On the following day, both the Presiding Officer and the Member of the Court went to the office of Squadron Leader Khanna to record his statement. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, Mishra gave a rundown on the purpose of their visit and Khanna expressed his desire to co-operate to bring out the facts to record as his statement. He was considered as the witness number one and Johar got prepared to record as per the service format.
Johar wrote down the service particulars with the date of posting to that station of Squadron Leader Khanna. When Khanna gave a running commentary about the sincerity and hardworking nature of his assistant Flying Office Jayaprakash which he had been observing right from the day of posting to that station, Johar recorded verbatim.
“I was surprised to know of the purpose of the visit of the officer from Command. When he said that Command had received a complaint with proof of the turpitude by the Accounts Officer here, I was amazed. I couldn’t believe, he would have committed an unpardonable crime intentionally. When he was permitted to carry out the check of the cash transactions and balance in the bank and safe locker, I was too confident that the information transmitted to the higher formation was false. But, I was wrong. A thorough check by the Command Officer revealed the game played by Jayaprakash without anyone’s notice. An officer of the station was shown on leave and took leave advance of one lakh”
When Johar started recording whatever was told by him, Khanna requested Mishra to have mercy to avoid blaming Jayaprakash making that as an accidental mistake.
Mishra was not convinced to accept that plea and decided to record verbatim as told by Khanna, leaving the decision to the Commanding Officer to take. “If I don’t record properly, I will be questioned and blamed for not carrying out the inquiry properly showing favoritism.” Mishra expressed his decision.
Khanna did not produce any records as he knew those would be collected by the court from Jayaprakash as and when his statement was recorded.
When Johar read out the statement he recorded and placed the papers in front of him for signature, Khanna felt his few pulses went missing. Knowing fully well that the mistake was made to be committed by Jayaprakash for his benefits, the guilty feeling made his fingers to tremble when the pen was picked from its stand. He felt perspire oozing out from forehead which he wiped without being noticed by anyone in front, by the back of his hand. Though the tenacity of the section was to be ruptured by the given statement palming off entire blame to his assistant who helped him in dire necessity, he found no other way than to standby such an attitude. “Why to be a co-accused? I will convince Jayaprakash.” He thought and convinced himself.
Lifting the papers, Khanna tried to read the whole written statement from first to last and was confused about whether to change what was recorded. He was unable to comprehend what was recorded. In his mind, he blamed his wife for advising not to accept the responsibility for the adjustment of money and blame Jayaprakash. “How could I make that decent soul be made to suffer for my sake?” He could not satisfy his thoughts. “Wives would always be after the safety of their husbands. They can’t stand their name or fame getting tarnished.” He visualized. “But for that, should I take the curse of an innocent soul? The curse of a Brahmin would never get washed away in any temple by any offerings.”
“What happened Khanna? If you want to make any changes or add any points, you are welcome.” Mishra could read discomfort on his face.
When Mishra said so, Khanna tried to wriggle out of confusion and dismay. With a chuckle, he said, “no sir. Perfectly alright. Nothing to be added or deleted.”
Khanna read the whole once more and signed with shivering fingers.
When the court moved out of his office it was almost one o’clock and he knew that further recoding of statements from other witnesses would only be done on the next day; unless the court decides to work during the afternoon hours. When the chaprassy brought few files for his signature, he avoided him to enter saying the pending works would only be undertaken on the following day. He was feeling uneasy and decided to walk down to the office of Jayaprakash and apprise him of what had happened.
When he got up, the mobile rang, and sat back and took the call. That was from his wife and felt happy finding a way to share his feeling to regain the lost peace of mind.
“The court moved out just now. I stated as decided yesterday.” Khanna sounded melancholic.
“I was scared of your honesty.” She grunted. “We may have to take self-defense without considering prick of conscience.”
“It is a sin. The curse from them will follow us for generations. And you know, he is Brahmin. The curse of Brahmins can’t be removed even after a dip in holy Ganga.”
“You are talking like illiterates. Nothing like that. Curse! My bloody foot! These are all utopian theories. You try to be practical.”
“But…?” He sounded apologetic.
“There is nothing like ‘but or put’. You just be calm and be firm on your statement.”
He saw Jayaprakash entering the office and whispered on mobile. “He is entering my office. I will come and tell the rest.”
Jayaprakash was looking worried and sat mute pulling a chair looking at Khanna whishing to hear a few consoling words.
Khanna preferred to embrace silence.
“Did they ask any questions, sir?” Jayaprakash broke the silence.
“Yes. They recorded my statement and put across a few questions.”
Khanna never mentioned what he had given in his statement.
After some time, as the time of closure of the office was approaching, Jayaprakash left the office.
Khanna contacted Biswas on mobile and checked up his availability at home in the afternoon and decided to meet him and talk to him about the stand he had taken in his statement to the court.
When Khanna reached the house of Biswas, it was four o’clock. He was received with all courtesy by Biswas and was made to be seated in the sitting room. Mrs. Biswas came with a glass of water and kept on the table and asked. “You should have brought Mrs. Khanna also along.”
Khanna was not in a state of mind to please her with excuses and chuckled.
Mrs. Biswas could grasp the seriousness of their meeting and withdraw without further queries.
“I believe Wing Commander Mishra came to you to take your statement,” Biswas said casually.
“Um. He came with the Member and recorded my statement.”
Biswas kept looking at him wondering why his contacts at Command Headquarters did not work to hush up the matter. He felt like pitying him for all false promises he had made.
Khanna did not know how to start the topic without spurring wrath for his stand of innocence in the court. “When I thought about the whole, I decided to avoid myself getting into this mess, to enable me to do necessary action to get the whole matter hushed up.” He could see Biswas raising his brows and leaning towards him curiously. “If I am a party to this, my pleading for you will not carry enough weightage as expected. So, I decided to be out of the mess. The section commander can approach the concerned officers in Command Headquarters to take a lenient view on my junior. Once that is agreed, our Station Commander could be convinced.” He sounded logical without hegemony.
Beaming the gaze towards Khanna, Biswas made a blank face as could not grasp anything.
“In the statement, I mentioned that I was not aware of this until the Command Officer came and reported to me about this wrongful payment.”
Biswas started fuming with anger and felt like slapping on his face for disowning the whole, palming the entire responsibility on the shoulders of both himself and Jayaprakash. He wondered how cunny and cruel was Khanna to take a stand like that while the whole wrongdoing was to help him out while he was in dire necessity.
“You are a shame to the entire officer’s class. Your honesty is being questioned.” He snorted exhibiting his anger.“Your assistant had agreed with me to the wrongful act of signing the application for the advance of leave under your assertion of not letting anyone know of this. And the matter went up to the ears of the Command within a few days and the inquiry is being ordered. Now, you are backing out like a gentleman as if you never knew anything about this.” He grunted to ridicule him. “Un-officer-like! I have no words other than to simply pity you.”
Khanna sat without opening the mouth and listened to him with patience until he was satisfied that the anger of another person was receding. “I understand you fully. But, you don’t appreciate me for the stand taken. I agree with you that you both were roped into this situation to fulfilling my requirement. I will ever be grateful to both of you. There Is no dilution in that.” He paused to read Biswas’s reaction. Seeing him calming down, he continued. “Had I mentioned that this was committed to help me, I too will be likely to be blamed. In that case, there will not be any room left for me to plead for help to quash it up. Being an accused person, that will be considered as for self-help. The connotation will be different. On the other hand, me pleading for help to save my section officer will be considered as my generosity and might see fruition.” He chuckled. “That is what I think. Rather, any prudent person may think.”
Biswas had nothing to say and kept brooding over what he heard. “He has a point; he consoled. Having committed the offense, there is no way to get wriggled out, but give help to save”; he thought.
Satisfied by observing the calming down countenance, Khanna was clever enough to get confirmation of his mission. “I am sure, you are convinced. I know you people have helped me to tide over a difficult situation, which I thought would remain within the four walls of my section. It happened the other way unexpectedly and now we have to find the ways to come out of that scratch-free.”
Biswas was forced to agree with his thoughts unwillingly; rather under compulsion. He chuckled. “If you are confident to save us by that method, what else could be done?”
Khanna was happy and his lips got elongated with silent thanks. “Tomorrow, the court is sure to have your statement recorded, before going to Flying Officer Jayaprakash. You must not bring my name anywhere in your statement. Say, the request of Jayaprakash was accepted to help him come out of his urgent financial commitments.”
Though initially, Biswas had reservations to accept that fully, with repeated requests highlighting the benefits of such stand, he was perforce made to agree.