Kirti cleared up the empty plates and glasses. As she was leaving, she asked, “Do you want another paratha Rajani?”
Rajani shook her head but then nodded. Kirti looked at her. “Are you sure? There is already one on your,” she broke off as she heard Biji calling. “Coming Biji.”
Shikha came in bursting with news. “Oh we are going to the picnic. Oh Mummy, oh Rajji, we are going for the picnic in a bullock cart, just imagine!”
Kirti gave a distracted smile to her and left the room.
“Shikha! Here take this paratha and wait outside.” Rajani thrust the paratha into Shikha’s hand and pushed her, “Go, hurry before your mother comes back.”
Shikha disappeared carrying the paratha.
Kirti returned shortly bringing another paratha. “That was quick Rajani.”
Rajani smiled. “I was hungry. Could I have another laddoo please? Maybe two.”
“Sure.” Kirti plied her plate. “News of the picnic seems to have brought back your appetite! Come on now. Finish up quickly ok?”
Rajani nodded busy blowing on the paratha to cool it. She waited till Kirti was out of sight. Barely noticing that the paratha was still hot, she swiftly rolled up the paratha and ran out with the laddoo and paratha clutched in the folds of her dupatta. Even then it was hot. “Ouch! It’s hot!”
Shikha came up at a run. “What’s the matter Rajji? Are you crazy or what?”
“Shhh, come with me.” They ran upstairs with Shikha throwing a million questions at her.
Rajani ignored her. She had other more important things on her mind. “Quick, give me the paratha.” She quickly slipped the hot one on top of the one Shikha held out and rolled them up together. She could have cried with relief. She jerked her hand and blew on it. She pushed Shikha. “Now go to your room.” Rajani was mindful of Happy’s strictures not to tell anybody, not even Shikha.
Quite sure that Rajani was up to no good and rather than risk jeopardizing her picnic, Shikha walked off without another word.
“Happy?” Casting a nervous look behind, Rajani whispered near Biji’s window. “Here take this.” She held out the crumpled parathas and squished laddoos through the barred windows.
“What’s this?” It was Biji.
When Rajani came to, she was lying on Biji’s bed with multiple pairs of eyes staring at her – mostly with ghoulish curiosity. She looked around in confusion. Her eyes met those of Biji. Memory came flooding back and whatever little blood had seeped back into her cheeks drained away, leaving her on the verge of fainting again. Her eyes sought Kirti, she whimpered.
Kirti gathered her into her arms comfortingly. “What happened dear? Are you not well?”
“All of you leave the room.” Biji spoke abruptly. “I want to speak to her alone.”
Rajani burrowed into Kirti and clung to her for dear life. The other children looked at each other in consternation. Most had no problem in Rajani getting into further trouble, but the question uppermost in their minds was what about the picnic? First Happy now Rajani – what if Biji cancelled everything?
“BIJI!” The children’s voices rose as one.
“Biji,” Kirti said in a low tone.
Biji raised her hand. “Let me talk to her. Go on, what are you all waiting for? Hurry up!”
“Biji,” the children weren’t to be silenced so easily – not when so much was at stake.
Biji glared at them. “Do you want to be late for the picnic? Go and help your aunts to load the cart. Come on, stop staring at my face and get to it.”
Unable to believe their ears, the boys stood stock still for a moment before rushing out screaming and shouting. Happy shuffled hesitantly, not quite sure where he stood. Biji softened and shook her head. “Happy, go down and have your breakfast.”
He beamed his thanks and dashed off before Biji could change her mind.
Kirti and Shikha were left in the room and of course, Rajani.
Biji waved at them. Taking hope from Biji’s actions (and afraid of provoking her), Kirti gently detached the still clinging Rajani. “I will be right outside dear.”
“No need Bahu,” Biji had sharp ears, “go downstairs. There’s a lot of work. Shikha go and help your mother.”
Neither of them dared disobey Biji.
“Mummy, what’s going to happen to Rajji?” she whispered once they were out of earshot. “Will Biji eat her up?”
“What nonsense you speak Shikha,” Kirti said robustly even as she firmly quelled similar fears, “nothing of the sort will happen. You know Biji is a vegetarian.”
If it had been Rajani that would possibly elicited at least a smile, but Shikha wasn’t amused. “I am sure Biji will send Rajani back to Chandigarh. And she won’t let her go for the picnic or the circus. Oh I am so sad Mummy.”
“I am sure she will do nothing of the sort. But you have to admit Rajani was disobedient. Why did she go upstairs when you were expressly forbidden to do so?”
“So Rajani Maharani,” Biji sank down into her easy chair, “would you be so kind as to tell me why you came upstairs? Weren’t you told not to come upstairs?”
Rajani sobbed into the pillow as she crouched at the farthest end of the bed.
“Maharani, I am asking you something. Please take pity on this poor old bag of bones and answer me will you?”
But it was futile. Rajani busy crying was quite unable to answer.
“Fine, you leave me with no choice,” sighed Biji, “no picnic and no circus…
Rajani finally looked up. “I am sorry Biji, I am really sorry,” a torrent of words flowed out, “I was worried about Happy. I wanted to see if he was fine or not. His back hurt. He was in pain. I felt bad for him. He said he was hungry. So I went to get f…foo…food for him.”
“Hmm so curiosity killed the cat. And now because of your curiosity, you wont be able to go for the picnic….”
“Biji, please, please,” Rajani scooted forward and sank down beside Biji, “I am sorry Biji, I promise I won’t do it ever again. I promise Biji. Please Biji.”
“Hmm.” Biji pondered the issue. “You were wrong to disobey me. Do you admit that?”
Rajani wiped her face and nodded with alacrity.
Biji looked at her keenly. “Well at least you don’t have problems owning up to your faults. But listen to me girl, it’s good to have a soft heart and I appreciate your sentiments that made you get food for Happy.” She paused. “But you did wrong to disobey me and more importantly poke your nose into matters that are none of your concern. Happy was wrong and he deserved to be punished. If he had not been punished, would you have liked it?”
Rajani hung her head. She slowly shook her head.
Biji sighed. “You know what your problem is? You are too curious and impatient to boot. You couldn’t wait to find out what had happened. And once you found out, you got trapped. Am I right?”
“Remember girl, good things come to those who wait. Don’t go around poking your nose into matters that don’t concern you and you won’t go around borrowing troubles that weren’t yours to begin with. Understand?”
Heartened by Biji’s reasonable tone, Rajani nodded eagerly. “Biji can I go to the picnic? Please. I promise I will be good. And the circus?” she added for good measure.
Biji heaved herself out of her chair, signifying end of the inquisition. Rajani stared at her in dismay. “Biji please, please…” she tagged along with her.
Biji stopped. “I suppose I don’t really have a choice. After all you are a guest in our house. And because of you I will have to let Happy also go, setting a wrong example,” she said darkly. “Now everyone will think they can get away with murder in this house.” She shook her head portentously. “God only knows what will happen next.”
Rajani stared at her, not quite sure if she was off the hook or not. “Biji,” she whined once again.
Annoyed, Biji flapped her arms. “Yes, yes, go on, go on and get ready for the picnic.” Rajani stood rooted to the spot as if waiting for more. “Mind you, no more mischief or fracas, understand?”
Rajani nodded mutely.
“Mind you, next time, there will be no pardon for you my girl.” Biji thundered making sure everybody within earshot (or not) could hear her. “This is the last time, I am excusing your transgressions and that too only because you are a guest in this house.” The children crowded Biji’s doorway. “Happy,” she called sternly, “I have a good mind not to let you go for the picnic. Is this any way to behave?”
He scuffed his barefoot against the wall and said sulkily, “I got angry.”
“If you get angry you will break everything in sight will you?”
Happy shrugged. “You only said we would go for the picnic and then you say we weren’t going! How can you do this to us?” He shot back quite unrepentant.
“Hey Bhagwan, just look at this boy. No shame at all.” Biji was aghast and in a fix. If only Happy had toed the line, apologized abjectly, like Rajani had, she would have instantly granted pardon and be done with it. To tell the truth, she was quite weary of the whole affair. Besides, she didn’t really hold a grudge against Happy – she quite understood his state of mind. Poor thing had really been looking forward to the picnic – to have his hopes dashed so cruelly. It had been too much for his sensibilities. No wonder he went a bit crazy. It happened with boys – they had trouble controlling their tempers. She understood that. But she couldn’t be seen encouraging such behavior could she?
(It’s not that Biji didn’t have any sympathy and understand for girls – it’s just that she knew the facts of life well. Life wasn’t fair and sooner girls understood it, accepted it, easier things would be later in life. What was the point in spoiling them as children and then pushing them off the cliff? Better to at least teach them the ropes right from the cradle was her mantra – there I go rambling again…)
“Learn something from Rajani,” Biji gagged but she had no choice but to make an example of ‘that’ girl, “she made a mistake,” she turned to Rajani, who had perked up, with a quelling glance, “many mistakes; but at least she repents her actions and apologizes as well. Look at you, putting the blame at my door! How dare you? Bahooo!” Biji’s voice rose.
About having a look at today's Post while you are here - The Bhishma Perspective Up next Chapter 45: Off to the Picnic