Rocky’s joint just outside the hostel was a bit crowded with couples especially since it was a Saturday evening. It took Rajani a bit of maneuvering and tricky silent eye conversations with her ‘contacts’ present at the cafe before she could secure a place for both of them.
Harsha sat down with a thump on the rickety chair and almost fell over – it was all Rajani could do not to burst into one of her famed (or rather ill-famed) giggling fits. As it was, her eyes teared up, her nostrils quivered and her lips trembled alarmingly as she caught the comical expression of her classmate who had kindly vacated the seat for them.
“What a dump,” grunted Harsha.
Instantly Rajani was up in arms, she clenched her fists but said evenly enough, “The grass is a bit soggy that’s why.” She trailed off – why should I bother to explain, let him think what he wants, she huffed to herself.
Harsha looked around disparagingly. “I meant to take you out for dinner, but the rules are very strict, you can’t go out with any male other than a relative I believe,” he intoned.
“No, I could have gone out. Papa has already spoken to the warden, she would have let me go,” Rajani looked at him. “Would you…?”
“No no, too late now,” Harsha looked at his watch, “Already six-thirty pm and I don’t know any good eating joint…”
“I know,” Rajani interrupted brightly, “quite a few good places nearby, quiet classy places we can talk in peace,” she hinted glaring ferociously at her classmates who were openly goggling at them. Thank God Harry wasn’t here. Or Girish. Or… But anyone could pop in any minute. She crossed her fingers and prayed hard – Please Bhagwanji let him agree to go elsewhere!
“Maybe some other time,” he dismissed her suggestion, “So tell me about you,” he said.
Please Bhagwanji at least don’t let anyone come here!
Rajani shrugged, “What’s there to tell, I am sure Mummy and Papa would have told you,” she sighed. “I don’t know anything about you so you go first.”
“Well,” he toyed with his can of Coke, “I am a Delhi guy, our family is in the import-export business, my mother is a housewife and I have a younger sister, Rekha, who is married.”
Rajani took a sip of her drink and plunged right in. “Is Rekha working?”
“No,” he shook his head, “But before she got married, she was working in a school.”
“I plan to complete my Masters and then do PhD, take up a teaching job regardless of whether I am married or not.” Rajani kind of threw it in his face.
Harsha looked at her mildly through his glasses. “I didn’t say I had any objections.”
Her primary concern addressed, Rajani was quick to apologize. “I am sorry, I didn’t mean…”
“It’s ok.” Harsha brushed aside her apology. “Ritu told us that you are quite brilliant in studies,” he laughed self-deprecatingly, “Unlike me, I was always an average student and just about managed to complete graduation in commerce. If we didn’t have the family business, I don’t know what I would have done,” he confessed.
Something deep inside Rajani relaxed, she warmed up to him – if he could be so frank about his shortcomings he couldn’t be so bad could he?
“Oh I am sure you would have managed just fine, after all running a business is no walk in the park,” she smiled her first real smile at him.
“True,” he accepted her compliment in a matter-of-fact manner. “Why Maths honors Miss Rajani?” Harsha asked like an interviewer hiring a potential employee.
Rajani shrugged, “I like Maths.”
“It’s good to know that you like Maths,” his lips parted in a grimace, “I can expect you to keep a proper record of our monthly expenses.”
Haha joke thought Rajani. The kinship of just a moment ago faded, leaving her feeling a bit demeaned – maybe she should buy the munimji kind spectacles she thought sourly.
“But what kind of a job can you get after doing Masters in Maths?” he asked.
Rajani sat up straight, “I don’t want to do a job after Masters, I want to do PhD and then teach Maths,” she paused, “I did tell you just a little while ago,” she said a bit accusingly.
“Ah yes,” Harsha adjusted his glasses, “So you want to take up a school job? Better do B.Ed, maybe straight after M.Sc why waste time in PhD?”
Rajani glared at him. “I want to teach college level maths not school level,” she sniffed in a rather superior manner.
To her surprise, Harsha threw back his head and laughed – a rich full-throated laughter that caught at her heart. “But you are such a baby!” he exclaimed his eyes warm and bright. “Teach college students? They will rag you no end,” he teased, “better go for primary school maths for anybody older than that would never listen to you and for that you definitely don’t need a PhD!”
Rajani, who did look like a seventh-grader, couldn’t in all honesty protest or object to his comment. “I’ll wear a sari and do up my hair, wear heels and put make-up besides by the time I finish my PhD I will look older,” she promised.
“Oh but I like the way you look,” Harsha protested, “So young, sweet and innocent. I don’t want the boisterous college boys to chew you up in class! Besides who knows, some dashing young guy may steal you away from the decrepit senile old me,” he said mournfully.
Rajani blushed. “You aren’t that old or decrepit,” she said stiltedly feeling constrained to repudiate his self-deprecation, “You are just 30.”
“Who is also balding and running to fat,” he ruefully completed.
“And I am short and dark,” Rajani retaliated.
“I know,” said Harsha. “Ritu told me.” Rajani flinched. “But you are just the right height for me. Don’t bother buying any heels in the trousseau,” he cautioned, “I don’t want you towering over me,” he paused, “have you tried ‘Fair and Lovely?’ I believe it works wonders on darker skin tones or maybe you can try bleach,” he said vaguely.
Sudden tears choked Rajani, “Sure,” mortified she mumbled.
Click here for Chapter 117: Not Bad