Posted on November 1, 2019
“I have a confession to make, Sarah”
Sarah’s eyes didn’t hide her expectations of some revelation.
“Oh mine, tell me fast” Sarah’s voice had an urgency that seemed to mock at Mickey’s words.
Mickey kept staring at the distant shores of Elephanta Island from the Sea Lounge of Taj Mahal Hotel
The immaculately attired waiter set up the table for the masala tea they had ordered.
“Is he going to propose to me?” Sarah’s anxiety soared. They had been going steady for the last three months.
Today is going to be the day, then!
Mickey’s eyes were transfixed on the strands of Sarah’s hair that had strayed onto her forehead
“You know, Mickey” Sarah ventured, “You are a damned lousy nut” and promptly flashed her smile.
He poured some tea into her cup. The aroma of freshly ground spices filled the air.
“Hmm, that smells so overpowering” Sarah took a deep breath.
“Well, your smile is more overpowering “
Why is he testing me?
Sarah straightened her hair back into the loose bun. Mickey hated her bun. Loose hair suited her face more.
His eyes darted across the far end of the lounge where a couple that looked like American was going through the amorous routine.
“Try cooing in my ears, instead, you Dumbo” Sarah wished.
PDA was not Mickey’s forte.
“Well?” The large eyes of a typical Bengali girl pierced him, prompting him for his confession. A tiny crumb of the cookie fell off from his mouth. He hastened to wipe it off from his shirt- gifted by Sarah.
She remembered the occasion. He was a lousy shopper – never proud of his sartorial sense. She had cajoled him to buy three shirts but he insisted on buying only one.
“Come on, I am going to pay for it, Mickey” Sarah had teased him
“Well, may be next time. I am in no mood to buy a new shirt today”
“Why, what is wrong with today?” Sarah was quick to confront him. “Some inauspicious day or something?”
‘Ha Ha. Not really. It is only….”
“… that I am in no mood, my boss almost chewed me up today in the office. Is that so?” Sarah completed the sentence for him.
“You know, Sarah, sometimes you have an illusion of being a smart girl”
“Absolutely, when I am in the company of nuts – like you”
“Ok, try this one “and pushed him to the trial room.
As soon as he slipped inside, the door showed the sign of ‘Engaged” popping up outside.
She saw a girl slip into the adjoining trial room and the ‘engaged’ sign appeared on her door too.
“Congratulations, Mickey” She welcomed him as he came out of the trial room, clumsily wearing the new shirt that still had the brand labels peeping out
“I haven’t bought it yet, you silly girl”
“No. I congratulated you for getting engaged to that girl in the adjoining trial room”
“But the shirt looks dandy on you”
“I am not so sure” Mickey contorted his face in disapproval
“Now, look who is talking? Are you serious? I just love it”
She made him buy that shirt.
The Sea lounge had started filling up and the amorous couple, blocked by other guests, was no longer visible.
“Ok, enough is enough. “ Sarah resumed her grilling
“What” he asked innocently.
“Do you want to take that shirt off with the ugly stain?” Sarah’ impatience speared him
“Do you want the confession unraveled or worry about the stain?” Mickey shot back
“It depends. The way you are taking an eternity to come to the point I figured you want to first metamorphose into a shirtless Bollywood hero”
“You know what? Why don’t you loosen that silly bun of yours and let your hair be free?”
“ My soon to be a Bollywood hero, the loose hair tickles my virtually bare back to no end. Get the point? Now then?”
Mickey waved in the direction of the entrance of the Sea Lounge, instead.
Sarah turned her head, inadvertently letting her bun loosen.
A gorgeous looking, ravishing girl entered the lounge, waving at Mickey, blowing kisses at him.
Now who is this? Is he openly cheating on me, or provoking me?
The gorgeous girl went past a confused Sarah and hugged Mickey, wafting a trail of overpowering perfume.
“Hey, Sarah, meet Gabby”; Gabby, this is Sarah”
Sarah’s ferocious eyes met Mickey’s.
Is this your confession?
“What should I order for you Gabby?” Mickey, at his irritatingly best
Sarah gulped down her tea in one go and looked at this Gabby girl.
“Whatever you guys are having, Mickey” Gabriela’s eyes danced
“One more Masala tea, please” Mickey hailed the steward passing by.
“Okay” Mickey cleared his throat “Sorry love, for this drama” he clasped his fingers.
“Gabby is my colleague at the Consulate of Israel and she wants to brief you about an important assignment”
What is he up to? Why this drama? Sarah’s heart beat faster
“Sarah, don’t get me wrong. You will have to let go Mickey for the next few days. …”
“But why? Why is he not telling me all this?”… Sarah was not to be calmed down
“Relax, baby. Mickey has told me everything about you dating him“ ,then turned to Mickey “Should I tell her everything?”
“Yes, please go ahead” Mickey just nodded
Gabriela pushed her chair closer to Sarah and almost whispered in her ears
“Look. This is highly classified information privy only to a select few in the Consulate. Mickey says I can trust you. Mossad has just alerted us about a possible terrorist attack here in Mumbai, possibly targeting, among others, Jewish installations, synagogue and the likes. Has Mickey told you that he is a trained commando himself? The Consulate of Israel has picked Mickey to get into this mess, get to the bottom of it and try to thwart the attack. Presently we only have sketchy details but Mickey has his task cut out for him”
Gabriela took a deep breath and looked around.
Sarah was now intrigued. Mickey had never told him about his being in a special commando. She had known him only for three months.
“All right, Gabby. But will he be safe? How long will it take?” asked the anxious Indian girl
“No one knows. I wish I had the answer. But the entire Consulate of Israel together with the indirect support of Mossad is with him
“I told you he has the right background and despite being the son of Jewish mother and an Indian father his features are distinctly Indian”
“Do I have a choice, Gabby?”
“No” Gabby looked at Mickey for approval
The curt reply from Gabby hurt her. Is she telling me the truth? Why should Mickey get into all that mess? Is Mickey being blackmailed by Gabby? By Mossad? Why can’t they handle it themselves?
“So what do you want me to do now, other than disappearing from your life?” Sarah choked with emotions, unable to figure out the mess
Gabby took her hand lovingly “Oh baby, this is going to be only for a short while”
“Aha, what if it turns out to be a dead end for Mickey? Do YOU take the responsibility?” Sarah felt sorry to have uttered the repulsive word ‘dead end’
Mickey tried to calm her down, “Sarah, an organization as reputed as Mossad …”
“…as ruthless…” Sarah’s interjected, her eyes welling up
“Just listen to me. I am a trained commando and I know how to handle such situation. In the time that we spent together, we haven’t had a chance to discuss my past but believe me it is an honour for me to get this assignment, especially to save the lives of people and prevent destruction of monuments. Nothing will happen to me.” Sarah heard Mickey speaking so emphatically for the first time since they met
“What about your birthday on Nov 26 next week?” Sarah wiped her eyes
“I will take this” Gabby responded, “No one really knows what actually may or may not happen. Our job is to get to the bottom of this and prevent the occurrence of such a calamity should it happen…..”
Gabby and Sarah noticed Mickey frantically trying to get his mobile phone out from his trouser pocket, with his eyes riveted to the Sea Lounge entrance door
“Shit, they got away” Mickey blurted out, holding his mobile phone in his hand
“What the hell…..” Sarah suddenly realized that the game was on already and she better keep out of it.
Both Mickey and Gabby bolted towards the entrance door. Sarah tossed Rs 1000 bills on the table and followed them.
As Gabby rushed down the ornate, winding staircase Mickey helped Sarah get down to the ground floor safely.
They found Gabby, panting just outside the main gate facing the sea. “They got away, they got away”
Mickey swiftly hailed a black-yellow Bombay’s iconic cab and literally shoved Sarah into the back seat, instructing the driver to take her to Worli Sea face.
It happened just too fast for Sarah to comprehend.
Who did they sight? Terrorists? My God? She looked back and saw Mickey holding Gabby’s hand and running towards the Gateway of India.
The onlookers were thrilled at this Bollywood type of chase in the middle of the street.
“It is hopeless, Mickey” Gabby sat down on a large stone near the Gateway of India monument.
“There were two of them, keeping a watch apparently on you and me”
Mickey whipped out his phone and dialed.
“Hey David, you were right. Some suspicious characters were tailing me but they slipped away”
David Levin, the chief of security at the Consulate of Israel, digested the bad news with a characteristic aplomb.
Now what? They decided to walk back to the Sea Lounge.
“Is everything all right” the smart head-steward asked him as he re-entered the lounge.
“Who were those people? “Mickey just took a chance. How would the head-steward know? Hundreds of guests keep filing in and out
“Oh, you mean the guys who left a while ago?”
“Yes of course. Do you know them?” Mickey’s hopes instantly soared
“Sort of….; the two guys have been coming here almost daily. Viewing the architecture, taking pictures of the grand hotel… you know “
“But…” Mickey stopped short of divulging more about his real mission to a stranger
“Sir, for the last one week I have been arriving at the main hotel sharp at 3 PM and these guys have been regular visitors. Once when I was coming from the Gateway of India direction, I saw them emerging from a boat with heavy camera equipment.”
“Did you ever talk to them?”
“Yes. As a matter of fact, I exchanged pleasantries with them as they stopped by at the local Leopold café nearby. “
“But why do you ask, Sir?”
Mickey, ignored the question, turned back and headed towards Leopold Café along with Gabby.
As they neared the popular Café, he saw them, enjoying coffee and something that looked like muffins.
Both of them quietly slipped into the Café, unnoticed by the two guys and resumed their vigil. Taking pictures here out in the open would be risky. Besides, he could only see their backs.
One of them took out what appeared to be his cell phone and mumbled something that was drowned in the noise inside.
Mickey’s trained eyes did not miss the peculiar features of the phone from a distance. It wasn’t a cell phone! How could such people with strange features carry such expensive satellite phone?
Suddenly his own phone rang.
It was Sarah!
“Very well enacted drama, Mickey” Sarah was unconvinced about his mission.
“Oh no, not at this time. I wouldn’t be able to talk”
“He hastily cupped his mouth near the phone and whispered “, I am absolutely fine dear. Please do not call me right now”
Mickey snapped the conversation off.
It rang again. He was about to press the red button then he saw David’s name.
Mickey briefly described what had been happening with them in the Café.
“Take their picture – somehow. It is important” the commanding voice at the other end could not be ignored.
“Ok, let me see”
“Hey’ he hailed a waiter; “Do me a favor, man. Take our photo as I walk across that painting on the wall right there”
“Sure” the waiter smiled, grabbed his cell phone,
and walked through the narrow passage between the shady characters and a large painting at the other side. He had asked the waiter to shoot from the front of the duo presumably to snap him up walking across.
Apparently it seemed to be a regular feature for the waiter who obliged Mickey. He handed a bill of Rs 100 to the waiter and exited from the Café unobtrusively, making sure he didn’t face the two guys
Oh but Gabby must still be in the Café ? He looked back to find her chair empty. God, where is she?
“I am here. Right behind you, Mickey” Gabby had slipped out of the Café from other door and quietly rejoined Mickey
Mickey forwarded the photo to David.
Out in fresh air, the first thing Mickey did was to call Sarah.
“What the hell do you think you are doing, Mickey? You owe me an explanation’ a furious Sarah lambasted Mickey
“Calm down, dear. You can buy the rest of the two shirts for my birthday next week, See you soon..”
Mickey had to disconnect the phone on hearing the call-waiting alert.
“That was so very important Mickey. Good job “, The joy in David’s voice was evident
The events that occurred were too fast for Sarah to comprehend. She reached her seventh-floor apartment overlooking the Worli Sea Link, unlocked the door, went in and crashed on the bed.
Paromita, her mother, must be still at her boutique.
She saw herself in the huge mirror across the bed. What went wrong, you poor girl? She tried to smile. Her spiritual Guru had taught her to smile when in utter confusion. A semblance of sanity returned. She got up and went into the washroom to freshen up.
An inner voice told her “Mickey is lying to you. He is playing a dirty game.”
“But why does he have to? He could tell her upfront and break up. Why didn’t he ever tell me about his involvement with the commando job? May be I never asked. So silly of me! But why go through the drama of introducing that bitchy girlie, Gabby.”
Sarah’s head started spinning?
As she emerged out of the washroom, she saw her Mom Paromita in her room.
“Aha, so you are back from your date? How was it my baby?”
“Shit” Sarah’s face gave the story away
“Is Something wrong” Paromita took her hand and led her to the dining table.
Her favorite coffee was ready as soon as she lifted her head from the dining table.
“Come on Sarah baby, tell me what happened”
Sarah narrated the entire drama and sobbed.
Mothers turn into a rock when faced with a crisis for their daughters.
“Here is what you can do, Sarah” said Paromita, as she cleared the cups and placed them in the sink
“Go and look for Mickey at the Consulate, the first thing in the morning tomorrow. If he is there, do not pester him, just say you love him”
“But what if he is not there, Mom?”
“Yes, then get his address if they give you”
‘What if he is not there either?”
“Okay, Baba, Take one step at a time”
“Oh Mama, I am so confused and distraught” Sarah buried her face into her Mom’s.
“Everything will turn out fine, dear. Now get some dinner and go to bed”
The night was long. Sarah tossed in her bed into the wee hours;
Surprisingly, the new day brought some fresh hopes. She got ready in work clothes, kissed her mother and hailed a cab to go to the Consulate at Lower Parel in Central Mumbai.
The events that she went through had made her more suspicious of surroundings now. She thought she heard someone following her in another taxi. She was too scared to even turn her head and look back. Whoever may have been tailing Mickey must have seen me and may even know where I stay and work. Oh my God!
The turbaned driver looked at her from the rear mirror “Madam, aap theek to hai. Don’t worry apko Israel kaa visa mil jaayga – Sat Sri Akaal (Madam. Are you all right? Don’t worry, you will surely get Israeli visa, Hail the Lord”)
“Thank you Sardarji.’ (Sardarji – a respectful way to address a Sikh gentleman) She looked at the back of the driver even closely and reminded herself of the dangers of talking to strangers.
She got down right at the entrance of the Consulate, paid the cab driver while in the cab, and emerged out of the cab briskly, shot a glance to the left to reassure herself that no one was following her.
The huge building was under repair with scaffoldings and coverings everywhere. She felt as if a hundred pairs of eyes were keeping a watch on her, hidden behind the safety covers.
“Shalom” The well-built captain at the entrance of the Consulate welcomed her with a smile while a smart security girl scanned her body and finally she was allowed to go in.
A middle aged, Parsi lady looked up from the reception counter, raised her glasses and asked, “Shalom, my name is Betty, How may I help you”
“Yes,” Sarah wiped the perspirations from her face, stayed as close to the counter as she possibly could and asked “Hi, Salaam, I would like to see Mickey Khanna”
Betty’s face showed no sign of emotions. ‘Mickey who?”
“Khanna, Mickey Khanna” Sarah’s voice was barely a whisper”, smiling weakly at Betty
“You want to take that seat right there, Madam?” pointing to a functional sofa at the far end of the reception
Sarah, followed her directions, sat down and l her gaze, unmoving at Betty, who spoke to someone on the intercom, her face could not hide her sense of surprise.
“Something is amiss, for sure” Sarah’s disturbed mind cautioned her.
Betty motioned her to the counter.
“I am so sorry madam but there is no one named Mickey Khanna working in the office at the Consulate”
Sarah was stunned.
“What…? Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. Madam, anything else can I help with” Her pointed stare upset Sarah but all she could say was “No thank you. You have been very helpful. Salaam.”
She ran out of the consulate, a complete wreck.
“So, he has been lying to me all along. How could I be so gullible and naive? Oh my God! Now what?”
Her worst fears were confirmed. Had she been going out with a dangerous man called Mickey all this time? She now cursed herself for going too fast with Mickey, marveling at his body and the captivating smile.
Outside the tall building there was a huge poster of a new movie ‘Ghajini’, with the finely chiseled body of the hero peering at her. She quickly got into a cab, made sure that no one was tailing her, and drove straight to the boutique.
‘Oh I should have asked for Gabriela too”. But it was hopeless. Now she knew Mickey was a fake, and was faking everything, including Gabby.
“Forget him, Sarah. God saved you just in the nick of time” Paromita tried her best to comfort her girl who sobbed uncontrollably. “Get on with your work at the Boutique from tomorrow”
Smile, baby, smile. All is not lost. To hell with Mickey but he must be taught a lesson.
Who am I to teach him a lesson? He must be enjoying some party with that Gabby girl of his.
She took her mobile out impulsively and called Mickey. She would tear him apart if he did answer.
A sweet voice at the end “Sorry, the number you have dialed is switched off”
“Switched off my foot. He is a conman “, Sarah mumbled
At the boutique she tried her best to smile at the elite customers. But no respite from the churning pain in her stomach.
“I would kill that Gabby if ever I meet her face to face. “
And, that Mickey? She couldn’t understand why her mind was flooded with combative thoughts. A proper break up wouldn’t have been as painful.
“Let us go and watch a movie tonight, Sarah” Paromita was trying to bring her back to sanity. She didn’t.
It was November 25 evening. The next day would be Mickey’s birthday – or so he said. What would he be doing tomorrow? Who cares now?
But impulse took over Sarah and she dialed his number. What would she say if he picked up the phone?
That he was a liar, a conman; deserved to be tortured and so was Gabby. That she found out he never had worked at the Israel Consulate…..
There was a click at the other end. Sarah’s hopes soared. Would she actually say all those nasty things to him? What if he had some explanation? Her heart was pounding.
Instead, she thought she heard the voice of Gabriela! “Hey Sarah…..”
Sarah hung up in exasperation.
It didn’t make much sense to her. Why would Gabby answer from his phone if he wanted to remain elusive? Was it Gabby after all, or someone else? Not sure! Does he move around with different Gabbys every day?
She couldn’t take it anymore.
The world was crumbling around her. She wanted to die. She downed a tablet of sleeping pill and flopped into her bed.
The sleeping pill did not help much. She had a nightmare at dawn. A character like Ghajini cornered her in the bedroom; showed off his toned up six pack body, laughed hysterically while she shivered.
“You want to kill Mickey and Gabby eh?” he shouted as they ran around the cramped bedroom.
She almost fell off her bed, trying to ward off the attacker; woke up, perspiring profusely.
Hearing the thud Paromita rushed into the bedroom and realized what had happened.
“It’s all right dear. Try to get some sleep”
“No mom, it is 5 O’clock in the morning. Let me get out of the bed.
They both sat at the dining table, sipping freshly made filter coffee. The electronic calendar blinked to announce it was November 26. Was the nightmare a foreboding of something terrible that was to happen? She recalled suddenly. It was Mickey’s birthday.
Would Mickey’s prophecy be a reality? Was Gabriela a fake?
Forget it Sarah.
But why did Gabby answer Mickey’s phone then? Was she trying to tease her; “Look who is with me now, Sarah?”
The mother – daughter duo found themselves watching the newly released film “Dostana” in a movie theatre. The trailer of “Gajini”, screened before the movie, fueled Sarah’s desire to take revenge for what Mickey and Gabriela had done to her.
After the movie, on their way back home their cab got stuck near Crawford market. They saw a huge crowd gathered in the direction of Victoria Terminus; fear writ large on their faces.
Had something unusual happened in the city?
The expert cabby finally wove around the lanes to get them to Worli Sea face.
Not a soul outside on the promenade!
Sarah wondered what had gone wrong. Usually, the promenade would be teeming with happy couples strolling down the seafront. As the elevator slowly made its way up the unmistakable excited voice of news anchors could be heard from all the floors.
Hell had broken loose.
Some people thought some inter gang warfare had broken out in the Colaba area that spilled into the huge railway station of Victoria Terminus.
They switched on their big TV set.
It wasn’t a warfare but a full-scale attack by some terrorists. News kept flooding the ticker tape like a torrent. The cameras of all the TV channels were focused on the entrance to the terminus. A volley of gunshots could clearly be heard. The announcer at the station was frantically warning the passengers about something that was inaudible in the TV news.
The ghastly scenes kept repeating all night.
Sarah remembered Mickey’s words. The Mossad had tipped off the Consulate about an imminent attack by some terrorists.
So, this was it. Spine chilling! Were Mickey and Gabriela right?
Paromita could virtually read Sarah’s thoughts. She saw Sarah’s lips saying a silent prayer. A bowl of soup was all that they had for dinner as they sat glued to the TV set.
Where would Mickey be right now? Would Gabriele be with him? Sure hope so?
Her thoughts of revenge gave way to concern for their safety.
Then she heard. A building called Nariman House that housed Chabad House, a Jewish outreach center, too had been attacked on the same night.
So, this was what the Mossad had apprehended. Was Mickey there to fight the terrorists? And what was Gabriela doing?
She digested all the news about Chabad house with an intensity that she had never experienced before.
With such a serious threat of an imminent attack it was quite natural for the Israel Consulate to decline her request to see Mickey. What if a stranger walked in the Consulate and got all the details of Mickey?
Sarah cursed herself for the reprehensible thoughts she had been harboring ever since the lady at the reception had thrown a cold stare at her at the mere mention of Mickey.
Everything fitted into the jigsaw puzzle now.
Her prayers grew stronger by the minute.
The next day she learned the scale of the destruction and loss of human livers was much larger.
She watched from her 7th floor balcony. The traffic had thinned. There was a sense of fear in the city. The pitched battle between the security personnel and the terrorist was still on.
They had attacked the popular Leopold Café close to the Taj Hotel and killed several people including some foreigners.
The Chabad house had been taken over by two attackers and several residents were held hostage. The police evacuated adjacent buildings and exchanged fire with the attackers, wounding one. Local residents were told to stay inside. The attackers threw a grenade into a nearby lane, causing no casualties.
The news channel reported that NSG commandos arrived from Delhi, and a naval helicopter took an aerial survey. During the first day, 9 hostages were rescued from the first floor.
Sarah watched in horror as the commandos stormed the house, fast-roping from helicopters onto the roof, covered by snipers positioned in nearby buildings.
“God save my Mickey” she continued to pray.
On the 28 th November she saw a commando jumping down on the terrace of Chabad House and for a split second she thought she saw Mickey landing onto the terrace and run into Chabad house.
Oh my God that’s him! He would be fighting those terrorists in that house. Other commandos followed suit. It was straight out of a movie like situation – heart stopping operation – except that this was real. Her Mickey was there inside.
The coffee got colder on the table. She had nothing to do with that. Her hands, folded and eyes welling up, she prayed and prayed till she saw Mickey emerge along with 9 hostages freed.
The news channels announced that the commandos had succeeded in eliminating the terrorists but not before they had killed the Rabi and his wife. Their little son Moshe was rescued by the heroic Nanny.
It took several days for the entire operation in Bombay to be over.
They met up a full one-month after this sordid drama in Bombay. This time it could not be at the Sea lounge in Taj Hotel. The hotel was in shambles.
It was at Sarah’ apartment!
She hugged him and handed him a gift pack.
“What is it Sarah?” smiled Mickey
“Open it, you stupid man” she smiled back
Two exquisite shirts!
“They are not your birthday gifts – but
“I feel cheated Sarah. No gift for my birthday?”
“Next birthday is far off” Sarah wore a serious look that soon turned into a surprised expression when Mickey knelt before her and extended a beautiful ring towards her “, will you marry this black commando?”
Paromita hugged both of them and disappeared into the kitchen – to get some cappuccino.