Biting back a retort, Meera held on to the file greedily. As all reporters know, keeping the source happy is of prime importance and you have to suck up to it; seem ever-grateful, ever-friendly while hanging on to every word uttered by it as if they were pearls of wisdom.

‘Anyway I have to go and see the CP,’ Singh said, in a tone that spelled the end of the conversation. ‘The loser can’t stop holding press conferences and, apparently, Mr Nalwa has handled high-profile international cases for a certain politician, which makes him immune to any sort of questioning except the usual. I have to find a way of wheedling out more information.’

Meera smiled demurely as her eyes lit up. Now that was a piece of information worth its weight in gold! Singh had let slip the exclusive news peg that would be the flier on page one of the National Express. The political link to the Nalwa case—what a story, morning glory! With follow-ups galore, she was sure!

This was what she lived for. The thrill that her loaded boyfriend refused to understand.

After Singh left the room, Meera called the news editor, Dev Krishna. An IIT graduate with a stammer, long hair and pretensions of being the next Salman Rushdie. He picked up the call after a long time. ‘Yeah?’

Meera was so excited she stumbled over her words and said incoherently, ‘Dev, I have a story . . . a big one. There is a high-profile political connect to the Nalwa case!’

‘What? Calm down, stop talking rubbish!’ said Dev dissuasively ‘Arey, Mr Nalwa handled the legal tax cases of this politician’s mother and now they are using their connections to intimidate the cops.’

‘Really? And, madam, where is the proof? Is any cop willing to go on record? Do you have a quote? Where did he fight the so-called “high-profile” cases? Have you got the said politician’s reaction? Kya yaar! Come back with a proper story. One we can fucking use!’

‘But, Dev!’ Meera wailed, ‘This is a great story! It’s an exclusive and I can work on it!’

‘No quotes, no story,’ Dev replied curtly and disconnected the call.

Filling up with a potent and familiar mixture of rage, frustration and helplessness—emotions commonly felt by every reporter—Meera cursed Dev, ‘Asshole! Too scared of the mighty politicians! Does he think I can’t see through his excuses? Just wants to kill my story, the jerk.’

She was already filled with a sense of proprietary love for her story which would last till it appeared.

Meera looked down at the medical report, though she had mentally dismissed it as a tame report, and started reading. She had been asked not to take it out of the office. The first words that jumped out at her were, ‘A child exposed to extreme behaviour and/or parents’ indiscretion will resort to precocious adult sexual acts as a way to get attention and hit out at the unbearable trauma caused by their collective behaviours. This will be done as publicly as possible, in order to shame the parents, the traditional guardians, who have, instead of protecting values, destroyed them and, in the child’s eyes, assumed the role of a predator.’

‘Okay, if Dev wants a confirmed story, then here it is along with a prize news peg and, hey, it is an exclusive!’ Meera told herself stubbornly, and pulled out her notebook from her bag and started writing. Her handwriting was so bad that most times even she had trouble deciphering what was written. That, however, had never stopped her from taking notes, which she was now doing assiduously.

Then she heard the door open. She quickly tucked the notebook into her prized Chanel bag, which had cost her two months’ salary, and turned and smiled innocently at Singh. ‘CP is mad! When will he retire?’ he said, walking towards her. ‘Did you read it? Please return it. And I know you, so please don’t quote me and no attribution.’

Meera purred, ‘You can trust me, Singh sahib. I would go to jail to protect a source. Have I ever let you down?’

‘Okay. But, make sure you highlight the effort we are making, doing analytical policing, while the media accuses us of shortcuts. You could say that I took this initiative, but refused to comment,’ said Singh, plonking down on his chair.

Smiling the smile reserved for grade A sources, who have delivered not one but two scoops, Meera got up and said, ‘Of course! And I really think the effort you have made is commendable. I should go, as I am sure you have a lot of work.’

As she left, she thought, ‘I have to beat the traffic and file my exclusive, and then hang around anxiously hoping it makes page one of all editions!’

Rushing down stairs, stained with paan and other things she preferred not to think about, Meera could smell the odour of pee mixed with one part mildew together with the smell of distilled desperation so peculiar to government offices in India. She was already composing the first paragraph of her report.

She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she almost missed the buzz of her phone. Missing the call, she looked down and saw the words ‘Dev’ on the screen.

She called him back.

‘Listen, that thing you were saying about Mr Politician, just check it out. I talked to God and he wants it followed-up.’

‘But, I have another story. It’s an exclusive; I am just coming to file it,’ protested Meera.

‘Arey, that can wait. File from home. I told you, God wants the politician involved,’ he said, hanging up the phone.

God referred to the almighty editor-in-chief of the National Express—the frighteningly fit Bhagwan Bhalla. And, as Bhagwan was God, Dev was his faithful slave and communicator. Bhagwan actually held the fourth estate in real contempt, the only thing he really prized was real estate.

Meera felt a familiar frenetic tension flood through her, a tribute to the nerve-wracking demands of the newspaper. Her thoughts were chaotic. She could not go back to DCP Singh. How was she going to get a dope on the political connection, which was the ticket to making God happy? And why was God so keen to explore the rather tenuous political link in this story?

Daddy’s Girl is available for pre-booking on Amazon.