Rajani’s eyes grew wide with shock and disbelief. This was way beyond her wildest hopes. Just yesterday Rajani and Shikha has been moaning their fates – Rajani wished she could go while Shikha didn’t want to go.
She looked at him. “Really?” she whispered unable to believe her luck. She turned to her mother for corroboration. “Really Mamma?”
Nisha was resentful of the way her husband had neatly boxed her into a corner, and a bit taken aback at Rajani’s instant acceptance of the proposal. She reluctantly nodded her head. “Hmm. We are considering the matter but,” she looked at her warningly, “you will be alone, suppose you aren’t able to manage…”
“No Mamma, I will, promise,” Rajani rushed in, “I will be able to manage. I am a big girl now am I not?”
“Ye…es. But you know things will be different over there, food, facilities, you can’t have things your way, you will have to eat what you get, you understand? No tantrums or any sort of misbehavior. Understand?”
“Yes Mamma, I understand.” Rajani nodded her head vigorously. “I will be the bestest girl ever. I promise.”
The more eager Rajani was, the more reluctant Nisha became. “I don’t know if they have telephone connection,” Nisha fussed. “I don’t know what kind of system they have over there,” she worried, “you may have to wash your clothes, bathe in the open…”
“Now, now Nisha don’t exaggerate,” cut in Suryakant frowning, “I am sure it’s not bad as all that. Besides, if Shikha can manage, I don’t see why Rani cannot. It will be a good experience for her,” he said firmly. He paused. “I will talk to Suri once again and find out more details, especially telephone connection.”
Nisha twisted her fingers as worry clawed at her, while Rajani executed a triumphant war dance all around her. “Hip, hip hurrah! Hip, hip hurrah. Mamma can I go and tell Shikha please can I? Can I go and tell Shikha please Mamm…”
“What’s going on here?” Abhi returned from his coaching class.
“Bhai!” Rajani launched herself on to Abhi. He staggered with the suddenness of the impact. “Heyyy watch out!” he stumbled and barely managed to steady himself and her. He gave her a shake. “What’s the matter?”
Nisha’s heart sank. That was the other issue nagging her. How would Abhi take the news? Rani off vacationing while he slogged it out over here? He would surely throw a fit. But before Nisha could intervene, Rajani had spilled the beans. “Bhai, Bhai, Papa is sending me with Shikha to her grandmother’s village for the vacations. Just imagine! What fun!” she had stars in her eyes.
Abhi stared at her. He looked up and met his mother’s apologetic apprehensive eyes. He pointedly ignored his father. “Fun? What fun? Nonsense!” he walked off to his room.
Rajani’s face fell ludicrously. “Whaaa?” she charged off behind him. “Why do you say that?”
“What fun can you have in a village?” he threw his heavy bag of books on to the bed. “No electricity, no TV, nothing to do the whole day, except kill mosquitoes or fan yourself, pooh.”
Rajani was downcast. But she cheered up. “There is no TV here either. At least over there, nobody will keep shushing me.” Her nose in the air she swished away.
“Chatterbox!” he yelled.
Rajani stuck out her tongue at him and ran to her father. “Can I go and tell Shikha please Papa?”
Suryakant patted her head. “Let me finalize details with Suri uncle, then you can tell Shikha. We need to still work out the finer details.” He regretted jumping the gun. What if there was some emergency? Did they even have a dispensary? What about telephone connection? They would need to be in touch with her to see if everything was fine with her.
“Oh!” Rajani was disappointed. “It’s not fixed yet?”
Suryakant shook his head. Rajani drooped. “Please Papa, please don’t say no now.”
“Don’t harass me now Rani. I am tired. I will tell your mother my decision and you can ask her.”
Nisha hovered by the doorway, trying to gauge Abhi’s reaction – he wasn’t too happy that Rajani would be enjoying while he would be slogging it out. Yet on the other hand, given a choice he wouldn’t have wanted to go to some remote obscure village. Nisha sighed – that was some consolation.
“Mamma, I will just return Shikha’s book and be right back,” Rajani dashed off before her mother could say a word. She had to, she simply had to share the big news with Shikha – she wouldn’t be able to sleep otherwise.
“Shikha! Guess what!”
“What?” She asked morosely. Pucca Rajani was going to some exotic locale for her summer vacations while she would rot in some God forsaken village under the eagle eye of her grandmother – don’t do this don’t do that, hmph.
“I am coming along with you!”
“Coming along with me?” Shikha stared at her uncomprehendingly. “Where?”
“Arre buddhoo, to your grandmother’s village, for our summer vacations.”
Shikha’s eyes widened and she squealed, “Really? Mummy, Mummy, is it true that Rajji is coming along with me to Biji’s place?”
Kirti nodded smiling at the two excited girls, “Well I still have to get official confirmation but I did request…”
“Thank you, thank you,” both girls launched themselves on to her. “Oh we will have such fun.” Shikha’s attitude underwent an instantaneous reversal, “Mummy when are we going? Can we take our bikes? Please Mummy, please?”
Kirti extricated herself. “We’ll see, first let Rajani’s Papa say yes. Then we’ll see. Go on home Rajani, it’s very late now. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” Rajani ran back home where Nisha was waiting by the gate.
“You went to tell Shikha didn’t you?” Nisha looked at her knowingly.
Rajani nodded guiltily.
“Didn’t your Papa say not to say anything just now Rani?” Nisha was annoyed.
“Oh Mamma, I am sorry, but I had to tell her. I was feeling so sick and funny here,” she pressed the middle of her tummy, “I felt I would burst, if I didn’t tell her.”
“Why did you lie to me?” Nisha frowned at her. “You said you had a book to return.”
“I didn’t lie. I did have a book to return. I am hungry Mamma.” Rajani hurriedly changed the topic.
Nisha allowed herself to be distracted but not before a final warning, “Don’t try to be too smart Rani. Your father hasn’t yet given his permission.”
Rajani followed her. “But he will won’t he Mamma?” she asked hopefully.
Nisha shrugged. “I don’t know. There are several things to consider. That’s why he asked you not to say anything…”
“But then he shouldn’t have told me anything either,” wailed Rajani, “I have to go now. How can I not go now that I know I could go?”
Nisha bit her lip. Exactly, she fumed to herself. “Okay okay, enough drama now. Wash up and then lay the table. Hurry up now.”
Rajani rushed to do her mother’s bidding. But every now and then she would send a pleading tug at her mother’s dupatta, “Please Mamma, please.” She kept up the pressure even during dinner – silently avoiding her father’s eye. Nisha was quite fed up –if he decided not to send her, the summer vacations were going to be worse than ever before. She shuddered.
Suryakant had another discussion with Mr Suri, but it was a rather perfunctory discussion for Nisha had made it quite clear that now that he had spilled the beans, he had no choice but to send Rajani. Not if he wanted to provide the right kind of environment at home for Abhi.
And of course nothing was going to come in the way of Abhi’s academic excellence. But then Rajani didn’t know that – she was in an agony of suspense. She had a restless disturbing night – Shikha was smiling, waving, flying high, higher; Rajani was gagged and blindfolded; she couldn’t move, she couldn’t breathe, she was suffocating, “Rani, come on let’s go to the other room, there is no electricity here.”
Rajani was heavy headed and dull in the morning. A little after Suryakant left for his office, Shikha came running over to Rajani’s, “Rajji, Rajii,” she shouted from the gate, “you are coming with us, you are coming with us!”
Shrieks and yells followed. Nisha came running, as did Abhi.
“Oh Mamma, Papa said yes to Suri uncle. I can go with Shikha.” Rajani burst into tears.
They stared at each other in consternation. “But why are you crying?” Confused, Nisha looked at Abhi who shrugged helplessly. “Rani, what happened?” she shook her.
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