Fairmont High International, Noida

Never in her wildest dreams had Kisha thought she would be 40,000 feet above the ground on her seventeenth birthday. That too all by herself. Sure, she had four other students of Fairmont High International, London, on the same flight to New Delhi, but they weren’t from her section. As part of an annual exchange programme, five students, with overall ace results and in their penultimate year of passing school, were shuffled between the different branches of Fairmont High, world over. Five students from their California branch went to their Sydney branch and, in exchange, five students from their Sydney branch arrived at the California branch. Similarly, five from the London branch went to New Delhi (NCR) and vice versa.

Kisha was one of the five who was selected for the London-New Delhi (NCR) exchange. And it wasn’t a random decision or any thrill of coming back to roots that had led her to apply for the exchange programme. The reason was rather simple: she wanted to know what had happened to her elder sister, Anara Sen. And what the hell was the Heartbreak Club, as mentioned in the anonymous Twitter message. Sitting by the window seat of the aircraft, Kisha wondered how good it would have been if the two sisters could relocate together.

Anara always had an inkling of what was brewing between her parents. And that a divorce was around the corner. And when it happened, her father shifted to Delhi with an entrepreneurial spirit and a blueprint of setting up a fintech startup while Ranya stayed in London with the girls. The divorce battle was initiated. The judge, seeing that both parents had equal financial standing, allowed them to have the custody of one daughter each, leaving the choice of parent to the daughters. Anara knew choosing her father meant choosing a different country, a different social set up and a different set of friends. She chose to be with Prithibi knowing well that Kisha wouldn’t be able to adapt to so many things so soon.

Neither Anara nor Kisha really understood what had gone wrong with their parents’ relationship. The seed of separation was sown by the common indifference which they both had developed towards each other. But when did the indifference surface and why? Both the daughters had heard a lot about the intense love story of their parents from relatives. But as they grew up, neither could see the intensity. Prithibi and Ranya seemed like two different people living together only because they had kids. That seemed to be the only glue binding them. And with time, that glue too lost its stickiness. Their fights kept increasing and the topics ranged from serious to trivial ones. Till a point came when they only spoke to fight. When they decided to separate, the children knew it was for the best.

Anara accompanied Prithibi to New Delhi. Fairmont High, New Delhi (NCR) was a residential school so Anara moved in to the school’s girls’ hostel on the sprawling campus, while Prithibi stayed in CR Park, in the house he had once grown up in. Both his parents were dead by now. A long-time caretaker and her family had been looking after the house. It had been eleven months and everything was going smoothly till suddenly Anara went missing. Disappeared into thin air.

Kisha was in rehab at the time and didn’t find out, since her parents were worried about the effect it would have on her. It was also the reason why Ranya couldn’t fly to India.

“Anything new from the police?” Kisha asked almost as soon as she met her father at the arrivals lounge of the New Delhi International Airport. From the time Kisha had read the anonymous message about Anara’s disappearance, she had been in sheer disbelief. She had hounded her mother for the truth and finally Ranya had come clean.

“Your dad got a call from the school authorities one day, saying Anara was not to be found anywhere,” Ranya said and, a deep breath later, added, “We did our best, involved the police, but she still hasn’t been found.” Kisha felt as if someone had sucked all the air from her lungs and left a forever vacuum.”

Ignoring her question, Prithibi gave her a smile and hugged her. He was overjoyed to see Kisha, and especially at the prospect that she would live in Noida for the next six months, as per the exchange program. He had been lost and miserable since Anara’s disappearance. His loneliness and grief were evident in the way he hugged Kisha tight. And as he broke the embrace, she looked at his eyes and asked him the same thing again. This time, Prithibi couldn’t dodge it.

“Nothing new. The police did their investigation well. They haven’t closed the case but what they told me is that it’s a school matter. They are juveniles after all.” He took a thoughtful pause, “As I told you on the phone, let’s not forget that they are all kids of the who’s who of India. Police could squeeze out nothing from the students. And while the school did its best to cooperate with the police, it can’t let the police be on campus forever. It would compromise their brand value. The investigation is still ongoing though. The officer told me they didn’t get any leads. They can’t figure out a motive for Anara to go missing. No ransom call came either,’ Prithibi said, sounding disturbed.

“Isn’t it weird that a girl goes missing from her school and nobody has a clue? And on top of it neither the police, nor the school can do anything?” Kisha said.

“Kish, everyone did their best. I know. I saw how the investigation was going. It’s only after trying everything that they have sort of reached a conclusion.”

“What is the conclusion?” Kisha saw her father avert his eyes, as if he was in two minds whether to tell her or not. Seeing her staring at him expectantly for an answer, Prithibi knew he couldn’t bypass this one, this time.

“Kish, they think Anara disappeared of her own accord.”

“What? That’s bullshit.” Why would Anara di do that? Where would she go?

“That she was affected by your mother and my marital turmoil and her disappearance is her way of coping with the situation. Just like with you and your anger issues. Teens do these things, I’m told,” he continued.

“Did she show any signs of being troubled?”

Prithibi shook his head and said, “Sometimes teens don’t come out clean and retreat into a shell instead.”

Even if Anara was affected she was not the kind to run away, Kisha thought. Her elder sister was a fighter. She loved to confront the situation and not find excuses to escape. In fact, it was Anara who had also taught Kisha to face situations in life, than turn one’s back on them. So, to think of her disappearance as a defence mechanism was complete nonsense for Kisha. And if she would have done it, she would have been in touch with her at least.

“Whatever that’s supposed to mean,” Kisha said aloud as the car swerved on the driveway leading up to the school. The drive was a silent one. Since the time Kisha had heard about Anara’s disappearance, all the moments she spent with her kept coming back to her. Especially, the last time she saw her outside the Heathrow airport where Kisha had gone to see her off before she left for India with their dad.

Excerpted with permission from The Heartbreak Club: One Girl vs One Twisted Legacy, Novoneel Chakraborty, Westland.