“No Papa.” Rajani burst into tears as soon as she heard her father’s voice. Nisha took the phone from her and lashed out, “Found time from work to enquire about your son? You focus on your precious work and let him rot in hell. After all he is a failure, he deserves it doesn’t he?” she banged down the phone. Fury and despair gave her strength to do what she had never ever dared to do in her 19 years of marriage. Abhiiiiii she sank down on the sofa and sobbed her heart out.
“Mammaaa,” Rajani clutched her, “what happened? What did Papa say?”
“Nothing,” Nisha shook her head, “nothing.”
Rajani clung to her mother, weeping hysterically, “Bhai, I want my Bhai Mamma, Bhai, I want my Bhai, where is he Mamma, bring him back Mamma,” she shook Nisha but to no avail. Rajani ran to their Mandir and entreated blubbering, “Bhagwanji, please send my Bhai back, I will never fight with him, I promise. I will never complain about anything, I won’t ask for anything ever again, I promise, please send my Bhai back, please Bhagwanji.” Nisha joined her. They clung to each other and cried their hearts out.
Dusk fell and an uneasy silence descended upon the Ahuja household. An exhausted Rajani had fallen asleep crying on the mat near the Mandir. Nisha picked her up and put her on the diwan. She kept up the vigil beside the gate, hoping against hope to catch a glimpse of Abhi’s familiar lope, or maybe catch the rumble of her husband’s scooter and the two of them seated until it became too dark to see anything. Yet Nisha hung on determinedly – he would be back, he had to – hey Bhagwan, please please please keep him safe.
Rajani woke up and began crying. Nisha hurried inside and made a half-hearted attempt at trying to console her – they froze – was it? They made a dash for the gate.
Yes it was! Suryakant was riding his scooter and Abhi was sitting behind him. Nisha hurriedly opened the gate and fell on Abhi’s neck before he could get off the scooter. She burst into huge gusts of sobs – this time of relief. Rajani too wiggled in and grabbed her brother by the waist. Suryakant had a tough time balancing his scooter. “Stop this nonsense immediately,” he snapped.
Scared, Nisha backed off and pulled Rajani away as well allowing him to park his scooter. A sober and chastened family entered the house.
“Bhai where were you Bhai?” Rajani threw off her mother’s restraining hand and clutched hold of Abhi. “We were so worried! What happened? Did someone kidnap you? Did Papa save you from the kidnappers? Oh Papa, you are the best!” she hugged her father.
He grunted and went off inside. Bereft and a little hurt, Rajani stared after him. Oh right, he didn’t much care for physical demonstrations, she cheered up, Bhai was home, she didn’t want anything else – well maybe food.
“Mamma I am starving.”
“Yes just a minute,” Nisha said distractedly, “Abhi beta where did you disappear? How can you do this to me? Do you know how worried we were?” she shook him gently and then enfolded him in her arms. “Abhi dear, results don’t matter, so what if you didn’t do well…”
Abhi stiffened and thrust her away, “So even you think I didn’t do well? I am going,” he turned away.
“Abhi! Wait! What happened? Why are you so angry? I thought you didn’t do well in your boards and your father said something to upset you…”
Abhi snorted, “And you get fifty percent for accuracy,” his lips twisted bitterly, “do you know, I stood fourth in my class with 96.4 % marks? The highest is 98 %, second and third got 97.4 % and 96.8%.”
Nisha stared at him dumbstruck. “But that is very good!” tears of joy flowed down her cheeks. “That is brilliant, well done Abhi, well done.” She hugged him and kissed him “I knew you would do well, oh my dearest son.”
Rajani jumped up and down clapping. “Yay my Bhai is the bestest, my Bhai is bestest. Where’s my motichoor ke laddoo? I want motichoor ke laddo,” she chanted running circles round and round her mother and brother doing a sort of a war dance. Abhi wore a faint gratified look. His expression darkened as he remembered his father’s dismissive and scornful look.
“Kya hua Abhi?” Nisha noticed the change in expression.
“You may think it’s good result, my teachers and classmates may also think it is excellent results, but Papa doesn’t think so.”
Nisha froze. “Where were you all this while?”
Abhi shrugged. “At school. He dropped me at the main road. I walked back to school to check my results again, in case I had mistaken it for something else. I…I just stayed there.”
“Did you eat anything?”
Abhi nodded. “Yeah, I ate at the canteen.”
“What did you eat Bhai? Chole bhature? Yummm…Mamma, I am hungry,” her stomach rumbled, “do you know Mamma hasn’t eaten anything since morning? Even I have eaten very little,” she informed Abhi a little smugly.
Abhi looked suitably chastised. “I am sorry Mom,” he suddenly realized that his actions had just hurt his mother and sister who weren’t guilty of hurting him in the first place while his father…his eyes hardened and he stiffened.
“Mom, I am treating you both to dinner today. Just give me 15 minutes, I will get chole bhature from the Korner Shop,” he pinched Rajani’s cheeks, “yes motichoor ke ladoo for you as well,” he grinned at her shriek of joy.
“Abhi let it be, you know your father doesn’t…”
“Oh that doesn’t matter, because he isn’t invited.”
“Come on Mom, surely he wouldn’t be interested in attending the party of a failure?” Abhi vanished before his mother could say anything further.
Nisha shook her head; her lips firmed as she glanced at the closed door of their bedroom – so be it. She rushed to the mandir to convey her heartfelt thanks for not only sending back her son hale and hearty but with excellent results. Gratefulness warred with fury – how dare he put them through such an agonizing traumatic day when it could have so easily been a day of celebrations and joy?
Unable to resist, she barged into their bedroom and flew off the handle. “What in the name of heaven were you thinking? The way you behaved, I thought Abhi had flunked his exams or something and here he has come fourth! Fourth, and he has never ever before come in the class top ten and look what a huge jump and yet you couldn’t manage a kind word of encouragement for him? What kind of a person are you? Do you have any idea what kind of a horrific day we had? Poor Rajani, she has been crying the whole day and hasn’t eaten anything. What if Abhi had taken some drastic step? What would we have done then? I am telling you ease off on him for otherwise you will lose him altogether.” She flounced out of the room before she gave in to her baser instincts and did him some grievous harm. Exactly what she deserved, she fumed.
Stamping down ruthlessly on misgivings and guilt at having chole bhature against his dictates, she made parathas for him and served it in the bedroom with curd and pickle. She didn’t bother with any stuffing or vegetable dish. At least you had a peaceful comfortable day at the office and had your lunch too. Look at us, poor Rani, what an awful day for her and so unfair and mean to Abhi, poor thing worked so hard and got such good results. Poor thing, he slogged it out and showed outstanding improvement and this is the appreciation he gets?
The house filled with a delicious mouth-watering aroma as Abhi turned up with the goodies – not only laddoos but also rasmalai, his mother’s favorite. She cried buckets at his thoughtfulness. It was a merry party that sat down to dinner, minus Suryakant of course. Sated, her annoyance dimmed, after waging a brief war with herself, she served him rasmalai, which he accepted without any fuss.
For his 17th birthday, Suryakant gifted Abhi a mobile phone – a peace offering of sorts. Abhi was of course over the moon. So few of his friends had a mobile phone – he couldn’t wait to show off. Of course he wasn’t allowed to carry it to school, but then most of his friends did attend coaching classes. Nisha for one was very relieved – now she could track his whereabouts without having to chew her nails down to the bone.
Rajani had mixed feelings – she was proud and relieved. Proud because only her brother had a mobile phone and relieved for the same reason as Nisha. But of course she couldn’t help feeling the tiniest bit jealous – not that she expected a mobile phone or needed one, but such an expensive birthday gift for Bhai (he had a grand birthday bash at the mall with a movie for him and his friends) and for her just one book? Wasn’t quite fair was it? But then he was older and he had studied and worked so hard – no doubt he deserved it, but still…Well she would work hard too and top her board exams and then see what she got as her birthday gift. She cheered up and was genuinely (or at least tried to be) happy for her brother.
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