Rajani paled and felt faint. Her breath was shallow. She sat down with a thump and the book almost fell from her nerveless fingers. She couldn’t believe she was actually holding the new Harry Potter book. She gently caressed the cover, resisting the urge to open the book. If she did, if she read the first word, she wouldn’t be able to put down the book. Yielding to temptation, she brought the book close to her nose; she inhaled deeply while ruffling the pages.
“You will spoil it Rajji.” Shikha claimed ownership.
Bereft, Rajani could only stare helplessly at the book as it nestled in Shikha’s arms. She swallowed. “Have you started reading it? When will you finish?”
“I haven’t started reading it yet. My cousin and all are here and we will be going Kasauli for a short holiday with them. I am busy right now, so maybe after they leave, I will read it then.”
“When will they leave?” Rajani asked in dismay.
“In about 10 days.”
“10 days!” Rajani stared at her aghast. It was a fat book. Shikha would take ages to finish it. She would die before she got her hands on the book. “Shikha let me read it first. I will give it back to you in two days.” There was a pleading note in her voice.
“No.” Shikha clutched the book tightly as if Rajani had actually made a snatch for it. “It’s mine and it’s only right that I should read it first.”
Rajani nodded unhappily – she hadn’t really expected Shikha to agree. But if I wasnt going to read it, I would have surely lent it to Shikha.
Dejected, Rajani slowly walked back home – it was one thing for the book not to have been printed or not available in India. But to have held it, smelt it – oh how she had wanted to gobble down the book – she could almost taste it. What mysteries, what treasures were held within those pages – and of course Harry.
Oh how could she bear the wait? At least 10 days before Shikha started reading and then she would take her own sweet time. Rajani could already anticipate that worse was in the offing.
Shikha would read in bits and pieces and would want to share with her – oh no no, she wouldn’t be able to bear the suspense – she had to have the book now. But how? Where could she get the money? Desperation seized her.
“Mamma, I have to buy the Harry Potter book! Please Mamma. Shikha already has it.”
Nisha looked up from her stitching in surprise and alarm at the urgency in Rajani’s voice. “That’s good na beta. Once she reads it you can read it too,” she said in soothing tones.
“No Mamma, I can’t wait that long. I have to read it right now – to have held the book, smelt the book but not be able to read it – oh Mamma,” she clutched her stomach, “I will surely die.” Anguish lent eloquence to Rajani.
“Don’t exaggerate Rani. Nothing of the sort is going to happen,” Nisha said in a brisk no-nonsense tone.
“Oh I wish I would die. I can’t live like this – Harry Potter so near and yet so far away.” Rajani wore a tortured expression.
Nisha was taken aback. She put down her sewing. “But dear, we talked about this, we cannot afford the extra expense, coaching tutors, school fees, your birthday party and now the new boo…”
“I don’t want a birthday party,” Rajani jumped in. “I just want the book please, please, please Mamma. I promise I won’t ask anything for my birthday.” Rajani clasped her hands together and fell to her knees in front of her mother.
“Rajani!” Nisha snapped instantly, “What nautanki is this. Get up and stop all this nonsense at once. So much drama – all for one stupid book.”
“It’s not stupid!” Rajani flared up. “You won’t understand.” She wore a superior understanding expression on her face, “You are a Muggle after all. I am also a Muggle but then even Hermione’s parents were both Muggles but then she is a wizard, and an excellent one too.”
“Stop blabbering Rani. God knows what all nonsense this book teaches you children. Last year also there was a nautanki and now this year too.”
“Next year again there will be a new book! This one isn’t the last book in the series.”
“Hey Bhagwan.” Nisha clapped a hand to her head.
“Don’t worry Mamma, I will start saving my pocket money for the next book from right now. But please buy this book for me. Please Mamma. I will earn the money and return it to you,” Rajani said.
“Earn the money? How?”
“I don’t know. But I will. I promise – pucca promise. Can you please buy this book of Harry Potter now?”
“Well I will talk to your father, let’s see what he says. But you really shouldn’t talk big like this, buy from my pocket money, earn the money.” Nisha cut the sewing thread with her teeth. She got up and began putting the things away. “You think it is so easy to earn money? One thousand rupees is a lot of money. You wont even be able to save that much if you save all your pocket money for the year.”
Rajani was silent for a moment. Then, “I will if Dadi sends me 500 rupees for my birthday just like she sends Bhai.”
Nisha froze. She straightened and looked Rajani who looked back at her unblinkingly. “But I know she won’t. She will send me only 100 rupees.”
Nisha coughed. “That’s because you are so young and your brother is almost an adult.”
Unconvinced, Rajani shook her head, “I know she will never give me as much as Bhai, not even if I am one hundred years old.”
“Oh Rani,” Nisha laughed helplessly, “how you exaggerate. Besides, when you are 100 years old, it would be time for you to give to your children and grandchildren and not expect your Dadi to be gifting you at that age.”
“But I would still be Dadi’s grandchild then isn’t it?” Rajani pointed out with unerring logic.
“But…oh forget it. I will talk to your father. Now I better go and prepare dinner.” Nisha walked off to the kitchen.
Rajani followed her.
“Mamma what’s for dinner?”
“You always make Bhai’s favorite dishes.”
“That’s not true Rani. I thought you also liked biryani?”
“I do. But, it’s Bhai’s favorite dish. Last evening you made aloo paratha, then before that pao-bhajji. But you never make kadi-chawal.”
“Never? Now that’s too much Rani. I remember making it just the other day.”
“No, just the other day was right after Shikha’s birthday. Now it’s time for my birthday.”
“Achcha toh you are keeping track is it? The Chitragupta of menus?”
“Yes. Chitragupta is the god who keeps records of all the actions of human beings on earth. And after death, he is the one who decides whether a person should go to heaven or hell.”
Rajani listened in wide-eyed silence, properly impressed (and flattered). Chitragupta, god of records, Chitragupta, god of records she mouthed silently to herself, committing it to memory. “Tell me more Mamma.”
“Not now. Maybe later.”
“When will you make kadi-chawal?”
“On your birthday? It’s just around the corner isn’t it? Hmm, let me see, you were born on 24th July 1995.”
“Mamma! You don’t even remember my birthday!” Rajani was cut to the core. “I am going to be 10 years old not five.”
Nisha burst out laughing. “Of course I know, my little pumpkin.” She pinched her cheeks. “I was just checking if my Chitragupta had her records straight.”
Rajani puffed up her chest. “I have everyone’s record. And I think you are just covering up. You have forgotten my birthday,” she accused hotly, “I was born on 26th July 1990. You just love Bhai. You don’t love me at all.” Rajani was near tears.
Nisha sighed. Her joke had clearly backfired. She hurriedly gave the biryani a final stir and covered it. She knelt down and hugged Rajani tightly, “Aww sweetie, how could I forget my littlest baby’s birthday? I was just pulling your leg sweetheart. Promise. Cross my heart and hope to die.” She pulled at the skin on her throat to prove her sincerity.
Rajani sniffed, only partially convinced. “But you always make Bhai’s favorite dishes.” She went back to her pet grouse.
“Oh dear.” Rajani stood up with a heave. “That’s because the poor boy is very stressed out. You know how much he has to study. Bechara he has no time to relax. Morning school. Back home for lunch and then off again for coaching classes. Back in time for dinner and then back to studying. Food, his favorite foods are the only that he looks forward to…”
“Oh so that means you are making biryani for him and not for me?”
“Rajani.” Nisha said in a warning tone.
Rajani grinned mischievously. She raised her hands and opened her eyes wide. “I was joking Mamma.”
Nisha looked at her resignedly. “It’s not funny Rani. Go to your room and study.”
“I finished my homework Mamma.”
“Go and draw something.”
“You are sending me away.” Rajani’s voice wobbled alarmingly. “You also don’t want to speak to me. Nobody loves me. Bhai also has no time for me and neither does Shikha. She has no time to read the book but she won’t give it to me either. You also don’t love me. You only love Bhai. I thought Papa loved me but he also loves Bhai – if only he studied a little bit more.” Rajani ran from the room in a flood of tears.
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