Kirti’s fervent prayers were answered. The evening went off peacefully. In fact Biji was very pleased with the girls – well, on second thoughts, very pleased maybe an exaggeration. Suffice to say, Biji looked upon the girls with a kindly eye as she sat on her throne pulling at her hookah whilst they ran hither and thither helping their aunts with the dinner chores.
If you remember, Shikha had been very upset, as the much-awaited kurta didn’t quite meet her exacting standards. Besides, she now also regretted choosing the pink one – pink was such a babyish color, the blue one was nicer, more elegant. She could have kicked herself for choosing pink instead of blue. What if she asked Rajani to try on the pink one – it was loose for her, so it just might fit Rajani. But then suppose Mummy decided to give both kurtas to Rajani? Could she risk it? But then as things stood now, she didn’t have any kurta did she? She couldn’t possibly go out wearing a shapeless tent could she? She shuddered.
“Shikhaaa!” Rajani came at a run. “Oh!” she panted and gasped. “I have been looking all over for you.”
“Why?” Shikha looked away and aimlessly kicked a stone in the yard outside.
“To tell you that Aunty will try to alter your kurta. I talked to her just now.”
Shikha brightened. “Really?”
“Yes.” Rajani nodded. She paused. “She said she would try. There isn’t much time. ”
“Oh.” Shikha drooped and moped.
Rajani fidgeted restlessly. She hated to see her friend so sad and down in the dumps. If only she could find a way to give Aunty some extra time.
“What?” Hope flickered in Shikha’s eyes. She knew that tone of Rajani. Surely she had come up with something? But what – Rajani couldn’t make time could she?
“What if we helped with the kitchen work? Then Aunty needn’t come down to serve dinner and all? She would have time…”
“Yes! Brilliant idea.” Shikha exuberantly threw her arms around Rajani and they both indulged in a bit of a jig before a sobering thought hit them. Would Biji agree?
They held a hurried council of war. The cat had to be belled. But the question was who was going to bell the cat?
“You go and ask Biji,” Shikha urged.
“Oh no!” Rajani backed out, “Biji hates me.”
“I am not. Besides, I talked to Aunty, now it’s your turn to talk.”
Shikha was silenced. She got up but her steps faltered. Ultimately Rajani gave her a push and Shikha stumbled into Biji’s arena.
“Eh?” Biji looked up and saw her before she could make her escape.
“Biji?” Shikha gritted her teeth and sidled up to her – it was now or never.
“Yes, go on.”
Rajani slid back into the shadows but Shikha urgently motioned her forward.
“Biji, we wanted to say thank you for the salwar suits. They are beautiful.”
At this Rajani was forced out of the shadows. Besides Papa had also said she should thank Biji. “Yes Biji. Thank you very much. Both dresses are very nice.”
Biji melted. “Good, good I am glad. Are the suits ready?”
“Almost done. But still some work left. Biji,” Shikha cast a look at Rajani, “we were thinking that since Mummy is very busy stitching our salwar suits, maybe we could help in the kitchen? Suppose it doesn’t get finished by morning? Then we wont be able to wear the suits tomorrow. Please Biji.” Rajani added her plea to Shikha’s.
Biji unbent even more. “You like the suits so much? You want to wear them?”
“Yes Biji.” The girls nodded their heads vigorously. “We are desperate to wear them. Please Biji, let Mummy work on the suits, we will help in the kitchen.”
“Hmm. Let me think.” The girls held their breaths as Biji took her own sweet time in deciding while taking sadistic pleasure in their obvious impatience.
“Biji please. Please Biji.” They clamored to be allowed to slave away in the kitchen.
“Hmm. Okay fine.”
“Thank you Biji!” they fell on her but she fended them off.
“Now be careful,” she cautioned, “no giggling and no drenching either.” She shook her finger and frowned at Rajani who shrank back in alarm. Biji sniggered to herself.
Relieved they ran off to inform Kirti and report for kitchen duty. The ladies laughed to see their new assistants. But they were allowed in only on one condition – they would have to eat first. Ever ready to eat and with the delicious aroma teasing and tempting them, they promptly acquiesced. Fed, they attacked the ‘dining’ space. They swept the floor, laid the mats and plates, served water and generally fetched and carried with such good humor and alacrity that the aunts didn’t miss Kirti at all. In fact they were quite entertained by the gravity with which the girls attended to their tasks. They took good care of each and every member, asking solicitously if they required anything more, urging them to have one more paratha, some more halwa. Bade Papa was touched and moved by their care. He blessed them and rewarded them with shagun for their pains. Sated, even the boys didn’t protest.
Horrified, the girls stared at the Rs 100 note in each of their hands, “Oh no Bade Papa, we couldn’t possibly…”
“Keep it,” Biji spoke up, “you can spend it during the fair.”
They looked at Kirti questioningly, who had finally come down. She smiled and nodded. Happily they handed it to her for safekeeping. “Mummy did you alter my kurta?” Shikha whispered.
“Not yet,” mumbled Kirti.
Shikha’s face instantly fell. “Mummy!” she wailed but Kirti frowned ferociously at her and looked around her warningly.
Shikha controlled herself with an effort. “Help your aunts to clear up the place,” Kirti said.
Reluctantly and with poor grace Shikha complied though Rajani was as chirpy as ever. “Don’t worry Shikha, Aunty will surely do it. Right Aunty?” She nudged Shikha and whispered, “The salwars are done I went and saw a little while ago. Let Aunty have her dinner, she must be hungry too. Then I am sure she will set your kurta right.”
Pouting Shikha continued with her tasks, albeit reluctantly. In her defense, it was late – she was tired and disappointed.
“Aunty, please you will alter her kurta wont you?” pleaded a worried Rajani.
Kirti shrugged, “Only if Shikha stops pouting.”
“Shikha,” hissed Rajani, “smile and stop pouting. Aunty will alter your kurta only if you stop pouting.”
Shikha instantly stretched her lips. “There I am smiling.”
“That’s not a smile.” Kirti rolled her eyes.
“This ok?” She bared her teeth in an ugly grimace.
Kirti shrugged. “Well what do you say Rajani? Is that a smile?”
Rajani clapped a hand to her mouth and shook her head. Her eyes began to dance and her nostrils quivered. “Shikharakashi!” she managed to gasp before she was swamped by giggles.
Shikha frowned and made a desperate attempt to hold on to her dignity but then she couldn’t resist the infection for too long and succumbed gracefully.
Kirti ruffled her hair. “Now there’s my little girl. You will get your fitted kurta for sure now.”
“Thank you Mummy.” Shikha squeezed the breath out of her. Rajani watched them longingly until Kirti pulled her into her embrace.
The girls were too excited to sleep besides Shikha was keen to try out her altered kurta before she went to bed, especially because Rajani had – with the salwar and dupatta. But Kirti would have none of it and there was another tussle between them. Things came to a head between mother-daughter with Kirti declaring that she wouldn’t alter the kurta if Shikha didn’t go to bed first and an equally defiant and cranky Shikha refused to cow down – she wanted the kurta and she wanted it now.
Rajani watched the escalating argument wide-eyed occasionally shooting anxious glances at the door. The boys had gathered there one by one. Finally, Rajani tugged at Shikha and whispered into her ear. Shikha froze. She turned to glare at the boys, opened her mouth but then Rajani shook her head; she even folded her hands, silently begging, pleading. Shikha clamped her mouth shut and turned on her heels. She climbed on to the bed and drew the covers over herself. Almost instantly, she was fast asleep.
The gathered audience could only stare at each other in open-mouthed astonishment (not to mention disappointment – boys!). Kirti heaved a sigh of relief and shooed away them away.
“What did you say to her?” Kirti was curious enough to ask.
Rajani pleated her frock. “I just said Biji would come and she would blame me and send me back to Chandigarh.”
Kirti gave Rajani a tight hug. “Oh no, she wouldn’t! Thank you dear.” Otherwise, she would have sent me back to Chandigarh, she thought to herself.
Not a bad thing really but then the girls would have missed all the fun. Kirti sighed. She was exhausted and her back felt as if it was on fire. She yearned to lie down and stretch her back. And tomorrow was going to be another long (hot) day.
But first things first – Kirti sighed and picked up Shikha’s kurta.
Up next Chapter 42: Happy is unhappy