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Trishul sat in the car outside the guest-house for a very long while, bewildered as his mind desperately searched for probable causes... unable to fathom Rachit's sudden, mysterious disappearance.
Was it that Rachit didn't want to show him where exactly he had checked in? But why?!
Should he go around asking at a few more hotels... after all, there were numerous other places in that area - in the lanes and bylanes. He could even try the Taj... but then, the people there knew him, knew him too well, and it would be too embarrassing...
Besides, what would he ask? And how would it sound? He still didn't have a last name... and, a small doubt suddenly cropped up in his mind, what if Rachit wasn't his real name?!
And then his heart froze with fear, and apprehension, as random thoughts abruptly began to unmercifully suggest themselves - some senseless assault... a day-light mugging... hit-and-run? - suddenly feeling lost, incapable of deciding what he needed to do... what he should do...
Trishanu's call came as he sat musing and mulling, and feeling sick with worry, "Hey, little brother, where are you?!" he boomed, "It's past one, the kids, and I'm starving!"
"Sorry," Trishul replied, "be there in half an hour..."
Trishul's first instinct was to blurt out everything... unburden his soul and tell Trishanu. Tell him that he had fallen insanely in love with the stranger, and that the man had left... simply 'vanished', without even a word!
And he knew exactly what would happen... as it always happened, whenever he was in the slightest of pain. But no, he decided, this was one battle that he had to face on his own... fight it out on his own. Besides, he had absolutely no right to spoil the day with his troubles...
"He left for home..." Trishul lied with a shrug, avoiding looking at Trishanu or his sister-in-law.
"Little brother..." Trishanu gave him an incredulous look, but thankfully didn't pursue any further.
Trishul kept a straight face, the smile intact, as he shrugged away the queries...
No, it wasn't simply Rachit's going away... rather, it was the manner in which he had left... in secret, in silence. If Rachit was really reluctant to meet his family... was apprehensive about something, anything... he just needed to mention it, and Trishul would never force him...
His mind repeatedly going over each moment of the past five days since that Monday night... recalling every little detail, remembering every conversation... searching for any clue that would explain. But no matter how hard he tried, there wasn't any explanation... nor a hint.
Even that very morning, Saturday morning, as they had made passionate love, Rachit writhing under him, calling out his name... everything had seemed so incredibly beautiful... with so much promise...
And now, it all seemed like an unreal dream... a fabricated fantasy that was stabbing at his heart with a painful viciousness.
He suddenly, intensely, missed his grandmother... groaning out as he wished for her to be there... craving her gentle hand stroking his head... that soothing voice, that reassuring smile...
For him, it was grandmother, his every conscious moment filled with her unqualified, unquestioning love.
He didn't really remember his parents - just some disjointed images from his childhood memory, faded with time...
He soon added a second mill, and then built his first rolling mill.
Hardworking and industrious, he was rigorously conscientious, maintaining high quality standards and scrupulous work ethics; his companies flourishing as they gained in reputation and stature.
His only son, Trishul's grandfather, was a worthy heir, and after graduating from college joined the family business... quickly building on the foundation that his father had laid, relentlessly expanding, consolidating and diversifying - adding engineering, chemical, power and tea to the portfolio - transforming the family business into an industrial conglomerate - without ever deviating from, or compromising on his father's strict principles of ethics.
But it wasn't just business for him, for along with the expansion and the diversification, he also instituted a number of charitable trusts, founded two premier scientific research institutes, and established a string of specialised hospitals across the country; donating generously to various philanthropic societies and foundations.
Uncles Pranav and Pranay joined soon after their return completing their masters abroad, and Prashant (Trishul's father), joined a couple years later... infusing fresh ideas, and a new vision... working on plans for futher diversification - infrastructure (winning three prestigious mega projects in the first two years against some stiff international competition), and corporate retailing (a concept still unheard of in the country).
And then, disaster struck...
Surprised, and excited in his childly innocence at the prospect of an unscheduled 'holiday', he had chattered away as he questioned his uncle. But unlike his usual self, Uncle Pranav had been silent, his face grim as he hugged Trishul close, not talking.
Uncle didn't take him home, nor did he take him to his house... instead they went to his grandparent's home...
The whole family was gathered there - uncles, aunts and his cousins, still in their school uniform... his maternal grandparents and uncles... and other relatives. The staff from his own home, and people from the office... and lots of other people - some that Trishul knew, and others who he had never seen...
And as his saw his grandmother, sitting there, stone still, he began to cry... he didn't understand it, but somehow he could sense it - something was wrong, terribly wrong!
Nothing much remained to be recovered, and other than a few odd pieces of twisted and charred flotsam picked up from the sea, nothing was ever found.
His home was locked and Trishul moved in with his grandparents.
The DGCA's investigation in the absence of the FDR (black box), remained disappointingly inconclusive... and nothing was ever decisively ruled out.
Silent and inconsolable, Trishul's grandfather slowly withered away, dying a year later, when Trishul was nine.
"He just stopped," the doctors said, "simply stopped!"
Under her able and determined stewardship, the family soon recovered, and once more the empire flourished... rapidly expanding as the next generation grew up and prepared to step in and take on their share of responsibilities.
Trishul had already decided on his future... passionate with the idea of his own vineyard, and his own premium fine wine... coaxing and cajoling his grandmother to allow him to go to Europe in pursuit of that dream.
He rushed to the airport, and sat through the long flight earnestly praying, with all his heart, desperate to reach home, be with his Grandma. But the moment he saw Trishanu outside the arrival lounge... felt his heaving body as the cousins embraced, realisation dawned with a stunning brutality... and his entire world came crashing down... his universe crumpling away into non-existence in a split second.
Devastated, he went about in a numbing stupor, mourning his loss as he stumbled through the rites, ceremonies and rituals... for the first time in his young life feeling alone... totally alone in the world!
His grandmother had divided all her personal property and holdings in the companies equally between her five grandchildren, and had left the ancestral city home and the sea-side farm to Trishul. The Dehradun farm and property being given to the family's charitable trust - to be converted into an ashram in her husband's memory.
Trishul returned to college... his cherished dream suddenly seeming meaningless. But equally determined to go through with his plan, realise his dream, or otherwise it would be a betrayal of his grandmother's faith in him, her trust.
And as he began gathering up the tattered threads of his life, he met Kurt...
... to be continued
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