When Jayaprakash saw Junior Warrant Officer Dubey entering his office, he closed the file he was working with and looked up. He was having an apprehension that he could be that person who played the dirty game of informing the Command Headquarters of the minor cash adjustment. He knew Dubey did not like Khanna as he had some bitter experiences with him in an earlier station which had made his career curve nosedive. But he never cared to bother about that as both were of the same seniority and had worked together elsewhere earlier while he was an airman. He knew, without valid reasons Dubey would not have entered his office without being called for. Observing Dubey standing with a sullen face, he asked him to sit.
“Something is bothering you?”
“Yes. I am worried about you.” Dubey said.
Jayaprakash chuckled. “What is there to worry about me?”
With hesitation, looking on either side Dubey said, “I believe, you are being cornered by him.”
Jayaprakash did not like the way Dubey said that. But, he neither tried to snub nor show his displeasure. He contained his feelings with a chuckle.
“I came to know of this only when the court of inquiry was ordered.” Dubey wanted to get bailed out from his misapprehensions, if he had any, on the issue.
Jayaprakash again did not respond in favor or against. He pulled out his gaze from him and looked outside through the window.
Dubey could read his mind and said. “I know who played the trick.” He wanted to remove the cloud Jayaprakash had formed over him on the issue. He leaned forward and said the name of the person who worked in the section who had access to the records. “I shouted at him when I came to know of this. But, by then the damage had already been done. He had some rub with Khanna Sahib and was waiting for a chance to snub him down on the mat.” He paused to read the face of Jayaprakash. “That boy did not think of the gravity of blame that would get attached to you. Now he is feeling sorry. The damage has already been done and there is no point in crying over the spilled milk.”
Jayaprakash sighed. “Sometimes, help becomes a spoiler.”
When Mishra and Johar came and stood in front of that office, Dubey briskly withdrew, seeking permission to leave.
Jayaprakash got up and welcomed them and requested to take their seat.
Jayaprakash knew the purpose of their visit and could imagine of their intentions. He suddenly turned morose with increasing heartbeats.
From the countenance, Mishra could judge his state of mind and get up. “I think, you are not that comfortable with a certain undercurrent of uneasiness. “Looking at Johar he continued. “I think, we will come later.”
When they got up, Jayaprakash said, “no sir. I am perfectly normal. You may start with the service procedure.”
Making themselves comfortable, Mishra slipped into general talks. After ensuring Jayaprakash was in a comfortable mental state, Mishra said, “we have examined various witnesses and have to conclude that there was the misappropriation of public funds and we may have to examine you further and, if necessary, might have to apportion blame on you. We will go through a procedure of likelihood of blaming you and at this stage, you are at liberty to make additional statements and, if necessary, even to call additional witnesses in your defense.” He paused and continued, “we will make the findings and recommendations based on the evidence and statements recorded. The decisions about further action will be taken by the authorities.”
Jayaprakash knew that he was trapped and emancipation was beyond reach. He smiled and said, “you have to follow the procedures, and the formalities laid down as per law.” He chuckled. “For no fault of mine, I am going to be crucified.”
Mishra grunted. “You can’t say that. Once you have committed a crime, for any purposes, that is always a crime and once it is brought in front of the law, it is punishable.” He paused. “I can appreciate if such words came from the mouth of a newly commissioned officer. But, in your case, that will not be. Having put in many years of service, committal of such crime will not be tolerated.”
Jayaprakash nodded. “You are right sir.” He chuckled. “I did the wrong thing for which I deserve to be punished. I accept your contention.” He tried to smile, but that got faded out under the cloud of gloom.
Mishra had been showing his inner feelings to be mild with the procedure but had to blame the witness.
After the court went out of that office, Khanna entered with a mock cheerful face and pinned smile.
Jayaprakash, though noticed his entry, ignored him and took out a file from the ‘out’ tray and flipped the pages.
“Tomorrow onwards, I will be on few days leave.” He Paused. “I came to know that my posting order will be out very shortly. It is on promotion to the rank of Wing Commander. I will be lucky if I could get the posting somewhere nearby. Before that posting comes out, I have to complete the house and hand over to someone on rent.”
Jayaprakash gave a scant response. He even refused to give a glance with a smile.
Khanna knew what would be his mental condition and sat in front of him without uttering a word. He had an urge to inquire about the court of inquiry but refrained from bruising his junior’s feelings further. He even expected a rebuke from him, out of anger and frustration. Instead, he was amazed to find a rather cool and well-composed face. Repeatedly he attempted to seek an excuse for the great harm he had created to his subordinate, but Jayaprakash remained busy with his file work ignoring him altogether. Showing frustration for immaculate ignorance, Khanna walked out of that room embracing silence, in a huff.
In the afternoon, while Jayaprakash and Saroja were on lunch, he said, “the court of inquiry is on the verge of conclusion and they have blamed me for my blatant and ludicrous blunder. They have considered this as deliberate misappropriation of public money which is a serious offense. On the face of it, what I did could have been considered as trivial, but they viewed very seriously and the punishment could be anything from dismissal to imprisonment.” He added, “if the decision is for a court-martial.”
Saroja dropped the rice she had scooped for putting into the mouth and started shedding tears. Within a fraction of second, she decided to act bravely to give courage to her husband and tried to bring out a smile with debility. “If the will of God is so, we will have to undergo that.” She paused and said, “I have a strong feeling that nothing will happen and Khanna will find some ways to pull you out of this hassle.”
Jayaprakash could not avoid bringing sarcasm on his face realizing the ignorance of his wife about the service rules and regulations. However, he contained his feelings with a chuckle.
In the evening, on cessation of school hours, when Riya and Vinay entered the house through the wide-open front door, they saw both Jayaprakash and Saroja sitting in the drawing-room with blemished and sullen faces, without uttering anything.
Riya went and sat by the side of Jayaprakash holding his hand. She expressed her concern by gently caressing his hand, looking down.
Looking at them, Vinay moved to his room to change.
Riya got up feeling suffocated with the prevailing obnoxious silence and moved to her room. After changing the school uniform, she moved to Vinay’s room and sat on the bed.
Remaining silent for few minutes, Riya said. “I have spoken to my friend Maya about this issue. She said, she would talk to her father and tell us if he would be able to help us out.”
“He will be able to. He is a leading lawyer practicing in Supreme Court. I am sure, he will guide us.”
“I too feel so.” Riya nodded.
Vinay said after thinking. “Do you think our daddy will permit us to do that?”
She grunted. “You are right. He will not let us talk of air force matters with others. Especially in this case.” She moved close to him. “This is for helping our daddy. Let him not know of this, for the time being. Let’s hear what Maya’s father has to say on this issue.”
He grunted with an unhappy nod.
While all four of them were sitting in the drawing-room and having their evening tea with snacks, Vinay said, “Daddy, in future, we will cut off all the social minglings with Khanna uncle. He is diabolic. He made you bite the hard nut just for his sake and disowned the whole like an uncouth man. Quite un-officer-like.” He snarled to express hatred.
Riya looked at him. “You are right. It is quite unbecoming of an air force officer by trapping bis subordinate.” She looked at parents to read their faces. Finding no negative response from either of them, she continued. “Taking money from public funds for personal gains is unpardonable. Had he shown guts to admit his involvement to safeguard his subordinate, that would have been different. Entirely, palming off the responsibilities for no fault of daddy is unjustifiable.”She looked at Vinay. “He will be adequately punished by God. I am sure. If God exists.”
Jayaprakash looked at her and wondered how informed and shrewd are the children of present days. He blamed himself for not showing that much of mental maturity even now. He chuckled with satisfaction for not being blamed by the family front; wife or children. The vehement support he was getting from them, even after they mentally admonished for his blatant imbecility, enthused him to thank the almighty for being benevolent. He wondered what would have been the family atmosphere, had one of them been of diverse opinion, and on blame game to spur hatred.