“What?” asked Rajani, her eyes bright with curiosity.
“You know my cousin?” Shikha pointed a finger as if he was behind her, “Oho, the one in the USA?”
“Yes.” Rajani nodded her head vigorously.
Shikha’s eyes were shining brightly, “Guess what he told me when he called to wish me?”
Rajani held her breath. “What?” her eyes too glittered with anticipatory excitement.
“He said that next month, Harry Potter’s new book The Goblet of Fire is coming out and,” Shikha took a deep breath, “he is going to bring me a copy when they come over for their summer vacations on the 15th of July.”
Rajani stared at her with mixed feelings – the new Harry Potter book! They had been waiting for it for over a year – the last one was already in tatters, she had read it so many times. She was the one who had forced Shikha to read – but it was Rajani who was the true Potter fan. She had pestered her older brother Abhishek to find out when the fourth Harry Potter was coming out
He had finally revealed that the book was scheduled for a worldwide release on 8th July 2000. But he couldn’t tell her whether the book would be available in India, that too in Chandigarh or when. But it seemed that Shikha was soon going to get a copy. But surely –
“You can read after I finish reading it,” Shikha offered generously.
Rajani swallowed and nodded brightly. “So exciting – I can’t wait to read about Harry again,” she wore a besotted expression. She leaned close to Shikha and whispered confidentially, “When I grow up, I am going to marry Harry.”
“No!” Shikha looked at her shocked. “I am going to marry him. You marry Ron.”
“Ron! No way,” shrieked Rajani, “just you wait, I will get you married to…to Neville Longbottom,” she said wildly.
“What!” Shikha jumped on her, “only if you marry Draco Malfoy…”
“Yech! Draco!! Vincent for you.” Rajani hit back. By now it was free for all in the back seat as they threw the choicest abuses at each other – Gregory! Pansy! Dudley Dursley – they both collapsed.
“Girls, girls!” Kirti admonished them, but in vain. They were too busy tickling, giggling and wrestling each other.
“Enough!” Mr Suri’s voice cracked across them. They hurriedly let go of each other –they took in each other’s appearance in dismay.
They were indeed a mess – especially Shikha. She sported a short hairstyle and her carefully waved and curled hair was standing up on end. Rajani fared a bit better because her mother had braided her hair rather tightly – still a few strands here and there escaped their confinement and hung loosely about her face.
“Hey Bhagwan! Just look at these little monsters – who will say they are girls? Everyone will think we have brought two boys, dressed up in girls’ clothes.” Kirti got out of the car and hurriedly tried to repair the damages, “This is the reason I told you to take pictures at the house,” she grumbled at her husband. “I knew they were going to mess it up sooner or later.”
Mr Suri just laughed. “Children will be children – girls or boys! Let them be, it’s their time, let them have fun. Come on inside, the party guests will be arriving anytime soon,” he hustled them inside.
Sure enough, the girls had begun to arrive. None of them wanted to miss a unique birthday party – it was not everyday that one got to attend a party outside home and that too with a magic show thrown in. In fact, Ritu had been so excited about her friend’s party that she had infected her younger sister, Trupti, as well, who insisted on accompanying her. No amounts of threats or coaxing could move her – she did the Kaikeyi act to perfection and her parents or Ritu had no choice but to give in and let her go as well. It was either that or make Ritu miss her party, which again was not an option.
The Suris had no problem, 20 girls or 21 how did it matter? They brushed away the embarrassed parents’ apologies, “Not at all, it’s our fault, we should have invited Trupti as well,” they assured graciously.
The party went off very well and the magic show was a big hit – especially when the magician cut up the girl. Trupti started crying and was quite inconsolable – until Ritu threatened to send her home (clearly the girl’s life wasn’t worth losing out on the rest of the party!).
It wasn’t quite clear how much of the magic show Rajani managed to watch – the magician had the habit of chanting his mantra ‘Gili abra gili dabra kadabra gili gili go’ in the most enchanting manner – but unfortunately it was also a very effective trigger for her attacks. So Rajani spent most of her time at the show giggling with her handkerchief stuffed into her mouth. No amount of frowns, hisses or elbow pokes from Shikha could stop her. Finally, Rajani banished herself to the end of the hall, where she sat giggling all by herself for most of the show.
It was the grandest funnest party ever.
But it could have gone horribly wrong for the Suris. No doubt there was no problem if there 20 girls for the party or 21, except when it came to return gifts. Mr Suri had had an exceptionally great business year (touching 5 crores) and this being a milestone year for his daughter as well (touching double digits for the first time) he had really pulled out all the stops for not only the party but also splurged on the return gifts. He had ordered 20 Barbie dolls for the invitees.
Invited or not, Trupti wasn’t leaving without her doll. Embarrassed, Ritu first offered to share her doll, but since she was adamant about having her own doll, Ritu gave it to Trupti. But Trupti was smart enough to know, at home Mom would surely make her share the doll – even if she knew how to win that war, she didn’t want to risk it, so she refused to take Ritu’s doll and insisted on her own return gift.
The Suris were in a quandary – these dolls had been especially ordered from Delhi and seven-year old Trupti was unlikely to settle for ‘later’. Where could they arrange for a Barbie doll at such a short notice? Which girl would willing give up her Barbie doll? Worse how could they ask anyone to do so?
Ultimately, there wasn’t any need – for Rajani stepped up and bit the bullet so to speak. “Here Trupti, take mine.” She held out her doll to Trupti who made a grab for it.
Peace and calm immediately descended on Trupti and by extension, all the partygoers. The Suris stared disbelievingly at Rajani.
Rajani smiled convincingly at Kirti and Lalit. “I am not that fond of dolls.” She dismissed airily. “I like chocolates better.” She grinned endearingly.
“Yes, yes of course beta!” A grateful Lalit Suri dumped a handful of chocolates into her hand, “Thank you sweetheart, we will make it up to you later,” he promised as he gave her a tight hug.
Rajani smiled angelically, “Mamma says, you always get what you really want. I wanted to take some chocolates home for Bhai, he really likes them, even more than me,” she confided. She paused. “He would have liked the magic show too.”
Lalit and Kirti exchanged rueful glances – in their excitement to make their daughter’s birthday special they had been remiss in not accounting for how it might impact the siblings of their guests. It just struck them that Trupti was probably just the tip of the iceberg.
“Next time, we will have a simple party at home,” murmured Lalit in an aside to Kirti, “and don’t forget to invite the siblings, especially if they are younger.”
Kirti nodded her head ruefully, “Yes, we misjudged the situation. Next time we should take care.” She assuaged her guilt by handing Rajani some more chocolates. “For Abhi,” she whispered in an aside.
Rajani smiled happily.
“Come let’s go home.”
At home, Abhishek, a strapping young boy with the faint beginnings of a beard and a faint mustache, looked at his watch perhaps for the nth time.
Just 5 pm
He was all alone and so very bored. Actually not really alone – Nisha was in the next room sleeping, while Suryakant was in the living room poring over a thick file of documents. And that meant Abhi couldn’t even watch TV, though he would have preferred to go out and play. But it was too hot to go out. Besides, hot or not, his playtime was strictly between 7 and 8 pm. If he was lucky – till 8.30 pm. These were the latest rules – Class 10 rules.
Ever since Abhi had stepped into Class 10 a few months ago, life, as he knew it, had undergone a sea change.
Abhi, as he was rather aptly called, was a happy-go-lucky sort of a chap. He lived very much in the ‘now’ on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis. All he wanted in life was to have a little fun, some friends, some masti and some gupshup. And indeed he had had all this – until as I said, just a couple of months ago. But since his entry into Class 10, his parents had begun to tighten the screws and it was beginning to hurt.
He felt as if he was chained to his study desk and the only time he was set free was when it was time to go to school. The rest of the time he was supposed to be at his study table – slogging it out for the medical entrance exams to be held two years down the line.
Summer vacations were on now, but there was no respite. If anything, the pressure was even more than ever before. At least during school days he got to go outside, hangout with friends, they even had a games period, he could bunk a class or two. But now, he was trapped in his room and forced to study – with a horde of tutors passing in and out of his room.
Why – because Papa had dreamt of becoming a doctor. But fate had willed otherwise. And now it was up to Abhi to fulfill that dream – regardless of his own dream.
His dream was to become a pilot – to fly the world, see the world from above, to touch the sky, to pierce the clouds – that was his dream.
He had shared his dream with his mother who had in turn had passed on the information to her husband. Suryakant had been quite unaccommodating to say the least.
“That boy will fly a plane? Does he know flying a plane is no child’s play? And does he think flying a plane doesn’t require him to study? Besides, it’s a very expensive course. I cannot afford it. Tell him.” His tone had brooked no argument.
Nisha had been kinder but nonetheless, she supported her husband’s decision. “What about us? Who will look after us while you fly all over the world? You are our only son. We need you to be with us. Doctor is such a respectable profession. It will make us both happy and proud. Your father has already started saving for the clinic he intends to open for you right here in Chandigarh. Beta, when you become a doctor and earn lots of money, you can go on any number of flights. Why do you have to fly a plane? You sit back and enjoy the flight, let somebody else take the headache of flying the plane.” His mother was relentless and he had given up in the face of her persistent nagging and father’s forbidding expression.
Perhaps if fate was kind enough, he wouldn’t clear the entrance exams – Abhi thought hopefully. He would then be free to following his calling.
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