“Mamma!” Rajani called up her mother. “What happened to Shikha?”
“Shikha?” Nisha was surprised, “Nothing. Why?”
“Something has happened to her Mamma. I am sure. She hasn’t called me for three days, nor replied to my texts and now she’s not picking her phone!” Rajani’s voice rose and cracked.
“Oh that?” Nisha sighed in relief. “Don’t you know? She got her visa. I guess she must be busy preparing for her journey.”
Her mother’s words faded out, Rajani sat still dull with shock and betrayal. How could Shikha not tell her? Did their friendship mean nothing? How could a person of less than a month’s acquaintance be more important than one of a lifetime? She could share the bad news but not the good news? Did she think she would be jealous?
Her heart stopped.
It must be my fault, she thought. There must be something wrong with me. I must have done something bad. I am being punished for that – first the accident. Shikha probably hung around with me because she felt sorry for me and there was no one else. Everyone speaks highly of Harsha. He is mean and rude to only me. Even Mamma and Papa wanted me off their hands. The whole world cannot be wrong.
It’s your fault!
You must be doing something wrong.
Alone in her hostel room, Rajani gave into the luxury of her overflowing emotions. She wept her heart out. Until her phone beeped – it was the next week’s Math assignment. The stolid numbers teased, taunted, challenged and invited her. Rajani wiped her face, gritted her teeth and dived into the world of unemotional rationality.
The world faded away. Nothing was important. Nothing was real. Only these numbers were.
“Rajjiiii ki bachchiii!” Shikha called after two days.
“Who’s speaking please?” Rajani was cold and distant.
“Aww! I am sorry Rajji I really am.”
“Okay.” Rajani disconnected the phone.
Shikha called back. Again and again. Until Rajani gave in. “What?” She snapped.
“I said I was sorry Rajji.”
“So? I also said okay.”
“Don’t you want to know why I didn’t call?”
“Because I am nobody?”
“Aww don’t be like that Rajji! Please? You are sitting comfortably thousands of miles away from your in-laws. Did you think how I am coping in the midst of them who are determined not to let their unpaid servant leave?”
“No! They couldn’t be that mean could they?” Rajani was horrified.
“Yes! You don’t know half of it. I got my visa but my entire folder with my tickets and passport disappeared!”
“Yes! I searched and searched but it wasn’t there. I called up Amu and complained. I told him that if I couldn’t be with him, I would go back to Chandigarh and stay with Mummy and Papa. And if he came to India he could meet me there. I wasn’t ever coming back to his home.”
“Then?” Rajani twisted the charger cord around her finger.
“Then what?” Shikha giggled. “He came through. He called up his mother. I don’t know what he said to her but she came to my room and ‘miraculously’ found the folder in my drawer.”
“You mean…?” Rajani was shocked.
“Exactly! The old hag had filched it and now she slipped it back among my stuff. And then gave me an earful about how careless and blind I was. How I was out to create trouble between her and her precious son.”
“What did you say?”
“I didn’t say anything! Why should I? My purpose had been served. I had my ticket in hand. Besides, I didn’t want to give any ammunition to Biji. That’s what she wanted, for me to say something which she could report to Amu, him to get angry and tell me that he didn’t want me to come.”
“Oh he would have done that surely!” Rajani was aghast. “I am so glad you didn’t say anything!”
“Yeah. Even I am glad. In fact I didn’t even say anything to Amu when he accused me of being careless, forgetful and not looking properly before throwing a fit.”
“Wow!” Rajani was impressed. “He said all that and you didn’t say anything?”
“What?” Rajani asked.
But Rajani wasn’t fooled. “What?” She insisted.
“I said I was blinded by my love for him.” Shikha revealed.
“So filmy! Didn’t he laugh at you?” Rajani expressed her disbelief.
Shikha was up in arms. “No! Why should he? He melted like a slab of butter.”
“But why didn’t you tell him about his mother? That she was the culprit?”
“Why should I be the bad guy? My purpose was served wasn’t it? Calling his mom an evil witch is not going to serve any purpose!”
“But it’s not right! What she did was not fair. How can you digest this injustice? Are you going to let her get away with it?”
“All in good time Rajji. All in good time. All I care about is Amu and making him happy, which I will do by hook or by crook. Besides that witch knows she has lost her son to me and is just trying last ditch attempts to keep me in her control. Poor thing, I feel sorry for her. No matter how hard she tries, Amu wont let me be away from him a day longer than is necessary. He is really desperate!” Shikha giggled.
“What do you mean?”
“You know.” Shikha said coyly.
“No I don’t.”
“Uff please Rajji. Don’t act so dumb.”
“But I really don’t know what you mean.” Rajani insisted.
“It means Amu isn’t able to…to…sleep…just like me. Budhhoo!”
“But why?” Something wasn’t adding up that much Rajani could make out. But what it was exactly escaped her.
“Hey Bhagwan! Are you even married? Do you even know the facts of life?”
“I don’t understand what you are saying Shikhs!” Rajani whined.
“Oh forget it! Biji said I could go after a month. There were preparations to be made, cooking skills and homemaking tips to be given. But Amu put his foot down.” Shikha giggled. “If he could have his way he would have booked a ticket for tonight. But he settled for a week later.”
A week! Shika would fly off to the States and that would be the end of their two-decade friendship.
It wasn’t fair, Rajani railed silently, why did girls have to go away? Why did girls have to change their names? Why not boys? Why didn’t boys have to leave their friends, families, homes and cities?
But there were no answers. Only questions and more questions. Rajani withdrew into her shell and cut off whatever little relationship she had with her batch mates. A few of them tried, particularly Harry. But he was met with a cool detached response one that sent Harry packing.
Rajani isolated herself from her increasingly complicated unpredictable and unfathomable world.
She was alone but she wasn’t lonely.
She had found her succor, her true friend – academics. When phone calls came and pecked at her peace of mind, when she couldn’t sleep at night, when she thought the walls would cave in on her, crush her and she hoped that it would occur sooner than later, Mr Mathematics unfailingly rose to the occasion. She spent longer and longer hours with her books, shutting out the world. It was the worst of times, yet funnily enough it was also the exhilarating of times.