Rajani mulled and moped over her dire financial straits until a faint memory stirred. She made a beeline for her drawer where she kept all her precious things, including a little purse, safely tucked away at the corner behind piles of stuff. She opened it and stared at the two crisp 500 rupee notes. How could she have forgotten! Both Biji and Bade Papa had given her and Shikha Rs 500 each when they left the village.
Delighted beyond words she fingered the crisp notes – well that made it 11,00 Rs (including the Rs 100 Dadi would be sending for her birthday). Not bad…
Rajani frowned. Hadn’t Bade Papa also given them another Rs 100 when they had served dinner to everybody while Kirti Aunty was busy stitching? Where was that?
Rajani’s brow cleared. Oh yes! she had given it to Aunty for safe keeping until the fair where she was supposed to spend it. But then they had come away before the fair, so the money was still with Kirti Aunty.
Rajani was in a fix – could she could she not? Should she, or should she not ask Aunty about it. She agonized over it for ages – she even woke up in the middle of the night dreaming that she couldn’t afford to buy the new Harry Potter book all because she was short of one hundred rupees. But try as much as she could, she simply couldn’t ask Aunty – neither in her dreams nor in reality.
But she did fret over it almost obsessively. Was there any way she could perhaps ‘remind’ Aunty? Maybe she could ask Shikha, in Aunty’s hearing?
Yes she would talk about the fair, how she felt bad about missing it, how they had made plans to spend the hundred rupees but then they had come away before that – surely that would jog Aunty’s memory? But what if Aunty saw through her ruse? She flushed – how embarrassing, no she couldn’t possibly do it! How could she? How could she not – after all desperate time called for desperate measures?
But worse – this was one thing she couldn’t share even with her best friend! What could she say to her? Tell me how to get back my one hundred rupees from your mother – oh no no! This was way too awful to even contemplate.
Her only hope was Abhi – that he would do well in the exams, clear his entrances and Papa would be overjoyed! Yes that would open up the coffers for sure. Even Mamma wouldn’t create a fuss – hopefully. And then there was her birthday coming up in a couple of month’s time. Perhaps she could renegotiate the terms of her birthday party like once before.
But for the moment, her only hope was Bhagwanji – let Bhai do very well in his exams or let the Harry Potter book not cost more than 11,00 Rs…
Then came the big day – board results. Suryakant glowed with pride as the congratulations poured in from all quarters. His son was the school topper (science section). His chest swelled with pride as he clapped a rare hand on his worthy son’s shoulders. His son was well on his way to become a doctor. Nisha shed tears of joy at the feet of her Bhagwanji while Abhi basked in the glory of his achievement and strutted about the colony with his head held high whilst all the aunties fawned over him. With the corner of his eyes he noticed the girls pointing at him, giggling and simpering as he sauntered by.
Rajani grew quite roly-poly gorging on the sweets that arrived at their home while she beamed from ear to ear – Harry was on his way!
But as they say there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.
No doubt Abhi fared very well in his boards but he messed up his entrance exams – big time. He didn’t clear a single one. And he had given several.
As the results trickled in, the atmosphere at home became grimmer and grimmer. Suryakant’s face became blacker and blacker and threw a bigger fit each time showering a torrent of abuses and curses on the hapless boy.
Dejected, Abhi shut himself up in his room and a dreadful blanket of fear enshrouded Nisha – she couldn’t sleep at night and would often go to Abhi’s room just to hear him breathe. More often than not, she found Abhi wide-awake, his eyes dull and blank as he stared up at the ceiling of the darkened room. Mostly he ignored her. Only once he broke down.
“I tried Ma, I really did.”
“Yes Beta. I know Beta.” Nisha shed copious tears, as did Rajani. She withdrew into a shell and watched as if from far away – she wished there was some place she could run away to and never come back – at least until Bhai got into medical college.
Things came to a head one day after Abhi failed to qualify in yet another exam. Suryakant’s hopes and dreams lay shattered at his feet – the anguish was too much for his sensibilities, bruised and battered, he was itching for blood. He caught hold of Abhi and went off the deep end.
“You useless, worthless, ungrateful nincompoop, I spent so much money on you and you couldn’t even crack one measly entrance exam. Not one! You are not worthy of being called my son!” He bellowed, his red eyes almost popped out from their sockets and spittle flew out of his mouth.
Blood rushed to Abhi’s head. No matter how much Suryakant denied it, Abhi was his son.
“If you are so worthy how come you didn’t become a doctor? During your time you didn’t even have entrance exams, just marks would have been enough to get into medical college isn’t it?”
Suryakant raised his hand but Abhi’s hand shot out to grab his father’s wrist before her hit him. There is no saying what would have happened next for Nisha jumped in and separated them. Shivering and shaking, Rajani peered out from behind the bedroom door.
Abhi wrested free his hand from his mother’s death grip. “That’s it. I am done with life.” Before anyone could react, he stalked off to his room and slammed the door shut. The sound of the bolt as it slipped into place echoed with a dreadful finality.
With a shriek Nisha dropped her husband’s arm and ran to the door. “Abhi! Open the door Abhi.” She ran to her husband. “What are you doing there standing? Open the door. Open the damn door.” She shook an immobile Suryakant before running back to the door. “Abhi! Abhi my son! Please don’t do this to your mother.” She shed bitter tears on the door before screaming at her husband once again. “Don’t just stand there. Do something. What if he takes some drastic step? Hurry! Please! Hurry.”
Suryakant seemed to come out of his stupor and he kicked at the door – it was quite a circus.
Nisha shouting, Rajani howling Suryakant hitting the door with his shoulder with increasing force – amidst all this, Abhi suddenly opened the door.
Suryakant almost fell flat on his face. Abhi couldn’t help grinning – only Rajani caught it for Suryakant was busy trying to hang on to his dignity while Nisha hung around her darling son’s neck. It spoke volumes for Rajani’s state of mind for her trademark giggles werent even tickled even the littlest bit.
Shaken, Suryakant disappeared for some much needed introspection. He shut himself up in his room. He brooded and cursed his fate roundly and did his best to give up his dream – Abhi as a doctor. But he simply couldn’t give it up. And why should he? After all Abhi had proven his mettle in the board exams why not the entrance exams?
His heart stood still and began thumping madly – it wasn’t Abhi’s fault at all. It was a strategic mistake on his part! The problem did not lie with his son. He, Suryakant, was to blame. He was the one to have insisted that Abhi appear for both medical and engineering exams. That pressure was probably what had messed up Abhi’s performance, and destroyed his chances at becoming a doctor.
Suryakant could have wept with relief. It wasn’t too late yet he consoled himself.
He emerged the next day a new man.
“Never mind Abhi, whatever has happened has happened. I forgive you. Let’s start afresh. Your board marks prove that you have potential. So what if you didn’t clear the entrance exams this year? You can give the entrance exams again next year. Only medical entrance exams.”
There was of course no question of questioning his decision. So began another year of coaching classes tests and quizzes for Abhi and the house went back to being a mausoleum where a deathly eerie silence hung about the house.
Rajani’s only hope was Harry Potter would come and sweep her off on his broom. At the slightest opportunity she escaped into the world of Harry Potter. She dreamed about it day and night – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – a deep breath and she could smell it, hear the rustling pages – all but hold it and read it. The endless wait and agony of impatience, suspense nearly drove her crazy yet it was the only thing that kept her sane.
And thankfully for her (and everyone’s) continuing sanity, she managed to extract the deficit balance from her mother, after promising to forgo her birthday celebrations and the customary one hundred rupees that her grandmother would send and just a month before her 13th birthday, Harry Potter nestled cozily in her arms.
If there was heaven on earth it was here, here, here.