The next few days were quite painful for Rajani. Her arm was swollen and red and since it was her right arm, she couldn’t even write. Hence she couldn’t go to school either and her ambitions of grabbing the limelight too faded. Then she had fever, injections, big fat tablets, nausea etc followed – so as you can see a very depressing state of affairs. When she was well enough to come out, the sight of Shikha pedaling furiously – that too minus the training wheels – whaaaaa. She went right back inside and moped silently to her heart’s discontent.
Life limped back to normalcy – the fever and the swelling came down, Rajani resumed school – and running behind Shikha, panting and yelling.
It was over the weekend that magic happened.
That Saturday, Suryakant brought a brand new pink bike for her –complete with bell, basket and trainer wheels. Rajani thought she had died and gone to heaven.
“For me? For me Papa? Pucca for me?” she fearfully caressed the shiny sleek lines of the bike – what if it was a figment of her imagination? What if it disappeared?
Suryakant laughed and patted her. “Yes beta, yes, it’s for you. Who else can ride such a small bike?”
Rajani threw her arms around her father’s waist and didn’t even wince when she scrapped her still to heal wound against his side. “Thank you Papa thank you!” she gushed. “You are the best Papa in the whole world.”
“Achcha achcha ok ok. Now let me freshen up will you.” Suryakant disentangled himself after a final pat at Rajani.
Rajani looked at her mother who was smiling. “See Mamma, Papa bought the bike for me! I knew he would. If only I had asked him in the beginning only,” she said a bit reproachfully.
Nisha’s smile faltered a bit. She recovered and pinched her cheeks. “Yes Rani.”
After all Nisha couldn’t tell her what exactly had transpired in the previous week. That it was not ‘love’ but shame that had convinced Suryakant to purchase the bike. It wasn’t as if Nisha hadn’t spoken to her husband earlier about Shikha’s new bike and Rajani’s desire for one.
As expected, Suryakant had thrown a fit. “What nonsense is this Nisha? You know we can’t match the Suris. What if he buys his daughter a Mercedes? Then will you ask me to buy one for Rani as well?”
“Yes, I know. I told her exactly that. In fact, I refused her. She understands and won’t pester you. But I thought that perhaps, if it is not too much of an expense…”
“Of course it is too much of a wasteful expense. What will she do learning how to ride a bike? Will her in-laws allow her to ride a bike? Frivolous nonsense.” He fumed.
Chastened, Nisha had backed off.
He had remained adamant when Rajani began her nautanki with the big bike despite having seen first hand how desperate she really was to ride a bike. “Just a passing phase,” he dismissed airily to his wife who was a bit worried about Rajani’s cycling obsession. “Let her try her hand, no harm in it. She will soon realize that it’s not possible for her to learn to ride the adult bike. By that time school will restart and that will be that.”
But then the accident happened – in full public view. Several well- wishers gathered around and freely passed their suggestions and opinions on to Mr Ahuja.
“Ahujaji, the accident could have been very serious. What if she had broken a bone? What if there is a permanent scar? You know these things can really have an impact at the time of marriage. She should have a bike of her size, not this full sized bike.”
“Yes, yes, exactly Mr Singh.” Suryakant responded heartily. “I was planning to buy her a bike. It’s just that I was so busy, that I didn’t get time to buy. You know office work, festival season. I told her to wait. But you know how children are.” He shook his head. “Though I am worried, what if she hurts herself with the other bike as well?” he waved his hands, “broken bones and worse, ugly scars. Remember how much we hurt ourselves when we learned to ride the bike in our time?” He laughed heartily and proudly showed off his scarred knees.
“Oho Mr Ahuja, you are fussing unnecessarily. In our times, we had no training wheels and we also learnt on over-sized bikes – hurts and scrapes were mandatory. But with these new bikes, they are extra light and the training wheels are a big help. They don’t even need much assistance. Just a day or two and they are experts. Just look at my Shikha,” said Mr Suri. “Waise the girls can share the same bike, there is no need to buy another bike. Wait, I will tell Shikha, Shikha,” he raised his voice.
“No, no,” Mr Ahuja interrupted urgently, “that is not an issue at all. I told you I intended to buy all along, but yes I was a bit skeptical about injuries and scars, but if you say risk in minimal, then no problem. I will book a bike for Rajani today itself. Though I guess she won’t be riding one for quite a few days for now.” They had laughed heartily.
“Yes yes, how can you prove you know how to ride a bike, but for a few scars. But for a girl it’s different. One can’t be too careful.” Mr Singh cautioned. They all nodded their heads portentously.
And that was how Rajani got her dream bike.
But ignorance is bliss and Rajani was on the seventh heaven of delight – she dreamed she was riding her pink bike wearing her pink frock and an enormous pink flower band on her head on the clouds. Best was she could ride without needing to use her hands, she could just cycle on and on and on – until the alarm rang.
The next few days were torturous – of a different kind. Her mother wouldn’t let her ride till her wound had healed completely. Then it rained heavily. The field was muddy and squishy, even Shikha the expert biker got stuck and fell over. That of course triggered a major attack – she laughed so much that she was in danger of being disowned as a friend by Shikha. But Rajani apologized very gracefully and sincerely before being consumed by another fit of giggles. This time Shikha gave in and joined in.
Finally the day arrived when Rajani was allowed to ride on her brand new cycle. It was the high point of her young life – a close second to Harry Potter book – well maybe a tie (actually all time chartbuster but she didn’t want to admit it out of loyalty and fear of offending her future husband). Shikha was a true friend and gave her tips and shouted instructions from the sidelines or while cycling alongside her. Within a week, Rajani had found her balance and the two girls could often be seen cycling on the front lawn, racing each other, laughing and screaming. Could the other children of the colony be unaffected? Soon the front strip was overcrowded with budding cyclists. Finally the mothers gave in and took turns to take the girls to the bigger playing field a little distance away. They grumbled and fussed. But to tell the truth, they enjoyed their time out in the sun with no pressure to attend to the never-ending pile of housework that beckoned from all corners of the house.
The weather had changed – the days were short and cold. Winter vacations were over in a blink and the mornings were a nightmare – for the children and even more so for mothers. They had to get up even earlier to prepare breakfast and tiffin.
“Rani, Rani, get up it’s past 7 O’clock, hurry.” Nisha whispered.
“Mamma, it’s so cold. Why are winter vacations so short?” Rajani grumbled as she snuggled inside her cozy bed.
“Shh, you’ll wake your father. Come into the living room.”
“Mamma, please just 5 minutes more please.”
“Rajani.” Nisha hissed and threw off the covers.
“Shhh!” Nisha heaved the little girl into her arms and carried her out of the room. She shut the door carefully and then put her down on the mat near the washbasin in one corner. “Here, brush your teeth. She handed the toothbrush and towel. “And don’t make a racket.” She cautioned as she opened Abhi’s room. “Abhi, are you done with your bath dear?” she called softly.
“Almost,” he called.
“Okay your breakfast is on the table beta. Come out when you have changed.” She shut the door to his room.
“The water is freezing Mamma.” Rajani squealed as she touched the tap water.
“Shhh Papa is sleeping,” she hissed. “Leave that. Use the water in the mug – that’s warm. And hurry up. Here wear your slippers.”
Nisha took away the towel and wiped her face and hands.
“There now, drink your milk. Come on hurry up.”
“It’s hot.” Rajani sipped slowly at her milk. “Mamma, can I cut my hair?”
Nisha stared. “What is this new drama? That too so early in the morning?”
“No drama Mamma.” Rajani shook her head vigorously. “Do you know Shikha wakes up 20 minutes later than me. Do you know why?”
Nisha rolled her eyes.
“It’s because she has short hair. It just takes one minute to brush her curls. But because of my hair I have to get up so early.”
“Stop this nonsense Rani.” Nisha admonished sternly. “Drink up your milk. Your father would never allow it, so don’t waste any more time okay? Look at your brother. See there he is, ready without any fuss.” She smiled affectionately at him. “Come sit beta. Have your breakfast. Come Rani time for your bath.”
“Mamma, Shikha has a bath when she comes back from school. Why can’t I have a bath then?”
“Uff Rani, Shikha this Shikha that. Stop it now. You know why she can get up later than you?” Nisha hustled Rajani to Abhi’s room. “Because she doesn’t jabber so much. Chatter, chatter.” Rajani’s teeth did begin to chatter as her mother pulled off her sweater and pushed her inside the washroom. “Come on now hurry up.”
She rushed off to the kitchen.
“Rani, aren’t you done yet? Hurry.” And so it went on till Rani emerged all wet and shivering in her towel. Nisha grabbed hold of her and gave her a thorough scrub before beginning to layer her. In summers, it took precisely 7 minutes to get into her uniform, including lacing her shoes (not like Abhi who just stuffed his feet into his shoes, regardless of their laced/unlaced/knotted status). But in winters, it took her twice the time, that too with Nisha’s help.
“Oh Mamma, I really should get a hair cut. All this combing and braiding really takes time.”
“But dear you have such beautiful long hair.”
“I don’t care. Everybody in school has short hair. Only I have long hair.”
“Your father won’t allow it beta. In any case, I am taking care of it, what is your problem?”
“I like short hair Mamma. Shikha’s curls look so cool and pretty.”
“Never mind. When you get married, if your husband gives permission, you can go bald if you wish.” Nisha pulled the woolen cap firmly over Rajani’s head. “Come on now hurry up. As usual, there is no time for breakfast. Learn something from your brother. Such a good boy. Here take this paratha roll. Eat it on the bus. Abhi hold Rani’s hand. Be careful don’t let her leave your hand. Okay bye.” She waved and stood by the gate shivering until they turned the corner.
“Mamma!” They had turned back.
“Oh!” Nisha dashed back inside and came rushing out with Rajani’s water bottle. They met half way where the baton – errr – bottle changed hands.
Nisha slowly walked back in and heaved a huge sigh as she sank into the nearest chair. Mornings were a blur of activity, and winter mornings even so. She wished she could crawl back into bed for some rest and warmth, but the day was just beginning and another never-ending obstacle race awaited her.
Thud! The newspaper hit their porch. She sat, catching her breath, until the doorbell rang – it was the milkman.
Break over, Nisha got up and began the drill all over again.
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