In the afternoon, Nisha prudently made sure Rajani had no scope to go back to the Mahabharata.
“Rani, next week is Rakhi. Why don’t you make something for your brother?”
“Rakhi?” Rajani was excited. “Bhai will give me a gift right?”
“Yes. But you can make a card or some gift like pen stand or something they have taught you in art and craft class?”
Rajani happily dug out her box of knick-knacks and other carefully collected material. “Yes, I will make something special for Bhai.”
Nisha heaved a sigh of relief as Rajani was preoccupied the whole afternoon and most of Sunday as well.
“Mamma,” Rajani sighed happily as she changed for the night, “it is nice, isn’t it, the pen stand? Even Papa said so.”
“Yes dear it is nice.” Nisha smiled at her.
“I wish I could show it to Bhai. Rakhi is so far away.”
“It’s not that far. Have some patience dear. Learn to enjoy the anticipation of a good thing. Once it comes it will get over right?”
Rajani nodded and got into bed. She lay down. “Mamma, I decided that I will not have a baby without marrying. I don’t want to go to jail.”
Nisha mentally rolled her eyes – not again.
“That’s the right decision dear.”
Rajani giggled. “Besides, I want to marry Harry Potter.” She sat up. “But you know Mamma, even Shikha wants to marry him. And Ruchi, and Seema…”
“Bas, bas, why this sudden preoccupation with marriage?”
“Shikha’s Dadiji was saying that we would soon have to get married and go away…”
“Yes but there’s loads of time still, first you study, get a job, earn money and then you can get married.”
“I don’t want to do a job. I want to become a doctor.”
“Yes sweetie.” Nisha laughed and caressed her. “The point is to earn your own money. You should never have to hold out your hand to someone else and ask for money.” There was an undercurrent of bitterness in Nisha’s voice, which Rajani caught. “Mamma…?”
“Enough, now go to sleep,” Nisha brushed away the question in her eyes, “sweet dreams.”
Rajani was in a hospital, she was wearing a white coat, a stethoscope around her neck – handing out medicines and giving injections. Patients crowded her, she couldn’t breathe, she pushed and shoved but to no avail, she was suffocating, sinking, dying – Out of nowhere, Harry came flying on his broomstick and picked her up from amongst the crowd of patients who had somehow turned into the girls of her class. Even Shikha was there; shouting, crying, ‘Rani, how can you do this to us Rani, traitor, cheater Rani, Rani, wake up…”
“What happened, were you dreaming?”
Rajani smiled and stretched but held her tongue. Morning dreams did come true but only if they weren’t shared.
Rajani waited impatiently for Shikha to come back. She couldn’t wait to show off the pen stand she had made. She had been so pleased with it that she had even bought a pen with her own money. She had made a card also.
“Wow, very nice Rajji.” Shikha was properly appreciative and envious. After all she didn’t have a brother.
“Never mind you can share my brother and the gift,” Rajani offered generously and then immediately backtracked. “No! Better you don’t tie a Rakhi to Bhai.”
Shikha was disappointed. “Why not? Last year you wanted me to tie but I wasn’t here. And this year, I am here but you…”
“Oho buddhu,” Rajani smacked her forehead, “it’s a good thing that you didn’t tie a Rakhi to Bhai. If you did, you wouldn’t be able to marry him when you grow up,” she smiled at her friend.
Shikha frowned. “But I am going to marry Harry.”
“No, no I am going to marry Harry and you will marry Bhai and we will all live together happily ever after.” Rajani clapped her hands.
Shikha was not quite as happy with the arrangement. “How will we live together? You will go away with Harry while I stay here.” She waved a disparaging hand towards Rajani’s house.
“But what can we do?” Rajani was at her reasonable best. “If you had a brother, I would have married him and I would have stayed at your home. But since you don’t, I have no choice but to marry Harry…”
Shikha thrust her face into Rajani’s and yelled, “No! I will marry Harry!” she burst into tears and ran off home.
Rajani tossed her plaits and put her nose in the air. Miss Cry Baby – why does she have to win always? I am not going to give in this time.
“Why was Shikha crying?” Nisha asked.
“I don’t know.” Rajani shrugged, uncaring.
“Did you say something to her?”
“Hmm. Now read something quietly. Don’t go around disturbing Abhi. He is studying.”
Rajani puttered about the house but she was lonely. She wrestled with herself – Shikha or Harry, Harry or Shikha?
“Mamma, can I go to Shikha’s house?”
“Hmm, wait a bit I will see you off from the gate.”
“Shikha.” Rajani called softly.
Shikha turned her back and wiped her face.
“Shikha dear, at least talk to your friend. See, at least she has come over to make amends. Go on in dear,” Kirti pushed Rajani inside.
“Shikha.” Rajani called her again.
But Shikha continued to sniffle.
“What happened?” Kirti asked curiously. “She has been crying like this ever since she came back from your home. Did you to two fight?”
Rajani pleated the edge of her frock. “Shikha.” She reached out and poked her but she jerked her away, sobbing loudly.
“What happened? Will somebody tell me please?”
“We…we fought over Harry.”
“Harry?” Kirti was all at sea. “Who’s Harry?”
“Oho Aunty, you don’t know Harry Potter?”
“Oh Harry Potter. Ok. But what was the fight about?”
“We both want to marry Harry.” Rajani revealed reluctantly, sure that Kirti would support her daughter’s candidature. Shikha too stopped sobbing and looked up expectantly at her mother – now justice would be served.
“You both want to marry Harry?” Kirti repeated in surprise. And then to their horror, she burst into laughter. They stared at each other in consternation. “Mummy! Why are you laughing? Mummy?” Shikha shook her.
“Best friends fighting over Harry Potter who doesn’t even exist.” She wiped her eyes. “Isn’t it hilarious?”
The girls couldn’t be more shocked. “Mummy, Aunty!” they yelled simultaneously. Shikha jumped and pushed her mother. Rajani dearly wished she too could join in. “Harry is real!” screeched Shikha. “Mummy, say you were joking.” Shikha was ready to throw another tantrum.
“Yes, yes of course I was joking. I only said that to bring you two together on the same page.” Kirti congratulated herself on some smart thinking. “Now shake hands and stop fighting. I will bring something to eat and drink.” She walked away – phew that was close.
The moment Kirti left, Shikha glared and crossed her arms. She looked away mutinously.
“Shikha let’s not fight over Harry. You can marry him if you wish.” Rajani wore a brave martyred look.
Shikha threw a suspicious glance at Rajani through the corner of her eyes. “Promise?”
Relieved to find her friend talking to her again Rajani nodded her head vigorously. “Yes pucca promise.”
“So whom will you marry?” Shikha was now all bright-eyed eagerness a relieved Kirti noted as she entered with two glasses of lassi.
“I won’t get married ever.” Rajani took a big gulp of the sweet lassi and her pain eased.
Shikha stared at her worried. “Not get married ever! But then…”
“No,” Rajani raised a hand, “my mind is made up. I shall serve the poor and the downtrodden.” She wore a long-suffering look. “Like Mother Teresa.” Shikha stared at her goggle eyed. Rajani picked up the towel lying on the bed and wound it about her head. Wearing a pious look, she smiled angelically at Shikha.
Shikha put up her hand to stifle her giggles.
“I will wear Harry’s picture in a locket around my neck.”
Shikha frowned a bit and then shrugged. “Okay,” she was feeling generous.
Rajani eyes danced with mischief. “But Shikha you have to promise me something.”
“What.” Shikha was instantly suspicious.
“You will welcome me with open arms like Kunti welcomed Madri…”
Shikha frowned confused, “Kunti welcomed…” the penny dropped and she jumped on Rajani with a yell. They both fell on the bed – shouts, screams and gurgles rent the air.
Finally they arrived at a consensus – they would allow Harry to make the decision. But no Kunti Madri stuff, for neither of them wanted to go to jail. That sorted, they were the best of friends once again.
Rakhi was a happy occasion and Abhi was properly appreciative of his sister’s creative efforts. He put all his pens and pencils into the pen stand and Rajani was overwhelmed with joy and pride. Plus, there was a gift for Rajani (Nisha had bought it of course – a book, on General knowledge) and loads to eat.
Unwilling to take chances, Shikha turned up uninvited, to tie a Rakhi to Abhi. Feeling generous (and confident) Rajani made no objections.
Soon, Diwali was upon them and Shikha was terribly excited.
“Look what I got Rajji,” she tinkled her brand new cycle bell from the gate.
“Oh!” Rajani stared enviously. “It’s gorgeous.” She drooled all over the red bike.
“Yes isn’t it? I had to nag Papa a lot before he agreed. Now I need to learn how to ride it. See,” she got off to a wobbly but safe start, as the trainer wheels held up.
“Very good Shikha, go on go faster. But see, I can run faster than you cycle.” Rajani mocked her.
Trying to keep pace with Rajani, Shikha recklessly pedaled faster and took the corner too soon – wham she fell over. “Ouch.” Shikha scrapped her elbow and knee.
“Oho sorry sorry.” Rajani was all solicitous concern. “I shouldn’t have raced you. Come let me put some medicine on the cuts. It will be fine soon. I remember Bhai also hurt himself while learning to ride.” She consoled her downcast friend.
“Mamma, I also want a new cycle.” Rajani wasted no time in placing her request.
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