“Ahh but,” Rajani’s nostrils flared and her eyes began dancing, “you aren’t anywhere near as handsome as he is!”
Shikha glared at her before bursting into laughter. “Fine! Go and drink coffee with your handsome daku! I am surprised you like him so much – just give him a mustache and some kajal and he will be like the most wanted dakus of all times.”
“Yeah well,” Rajani fiddled with her plait, “to tell the truth, even I didn’t know what I like about him so much. I think it’s just the adventure without any risk involved. I mean what can happen over coffee right? That too right in the middle of the festival?”
“I suppose.” Shikha conceded reluctantly. “What are you going to wear?”
“Exactly what I was wondering. And my hair, do you think I should wash it?”
“Yes of course! Wash it and leave it open. And wear the dress Bhai bought for you.”
“Oh yes! I had forgotten about it. Oh Shikhs you are such a good friend.”
“Yep! Lucky you! Now go and wash your hair. It won’t dry so fast you know?”
“Let me help with the posters, then I will go.” They had a bit of a tussle but Rajani won this battle too.
Happier and at peace, the girls worked quickly and efficiently. In no time they were done and now it was time for some personal seva 😉
Rajani bullied Shikha into also pampering herself and decking up. “Why me?” Shikha protested.
“Why not? You could have coffee with Rohan?”
Shikha rolled her eyes. “Yeah right.” But she didn’t put up too much of a fuss after that. Dressing up is a rather infectious business isn’t it? 😉
Freshly scrubbed, combed, dressed and made up, the girls stepped out into the big bad world of Collage.
“Have fun!” Shikha whispered excitedly to Rajani.
“Be back before midnight, before the magic fades.” Shikha cautioned. “Go! Your Daku waits.” She disappeared into the crowd to avoid having to play haddi.
“Hello Rajani. You look great!” The admiration in his eyes was unmistakable.
Rajani flushed with pleasure. “Thank you.”
“Come let’s have coffee. Or,” he paused, “could we see some of the events first?”
Rajani hesitated. Just a coffee was the deal. But then what was the harm? “Sure.” She smiled. “The dance competition is bound to be fun.”
“Yeah but I was more interested in the JAM session.”
“Just a minute – contestants have to speak impromptu on a topic for a minute without repeating themselves. It’s great fun. Want to see? Dance you can see on TV any day.” He added.
Skeptical but not wanting to be unaccommodating, Rajani acquiesced.
To Rajani’s surprise the hall where the JAM session was being held was jam-packed. They managed to squeeze into one corner and Rajani was conscious of being crushed close to Manu. It was not a particularly unpleasant sensation though she did feel as if the entire crowd’s disapproving (and knowing looks) were directed towards her. It was too crowded to make out if Shikha was there. Or Harry. Or…
There was a burst of applause as the participants filed on to the dais. Relieved, Rajani joined in enthusiastically. “Now the fun begins.” Manu bent down to whisper in her ears.
Rajani nodded though her heart thudded madly and her hands were clammy. She wondered if she should leave but then that would be churlish of her. Not to mention childish. But when had that stopped her? She made to move but Manu’s hands settled on her shoulders. She froze but he was busy laughing. “Oh isn’t that funny?”
“Just listen to them.”
With an effort, Rajani redirected her attention to the stage and was instantly distracted. She forgot herself and was part of the crowd – after all laughter was her specialty. She laughed, swayed and doubled over one with the crowd as the participants fumbled, messed up and gave hilarious, outlandish declamations. And for once she didn’t have to hide her laughter – she gave into the moment and let it all out without fear.
“Oh this was great fun!” Rajani laughed up at Manu wiping her eyes, “but I am glad it’s over.”
“My stomach muscles are aching! I have never laughed so hard in my life. And nobody shushed me either.”
“People shush you when you laugh?”
“Yes. I have this unfortunate habit of giggling at the most inopportune moments.”
“Really? How cute.” Rajani blushed and was happy to push her way out of the crowd as the event wrapped up.
But the coffee joint was overcrowded and near riotous with a horde of students jostling and shoving.
“Let’s go somewhere else.” Manu steered her away.
“Somewhere else? But where?” Rajani dragged her feet.
“There’s a chaiwala just outside the campus. I believe he makes really awesome kadak adrak chai. Actually I am not very fond of coffee. Unless you want to have…?”
“No, no,” Rajani rushed to disclaim. “Even I prefer tea but I am not too sure about going outside the campus.” She confessed with visions of her Papa and Shikha thrashing her.
“No problem!” Manu smiled. “You stay inside. I will go out and bring the chai in. That would be okay?” Rajani nodded, albeit reluctantly. He was being so considerate how could she be so ill mannered as to refuse?
“Great! Come along then. You can show me your campus on the way.”
Rajani frowned. “I am willing to bet you know the campus better than I do!”
Manu threw back his head and laughed. “If you are talking about the chai-wala, you are wrong because that is outside the campus!” His wicked triumphant grin wasn’t good for her heart or tummy. She felt nauseous and faint. His expression changed. “You have such lovely hair! Why do you keep it tied up?”
Rajani cheeks grew hot. She mumbled incoherently. She suddenly realized that the crowd around them had thinned and they were still some distance away from the gate. “I think it will be too late. Never mind the tea or coffee. I think I should head back to the hostel.”
“Just another 5 minutes walk.” He coaxed. “Look that stone ledge over there? You sit there I will get the chai. Won’t take more than 5 minutes.” He made sure she was seated before making off at a run.
Rajani sat for considerably longer than 5 minutes. It was a secluded place and the Sun was beginning to set. She felt restless and antsy. Relax! He’s not even here! What can he do? But still why was he taking so long? Should she leave? It had been over 13 minutes. How long could she wait? And what would she say to Shikha? She would surely chew her head off. Besides, she was beginning to feel hungry. Enough was enough. She would leave. But how embarrassing to have him call out from behind just as she left? No. She would text him and say that she had to leave. Feeling better, she began texting him.
“Hi!” Manu was there holding two cups of tea and she could smell pakoras.
Rajani swallowed. “Pakoras?”
“Yes! Hot pakoras and samosas! Can you believe it? He was frying them just as I reached. I couldn’t resist so I hung around for some more time. I hope you aren’t mad or anything.”
Up next Chapter 102: A Damp Squib