Aman had met Sahil by chance in Matheran about six months ago and solved the mystery of a stabbed horse. Fate brings them together again as they embark on a pilgrimage to Tirupati and this time the mystery of the lost boy makes them go on a hunt.
The sketches are courtesy 10 year old Varun Narayanan.
It was a beautiful morning. Aman looked out of his window. The first rays of the sun were casting a golden halo around the hills. The sky looked like a canvas with layers of blue and orange stripes, the white patches of clouds filling it with their irregular patterns. The hills at the far end of the horizon painted a pretty picture of brown and the growth of shrubs and bushes over them added a fine touch of wilderness to the picturesque setting. The sight lifted his spirits. “It is going to be a lovely day,” Aman said to himself, thinking of the arduous task which lay in front of him. “And the weather is just perfect!”
He came out of his room into the balcony, which faced the hills. The fresh mountain air greeted him. Sipping his morning cup of coffee, he took a moment to absorb the serenity which lay before him. The hills looked steep, with big boulders and sharp rocks. He could see the Ghat road which cut across the mountains. He watched the vehicles taking sharp turns on the hairpin bends and disappear in seconds. That was the motor route, he thought. The path he was about to tread on was a different ballgame altogether.
He freshened up and looked at himself in the mirror. He combed his dark curly hair, adjusted his beige cotton pants and put on his printed T-Shirt and sports shoes, comfortable wear for the walk. Later, he checked out of the hotel with only his backpack and his water bottle. He decided to leave his luggage in the hotel room. He walked out of the hotel towards the hills. Very soon, a giant statue of an eagle-faced God greeted him with palms folded. Aman looked up at the statue of Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. He was humbled. At the same time, he felt the aura of the place around him, divine and blissful. He was about to enter the pathway to the holy abode of the Lord at Tirumala.
He had arrived at the foothills of Tirumala the night before and checked into a hotel in the city of Tirupati. Tirupati is considered one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimage sites because of Tirumala Venkateshwara Temple, located in the hill town of Tirumala, part of the Seshachalam hill range. The hill range comprises of seven peaks and the temple, lying on the seventh peak, is thus named Temple of Seven Hills.
Everyday, thousands of devotees from across the nation embark on a holy pilgrimage to pay their respects to the God. People travel by vehicle or by foot. The motorways and pathways are well connected and also well equipped with facilities and provisions to ensure the pilgrims a safe journey. There are many places where the motorway and the footpath intersect with each other and bifurcate again.
Aman had decided to journey on foot. It would take about 3-4 hours to trek up the seven hills. There were two pathways to walk up; the first was a longer and older route, an 11-km uphill trek, with intermittent steps and periodic crossings with the Ghat road. The other pathway is a relatively shorter trek uphill with 2400 continuous stretch of steps. Devotees took either of the two footways to fulfill their vows to the God.
Aman had chosen the first pathway, the longer route. He entered an arch a few meters behind the Garuda statue, which led the pilgrims towards the footpath. The narrow road led him through a couple of covered underground tunnels before it opened up to the site where the actual ascent begins.
The place was thronged with many devotees who had lined up to perform a ritual at the first step to mark the beginning of their journey. A small fire was lit up on the first step with the burning of camphor. Few people were breaking coconuts and few heads were bent over to apply turmeric and vermilion on the step.
Aman hastily made his way through the crowd towards the steps and crossed through the security check. As he started climbing, he heard a loud shrill voice from the back, “Bhaiyya zara hato, aage jaane do.”
The voice sounded so familiar that Aman turned his head over his shoulders. His facial expressions changed from one to another – first his deep penetrating eyes relayed a surprised look, then his firm jawline loosened and his thin lips parted for a moment and closed again. Then, a big smile crept across his dark, handsome face.
The short male figure, to whom the voice belonged, also saw him at the very same moment. He halted to a complete stand still. There was not a single movement in his body. He was gaping with his mouth wide open, those big eyes looked even bigger, covering half of his face. The rugged features stood out with every muscle of his body tight with tension and disbelief.
“Saab, is that really you? What are you doing here?” the short man barked.
“What do you think I am doing here, Sahil?” chuckled Aman. He came forward and hugged Sahil.
Aman felt very nostalgic. He had met Sahil in Matheran about six months ago in a chance encounter. Sahil’s horse had been stabbed and he had helped Sahil find the culprit. They had parted ways after that. Aman had neither been to Matheran nor had been in touch with Sahil again. But those few hours of working together had forged a deep bond between the two men despite their diverse social backgrounds and personalities. Aman loved Sahil’s presence of mind and sharp acumen. Sahil had never met anyone like Aman in his life. He simply adored Aman.
“Saab, looks like the Lord wanted us to meet again,” said Sahil coming out of his astonishment. He adjusted the collar on his red, half-sleeved shirt, which he was wearing, with khaki pants. Like Aman, he was also carrying a small backpack. His white face had already turned pink because of the sun.
Aman did not believe that God interfered in people’s day-to-day business. He dismissed Sahil’s idea quickly, but nevertheless was very glad that he had found unexpected company.
“Have you come alone or is someone with you?” he asked.
“I came alone to climb the steps. I have a vow to fulfill. How about you?” Sahil replied.
“I came alone too. It is a rather pleasant day for the trek,” Aman remarked. “Come, let’s climb together,” he added stepping forward.
Sahil nodded and followed him. “How are things at Matheran?” he queried.
“Business as usual, Saab. Now that it is monsoon, it is more crowded,” Sahil responded.
It was the last week of June. Monsoon had set in well this year and the country had already witnessed ample rainfall. Aman loved to travel during the monsoons.
He closed his eyes for a moment. His thoughts drifted towards Matheran. The tall dark woods, the fresh mountain air and the smell of the soil after rain stirred his soul. He remembered the day when he was at Charlotte Lake. The clouds had descended so low that had he lifted up his hand, he could have touched them. But then suddenly a gust of air had whiffed them away, and the lake had appeared out of nowhere…“You should come to Matheran soon, Saab,” Sahil’s shrill voice coerced Aman back to his senses.
“I will make a trip before the rains cede,” Aman said, “Matheran is beautiful in monsoon.”
“Sure Saab. Give me a call before you come,” said Sahil. He looked around. “Have you been to this Balaji temple before?”
“No. This is my first time. I have heard a lot about the temple and the deity,” Aman replied.
“Yes Saab, people say the God here is very powerful. He grants every boon we wish for,” whispered Sahil.
“I have heard so too. Everyday, thousands of devotees from all over the country come to offer their prayers. They stand for hours together in the queue to catch one glimpse of the deity. And they say, that one second is enough to mesmerize you and take you to a different world,” Aman’s voice trailed.
He was preoccupied with imagining the scene which would present itself after they climb up the hills and walk into the shrine. “Will it be as blissful as they say it would be?” he pondered to himself.
Aman had been very curious to visit this temple which attracted so many people. He had been planning this trip for quite some time now and was glad that he could finally make it to Tirupati, take the footpath and witness the zest with his own eyes.
A group of people chanting “Govinda” in chorus made him come out of his reverie. People were brushing past him and pacing up the steps. They were in the first stage of the journey, the most difficult of the entire 11-km trek. It covered roughly about a quarter of the distance, with 2083 steps between the starting point and the Gali Gopuram, the first major monumental tower. This stretch had continuous steps with a steep gradient, supported by railings to assist the pilgrims. There were numerous vendors on either side of the steps selling bottled water, snacks and cut fruits. It was well into the morning hours and the sun was soaring up in the sky. But the pathway was completely sheltered and the pilgrims were well protected from the hot sun rays.
Aman and Sahil speeded up the steps. They decided not to stop anywhere or they would lose momentum. If they reach Tirumala by noon, they will have ample time to finish their lunch and rest for a while before they join the queue for the darshan. They could see the idols of different incarnations of Lord Vishnu, idols of Ganesha and Hanuman installed at different spots along the steps.
The ambience changed into fervent devotion as they marched on the steps. Pilgrims submitted themselves to prayers. Aman was astonished to see the sight around him. Hundreds of devotees, which included the elderly, the sick and young mothers carrying their new born babies, were trodding up the steps with utmost resolve, with one word on their lips, “Govinda”.
“Faith moves the world,” Aman thought. There were men and women pausing at every step, bending down to apply turmeric and vermilion and light camphor.
“Saab, are they planning to do this on every single step till they reach the top?” Sahil blurted out in astonishment at the sight around him.
“Yes, Sahil. Look at that lady out there. The baby she is carrying must just be a few days old,” staggered Aman.
“Heard about this Saab, never believed it till now,” muttered Sahil. His eyes and mouth were wide open in amazement.
After about 1500 steps, they decided to pause a little. They went towards the railing and drank some water. Aman looked down at the wilderness around the hills. Every tree, leaf and branch in this holy place seemed pious, thought Aman. They started climbing up again for another 500 odd steps till they reached their first milestone, the Gali Gopuram.
Gali Gopuram, the first major resting point, a monumental tower, is where the tough part of the journey ends. The entrance of the tower was bustling with shops. The tower opened up into an open space. The right side was packed with small eateries and food joints. On the left, there was a queue to obtain the ticket for darshan. Aman and Sahil had something to eat and quickly lined up to get their token, which was nothing but a band on the hand giving a rough estimate of the time to enter the queue for darshan of the main shrine. As they got out of the queue, Aman looked at the view below. He could see the entire town of Tirupati from there. The buildings and the moving vehicles looked so small from the top. It was like a set up in a toy room, with building blocks and racing tracks. “A glimpse of a busy city life,” Aman murmured. He lived in Pune, he was used to the grind. Sahil, on the other hand, fumed at the traffic. He was more accustomed to the relaxed mountain life. Deep valleys and fresh air were his familiar territory.
As they walked ahead, the trail was much less demanding, a concrete path with two or three steps at regular intervals. The chilly wind brushed against their faces. The clouds briefly covered the sun. “Get ready for a drizzle,” Aman told Sahil. They saw a giant squirrel crossing the pavement and climbing a tree. Devotees were walking very briskly to cover the distance.
A few meters ahead, they saw a child crying. The boy must have been around two years old. He was alone, sitting on a small pedestal between the pillars. Aman and Sahil came to a halt and looked around. There was no adult nearby. Sahil stooped down and looked at the boy closely. He was an angelic boy with big eyes and pink chubby cheeks. The curly hair was overgrown and covered his entire forehead. “They must have brought him here for his mundan,” Sahil said aloud.
There was a public toilet nearby. “They must have gone to the toilet Saab,” he said. “Should be here any moment.”
They waited for a while but no one came out of the toilet. Sahil bent down to the child and asked his name. “Adi”, the boy replied between his sobs. “I want aai,” he started crying again.
“Where is aai?” Sahil asked.
“Aaiiiii,” the boy started sobbing loudly.
Sahil comforted him and went ahead to inspect the toilets.
He came back shortly. “The cleaners aren’t there Saab,” he said as if reading Aman’s mind.
“Strange, let’s ask someone. You stay here Sahil, I will enquire and come,” Aman said and marched ahead. There were vendors on the pathway selling peanuts, raw mangoes and bhel. He asked them if they had seen a boy walking by crying. He had to opt for sign language as most of the vendors were locals who did not understand Hindi or English. The response was negative. He came back to the spot and went in the opposite direction to make similar enquiries. After a while, he came back with no answers.
“Strange! No one saw a baby crying and walking alone,” he said. That means his parents were here. They must have gone to the toilet.
“Where did they go from there?” Sahil was perplexed.
Aman quickly checked the map of the Alipiri Metlu, the footpath they were taking. They saw police at the starting point, near the security zone. The nearest police station was either at the foothills or at the top of the hills. There was a dispensary and a first aid center a few kilometers away.
“There is no point taking the child away from this location,” Aman’s mind was racing.
“No Saab,” Sahil agreed. “We should not even think about it. Best is to make a call to the police station and wait till someone picks the child up.”
Aman dialed the number of Alipiri police station and heard the voice, “Namaskaram, Alipiri Police station. Cheppandi.” Aman struggled to communicate with the constable before his senior took over and spoke to him in English. Aman briefed him about the boy. “We will send someone over,” the voice on the other end said.
Adi had stopped crying by now and started looking around. Sahil gave him some biscuits to eat.
They waited for about twenty minutes when they saw a couple of security men walking towards them. To Aman’s relief, the officers could speak the language known both to Aman and Sahil. The natives primarily conversed in Telugu and Tamil, the two prominent languages in the region owing to its geographical proximity. But the majority of the population could understand and speak Hindi or English and sometimes both, which made life easier for travelers from other parts of the country.
“We get such cases quite often, sir. Do not worry. The boy will be safe in our custody till his parents claim him,” they assured.
“But how will the parents know which police station the child is in?” asked Sahil. He was very concerned about the child.
“Our network is well connected, sir. Our announcements also go from one central location. We will make the announcements and wait for the parents. They must have gone in search of the child and panicked. They should be there in an hour or two,” said the constable reassuringly.
Aman thanked the constable and took his number, just in case. They bade goodbye to Adi who had started crying again. He did not want to let go of Sahil.
They continued the journey ahead. After a few feet, they crossed a vendor selling peanuts. Aman went up to him and asked, “Don’t the toilets have watchmen or cleaners?”
“Yes sir, they both went off somewhere with few other people,” the vendor answered.
“Where did they go?” Aman persisted.
“Don’t know Saab. But they will be back in a while,” the vendor responded.
Aman sighed. There was nothing much they could do to help Adi.
They treaded ahead into the scenic avenue. There were parks on every corner. As Aman predicted, it showered briefly. The rain did not affect them much as they were in a sheltered pathway, but the chilly wind gently caressed their skin. The weather was turning out to be a boon that day.
But nothing could cheer up Sahil. “Where did the child’s parents disappear?” he brooded.
“I have no idea,” Aman said, “Let us hope they seek the police soon.”
They kept walking at a steady pace. On the right, they saw the deer park. Beautiful spotted deer were standing near the fence in anticipation of food. People were feeding them carrots. One male deer with majestic antlers was scurrying around to impress a female doe. “Such innocent eyes, lost in its own world,” Sahil thought. They reminded him of Adi. “Where did the parents disappear?” the same question was repeating in his head again and again. “Unless, there is an emergency.”
Emergency! An idea flashed in his head. He ran up to Aman.
“Saab, what type of an emergency would have made all the cleaners walk away from the toilet?”
Aman looked back at him in understanding. “A medical emergency?” he answered.
Aman immediately called up the dispensary. “Namaskaram, TTD Dispensary Services,” the voice on the other end greeted.
“Was there someone who came in the past hour? We are looking for a man who was brought in by toilet cleaners.”
The nurse on the other side of the phone answered, “Yes sir, there was a man who got very dizzy and fell unconscious. We sent him via ambulance to the hospital in Tirumala.”
“Do you happen to have his contact details?” Aman asked.
“No, sir. But one of the men who came with him went along,” the nurse replied.
Aman thanked the nurse and hurried back to the spot where they first found Adi. One of the cleaners was back at the toilet.
Aman went up to him and enquired about the episode. “Yes sir, the man was vomiting continuously. He felt very weak and fainted. We called for help. The medical officer came and we had to take him in a stretcher to the ambulance.”
“Did he talk about any child?” Sahil probed.
“No sir, he was in no position to talk,” the cleaner replied.
Aman took the phone number of the other cleaner who went with the man, presumably Adi’s father.
“It has to be the father,” he said aloud, “Nothing else explains what happened.” He called up the cleaner, who said the man was still unconscious and was admitted to emergency care in one of the hospitals in Tirumala. He asked the cleaner to call him back when the man gains consciousness and hung up. “Let us hope this will lead us somewhere,” he said to Sahil.
“Saab, but we are still missing something!” said Sahil thoughtfully.
“What is it?” asked Aman.
“Where is Adi’s mother?” queried Sahil.
“She must not have come. It must have been just the father and the son,” guessed Aman.
“Adi was crying for his aai. He was not asking for baba,” Sahil countered him.
“All children ask for aai first,” insisted Aman.
“No Saab, something is amiss,” said Sahil.
“Let’s wait and watch. The man will talk once he is awake,” Aman concluded. He also made a call to the constable to check on Adi, who confirmed that no one had approached them so far.
Aman and Sahil walked past the deer park again and crossed a few more towers. They saw quite a few pilgrims sleeping in the resting places called the mandapas. The clouds in the sky had cleared and the sun was shining high and bright. At a distance Aman spotted a peacock between the bushes.
After a long walk, they came across a huge statue of a Monkey God with his hands folded. Sahil bent down to offer his prayers to Lord Hanuman. There were shops and eateries around the statue. The shops were selling amulets, rings and other trinkets. Sahil saw a mother buying an amulet for her son. His thoughts drifted towards Adi. The child had touched his heart. His own wife had passed away a few years ago and he had raised his son, Kiran, all by himself. He had done everything in his capacity to raise him well, but somewhere, deep in his heart, he knew Kiran missed his mother. A surge of paternal emotion swept past him. “Where, in the name of God, is Adi’s aai?” the question irked him again and again.
On the other hand, Aman was pretty sure there must have been a reason why the mother was missing from the picture. “Once the man talks, we will know the entire story,” he thought.
Aman had lost both his parents a few years ago and had to face some early setbacks in life. The rough circumstances had taught him two things, “Keep your head steady and do not rush to conclusions.”
Aman looked around the Hanuman statue. The statue was flanked with the motorway for the vehicles going downhill on one side. On the other side, there was a pathway leading to a tunnel. The place was bustling with activity. The statue was surrounded with devotees offering their prayers. Some were taking photographs in front of the statue and some doing parikrama around it. Aman and Sahil walked past the statue towards the tunnel.
They climbed down the tunnel and up a few steps till the path joined the Ghat road. A huge Ganesha carving was on the right side of the road. Pilgrims crossed the road to walk on the sheltered pavement and made way for the vehicles to pass by. They could hear a few impatient drivers honking for the pedestrians to hurry up.
Aman and Sahil hastily crossed the road and headed towards the pavement, which ran alongside the picturesque hills and deep valleys of the Seshachalam ranges. The wind nudged them ahead, easing their walk. Aman looked around to see his fellow sojourners, who were hastily walking towards the next temple tower. It was faith which was driving them. Faith, that there was someone up there with a heart of gold and an ear to listen. He will listen to their woes, comfort them and wash away all their miseries.
The sound of Aman’s phone ringing got him out of his reverie. It was the cleaner from the hospital. “Sir, the man is awake. He is asking about a child,” Aman heard the voice from the other side of the phone. He uttered a sigh of relief and whistled. Sahil’s shoulders slumped down and he looked up at the sky to thank the stars.
Aman was on the phone for a long time. He hung up the phone and came over to Sahil. “His name is Chetan Mirajkar. He fell sick, went to the bathroom and fainted. He lost his phone and wallet and was too dizzy to speak anything till now. He was so worried about Adi,” he said.
“Your hunch was right,” Aman continued, “We still have to find the missing piece, the mother.”
“Where is she?” Sahil asked.
“It seems she took a vow to apply turmeric and vermilion on each step. She went ahead of the father and son as it takes time. She is somewhere on the hills fulfilling the vow along with her friends,” Aman said.
“Ask him to call her,” Sahil said, shrugging his shoulders, as if it was the obvious thing to do.
“He lost his phone and doesn’t remember her number,” Aman said with a resigned smile on his face.
“Oh, achcha…”, Sahil was struggling to find words as the complexity of the situation dawned on him. He looked at Aman helplessly.
“Her name is Alka Mirajkar. And he says she has also taken a vow to walk on her knees from the last temple tower, till the final destination,” Aman said.
“And what if she is done with her vow. Where will we find her?” said Sahil trembling with anger. Aman could feel Sahil’s frustrations rising.
“The agreement is that she will be waiting at the last step,” he said slowly and meticulously. “Listen to me, Sahil. Let us go up the temple tower and see what’s going…”
But before Aman could finish the sentence, Sahil started sprinting. Aman hurried behind him. They crossed the arch and could see the last temple tower, Mokkala Parvatham. From there it is a 2-km uphill walk towards Tirumala. The path was a continuous stretch of high gradient steep steps. This was the final stretch before the pilgrims reach the holy abode of Lord Balaji.
The ambience around was more fervent here. Devotees were ardently chanting the name “Govinda”. Few were touching their head and offering their prayers to each and every step. They could see infants crawling up the steps along with their mothers, who were on their knees. They saw an old man with a walking stick sliding the stick along with him as he moved criss-cross on the steps with his knees.
Among all these people, there was one man fervently looking around for a woman who was lost in her world of devotion, unknown to the fact that her husband was in a hospital and her son in police custody.
Aman was thinking of approaching the police sentry in Tirumala and making an announcement for Alka. Suddenly, he heard Sahil yelling on top of his lungs, “Alka Mirajkar. Where are you? Alka Mirajkar, wife of Chetan Mirajkar, mother of Adi. Where are you?”
Aman sprinted towards Sahil and started looking at all the faces which were staring back at them. Sahil kept calling for Alka and they paced up the steep steps very fast. After they finished three-fourths of the final steps, a lady stepped forward.
She was fair with beautiful eyes and curly hair. She reminded Sahil of someone. “She just looks like Adi,” he blurted out. “Adi looks like her,” Aman corrected him.
“Saab, you are calling out my name. What is the matter? Why are you looking for me?” the lady asked them politely.
Aman opened his mouth and closed it immediately when he heard Sahil.
“Because right now your family is in a situation. Your husband is on top of the mountain and your son is on the foothills. And you are somewhere in the middle,” Sahil bellowed with anger.
Aman was stumped by his words. “Didn’t think about that!” he mumbled looking at Sahil with admiration.
Alka let out a shriek and leaned on her friend for support. “Careful with her! If she faints, Adi will have two dizzy parents to take care of,” Sahil’s sarcasm was vivid.
Aman put his hand on Sahil. “Easy, she is in a state of shock,” he gently whispered into Sahil’s ears.
“Where are my husband and my son? Tell me, bhaiyya,” Alka was sobbing out aloud.
“Your husband is in emergency care in the hospital and your son in police custody,” Sahil’s words were as sharp as the edge of a sword.
“We will take it one thing at a time, shall we?” Aman was desperate to moderate the tension between Alka and Sahil.
“I want to talk to my husband right now,” cried Alka.
“Do you have your phone with you or have you dropped it somewhere?” Sahil said in an accusing tone.
Aman stared at Sahil, “Enough, Sahil!” he said in a firm tone, “Can’t you see she is already tormented? At this rate, we will have to call the dispensary again for help.”
“How can she go about fulfilling her vow leaving an innocent child and a sick husband behind? How did the father end up unconscious in the hospital? Have they any idea what could have happened to that poor child if he was lost? It would have been a search for a water drop in an ocean. How did they think the vow would have helped Adi? Would messengers come from heaven to protect him?” Sahil’s words wouldn’t stop. All his apprehension and grief poured out of his heart.
Aman continued staring at Sahil. He did not expect this outburst from him. Adi had touched his heart and Sahil felt very deeply for him. But in his anger, he was hurting Alka, though it was not her fault. He had to be stopped.
Sahil opened his mouth for another attack when Aman snapped, “God did send his messengers Sahil. He sent us to help ….” He stopped abruptly.
Sahil turned towards Aman and met his eyes. A brief silence followed.
Aman recalled what he had just said. He was amused at his own words.
He recovered from his trance and went on, “Now let us see what to do next. There will be security at the entrance of Tirumala. We will approach them. Meanwhile, here, talk to your husband.” He gave the phone to Alka.
Amidst sobs, Alka spoke to Chetan for few minutes. She was crying inconsolably.
“Ask her if she has any id proof,” Sahil muttered, “Her husband lost his wallet and so will not have any. Without any proof, the police are not going to return Adi to her.”
“He has a point,” Aman admitted. “Have you any proof?”
“I have my Aadhar Card and Adi’s too,” Alka replied.
“Phew! Finally, some good news for the day,” Aman whistled.
They all climbed up the remaining steps together. Sahil was quiet throughout. Aman kept chatting with Alka to ease her worries away. The last stretch was covered in no time amidst all the hullabaloo. They reached the end point of the foot path. The last step, like the first step had burning camphor on it. There was the crowd breaking coconuts and offering their prayers. This marked the end of their journey, into the realm of Lord Vishnu on Earth. The holy hill town of Tirumala welcomed them.
Aman could not believe that they had trekked 11 Km and climbed 3163 steps and made it to Tirumala amidst all the suspense and adventure. It had been an eventful journey.
After a short while, they saw the security officers at Tirumala. Aman approached them and explained the entire situation. The officers said they will take charge of the matter and reunite the family as soon as possible. Aman thanked them, consoled Alka and gave her his phone number. He asked her to give him a call as soon as she meets her husband and Adi.
Alka held Aman’s hands and wept once again. Then she addressed Sahil, “Bhaiyya, you both are indeed messengers of God. He sent you both to help us. Thank you.”
Sahil nodded uncomfortably, bade her goodbye after a moment of hesitation and walked away. Aman followed him in a while and caught up with him.
“Hey, what’s up with you?” he asked Sahil without mincing words.
“I was feeling very bad for Adi,” Sahil said in a dejected tone.
“I know. But the services here are so thorough that even if we had not intervened, the family would have found each other,” asserted Aman.
“Sometimes I don’t understand faith Saab. In the name of faith, too much is left to chance,” said Sahil resentfully. He was still sulking.
“We do not know the reason why the parents did what they did. Perhaps the family is going through a rough patch and Alka had to leave her son behind to fulfill her vow. Look at the hundreds of devotees around you. Call them insane or blinded by faith, but they are in pursuit of something. And they believe that God up here helps them in their pursuit. We cannot judge people by what we see Sahil. We did our job. That’s the end to it,” Aman said with finality in his tone.
Sahil raised his hands in exasperation, “I can never win with you. Let us put an end to it.”
“But guess what? We are getting better and better in solving mysteries together.” Aman nudged Sahil with his elbow, to ease the tension. “We should start a detective agency, you think? We will be a good team.”
A smile crept on Sahil’s face. The corners of his mouth twitched. “That, Saab, is indeed true,” he agreed. “By the way, do you encounter such situations all the time?”
“No, not all the time. Only when you are with me,” Aman smiled.
“Looks like God has sealed our partnership. He has given us his blessings already,” Sahil said cheerfully.
Aman began to say something, and then paused. The whole journey flashed before his eyes like a film, scene after scene. Sahil had popped out of nowhere and it appeared as if they were summoned by someone purposefully to reunite a bereaved family.
“Are we mere puppets after all?” Aman wondered.
A trek meant for leisure had turned into an expedition of faith and belief in the past few hours.
“Yes Sahil. Now it is our turn to pay our respects. Come on, let’s go,” he said aloud.
“After you, boss,” Sahil jested.
They both laughed and looked around. The temple town was bustling with shops and eateries. They could hear the holy chants and announcements from the temple. It was past noon; the sun was right on top of their heads. As they took a turn, the holy shrine temple welcomed them in all its glory. They could see hordes of devotees lined up in the queue for the darshan.
Together, they walked towards the chambers which led them to the temple. It was time to offer their prayers to the Almighty, who held the key to the pursuit of peace and happiness.
(The sketches are courtesy 10 year old Varun Narayanan. Varun’s hobbies include drawing and swimming. He loves drawing cartoons and experimenting with different types of art and craft. He is a very creative child and enjoys his artwork.)
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