Finally the holidays were here – but Rajani was very bored and depressed. For one, they weren’t going anywhere and worse there was no TV. All because of Abhi – his exams were around the corner. Despite it being vacation time, Abhi was busier than ever before as the coaching classes upped the ante.
To top it all, Shikha was going off to her paternal grandmother’s village for their vacations. Her Biji lived in a remote village quite cut off from civilization – no TV, in fact quite often no electricity. Thankfully, the weather was good and it was never very hot. Yet, Shikha hated going there – as did Kirti – for similar reasons. Shikha was bored out of her mind and lonely. She had cousins but she didn’t quite gel so easily with them, besides she missed her favorite cartoon shows, movies and mall outings. Kirti tried all sorts of arguments to get out of going to her in-laws place, “What about you? How will you manage alone? You don’t even know how to make tea.”
“Of course I do! I can make tea, paratha, dal, rice enough for my sustenance don’t worry.”
“What!” Kirti was taken aback, “we have been married so many years, and I have never even seen you venture towards the kitchen.”
“There was never any need. Besides, that’s your department and you have a cook.”
“When did you learn?” Kirti was still skeptical.
“Biji taught us. I am a tough self-sufficient village guy not some namby-pamby town boy,” he boasted. “These skills helped me survive when I came to town to study and set up my business. I hardly had any money and I couldn’t afford to eat outside. In fact, there weren’t any eating joints where we stayed. So I used to cook, for even my roommate. We had an arrangement, he would procure the raw materials and I would cook. Saved myself a lot of money this way.”
Kirti frowned at him, “You never told me all this.”
“Those were dark and difficult days, I prefer not to talk of them.” Lalit shrugged. “Anyway, I can manage so don’t worry about me. Biji has been pestering me to come and stay with her for at least a month…”
“One month!” Kirti was aghast. “What will we do for so long? A few days is more than enough,” she grumbled, “Even Shikha…”
“No, Biji said one month, so one month it is. I can’t manage a month off at a stretch but I will come off and on whenever possible. It will be a good change. I am looking forward to it, away from the heat and dust of the city. Amazing how it’s always so cool and fresh at home.” His face softened as he recalled the fields of home.
That’s because you sit and relax in the shade while I toil away in the kitchen, Kirti fumed. “Shikha won’t want to go.”
“Nonsense. Of course she would like to go. Shikha,” he called. “Next week we will be going to stay at Biji’s place for a month. Won’t it be fun?”
“For a month? To Biji’s place? Nooo, Papa, please, I don’t want to go,” Shikha wailed.
Lalit was taken aback. He looked at Kirti who wore a self-satisfied smirk and an I-told-you-so expression.
“But why beta? Lot’s of big free open spaces to play in and so many cousins…”
“All boys, they tease me so,” Shikha was in tears.
“But there are girls also?”
“I can’t understand what they say,” wailed Shikha, “oh please Papa, I really get bored out there, no TV, no malls…”
“That’s enough!” Lalit cracked his whip, “You are going for a month and if you insist on throwing a tantrum,” he threatened, “I will make sure you stay there the whole of your summer vacations.” With this dire threat, Lalit stomped off.
Shikha burst into tears. “I don’t want to go Mummy please,” she begged, “it’s so boring out there. There’s nothing to do. I cannot even ride my bike. What’s the point of having vacations if I can’t ride my bike?”
“It’s too hot to ride your bike in Chandigarh, dear. You know that, don’t you?” Kirti said dully. Now nothing would budge Lalit and on top of it Shikha was bound to kick up a huge fuss and Lalit would in turn insist on…
“I can get up early morning and ride the bike,” said Shikha promptly. She brightened. “I have an idea Mummy. You go to Biji’s place, I will stay here at Rajani’s house. We can do our holiday homework together. I promise not to be any bother to Aunty. I will be good, very good, I promise Mummy please.”
“No, no how can we do that? Abhi has his exams and two chatterboxes at home?” Kirti shuddered, “Oh no no, that isn’t possible.”
Yet, there was some merit in the suggestion.
“Nisha,” Kirti spoke privately to her, “how about if we take Rajani along with us to Shikha’s grandmother’s village?”
Nisha stared at Kirti.
“Please just hear me out,” Kirti added hastily at the look of incomprehension on Nisha’s face, “the thing is Shikha gets very lonely and bored over there but her father insists we go there, this time for a month.” she sighed. “And as you can imagine, that spells double trouble for me – slave away at the kitchen and bear the barbs, taunts and orders of Biji not to mention the others. And on top of it Shikha – hey Bhagwan.”
Nisha nodded in empathy – they spent a few pleasant moments exchanging horror stories entitled ‘Holidays with the in-laws’.
“Anyway,” Kirti recalled herself to the task at hand, “Shikha is so desperate to get out of going to the village that she begged to stay at your place. Of course that is not possible,” she added hastily, “but then I had this idea of taking Rajani along.”
Nisha looked thoughtfully at Kirti.
“This way, Shikha and Rajani could keep each other company and she would leave me in peace. It would be easier for you too. After all, without Shikha, Rajani too is bound to get bored and irritable. She would disturb you and more importantly, Abhi.” She looked hopefully at Nisha.
Nisha chewed her lip. To tell the truth, she had been dreading Shikha’s visit to her grandmother. In the summers, it was too hot to go out and play for most part of the day. Mornings were cool of course but Rajani wasn’t an early bird. Without Shikha around, Rajani would surely end up disturbing Abhi or nag her to death.
But to send Rani away – oh she couldn’t, could she? Besides, would her husband agree? He would consider it a big imposition. But he had no idea how difficult it would be to restrain Rani for almost two whole months inside the house – long hours of no electricity, all of them huddled under the sole fan, Abhi struggling to study with a chatterbox in full flow – Nisha shuddered. Would he understand? Would he agree?
“Let me talk to her father,” she finally said.
Kirti nodded her head. “Don’t worry, I will ask Suriji to speak to your husband.”
Relieved, Nisha nodded gratefully. Yes, that would be the best – there was no saying how Suryakant would take the suggestion. In any case, she was bound to get an earful. If Suriji raised the topic, Suryakant would be more open and rational in his reaction – yes, best to let them decide.
Later that evening after dinner, Suryakant spoke to his wife. “I met Suriji outside when I came back from the office.”
Nisha put down her needlework and looked warily at him. She waited for him to elaborate.
“You know they are going off to their village for the summer vacations for a month?”
Nisha nodded noncommittally.
“Rani will be difficult to handle. Cooped up inside the house 24 hours a day.” He looked at Nisha who picked up her needlework. “Abhi must make full use of the vacations to study and if Rani is around, she will surely disturb him.”
“But what option do we have?” Nisha mumbled. He had clearly decided to send Rani and was trying to get her on the same page. But now that it was decision time, Nisha wasn’t quite sure if she wanted to send Rani away for more than a month – what would she do without her?
Suryakant coughed. “Well, Suriji apparently has a similar problem with Shikha – she gets bored and lonely in the village. So he suggested sending Rani along, they can keep each other company with minimum bother to all concerned. What do you say?”
Nisha put down her work. “What can I say? Whatever you think right. But what if something goes wrong? What if she is sick or…”
Suryakant raised his hand. “There is no end to ‘what ifs’. We cannot put life on hold because of ‘what ifs’. I want Abhi to concentrate fully on his studies without any distractions and sending Rani away is a must.”
Contrarily, Nisha was hurt. Rani wasn’t that much of a bother. She was a good girl, an obedient child. She was easy to manage, if only one knew how. She could be easily distracted with some craftwork, maybe she could teach her needlework, “She is not such a bother…”
His mind made up, Suryakant raised his hand, “I have made up my mind and that’s it. Pack her things. The Suris leave on Saturday. Rani,” Suryakant raised his voice and called out.
“Yes Papa?” Rani came running.
“Rani, you know Shikha is going to the village with her parents for her summer vacations?”
Rani nodded dolefully. “Yes Papa. I am so sad Papa. What will I do for 45 days? I cannot even go out to ride my cycle – Mamma will say it is too hot. What will I do all alone? Bhai has to study and there is no TV even.” She looked dejectedly at her father.
He patted her head. “How would you like to go with Shikha and her parents to their village? Mind you, your mother won’t go along. Will you be able to manage all by yourself?”
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