It was sheer bliss – Rajani sank into the Order of Phoenix and disappeared from the world of the Muggles. Since it was vacation time, there were no distracting pressures – except for the pressure of reaching the end of the book of course.
Oh no! Harry expelled – so not fair, he was just trying to save himself. And where was Hagrid? Rajani took serious exception and umbrage to Umbridge’s inhuman punishment to Harry, as the cursed quill carved out ‘I will not lie’ out on his hand). Just let me get my hands on that witch she ground her teeth. Poor Dumbledore. Oh wow! Professor Snape was helping Harry – surely that could only land him into trouble. Heart in mouth (thudding madly and stopping intermittently) nails bitten down to the bone, Rajani remained glued to her book for almost 3 days and got into trouble with her mother for neglecting her household chores.
But Rajani was quite oblivious and firmly ensconced into a distant far-off land for which she seemed to have purchased a one-way ticket. There was no escape – not even after she turned the last page. No sooner had she finished reading it, she started all over again, there were so many missing links, earlier volumes to be referred to, discussed and debated, agonized and dreamed about.
Much of Rajani’s school term passed in a ‘Harrified’ haze and a good thing too for the atmosphere at home was quite oppressive and dismal. Abhi sat in his room surrounded by roof high tomes while the others tiptoed around the house and spoke in hushed whispers.
Until the summer of 2004.
Expectations and anticipation ran high and the Ahuja household was once more in a tizzy. Unwilling to leave any stone unturned, Suryakant took to joining Nisha as she did the morning aarti. The pile of offerings – cash and kind, prayers and pleas increased in exponential leaps and bounds.
Excitement was at fever pitch – Rajani had near constant cramps in her tummy, she couldn’t even eat properly. Only Abhi seemed immune – dull and uninterested, waiting for the axe to fall.
And as the results trickled in one by one, the blunt edge of the axe fell repeatedly on his tender neck – again and again.
Abhi’s rank and score were not up to the mark and being so far down in the list meant his chances at getting a seat were very dim. If only he had done a little better… the pall of gloom and doom hung thick and heavy.
Rajani quivered and shook as she trembled at the thought of how her father would react, poor Bhai, so not fair, he had worked so hard for so long – she shed bitter tears of sorrow for her beloved Bhai. Please Bhagwanji, let him get through the exams. Please don’t let Papa be too upset. Let Bhai become a doctor I will walk barefoot to the temple for 40 days, please Bhagwanji.
Knowing what was to come, Bhagwanji had taken anticipatory steps much in advance. He had given Suryakant the foresight to be better prepared and have a back up plan. This time, Suryakant steered clear of engineering entrance exams while expanding the range of medical entrance exams to cover private medical colleges as well.
Abhi cleared the Manipal entrance exams. Suryakant bit the bullet and swallowed the bitter pill – he loosened his purse strings and secured Abhi’s admission to KMC, Manipal.
Once that was done, there was a palpable air of celebration and jubilation – Abhi had cleared the Manipal exams with flying colors; he was going there on merit, a scholarship; he had cleared many other exams as well but they weren’t interested in sending their son to any old government medical college with outdated infrastructure and old age teaching patterns, only the best for their son and Manipal was the best, so on and so forth they gushed to all and sundry who dropped in to convey their good wishes and perhaps take a dig or two at their darling Abhi soon to be a doctor…
Nisha and Suryakant looked positively bloated as they distributed sweets and humbly accepted the congratulations of their neighbors and friends. Rajani couldn’t help but be a wee bit envious of the attention – it was all about Abhi this, Abhi that. Nisha was also busy making his favorite dishes, buying clothes for him, labeling them, crying over his imminent departure, Abhi, Abhi Abhi – Rajani was ready to scream.
She pressed her lips and narrowed her eyes. If becoming a doctor was such a big deal, she too would be a doctor she would show them all – Dr Rajani Ahuja. She could see herself – a tall graceful slim beautiful girl, wearing a white coat, stethoscope hanging from her neck. Yes, she would be a doctor and at no extra cost, Abhi’s books would do for her. She wouldn’t need any coaching or anything, in any case, poor Papa, where would he get so much money, send Bhai to Manipal, and pay for her tuition fees? No, no she would study hard from now itself. Wouldn’t Mamma Papa be thrilled? People would say look at them – both their son and daughter are doctors! And psst apparently the daughter is more intelligent….no, no that wasn’t the right way to think, she castigated herself, guiltily snipping the overgrowing frills of her (day)dream.
Anyway, so it happened that Abhi left Chandigarh for the distant Manipal. Suryakant went along to settle him in while Nisha wept buckets and Rajani couldn’t help but give company to her mother. Rajani missed her brother, even though of late he had become a recluse, showing up only at meal times that too on the rare occasions that he was free of the myriad endless, relentless coaching classes.
Rajani moped and sighed around the house and at Shikha’s. Her friend was quite out of patience with her. “I thought you were at loggerheads with your brother and look at you behaving as if he is dead or something.”
“How dare you say such a thing about my brother.” Cut to the quick at the D-word Rajani stomped off home and didn’t speak to her for two whole days. Besides, it was the weekend.
But by Monday, Rajani was heartily sick of the silence at home and deeply regretted flying off the handle with Shikha the only ray of hope in Rajani’s life (apart from Harry of course). She offered a tentative smile to Shikha, who promptly smiled back and gave her a shove. “Uff, wasted my whole weekend. What a big bore you are.”
“What? I like that” Rajani retorted with spirit and indignation. “You wasted my weekend.”
“Excuse me! You were the one who flounced off like some royal princess.”
“Yeah so? Why did you say,” Rajani paused, she shook her head slightly and stuck out her tongue delicately, “that about Bhai? That was really mean of you.” She crossed her arms and wore a ferocious scowl.
“I didn’t say that he…or that he would…just that you are behaving as if,” Shikha gave back as good as she got. “When he was here it was Bhai this Bhai that. Everybody just thinks of him, takes cares about him. I don’t have any value at home. Nobody cares about me. Boo hoo hoo.” Shikha didn’t mince her words. “And now that he is gone, all you can do is Bhai, my darling Bhai, oh I miss him so…pooohhhh.”
And thus started another of their favorite games – the blame game.
But at least they were talking – for now.
Red with embarrassment, Rajani said something that was as bad as the D word.
Rajani put her nose in the air and declared loftily, “I don’t expect you to understand. After all you don’t know what it is to have a brother.”
Shikha burst into tears. She got up from her seat on the bus and ran ahead to sit with Deepti.
Up next Chapter 61: Paying for Dreams