Keval stood at a corner, lost in thoughts, trying to shut-off the noise and pandemonium around him. He recalled his college days, when he, Amit, Anita and Chaya were a gang. He remembered how his modest background and a lack of family came in way, when he proposed to Chaya, who later married an NRI and moved to the US. Anita and Amit however did not let the difference in their backgrounds come in the way of their love. Soon after their marriage, Anita’s father financed an IT services venture, which Keval and Amit had jointly started off. Last year their organization recorded a revenue of 30 crores. They recently acquired a small dying firm.
Keval’s thoughts came back to the present, Things were going great for Amit and Anita, till a couple of years ago, when they lost a baby, conceived through IVF, at birth. Since then, their personal life had become a series of visits to doctors and therapists. In the last three months, after a failed attempt at surrogacy, Anita had been fixated on adopting a baby. She wanted a baby to ‘flaunt’ at Amit’s family get together, the coming month. She forced Amit and Keval to accompany her to the well-known orphanage he currently stood in, as it excelled in quick and clean adoptions.
“Thank god I never got married”, Keval thought aloud, before his thoughts were interrupted by a loud argument. When he looked up, a strange scene assailed his eyes; after sifting through many kids, whom she had found too big for her tastes, Anita had zeroed in on a six day old infant. She had picked him up and was checking him out, when the baby began wailing loudly, attracting the attention of a lady, who had come running and begun admonishing Anita.
“You are hurting the baby; give him to me now”, she shouted in an authoritative voice. Instead of complying, Anita pulled the wailing baby further towards herself, yelling crazily, “I am adopting the baby. He is mine”!! Amit and Keval, along with the ‘Father’ who was in charge of the orphanage, quickly pacified Anita and handed the baby over to the lady.
Watching the lady holding the bawling infant close to her bosom, rocking and cooing, while in parallel checking him out for damage, Keval instinctively rushed over to her, his heart filled with concern for the tiny wailing infant. Thankfully, nothing seemed seriously amiss, except for a tiny bruise formed by the rubbing of Anita’s ring on the baby’s sensitive skin. Within moments of reaching the sanctuary of the lady’s arms, the baby quietened down. After pacifying the baby, and settling him back in his crib, the lady pointed the bruise out to him and said, “Jewellery and motherhood don’t go well; see, neither I, nor any of the workers wear any such nonsense here”.
Keval glanced at the heavily bejewelled Anita, who was busy arguing with the father and turned back towards the lady with an apologetic smile. When the lady smiled back in return, his heart went fluttering. He quickly lowered his gaze and apologized on behalf of his friends. She smiled and held out her hand in a gesture of acceptance and said, “I am Renu, I volunteer at the orphanage over the weekends. Someone, who probably knew that I work at this orphanage, left this baby at the doorstep of my apartment. I named him Shamu; you can take it as an anagram of Musha - Moses, or as a rustic way of pronouncing Shyam; both were given up for adoption in baskets”.
Before Keval could respond, his friend Amit called out to him; just as he turned to leave with a grimace, Renu told him flippantly, “Don’t worry, I will not let that horrible woman touch baby Shamu again, even if it means that I have to take him away from here”.
During the gruelling ride back home, where Anita kept wailing to Amit that he should pay whatever was needed and ‘buy’ the child for her as soon as possible, Keval barely managed to maintain his sanity. The soulful eyes of the lady Renu kept haunting his thoughts; to shut them off, he concentrated instead on the activities he needed to complete, to ensure a smooth takeover at the newly acquired organization, which was due, on the upcoming Monday.
Monday started off as Keval planned, with a round of formal handshakes and introductions. Keval assessed each one in silence, noting their respective weaknesses. The introduction session was followed by a stand-up. Keval’s eyes that went sweeping across the new team, gathering expressions, stopped with a start – Renu, the lady from the orphanage was there, looking equally surprised and shocked.
After the stand-up formality got over, Keval was shown his new office by the outgoing team. After spending a few minutes in the quiet sanctuary of his cabin, Keval took his laptop to one of the corner desks and began chalking out the strategy, when a strange conversation caught his attention. The delivery head, apparently trying to impress Keval, was telling his team that they should do a rollout of the new product that weekend. Renu was arguing with him. She was trying to tell him that though her component was done, others’ were not; moreover, one round of end-to-end integration and testing was needed before any rollout. The delivery head along with another chap, whom the lady from the orphanage was addressing as Sumit, closed the topic that it was necessary for them to finish to rollout by the weekend, at all costs. Making a mental note of meeting Renu offline that evening, Keval went back to his work.
That evening, thanks to an official dinner hosted by the outgoing team, his plans of meeting Renu did not materialize. The next morning, when he reached the office at nine, he found that there was no one. The guard told him that other than ‘Renu madam’, who landed up every morning at 8:45, nobody came before eleven; Shaking his head at the lack of office discipline and resolving to meet Renu for sure, that afternoon; Keval went to his cabin, hung his coat, went to the same corner seat of the previous day, and began his day’s work.
Keval watched stoically as the folks strolled in lackadaisically, roamed around having coffee and kept chatting till lunch time and only sat down to begin serious work at 3:00 PM. He waited in vain for Renu to come in and was just about to check with someone if she was on leave, when he got a frantic call from Anita, who wailed that she had just got a call, that someone had kidnapped the baby she had wanted to adopt, from the orphanage.
Before Keval could gather his wits to go and inquire further, the head of delivery walked over to his desk, a young developer in tow. “We will do our rollout tonight and you will have the new product to market by the end of this week”, he announced flamboyantly, before going on to add that the developer Sumit, standing next to him singlehandedly developed, fixed and integrated the whole code, under his guidance and deserved the whole credit. He cajoled Keval into the VC room for a demo. His curiosity piqued, Keval asked if he could see the code. Almost as if he anticipated it, Sumit opened up the code repository and started a walkthrough. He showed how he had kept class and method well commented, with his name as the author. While going through the comments, Keval asked Sumit if he was the only developer; before Sumit could answer, the Delivery head quickly butted in, “Well sir, we have a team of five, three junior resources and a senior techie called Renu, besides Sumit; Renu is a shirker, who wastes her time on trivial pursuits. Even today, she did not come to office, despite knowing about the rollout”.
Thanking them and advising them to do a thorough check before doing a rollout, Keval went back to his cabin, called the HR manager and asked her to come in with Renu’s file. The surprised HR manager complied. Keval noted Renu’s address and other details from the file, before inquiring with the HR manager about her performance. The HR manager’s feedback was a bit contrary to Sumit’s. She said that Renu was quite hardworking and meticulous. The previous delivery head gave her a good feedback. She took extra initiative and even reviewed others’ code in addition to working on her own. The new delivery head, who joined four months ago, somehow had issues with her style. “If I am not wrong, the lady probably might be looking out. She is technically sound and a great asset to the organization. You need to find ways to retain her”.
Keval nodded his head thoughtfully. Going by the code that he reviewed earlier, either Renu’s performance went down over the last six months, thanks to her ‘other pursuits’ or she had plagiarized others’ work in the guise of reviewing it. “Either way, I shall get to the bottom of it”, he thought, “If she had skipped office that day to kidnap the baby, as she had promised, then I might have to terminate her employment. I do not want a rebellious plagiarizing zealot in the organization”.
Deciding quickly, he drove down to the address, which as per the HR file, was Renu’s. It was a studio apartment in a large secure multi-storied building. As per the neighbours and security, Renu left home at 7:00 AM and had not returned. He made a quick call to Amit, before rushing down to the orphanage.
When he reached the orphanage, he found a couple of cops in the scene. This was the first time a baby was kidnapped from there. The police seemed almost disinterested. If someone wanted to take an orphan whom the parents had abandoned, who were they to make a hue and cry; there were many serious offences which involved much larger stakes and hence needed higher focus. To make them take the case up seriously, Keval told them the whole story about how his friends wanted to adopt the baby, and how one of the volunteers Renu had threatened that she would kidnap if need be, to prevent the same.
The police then relented and agreed to make a report and investigate. The testimonies of the ‘Father’ and the nurses were quite simple. It was true that Renu did not find Amit and Anita suitable to adopt the baby. However considering that she had raised an objection on paper for the same and considering that such objections were good enough to delay, if not prevent the adoption, there was no need for her to kidnap the baby. They refused to accept that Renu could be a suspect. “She regularly takes children home during festivals; if need be, she could have taken this baby too. We definitely would have allowed, especially considering that it was she who brought the baby in and hence was very close to him”, the Father added vehemently.
The CCTV footage also revealed nothing. No one but the nurses and workers went near any of the babies – not even Renu. Something suspiciously flashy in the raised left hand of one of the workers caught the attention of Keval. Crosscheck revealed that it was just a ring. The last footage of baby Shamu was when he along with the couple of other babies was taken to the bathing and cleaning area. He simply seemed to have disappeared from there.
The cops then began questing the guards and the shopkeepers from the nearby shops, if they saw anything odd. The guard at the entrance of the compound gave a positive ID of Renu. He said that he saw the lady Renu walk in around 7:45 AM, with a large packet and leave within 2-3 minutes carrying the same large package. “Most probably diapers sir, she usually brings them over for the kids”, he added. Keval nodded doubtfully. If she indeed were carrying diapers, why did she leave without giving them at the orphanage?
Just as he was about to inquire further, Keval received a frantic call from the office, saying that the servers were hung and a restart was needed. His intervention was sought, as the restart would affect the production systems of the clients in Europe and US. Cursing his day, Keval gave his contact details to the cops, requesting them to keep the inquiry on and let him know, in case they found anything, and rushed off to office.
Driving like a maniac, Keval reached office in a record timespan of forty five minutes. When he reached there, he found that the developer Sumit and the Delivery Head sitting there with the server team, wringing their hands. Ignoring their claims of server issue, Keval, did a quick system check, gauged that certain procedural calls in the newly implemented system were the culprits and quickly killed them. Assessing that the issue most probably was caused by the latest implementation, Keval quickly ordered a rollback and called for the code for a quick causal analysis.
The analysis showed that the problematic calls were for procedures with a particular data-type called Enum, which apparently seemed missing. The programmer Sumit began desperately trying to find them muttering under his breath. Something in Sumit’s tone made Keval take a look at the problematic code, himself. As he went through the names of the missing procedures, he found one common aspect – part of their names spelt the word ‘renu’. To ease his mind from her memory, he blindly typed the word Sumit and hit the search button. The results shocked him. In the called procedures, the phrase or word ‘renu’ was replaced with the word ‘Sumit’.
Speechless, Keval looked up at a stuttering Sumit and a sheepish delivery head. Sumit burst down and accepted that he plagiarised Renu’s code and added that the Delivery Head made him do it, as Renu did not come for the rollout. The server team, who till then stood silent, also vocally expressed their issues with the Delivery Head. “Renu was the one who took care of all the previous rollouts”, they said vehemently, “these guys know nothing but finger pointing”.
At the verge of losing his temper, Keval advised the whole team should just leave for the day, while everyone is still sane and get back together the next day. “Hopefully the lady Renu also should be in, and we can all discuss, make the fixes and close the issue, together”, he added. The server support team seemed surprised at Keval’s statement. “How can Renu come sir? She met with an accident this morning and is lying in the hospital, unconscious”, they said.
Finding out the hospital details, Keval quickly rushed there and found to his chagrin that the cops had already reached and were questing a semiconscious and gravely wounded Renu, who seemed in too poor a state to answer their questions properly. Seeing Keval, the cops quickly said, “Here sir, we found the lady. She is mumbling something about wrong size diapers, new code and rollout. We would have arrested her, based upon your complaint, but the doctor says that she has sustained a skull injury and hence could die if we moved her”
The diapers were of the wrong size – that’s why she was taking them back with her. Too shocked to react, Keval stared dumbfounded at Renu’s heavily bandaged head, when the doctor and nurse walked in. Seeing the cops, the doctor severely admonished them for endangering a patient’s life; he then checked Renu’s vitals and told the nurse to anesthetize her immediately. Unable to contain himself, Keval asked the doctor what the prognosis was. “She is improving”, said the doctor, “but she needs to be constantly anesthetised for the next eight hours to minimize movement, agitation and trauma. She also needs someone vigilant at her bedside for another twenty four hours. I however believe she is an orphan with no relatives and the cops scared off the two colleagues who had come to take care of her in the evening”
For the first time in his life, Keval felt tears welling. As the nurse started the drip, his wet eyes automatically went to Renu’s hands. Something about those bare hands and the shiny needle, triggered a memory in his head. He immediately sobered up, turned towards the cops, apologized to them and requested them to go. He told them that he would get in touch with them, if need be.
After the cops left, Keval made a quick and short call to Amit, before sinking into a bedside couch, his head buried in his hands. An hour later, a flustered Amit landed up, with a miserable looking Anita in tow, carrying a wailing and distressed baby Shamu. Keval gently picked the baby up and said severely, “Anita, Renu was right. You are a horrible woman who definitely is not fit to be a mother. Why, in all your smartness, you forgot that jewellery and motherhood don’t go well! Your attire was perfect, but your ring gave you away”. Amit and Anita apologized profusely. They never intended to cause any issues. They never thought of implicating Renu or anyone. It was a just a sad coincidence that she visited the orphanage around the same time when Anita picked up the baby.
Keval relented, recollecting those days when they were all young and happy together, He could empathise with Anita’s pain and desperation. Smiling wearily, he said, “I can forgive you, if you could, as the only family I have, help me convince Renu to take me as her spouse and let me be the adoptive father of baby Shamu”.
A joyous Anita, immediately hugged Keval and gushed out, "We definitely will! See, I was right! The orphanage does specialize in quick adoptions!"