As Rajani’s father took up more and more assignments, he often fretted and worried about Rajani – that her studies would suffer. Eager to make amends and compensate for her own inadequacies, Nisha took up this responsibility and made sure Rajani had her nose to the grindstone.
Nisha sat beside her daughter usually with some knitting or stitching until it was time for dinner or the household chores. Nisha had gotten rid of the daily help, preferring to do all the housework herself (and thereby assuage her guilty conscience – the two rotten tomatoes still preyed on her mind). In any case there was nothing much to do around the house. Now that her beloved Abhi wasn’t home she didn’t feel like cooking half the dishes – oh the poor dear boy he loved this so! Moreover, all expenses were strictly monitored, accounted, bargained, debated, weighed, argued, pleaded…until shopping was limited to the bare essentials. Cable connection topped the nonessential expenditure list but given Suryakant’s daily rants against the idiot box and its contents Nisha didn’t dare to switch on the TV for even the free Doordarshan channels. Given these circumstances, Rajani had little option but to study which she did with much better grace and interest than Abhi.
The summer of 2005 was the high point of Ahuja household – household expenses were non-existent (well at a bare minimum), financial liabilities were under control (Suryakant’s moonlighting was paying dividends) and Abhi was well on his way to becoming a doctor. Rajani contributed her share to the Ahuja cup of joy – she was not only her school topper but also made it to the country’s top 1% list. Reporters got wind of it and her name was published in a local daily. She became quite the celebrity in her locality and Ahuja puffed up and held up his head high, so much so that his nose was in danger of bumping into the sky. He was not one to really smile and express his joy but one look at him was enough to feel the vibes of smug euphoria emanating from every pore of his being. Nisha of course made up for his silent approval – she gushed and fawned over her two kids (Abhi was home for a short vacation) by laying out a spread fit for kings and queens, braving her husband’s ire at the unnecessary expense. But Suryakant didn’t voice any objections (possibly he too was sick of the bland minimalist daily fare).
What about Rajani? Do you really need to ask? This year she didn’t have to beg, plead, plot or dip into her meager resources to purchase the new Harry Potter book. Her parents presented it to her – unconditionally! Rajani was in the seventh heaven of delight. Mamma was happy, even Papa was happy. Not only that he had high hopes from her! She had heard him say so with her own two ears.
“Yes, she is very hardworking and sincere. No, I didn’t help her at all for the boards. Where is the time? But yes, seeing her potential, I must try to help her achieve her full potential. Who knows we may have another doctor in the family.” He had laughed heartily.
Listening from her position behind the door, Rajani clapped her hands and jumped for joy. Yes! Yes! Yes! She sang and danced in her room. It was worth it – all those sleepy nights, morning headaches and burning eyes. She would become a doctor she vowed and wasted no time in sharing her dream with Shikha.
“A doctor? So what’s new?” Shikha wasn’t very surprised. “Haven’t you been harping on it since forever?”
“Not really.” Denied Rajani. “Maybe I did mention it a few times, but now I have decided and committed. I am going to slog it out and so are you.”
“Me?” Shikha’s eyes almost fell out of her head. “Why drag me into this? You do what you want to do. I just want to have an easy laid back life. Marry a rich guy…”
“Oh so Harry Potter is mine is he?”
“Oh please Rajji!” Shikha rolled her eyes. “Grow up! We are fifteen now not ten.” She snorted.
“You grow up!” Shot back Rajani as she thumbed her nose at Shikha, “I’ll take Harry…what?” Rajani stopped short at the sight of her friend rolling about laughing.
“I was just thinking how it would look when after I arrive in a Mercedes Benz, y…you arriving on a broomstick,” she gasped. “Your broomstick parked next to the Merc.” Rajani crossed her arms and stared stonily at Shikha but she couldn’t hold on to her gravity for long and succumbed to her trademark giggles.
“I am serious Shiks.” Rajani said once they had recovered from their giggling fit, “You have to study with me. You know I hate studying alone. In any case at home I have to study alone, at least during the day you can give me company, please?”
“I suppose.” Shikha wore a martyred expression. “Somebody has to save your sanity,” she paused, “whatever little you have left that is,” she grinned at Rajani’s affronted expression, “besides, Mummy wont give me a moment’s peace if I just loll about the house – your boards are around the corner and you are wasting your time! I told your Biji that we couldn’t go for Bholu’s wedding because your exams. Biji was insisting that you get married too, in fact she was ready with a prospective groom and was keen to hold your engagement ceremony during the wedding ceremony itself. I held her off by telling her that her granddaughter is brilliant and sure to become a collector. But look at you- whiling away precious time! Just because your tenth boards went well doesn’t mean you can sit on your laurels. You have to study hard from now – learn something from Rajani. And so on and so forth.” Shikha rolled her eyes as she swung her legs from the edge of her bed.
“Collector huh?” Rajani raised her eyebrows. “I didn’t know that.”
Shikha’s eyes danced wickedly as she bit into a juicy apple. She wiped her chin and said, “Yeah, my latest.” She waved her half-eaten apple at Rajani. “You can take Harry. I am going to ‘collect’ a rich husband…” Rajani jumped her and they fell about on the bed giggling and ended with Shikha choking on her apple.
One of the rare occasions for giggles for life now was all about studies and more studies. Determined to be a doctor and even more importantly not add to her parents’ financial burdens, Rajani dug out the rest of Abhi’s books and pored over them like he never had.
Seeing her interest and dedication, Suryakant decided to let Rajani join in with the other students he coached at home. This way he would kill two birds with one stone he thought with grim satisfaction.
And his plan worked – that is until he saw the boys cast sheep eyes at Rajani’s studiously bent head. Initially he ignored them, but then alarm bells rang when he saw one of the boy’s accost Rajani as she crossed the park from the corner shop back home. He leaned over her gesticulating while she simpered and giggled.
Suryakant gnashed his teeth and gave Nisha an earful, which she duly transferred to a thoroughly bewildered Rajani. “But Mamma, he was just asking how much I got in my unit test.”
“Why is he interested? And he is not even in your school?”
“It was just a casual question Mamma, no big deal. Papa had taught the Physics chapter only last week and I had shared it with him, I mean with Papa and him,” she added hastily as her mother’s expression darkened, “And he wanted to know if my marks were as we had calculated.” Rajani shrugged.
“If questions were discussed in class in front of your father, then marks or any other thing should have also been discussed in class isn’t it?”
“There wasn’t anything in it Mamma!” Rajani held on to her patience and tone, “we were just talking in full public view.”
“Exactly!” Nisha pounced with relish, “and not just ‘talking’ but flirting and leading him on,” her face contrarily mirrored horror and shock.
Rajani froze. “No Mamma please! Don’t say such things – he just cracked a joke about acing my test and I just politely laughed along with him….
“You cannot go around laughing with unknown boys in public and not lead them on.” Nisha was on a roll. “Give them an inch and they will take a mile. Don’t forget, you are Suryakant Ahuja’s daughter and Abishekh Ahuja’s sister, you have a reputation to uphold and maintain. Do you want our heads to hang in shame?”
“But what did I do!? Should I have ignored him and walked away? Wouldn’t that have been bad manners?”
“Mind your tongue young woman! Maybe I should ask your father to talk to you.”
Rajani paled and faltered. She withdrew from the argument crossing her fingers and sending up innumerable pleas. Suryakant never said anything to her, but that was the end of her joining the coaching classes.
Up next Chapter 63: Stressed