Still sobbing, Rajani shook her head. “Nothing.”
“Don’t you want to go?”
“Then why are you crying?”
Rajani threw her arms around her mother. “Oh Mamma, I will miss you.” She clung to her weeping hysterically.
“Then don’t go.”
Rajani wiped her face. “But I want to go.” She hiccupped.
Abhi was ready to tear his hair out. “Crazy. Totally crazy! Mom, please make sure she goes, otherwise she will drive all of us mad as well.” Abhi beat a hasty retreat.
“Mamma,” Rajani began tearfully.
“Now Rajani Ahuja, control yourself,” Nisha said sternly, “make up your mind. Do you want to go or not?”
“I want to go of course, but,” she wiped her face but tears welled up in her eyes, “with you.” Her voice wobbled and shook alarmingly.
Nisha turned to Shikha. “Beta, please apologize to your mother and tell her that we are very sorry but Rani won’t be going with you after all.”
“No please Mamma, I want to go.” Rajani clutched her and shook her head violently at Shikha who was staring dumbfounded at these unexpected proceedings.
“Rani, be very sure. I don’t want you to create a fuss while over there. You have to understand, I cannot go and you will have to manage on your own. Understand? Can you promise that you wont create trouble for Aunty and Shikha?”
Rajani looked at her mother and wavered – without Mamma? But she had never ever stayed away without Mamma, how could she…
Shikha hurriedly leaned forward and whispered in Rajani’s ear. She froze and turned to stare at Shikha, who nodded solemnly and put a hand to her throat “Pucca promise.”
Rajani turned back to her mother – calm and composed. “I will go. I promise not to create a fuss.”
It was Nisha’s turn to stare but she didn’t have time to investigate – the milk – she dashed off to the kitchen.
The girls hung around in the sweltering heat on the porch discussing their upcoming trip. Suddenly, Shikha found her grandmother’s village very exciting and beautiful – maybe they could take their bikes along? Yes then they could roam all over the countryside, sharpen and hone their cycling skills – neither of them slept well that night either.
“Now Rani, tell me once and for all, are you sure you can go alone with Shikha and her mother?” Nisha insisted on clarifying before beginning to pack. “Remember, I won’t be there.” She rubbed it in. “You will have to eat what is served, do what you are told to do, no tantrums, no….”
“Yes Mamma, I am sure.” Rajani said serenely.
Nisha was perplexed. “But you were crying so hysterically and now you are sure?” she mused. “What exactly did Shikha say to you?”
Rajani laughed and clapped her hands. “She said that if I agreed to go along, she would let me marry Harry!”
“Hey Bhagwan!” Nisha clapped a hand to her head. “So Harry is more important than your mother huh?”
Rajani threw her arms around her mother. “It’s just for a short while Mamma. Just a month and I will be back home. Besides, it will be good practice for me – after all once Harry and I get married, he will take me away to England, which is so far away. So I should get used to staying away from you hai na?”
“So far-sighted and so worried about your wedding! I thought you wanted to become a doctor?”
“I do,” Rajani nodded her head vigorously, “but doctors also get married don’t they?”
Nisha shook her head as she set about packing Rajani’s bag. “But I thought you girls had decided to let Harry decide whom he would like to marry?”
“Yes Mamma. But you know I was so worried that Harry would choose Shikha – she is so much prettier, taller, fairer and slimmer than I am. Obviously Harry would have chosen her, so when Shikha offered,” Rajani shrugged expressively.
Nisha frowned. “Who told you that Shikha is prettier?”
“Nobody. I know.” Rajani said sagely. She spoilt it by giggling. “But she is a big buddhoo. She needn’t have made such a big sacrifice. I would of course have gone with her! But her loss is my gain. Double gain. Yayyy.”
“Drama queen.” Nisha muttered to herself.
Then there was another nautanki regarding to bike or not to bike
An urgent application was submitted and closely followed up with numerous petitions, recriminations and tears – but to no avail. Neither father was willing to risk a couple ten-year-old girls gallivanting all over the countryside. The trip was in danger of being cancelled but then better sense prevailed and the girls agreed to go minus their bicycles.
Then Nisha had a sudden misgiving – she rushed to have a discussion with Kirti – what if? Kirti and Nisha exchanged childhood notes over a cup of tea and came to the reluctant conclusion – it was just a matter of time. In any case, it was high time they primed the girls in order to avoid mayhem in case of any ill-timed bloodshed.
This time neither Kirti nor Nisha got much sleep and approached the topic with great trepidation (individually of course). “Umm Rani?”
“Yes Mamma?” Rajani swung around to look at Nisha.
Nisha faltered under the fixed unblinking stare. “Umm nothing.” She turned away and began putting away her clothes.
“Umm Rani, do you know,” she tried again.
“What Mamma?” Rani gave her full attention to Nisha.
Nisha wiped her brow. She fidgeted a bit with the bedspread. She opened the cupboard and dug out a packet, which was determinedly wrapped in a newspaper. “Umm that when girls grow up, there maybe…”
Rajani’s unwavering glance flickered. She suddenly wore a cagey look. “I know!” she cut in hurriedly.
Nisha halted in mid-flow. She frowned. “How do you know? I haven’t even completed my sentence!” she protested.
“I know Mamma,” Rajani insisted, “they showed a movie in school, where that girl’s Mamma also said the very same thing in the very same way!”
“Oh ok.” Nisha was taken aback, “you didn’t tell me,” feeling as if her death sentence had been commuted at the last minute. Yet she felt bereft – her little girl was big enough to keep secrets from her.
“I forgot,” Rajani mumbled.
“Okay okay, I am keeping this here just in case,” Nisha gratefully and quickly thrust the packet away in one corner of the bag.
And that was that.
Hurrah! Her bags were packed and she was bombarded with a zillion instructions, dos and don’ts and now her bag had been loaded on to the SUV. Rajani ran back inside. “Bhai,” she stood beside him guiltily, “I am sorry…”
“Sorry?” Abhi turned on her, “why are you sorry?”
“Sorry because I am going on a holiday with Shikha. You will be studying while I will be enjoying…”
Abhi laughed. “Enjoying? You? I would rather study than go on a holiday to a village. Mud houses, stagnant dirty pools, mosquitoes, no electricity, so hot.” He shuddered enjoying her crestfallen expression. “Frankly my dear, I am very happy that you are going off on a holiday,” he said, sighing ecstatically. He stretched lazily. “Just imagine, me alone with Mom and Papa. Special goodies for me to eat – made for me, only me. I am looking forward to seeing movies…”
Rajani stared at him aghast. “Papa will never give you permission…
“Oh but I wouldn’t ask Papa,” Abhi said softly, “I will just ask Mom and she won’t object especially because you wont be there to spill the beans or create a ruckus.” He laughed. “Bye Rani, have fun in your village,” he wiggled his fingers mockingly.
Rajani stood rooted to the spot, torn – Bhai was going to have more fun than her. What a big blunder! She should have never agreed to go – Bhai must have planned it all to get rid of her – how could she bear to leave now?
“Rani.” It was her mother. “Come along now, it is time for you to leave.”
“Now Rani,” Nisha said warningly.
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