All too soon it was time for the exams. In deference to Abhi’s class X board exams, the Ahujas desisted from any sort of social activity – not that they were very social, but still.
A heavy silence hung upon the Ahuja home – except for the occasional clash of pots and pans, and of course the pressure cooker. Rajani was very grateful for these reassuring and familiar sounds – not only did it mean that food was on the way but also that her hearing was unaffected. Unable to bear the air of suffocating silence she would sometimes escape to Shikha’s house, ostensibly to study. Of course they did study, but over there the atmosphere was a bit more chilled out and not as if it were a life and death situation.
Rajani could faintly fathom her brother’s state – to have to do this relentlessly for two whole years. Worse than fasting for one day – at least one got to make and do lovely things on Shri Krishna birthday – go to the temple, see the decorations and the scenes of baby Krishna’s birth, eat delicious goodies in the middle of the night.
But here it was days on end!
“Mamma,” Rajani whispered, “how does Bhai study so much. And he doesn’t even speak.”
“It’s not easy to do well in exams or to become a doctor. You have to study really hard. See and learn from your brother. If you want to become a doctor, you will have to study hard like this.” Nisha looked at Rajani speculatively. “Well actually, if you study hard from now itself, you wont need to study so much in such a short time. You know what they say right? Slow and steady wins the race. So begin to study seriously now. And you won’t have too much difficulty later.”
Rajani chewed over these words of wisdom and discussed them with her friend as well.
“Shikha, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Want to be?” Shikha looked at her blankly. “Shikha what else buddhu?”
“Oho, I meant what job will you do?”
“Job?” Shikha looked at her guiltily. “I did think I would become a doctor like you, but…”
Shikha made a face. “Seeing Bhai, I am really scared. I can’t study so much! I will go mad.”
Rajani nodded reluctantly. “Ye…es. But I have to be a doctor. Papa would be so happy. So I will study hard; harder than Bhai.” She wore a determined look. “I will become a doctor, make Papa happy, earn lots of money and then buy as many books as I like!”
Shikha shook her head. “I am not sure I want to go out and work. Look at Daddy he is always too tired to go shopping. Just imagine being too tired to go shopping!” she shuddered. “Dadi was right. Girls should get married, stay at home, look after the children, have Kitty parties, go shopping, and see movies.”
Rajani looked at her disbelievingly. “Did Dadi say that as well?”
Shikha giggled and shook her head. “Mummy does that.” She defended herself.
“Cheee, so boring.” Rajani wrinkled her nose. “Well maybe see movies,” she allowed, “but I want to be a doctor. A children’s doctor. I love babies.”
“Children’s doctor! They are so icky.” Shikha shuddered in disgust. “They can do anything anywhere, especially sick babies. And they cry so much.”
“I don’t care,” declared Rajani firmly. “I am going to be a ped…ped, a baby’s doctor and make them well again. They will all smile and gurgle when they see me,” she wore a faraway beatific expression (and a halo:P).
Shikha shook her head. “I also love babies. But I am going to get married and have babies of my own. They will smile and gurgle when they see me.” She cast Rajani a mischievous look. “When they are sick and dirty, I will send them to you.”
Rajani glared at her and then giggled. “Fine.” She waved her hand grandly. “And I wont charge you any fees either.” Excited, they dug out the ‘doctor set’ and began playing their favorite doctor patient game which mainly involved Rajani giving Shikha big fat injections (after the mandatory check up with the stethoscope of course) and Shikha screaming and wailing at the top of her voice enough to wake the dead. Well versed with their activities, Kirti turned a deaf ear to all these proceedings and just turned up the volume of the TV.
Bored, they discarded their game and fell back to the original topic. “So if you become a doctor, you won’t get married?” Shikha was curious.
Rajani shrugged. “I don’t want to get married. So much work – cooking cleaning washing.” She shuddered. “I don’t know how Mamma does all that. I don’t think I can do so much and it’s so hot in the kitchen.” She paused. “It’s nice in winters of course.” She looked at Shikha. “Will you be able to do all that?”
“Oh even I don’t like all that.” Shikha waved her hands airily. “I will only marry somebody rich. I will keep lots of servants and I will rule over them like a queen.” She declared haughtily.
Rajani giggled. “What will you do if your evil Sasuma comes and makes trouble for you? Haven’t you seen how awful they are in the TV serials?”
“I am not so foolish.” Shikha said scornfully. “I have it all planned out. Listen, first a handsome Prince, who will be very rich will fall in love with me.”
Rajani stared at her fascinated.
“He will sing songs for me all over the mountains and gardens. He will bring me lots of gifts and presents. I will of course ignore him and refuse everything. But he will insist on pursuing me and propose to me. And then we will have a grand wedd…”
“But what if his Mamma is mean to you?”
“Oh,” Shikha dismissed them with an imperious flick of her wrist, “I will first shoot all my in-laws.”
Rajani stared at her in round-eyed horror. They both collapsed giggling on the bed.
Despite her tender years and overriding distractions, Rajani couldn’t help but be infected by the studious atmosphere in their house.
She had to become a doctor – she had to make her Papa proud. And as Nisha said, the sooner she started the easier it would be. She heroically she zipped up her lips [actually that’s not completely true – there was a packet of chips/popcorn/something or the other by her side (apparently there was a connection between her jaws and brain cells)] and got down to studying seriously.
The hard work paid off and she was among the top five of her class.
But Rajani couldn’t simply stop crying – astonishingly, Shikha had done better than her. How was that even possible? And she didn’t want to be a doctor either. Not fair. If only Shikha had been one rank below her, Rajani would have been thrilled with her results.
Nisha gave up trying to calm her. “Please you can only console her,” she requested her husband.
Suryakant shook his head in a ponderously. “It is time she learnt the facts of life. She has to study hard from now if she is serious about becoming a doctor. Do you know how many aspirants there are for a single MBBS seat? Thousands. One wrong answer and pfft,” he made a collapsing motion with his hand, “there goes your dream of becoming a doctor.” He shook his head. “What is the big deal of being in the top five in class 5? She should have topped her class and with cent percent marks in each subject. Anything less than that is not acceptable from my children,” he thundered.
Rajani was quite inconsolable. She refused dinner and cried herself to sleep that night. Even Abhi was moved to come and console her – but Suryakant let her be.
By morning, Rajani had high fever and was delirious. Nisha was up the whole night nursing her but to no avail.
“You need to reassure her,” she urged her husband.
“It’s just a viral fever. She will be fine in a day or two,” he dismissed her curtly.
“You didn’t hear what she was mumbling the whole night – sorry Papa sorry Papa – she kept saying over and over again. She is a sensitive child…”
“You exaggerate.” He scoffed. “Besides, there is no place for sensitivity in today’s world if she intends to survive and make a place for herself…”
“But she is still a child. And even if it is just a viral fever, what harm can it do if you console her, tell her that it’s ok?”
“Because it is not Ok,” Suryakant snapped, “I don’t want her or Abhi to get the wrong message. It is not easy to get into medicine and the sooner they understand that the better it is for all concerned. She is the one who wants to become a doctor. Did I tell her to become a doctor?”
However, when he found that her fever hadn’t broken by evening, he deigned to sit beside her.
“I am sorry Papa,” she sobbed.
“Okay okay, that’s enough better. Now get well soon. You can do better next time. Ok?” He smiled and patted her head.
Papa said ok! He had smiled at her! Relieved of a huge burden, Rajani quickly improved and got back to her usual chirpy self.
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