“Come on tell us,” burst out Rajani, “Don’t stand there looking like as if you can’t decide if you have been handed a lottery ticket or thrust into a pit of hungry lions.” Rajani accurately surmised Shikha’s dazed expression.
“I am getting married,” Shikha squeaked, “next month!” and promptly burst into tears.
The girls’ fell upon her with shrieks of excitement and envy – except for Rajani.
“What! And you agreed? What about your Masters? Aren’t you going to complete it?” Rajani was aghast – this was her worst nightmare come true. Now her father would insist she get married too.
“Oh you spoilsport,” accused Trisha even as she dug her elbow into Shikha and said wickedly, “Who cares about Masters when it comes to the Master, right Shikha?” There was raucous laughter.
Rajani rolled her eyes and stamped her foot, “Oh you are such fools, all you can think of is slavery,” she tossed her head superiorly, “I never want to get married,” she declared haughtily.
“Liar!” pounced the girls.
Rajani flicked a glance at Shikha who wore a wild look; Rajani clamped down sternly on her own misgivings and shrugged casually, “Oh well,” her eyes twinkling a bit, “I just want to have a baby,” she leaned over to pick up a cushion and stuffed it up her T-shirt, “Oh look there’s my baby, she is going to come out soon and then she and I will have loads of fun, roam the world, eat junk food and see zillions of movies,” Rajani waddled and danced around the room clutching her ‘baby’ while the others giggled and shook their heads.
“Better watch out Shikha,” Keri warned her, “At the rate she is going she will attend your wedding with a baby.” She grinned wickedly. “Who knows she might steal your hubby dearest to provide a father for her darling baby,” she patted Rajani’s oversized tummy.
“Do you think I would do that to my best friend?” affronted, Rajani lunged at her and they collapsed in a heap on the couch – the poor ‘baby’ forgotten and quite mercilessly crushed out of shape.
“Behave yourselves!” It was the warden. She had slept off and woken up because of the racket. “The electricity is back you can to your rooms now.”
They shuffled off.
“I know Rajji,” Shikha shook her head, “I am too confused and stressed to think clearly. I’ll talk to Mummy properly tomorrow. Oh I do wish she hadn’t told me today.”
Rajani too wished Kirti had held off sharing the unsettling news. It was all too sudden and too much. By mutual consent, they didn’t talk about the impending wedding but attempted to focus on the upcoming exam. But even though they shut their books pretty early, sleep eluded them both.
The next day as they walked down to their college, Rajani looked dolefully at Shikha, “Are you really getting married next month? Is everything already fixed? You didn’t even tell me that things had progressed this far,” she said accusingly.
“Oh come on Rajji, as if I deliberately hid it from you,” protested Shikha. “It was a big surprise for me as well. A friend of a friend of Daddy saw my photo on FB. They are settled in the States and are coming over to India next month. They are keen get their son married in that time.” She shrugged. “I don’t even know anything about the guy.”
“And still you agreed?” said Rajani very upset. “Will you give up your studies, career, country, home, parents, friends, everything for this unknown man?” Rajani was almost in tears.
Shikha looked a bit dazed. “I don’t know what to do. I feel blank. I couldn’t sleep the whole night. I don’t know what I am going to write in the exam.”
“It won’t matter. Not for you at least, you are getting married.” Rajani was sour.
Shikha looked at her pleading. “Please don’t be like that. I really can’t think.”
“Then don’t.” Rajani was curt. “Hurry. We will be late.” She lengthened her strides. For the first time, Rajani forgot to be nervous about an exam.
As for Shikha, she had no idea what she wrote in the paper. She was glad it wasn’t the final exams she would have surely flunked – as would have Rajani.
“How was the exam?” Shikha asked Rajani.
“Yeah. So was mine.”
“So did you think what you are going to do?”
“What can I do? I am really mad at Daddy and Mummy. Daddy should have talked to me before saying said yes. And now if I back out without any reason there will a whole lot of gossip and brouhaha, which I don’t want. I cannot even wish for the boy to back out for that will mean more drama and gossip.” She shook Rajani who was wearing a mutinous expression. “You know how all this works don’t you? I have no choice but to accept their decision gracefully.”
“Gracefully my foot! I can see the ‘wedding’ bug has really bitten you,” Rajani pulled her arm away, “What about me? You know Papa allowed me to come to Bengaluru, so far away from Chandigarh just because you were coming here and your father assured him that you would keep an eye on me, and now if you go away, Papa is sure to call me back as well,” she blinked furiously and stalked off.
Unheeding of where she was walking Rajani bumped into Harry. “Hey what’s the matter?” Harry asked steadying her. “Even Shikha seems to be off. In fact, I have never seen her so upset. Or so curt and short.”
“Yeah right.” Rajani sniffed. “She’s on the seventh heaven of delight.”
Harry frowned. “Really?”
“Yeah. Her wedding has been fixed with an NRI.”
“That’s great news.” Harry smiled.
Rajani crossed her arms and looked into the distance.
“But you clearly don’t think so.” Harry said. “Come on Rajani. Don’t be so selfish. What do you want Shikha to do – remain unmarried till you don’t get married? Suppose you never get married? Besides you are the one hell bent on independence, a high flying career. Shikha was never hung up on a career was she?”
Rajani didn’t say anything.
“I think you should stop thinking about yourself and think about Shikha for a change. She has been a terrific friend and it’s time you returned the favor.”
Rajani reddened. “You don’t understand! If Shikha gets married, Papa will insist I get married too.”
“Well that’s your problem isn’t it? It’s time you started fighting your own battles. Shikha can’t always be your shield.”
Harry walked off.
Guilt flooded Rajani. Harry was right. She was being selfish. But her heart quailed at the thought of her friend going so far away. How would she cope?
“Hey Rajji, I am sorry.” Shikha came up to her.
Rajani teared up. “No Shikhs. I am sorry. I will miss you terribly.”
“I will too.” Even Shikha was in tears. “Don’t worry, I will ask Daddy to talk to your father to at least let you complete your Masters in Math’s. Then you can do Doctorate from Delhi University,” she put an arm around her friend’s shoulders, “You are so brilliant you will easily get in there,” she squeezed her encouragingly smiling down at her, “And then you can get your dream job of a lecturer in DU and teach Math’s to all the youngsters, although,” she wrinkled her nose and said teasingly, “I can’t imagine anyone calling you Madam, you look such a baby.”
Rajani glared at her but relented. “Oh I will really miss you,” she sighed, “After being together since nursery, literally living in each others pockets to live so far apart,” she choked feeling all emotional and teary.
“Come on don’t be like that,” exhorted Shikha determinedly, “We will still be in touch, there’s email and stuff, easy to keep in touch these days,” her eyes suspiciously bright.
Rajani scuffed her shoe and muttered, “It won’t be the same,” already feeling lost and lonely. She had never done anything, been anywhere without Shikha – they were almost as close as sisters, they had never felt the need to make other friends – at least Rajani hadn’t. Shikha made friends easily and would adjust quickly to a whole new world in the States whilst she – Rajani swallowed and looked away.
“Hey come on, I am starving.” Shikha pulled her along. “Let’s make the most of now.”
End of Part 1: Sugar and Spice.
Click here for Part 2: Derailed - Chapter 107: The Bombshell