Lalit offered to escort the girls to Bengaluru and help them settle down. In return, a grateful Suryakant offered to drive the entire family to Delhi from where they could catch the onward flight to Bengaluru. Six of them crammed into an Ambassador were a bit of a squeeze but they managed. Rajani’s arm throbbed from the jolts and jerks but she bore it well.
At the Delhi airport, Nisha and Kirti sobbed their hearts out, as did the girls – much to Suryakant’s embarrassment. After a while, he managed to push Rajani into the airport premises and wave them off.
“Oh my poor little baby,” Nisha wept.
“She will be fine. Don’t worry. Lalit will take care of her. Even Shikha is there.” Kirti wiped her tears and set about consoling the overpowered Nisha.
Kirti’s reassurance was unlikely to have made a dent in the waterworks but for Suryakant’s timely nudge and hiss. “Stop it.” Nisha subsided.
Encouraged, Kirti said, “Please come and have lunch at my brother’s place.” Kirti was going to stay a couple of nights at her cousin’s place in Delhi as she planned to return to Chandigarh with Lalit.
“No, no, we couldn’t possibly impose on them.” Suryakant was horrified.
“It’s no imposition. In fact my brother would be very upset if you didn’t…”
“No, we must be on our way. We will just drop you and be off. I want to reach Chandigarh before it’s dark.”
“But you need to eat? Nisha didn’t even anything at the stopover…”
“Oh Nisha!” Suryakant laughed, “she only likes to eat food that she has cooked.”
Nisha gave a watery smile. “He exaggerates. Please,” she squeezed Kirti’s arm in appreciation of her concern, “ but I couldn’t eat anything. Not so soon after,” she choked.
But Kirti was not one to give up so easily. When they reached her cousin’s place, she invited them in for tea. Her cousin and his family extended their warm welcome and insistence. Not wanting to appear churlish, Ahujas accepted. Yet they felt awkward and beholden. Uncomfortable, Nisha nudged Suryakant. He looked at her and indulged in a bit of an intense but brief eye-conversation. On their way out, Suryakant pressed crisp 500 Rs. notes in the hands of both their children overruling their protestations. Feeling unencumbered, the Ahujas returned home with a lighter step if not a lighter heart.
The tea break had wonders for Nisha. She was hungry and besides, she could hardly keep crying at some random stranger’s place could she? Forced to adhere to societal norms and indulge in small talk she was more-or-less back to her usual even-tempered self by the time they left.
They returned home safely – silent for most part. But once at home, Nisha’s emotions once again threatened to overwhelm her. Everything at home reminded her of Rani, her towel, oh she forgot the toiletry bag, how would she manage? She didn’t even have a toothbrush! My little baby, how would she manage, alone, away from her Mamma…Tears crowded Nisha’s eyes but one look at Suryakant’s forbidding exterior was enough to dam the breach.
In the meanwhile, the girls at the airport were awestruck by the grand terminal – it was their first flight and they had never seen anything quite like it before. Tears forgotten they stared wide-eyed all around.
100 Rs for a cup of tea! Horrified they could only stare at each other. No wonder Papa had insisted that she eat properly. “You will get food only after you are airborne. Don’t ask Uncle to buy you anything. Understand?”
“Good. Now listen to me carefully. I have given a cheque of Rs 5000 to Uncle. He will deposit it in your bank account.”
“My bank account?”
“Yes you will have to open a bank account over there. Uncle will help you and show you how to withdraw money.”
“Money for what? Fees?”
“No Rani, your daily expenses. Use this money carefully. Don’t spend it on frivolous things. I have made a draft for the fees and hostel fees etc. which Uncle will hand over to the appropriate authority. But you follow him and make a careful note of the procedure so that from next time you can do it. Understand?”
Rajani nodded albeit doubtfully. It was very confusing. Why would she need daily expenses? The hostel had a mess didn’t it? Papa was too generous. Why did she need a bank account? She was scared of banks –peopled with serious expressions in cold forbidding interiors. Her heart sank. What was that about ‘appropriate authority’? Would they accept a draft from her? What if they glared at her, scolded her?
And Papa wasn’t done yet. He was still giving instructions. “Be careful about your mobile phone. Maybe I shouldn’t have bought you such an expensive one. You will need to buy a local SIM once you get there. Find out about that at the earliest. Don’t call us we will call you. And find out where the local phone recharge outlet is….”
Panic flooded her. Local SIM, phone recharge! What was all that? She wished she wasn’t going. She wished she could stay here and let Papa manage as he always did.
“Rani,” Nisha jumped in the moment Suryakant paused, “be careful of what you eat. Chole doesn’t suit you, so don’t be greedy and eat it ok? I wonder what kind of laundry system they have over there? Anyway, I am sure they will be expensive, so better wash your clothes yourself. It’s not difficult at all. Just remember to soak them the night before and when you for a bath the next morning, just wash and rinse them out. Make sure all the soap is washed away and then hang them up to dry. Will she have a place to hang out the washing?” Nisha turned to ask her husband. But he had walked off. “Well no matter you can hang them in the room, it may smell a bit, so be careful about wringing out the water…but your hand! Oh how will you manage?” Nisha burst into tears.
“Mamma please don’t cry! I promise I will be fine. I will manage, pucca.” She crossed her fingers and consoled her mother even as dread filled her. She didn’t want to go! Couldn’t she just stay here? Please Bhagwanji…
“Hey Rajji are you okay?”
Shikha had stood at the doorway with the sun behind her, the dupatta flowing behind her made her look like an angel with a halo, which she was – her guardian angel.
Rajani steadied – she smiled and nodded. “Yes I am fine.” Indeed she was – Shikha would be with her. Together they would manage. She cheered up and for the first time felt a bit better about not going alone to a new college.
At the airport, Rajani gripped Shikha’s hand tightly but Shikha wasn’t quite pleased. “Come on Rajji,” she muttered, “behave yourself. People will think we are some illiterate villagers. Look cool man, look cool.” She nodded looking around with a disdainful expression. Rajani began giggling.
“Oh no!” moaned Shikha, even though a giggling Rajani was way better than a terrified one.
The flight to Bengaluru was uneventful – except for Rajani’s joust with the seat belt. Lalit saved the day and saved her blushes although Shikha’s snorts and giggles didn’t help.
“It’s because of my arm,” she couldn’t help saying with a dignified if injured air to a jellified-Shikha.
Shikha wiped her eyes and managed to say in a voice that barely shook as she spoke. “Oh really? Your arm is it? I thought is was because of your head.” She was off again.
“Just you wait. I will have my revenge yet.” Threatened a thoroughly riled Rajani plus her arm was on fire.
And revenge was swift. Shikha got stuck in the washroom and the airhostess had to release her. All eyes of the aircraft were on her as she walked down the aisle and slunk into her seat. Rajani who had been worried stiff until then couldn’t help the snort which escaped.
“Don’t you dare Rajji.” Shikha was all red, hot and sweating.
But then when had Rajani’s giggles ever paid any heed to anyone? She went full on and jerked about helplessly in her seat – at first glance one would be forgiven for thinking she was being given ECT.
“Shut up Rajji.” Shikha hissed again and again. But it was easier to join in than stop her. Besides, it had been a long time since they had indulged.
The bout did them good – even though there were repercussions. Shikha got a headache and Rajani’s back also cramped up. But there was so much to see and wonder over that they had no time to pamper their respective ailments.
Up next Chapter 70: At the College