into areas of conflict and report from the ground level was nothing new to him. He was a political reporter and he had been doing this for almost ten years now. But taking an intern into a zone of conflict… Sandip had lost his head. He headed back to the balcony. “Sandipda, you do understand the seriousness of what you are asking? I mean, she’s still an intern. You know I don’t take anybody except Barun. And it took me almost four years to groom Barun and still I worry about his safty when I take him. You know I won’t take just anybody with me…”
“She’s not just anybody Indra. She’s my niece. She has potential. I know she can do this.”
“No “Yes, but” Indra. Not this time.” Sandip sat up on the recliner. “Indra you know I’m a confirmed bachelor. I’ve never married, never will. But in her I’ve found my daughter. I’ve been more involved in her life than my brother and my sister-in-law. Banya is my… everything.” Sandip paused to look at his friend. Indraneel was still frowning, but he no longer appeared to be annoyed. “Despite your protests I made you her mentor because I wanted her to learn from the best. And you are the best journalist I have. No, let me finish first!” He raised a hand as Indraneel opened his mouth to say something. “She has been interning under your for the last year. She went to the tea-plantations with you. And I haven’t received that many complaints from you as I feared.” Despite himself, Indraneel chuckled and sat down. “I know that you know she’s good. Don’t be stubborn and spoil this Indra.”
Indraneel sighed. “I agree Sandipda that Barnali has the potentials to be a good reporter. But she is far inexperienced to be sent to a conflict zone like Chhattisgarh. This time I’m not trying to be stubborn Sandipda; I’m genuinely concerned for her safety. She’s too young.”
“She’s exactly the same age as you were when you came to me Indra. And I took you to Gujarat in the middle of a riot. And as for experience, take her with you, train her. Take as many years you want. You won’t be disappointed.” Sandip smiled, squeezing Indraneel’s shoulder.
“I know. You won’t have to tell me that.” Indraneel checked his watch and got up. “But, just so to make things clear, just because I’m agreeing here doesn’t mean I support this. “Tell her that I’ll email her tonight. I want her prepared when she shows up tomorrow.” Indraneel got his bag from the living room sofa and produced a DVD. “And ask her to watch this.” Sandip took the DVD.
“She’s not getting any sleep tonight, is she?” Sandip grinned.
“It was your idea to tag her along with me, not mine.” Indraneel went out slamming the door.
Sandip dialed his niece’s number on his cell phone, whistling merrily. After a few rings a rather childish and sweet voice answered, “Hey Uncle! I was just about to call you! There’s this wonderful idol and…”
“Where are you now Banya?”
“Um… Near Ahiritola, with some friends. Why?”
“I want you to come home, now.”
“Uncle, you do know it’s Dashami and it’s actually an off day?”
“As your boss I’m taking that back. Hop on a bus and head back home. And come straight up to my study once you’re here.”
“This is labour exploitation you know that?”
“Write an article on it then. See you soon Banya.” Sandip hung up and went to his study. Every twenty three year old woman needed her days off to have fun, but if Banya really wanted to become a journalist she had to know that in this profession there weren’t actually any day off.
Convincing Indraneel wasn’t as hard as he had feared. Then again, he knew that Indraneel had a soft spot for Banya. If it was anyone else, he would’ve chosen “crush” instead of “soft spot”, but knowing Indraneel for so long Sandip was certain that Indraneel had long ago dismissed that tenderness and channeled all the passion into his work. Indraneel Bose was one of the keenest and most brilliant journalistic minds Sanpid Dutta had ever come to know. But he was also a workaholic; he was an odd combination of a journalist, a political and theater activist, a writer, with a considerable amount of stubbornness and cynicism added to all that. He didn’t just majored in Political Science, he lived it. If he went into academics he would probably be theorizing about governance and human rights and electoral politics. Sandip loved his friend and held a deep respect for this man who was about fourteen years his junior. He also felt this tremendous pride that it was under his guidance that frail and rather naïve young man from a small town grew up to be such a fierce personality. When Indraneel came to him, fresh out of the university, with all the enthusiasm and dreams of a student leader, and the centuries of political and social ideals bubbling inside his head, Sandip knew that he had found a rare gem. Now he saw that same spirit in the eyes of his rather timid looking niece; youth mixed with a political consciousness and courage. He had been guiding her all her life. But now Sandip felt that Indraneel would be more suitable to provide her with the kind of exposure she was looking for. Also, he knew that his niece practically worshiped him. That might have been all right when she was still a kid, but now she needed someone whom she hadn’t already placed on a pedestal. She admired and respected Indraneel, but she had no such feelings towards him. Come to think of that, she probably didn’t have that for her own parents either. Sandip smiled looking at a photograph of him giving a very young Banya piggy-back ride. Now the bird is ready to fly the nest, and who could be a better navigator for her than Indraneel Bose!
Barnali closed the VLC player and sat silent on her bed. It wasn’t that she didn’t know what was going on in Chhattisgarh, she did. She tried to keep herself informed about the political situations that weren’t directly linked with her immediate job, and for the past couple of months she had been working on the gender based violence in greater Kolkata. What she just saw was far worse than she had ever imagined. She had watched the videos twice already, went through the instructions sent by Indraneel over email, read and prepared notes all night. As the first light of dawn reflected on the crystal wind-chime on the window behind her bed, she turned the coffee maker on and started filing. Indraneel, as usual, had suggested to keep both hard and soft copy of each and everything. She decided to go through everything once again.
Barnali found Indraneel frowning at his computer screen. It looked like he hadn’t noticed her. She pulled a chair and sat beside him. Indraneel was reading a report by a local NGO. Without any word, Indraneel just stretched his hand. Barnali had been interning under him for almost a year. By now she knew what that meant. She placed the file on his outstretched hand. Indraneel silently went through it and then placed it on his desk.
“Have you kept a copy?”
Indraneel closed the pdf he was reading and turned his chair to look at Barnali. He didn’t say anything at first. He just kept looking. “Barnali, are you sure you want to do this?” His face stayed expressionless, but there was softness in his voice unlike Barnali had ever heard. “You see, I don’t generally take interns, not to mention young women, to such zones. We do have local connections, but still we’ll face hostility from the military, the administration, and the Maoists. We’ll be completely exposed. I hate saying this, but I can’t guarantee your safety here. Have you really thought this through?”
“Yes, I did.” Barnali nodded. “And I also know what you mean. But still I want to do this.”
Just for a moment, a smile hovered over Indraneel’s lips. “Well then!” He turned to face his computer screen. “I’m sending you the next set of materials. Go through them and we can talk about them tonight.”
“Tonight?” Barnali couldn’t suppress that spontaneous question. All those plans with friends just went crumbling to nothing.
Indraneel turned slightly to look at her. “Yes, tonight. Any problem there?”
“No, no problem. I was just making sure, that’s all.” And in the privacy of her own mind she added, “You workaholic!”
“Get going then. I’ll meet with you around…” He looked at his watch “At around 9 then!”
“All right.” Barnali smiled and got up. She went to her desk and turned the PC on. Then she got up and went to her uncle’s cabin. She opened the door slightly and peeped inside. He was alone. She went in.
“Well Banya, met with Indra yet?” Sandip smiled.
Barnali slumped down on a chair. “Yes. Your favorite nutcase wants me to go through everything he’s sending now by today and then work with him tonight.” She pouted. “Doesn’t he even sleep?”
Sandip laughed. “Banya, Banya… Now, you know you’ll have to work like this if you choose to intern under him, you’ll have to deal with these…”
“Oh, I know that. I don’t mind the pressure. No, don’t laugh, I really don’t mind it. You have always done the same with me. But Uncle, sometimes I think Indraneelda isn’t even human! I mean, he’s like an automaton, completely emotionless and all work. With you it was different. It was always… fun, no matter what the pressure. Indraneelda is all seriousness.” She ignored the bemused expression on her uncle’s face and continued, “But I know he isn’t really like that. He really isn’t…” She ignored her uncle’s laughter as he got up from his chair and came and sat on the desk facing her. “…. Like this, this thing of which I can’t find a name right now.” She shook her head as her uncle laughed even louder.
Sandip looked at his niece’s face. “Get to work Banya, don’t worry about Indra. He gets like that when he’s working. Did he try to discourage you from going?”
Barnali smiled. “No, he didn’t. He just asked if have thought it through, that’s all.”
“Well, good luck then!” Sandip gave his niece a bear-hug and squeezed her shoulders. “Oh, and by the way, take my French press and coffee with you. Indra guzzles on tea, is a very sophisticated tea drinker, but his taste in coffee sucks.” Barnali grinned.
Barnali was feeling rather dizzy and in dire need for a caffeine refill when Indraneel knocked on the panels of her cubicle. It was five minutes to nine. Barnali gathered up her things and followed him outside. She couldn’t suppress a yawn as she put on the helmet.
“Haven’t you slept at all since last night?” Indraneel asked.
Barnali blushed and shook her head. “Didn’t get a chance.”
“I’m probably the worst boss ever! Well, climb on; we can stop for something on our way to keep you awake.” Barnali obediently climbed on. She hesitated as she thought about what to hold on to except her boss. Probably sensing her hesitation, Indraneel added, “Hold on to me tightly Barnali. It’s about safety, not sex. And please try not to fall asleep and fall off.” As soon as Barnali wrapped her arms around Indraneel, the bike started off with a torque powerful enough to wake up a dead person. About ten minutes later they stopped in front of a Café Coffee Day. Indraneel left the ordering to Barnali and concentrated on checking his emails. Barnali felt a little shy ordering something expensive but Indraneel stated that he would rather have her awake and functioning so she ordered club sandwiches for both, one cappuccino for Indraneel, and one double shot Ethiopian for herself. As she gulped on the big cup of coffee she felt relaxed and awake at the same time. As the bike flew through the EM Bypass, even with the helmet on, cold wind of autumn night crept in to brush on her face. Sitting behind Indraneel, holding on to him tightly like that, despite her better judgments, Barnali felt rather content. She took in Indraneel’s smell, a mixture of sandalwood and sweat. For the very first time, Indraneel felt ordinary, human, and even a bit endearing.
The entire next week Barnali practically lived out of her backpack, slept on the spare bed at Indraneel’s apartment most night, and survived mainly on caffeine. Indraneel, although strict and demanding turned out to be quite humane in his treatments towards Barnali. If she forgot her lunch Indraneel reminded her and even bought coffee for her in the office and forced her to go to bed when she was too tired. Indraneel had been working on the whole Chattisgarh Bastar issue for quite some time so Barnali had a lot of catching up to do. Also, the she had to go through international politics and policies, achieves of not only the Indian Government but also UN, World Bank, IMF. She had to brush up her economics and her knowledge about Indian Constitution. She had to go through the entire Subaltern Studies, the Maoist-Naxalit ideology, brush up her Marx and the critic and counter critic of Marx, go through reports by local organizations and grassroots level activists to official reports and academic findings. She felt like she was going through her masters again, only this time her teacher was someone who was at once strict and critical, and also reminded her to eat and sleep, and even considerate enough to place a pillow under her head, cover her with a blanket and close the curtains if she fell asleep on the floor. She really liked this part of Indraneel, the one that silently watched over her, and also Barun, the photographer who was always had a joke to crack. But face to face, Indraneel was a tyrant of a boss. Barnali had never worked with Barun before. She rather liked him. Barun assured her that that is what Indra Dada was like. He would look after you because you’re a part of his team and his responsibility, but he would never tolerate any compromise when it came to work. Barnali really liked Barun though. He was like a sibling who was close to your age and just love to drive you crazy. Most of the time the trio camped at Indraneel’s apartment, and sometimes at her uncle’s place. Work was stressful, but the company, one goofy and one tyrannical, negated each other’s intolerability and made Banranli enjoy her work.