The phone rang once and stopped. It rang again and stopped after two rings.
“Who is this person who keeps making blank calls?” Nisha grumbled from the kitchen.
“Who knows Mamma?” Rajani casually edged out to the window. “Someone may have dialed a wrong number by mistake.” She pulled the curtain aside. There it was, the torch flashed thrice – SOS!
“Nonsense. Who dials a wrong number by mistake twice? And every so often?”
“Oh forget it Mamma. Never mind.” Rajani said, “Mamma, I need to check with Shikha about some homework. Can I just go across? I will be back soon.” She dashed off before her mother could object.
“What’s the matter Shiks?” Rajani was quite out of breath from her dash. “You know how stressful things are at home, Bhai’s class XII results are due any day now and…”
“Shushh, what a chatterbox you are!” Shikha interrupted her, “when you hear my news, you will…!”
“What news?” Rajani looked at her friend warily. Was she again going to the States for her vacations?
Okay, Okay fine fine! I’ll just back up a little – after the Biji village fiasco, Rajani had been very traumatized. Her parents had of course brushed away all of Biji’s and her sons’ apologies and explanations (no, no, not your fault, please don’t embarrass us, you kept her for so long and she regularly told us how much she was enjoying, this was an unfortunate incident, please don’t blame yourself, how could you have known that she would lock herself in, all fate, in fact we apologize for imposing on your generosity…you get the drift right?) but had privately resolved never to send her away again – especially as Rajani continued to have nightmares and developed a morbid fear of darkness. There were long-term repercussions and arguments in the Ahuja household with the blame game being played often between her parents.
But apart from that, the entire focus was on Abhi’s board exams – all hopes, ambitions, eyes and indeed life revolved around Abhi’s curricular activities. Extra-curricular activities (apart from meals) were non-existent so to speak.
Rajani had little option but to find her raison d’etre in school and books – that is when she didn’t manage to sneak off to Shikha’s place. But the last summer vacations had been the worst ever. Shikha had gone off to visit her mother’s brother in the States (Kirti had decided she wasn’t taking any chances this year and wrangled an invitation [including tickets] from him and Lalit had not been able to refuse the lucrative offer). Poor Rajani had been left to her devices with no choice but to lump it as well as she could. Needless to say she had been bored to death – and Nisha had been no help. Any complaints were firmly dealt with, “Go and study. Finish your coursework in advance. What a golden opportunity to come first in class.” Rajani moped around the house the entire summer vacations – finding succor in holiday homework!
Now finally, Abhi’s all important school board exams were over and done with. But still, there was no let up of pressure. If anything, it was worse than before. Abhi had been given no time to relax after the grueling exam schedule but instead had almost been seamlessly whisked off into an endless stream of professional entrance exams. Suryakant’s ultimate dream was of course to see his son become a doctor. But he liked to have his bases covered and for safety’s sake had ensured that Abhi appeared for engineering entrance exams as well. But sometimes, it was rather difficult for exams dates clashed or there were two exams on the same day at different places. If the timing didn’t coincide, Suryakant left no stone unturned to make sure his son gave the exam. He would drop his son at exam center A for his medical entrance exam at 7 in the morning for the 10 to 1 exam and go back home. He would return on his trusty scooter by 12.45 and be waiting at the gate with his engine running. Abhi would come out at a run and Suryakant would pause only to hand him a lunch box before gunning off at top speed for the 2-5 pm exam at another center about 20 km away in the blazing heat weaving through choc-a-bloc traffic – all in the month of April and May. But then at times, even Suryakant had to give up, like when the exam centers were in different cities or when the timings clashed. But all in all, Abhi gave almost twice the number of entrance exams as his board papers. But there is no need to waste any sympathy on Abhi for he was just one among thousands such students, who braved, the heat and dust, not to mention unknown cities, destinations for that one elusive seat which would grant his/her parents the freedom from crippling college fees as well as grant him/her five years of reprieve from the question, “So what are you doing beta? How much did you get in the boards? Mr Sharma’s daughter got 95% in his boards. Mr Singh’s son didn’t do so well in the boards but yet Mr Singh hit the jackpot! How? Don’t you know – his son cleared the engineering entrance exams! He was asking if I knew of any eligible suitable match for his son…”
The Ahuja’s knew the drill only too well – they had been active participants for the last couple of years maybe more and now it was their turn. Now only a few entrance exams were left and report card time was at their doorstep.
Suryakant became more and more stressed while Nisha’s fasts, prayers and offerings escalated exponentially as the date of results neared. Rajani sort of faded into the background and that’s where she preferred to remain.
Foreground usually meant she was about to be pulled up for something or the other. Today she was sure to get an earful from her mother for dashing off to Shikha’s house.
But what could Rajani do? First the double phone ring then the torch flash – it must be something urgent – it better be urgent.
“What news Shikha?” A reluctant smile tugged Rajani’s lip at the way Shikha was jumping up and down even though her heart sank and she crossed her fingers.
“Guess what!!!” Shikha was determined to drag it as much as possible…
“Whattttt?” goaded Rajani growled and lunged for her throat, Shikha neatly dodged her and sang out, “Guess what? Come on be a sport, at least one guess come on.” She wheedled as she slid behind the dining table for safety.
“I dunno,” sighed Rajani, “Going to the States for your vacations?”
“No! Okay one more try,” Shikha danced behind the dining table.
Relieved beyond words, Rajani lost interest, “No chance, either you tell me or I am leaving. Mamma will…” she moved towards the door.
“Wait wait!” Shikha came out from behind the table, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is coming out on the 21st of June!”
Rajani stared at Shikha.
“Yes!” Shikha nodded her head emphatically. “My cousin from the States emailed me. I just saw the email.”
Rajani shook her head wordlessly. The cat (or rather Harry) seemed to have got her tongue.
“I even confirmed it on the internet!”
Shikha shook a dumbstruck Rajani. That seemed to release her from her stupefied state; she clutched hold of Shikha by the arms and jumped up and down screaming with Shikha joining in enthusiastically.
Kirti came running, “What happened?”
“Harry Potter is coming! Harry Potter is coming! Harry Potter is coming!” They danced and chanted in tandem.
“Hey Bhagwan!” Kirti retired rather precipitously before she was dragged into their celebrations.
“Oh really?” Rajani stopped and put a hand to her heart, which was thumping madly. “Oh really? You aren’t pulling my leg are you?”
“No of course not silly, why would I do that? Oh isn’t this exciting?”
“Yes. This is the best news ever. I don’t remember when I was last this thrilled. Maybe when we went to the picnic and the circus. Remember….”
“Rajani your mother is calling you home if you are done discussing your homework,” Kirti looked at her pointedly.
Rajani flushed and mumbled, “Sorry,” before dashing back home.
“Sorted your homework issue?” Nisha was standing at the door.
Quite sure that Kirti had spilled the beans, Rajani reddened even more. “Sorry Mamma, actually…”
Nisha raised a hand. “Never mind, I don’t want to hear another of your lies.” She walked off clearly in a huff.
Rajani stared after her mother – now she had had it. She would get disapproving frowning looks for hours on end.
But she didn’t care! For the first time in almost two years she felt the stirrings of life, a joie de vivre, a reason to laugh and dance – life was beautiful once again.
Harry Potter, the love of her life was coming home once again.
Up next Chapter 58: Harried