Nisha stared at the empty doorway aghast. Where had all that anguish come from? Just because of the book? It was clearly more serious than she had first thought.
Hey Bhagwan, for one it was so hot and now this new drama – there would be no peace at home till that book came home. Nisha hurriedly wiped her hands and looked at the living room clock – perhaps, just perhaps he hadn’t yet left the office, “Hello?” she wiped the sweat off her brow, “Listen, it’s me. So glad you are still in office. You better buy the new Harry Potter book on your way back – no matter what. I will explain later. Yes go to the main English Book Depot. And carry at least one thousand rupees.” She paused, “Maybe a little more, just to be on the safe side. Yes, I know what I am talking about. I will explain later. Crisis at home. Get it today. Bye.”
She peeped into their room where Rajani was lying on the bed weeping hysterically.
Nisha sighed and went to the kitchen. She brought a small serving of ice cream, “Rani my dearest Rani, look what I got for you,” she sat down beside her.
“Wh…what,” hiccupped Rajani. She sat up – her face was all blotchy and her eyes red. Nisha wiped up the mess with her dupatta and handed her the ice cream bowl, “Here, have this you like this flavor don’t you?”
She did indeed. She grabbed it and dug in a big spoonful and opened her mouth. She paused. “What about Bhai? He also likes it na?”
Nisha smiled and caressed her hair. “I have kept some for him. There was only a little bit left over from the last time. Some for you and some for him. Now don’t make a fuss when I give him share after dinner ok?” Nisha cautioned.
Rajani shook her head. “I wont.” She dug in greedily.
Nisha patted her head affectionately, “I love to talk to you beta, but I sent you away from the kitchen because it is so hot in the kitchen not because I don’t love you. All of us love you, Papa, Bhai everyone, but just that we are all so busy and you are still such a baby.” Nisha smiled a bit sadly. “Bas just a few years more and you will also become busy and you won’t have any time to talk to me.”
Rajani looked at her mother, ice cream dripping from one corner of her mouth and a drop on her dress, “That’s why you should talk to me now! Here have some ice cream.” She forcibly thrust the spoon into her mother’s mouth.
“I suppose you are right.” Nisha heaved a big sigh. “But if I don’t go into the kitchen there wont be anything for dinner.” She got up.
“Shall I help you Mamma?” Rajani followed her.
“No dear, you will in any case have to spend all your life in the kitchen. May as well do something different now you. Go and watch something on TV. Oh have you read the newspaper today?”
Rajani nodded her head. She held up three fingers. “I read 3 news articles.”
“Good girl. Now go and read some more.”
Nisha shook her head in relief as Rajani disappeared. She set about preparing dinner with practiced ease. The daily help had done much of the preparations, so all Nisha had to do was stir in a bit of her magic into the boiling pot. Nisha quite enjoyed this part of cooking. Humming she happily threw in a dash of this and a pinch of that…
“Mamma, what does ab…absconding mean?”
Warning bells went off. “Let me see. Oh leave that. That one is not meant for children. Read this one.” She tapped an article before turning back to her biryani.
“I have already read that. And this one is about children – gang leader ab…absconding. A 9 year old was ra…”
“Go and see,” Nisha interrupted, “I think I heard your father come.”
“Really?” Rajani threw the newspaper and ran to the door, “No Mamma, he hasn’t come as yet. Can I wait by the gate?”
For once Nisha had no objections.
Rajani put her foot on the base bar of the gate and gave herself a push with the other foot. She swung about it while waiting and ruminating – maybe Mamma didn’t know the meaning of absconding either, that’s why she didn’t answer me. She always did that, changed the topic when she didn’t know the answer, or didn’t want to answer. Like she didn’t say anything about the Harry Potter book. Sadness engulfed her. Dull lack lustre days stretched endlessly ahead of her. Shikha and everybody else in school drooling over the book, discussing it, while she…oh how would she bear the isolation?
No, no, she simply couldn’t. Tears crowded her eyes. She heaved a deep sigh. If only there was some way of earning money. Abroad, children were so lucky – they could earn money by simply running errands but here nobody gave any money for anything. Only on birthdays or special occasions like when guests came over at Shikha – she got lots of money as shagun. But then Ahuja’s rarely had any guests and neither did they go over to anybody’s house not even for vacations or weddings. It wasn’t as if they didn’t have relatives. She also had massis, mamas and a chacha but…
“Papa.” Rajani got off the gate and held it open for him to drive right in.
Suryakant looked at her curiously. “Everything ok beta?”
“Yes Papa. Again you are late.” She frowned.
“Late? Not so much. Abhi hasn’t come yet has he?”
Rajani shook her head as she took his bag and led the way in. “No but he is always late. He has loads to study na?”
“And I have loads to work na?” Suryakant imitated her and pinched her cheek, “besides I had to go to the market.”
“To buy vegetables?” Rajani looked around, “but there isn’t any extra packet. Have you put it in your office bag? It is feeling heavy.” She heaved the bag on to the sofa and opened it.
Nisha looked at Suryakant and raised her eyebrows questioningly. He nodded reassuringly. Nisha looked heavenwards and waited.
Rajani stared at the fat package nestling snugly in one corner. “What’s that?”
“Open it and see.” Suryakant gave her permission.
Rajani took it out and undid the plain brown wrapping.
Nisha was glad she had waited. The look on her face was priceless. It was as if she had received the Nobel Prize and Oscar award together. She stared at the book as if she couldn’t believe her eyes. She opened the first page to check if it was Shikha’s or not – nope it was brand new. It was hers – try as she might, she couldn’t say a word. She simply jumped up and down and ran a little crazily around the room – yayyyyy.
Finally the dam burst – I got it! I got it! I got it! Harryyyyyyyyyyyyy
Suryakant and Nisha looked at each other smiling – she looked so adorable, all bright eyed, flushed and happy. Nisha sent up a prayer – keep her happy always.
“Mamma look Papa got me the book! How did Papa know? Bhagwanji must have told him right? See if you really want something you get it right? Thank you Papa, thank you. You are the best.” She clung to him.
Suryakant laughed and patted her shoulder, “Yes Rani, actually…”
Nisha tugged at his arm and shook her head. He looked at her but fell silent. Nisha smiled and put a finger to her lips – it wasn’t just about the book, the little girl needed to know that her father really did love her.
“Okay Rani, Papa got the book, but remember this means no birthday party and no other birthday gift either. Understand?”
“Yes Mamma. I remember. Now that I have the book I don’t want anything else.”
Nisha nodded, “Just don’t conveniently forget it on your birthday. And let me remind you that you have school tomorrow. You cannot read it now.”
“Yes Mamma,” Rajani held the book reverently, “I promise I won’t read it today or tomorrow. I will read it only on Friday evening and finish by Sunday ok?”
“Ok, now give it to me.” Nisha held out her hand.
“No! I will keep it with me. I want to hold it and smell it.”
Nisha laughed and shook her head. She went back to the kitchen just as Abhi entered.
“Bhai look, the new Harry Potter book.” Rajani followed Abhi into his room.
“I will read it first.” Rajani held the book behind her back. “It’s my birthday present.
Abhi looked at her. “What do you mean your birthday present? There is still a week to your birthday. And since when did you start getting such expensive birthday presents?”
“I mean I got it in exchange for no birthday party or any other birthday gift.” She looked at Abhi, “Are you jealous? Can only you get expensive gifts for your birthday?”
“What do you mean?”
“Didn’t you get a watch for your birthday? And did you not go to the adventure park with your friends for your birthday party?”
“Rajani.” Nisha stood at the door. “Don’t keep comparing yourself with your big brother. You shouldn’t think what he got when he turned 16, you should match with what he got when he was 10 years old. Okay?”
“So when I am 16 you will let me go to the adventure park?” Rajani challenged.
“We’ll see. Besides, he is a boy.” Nisha dismissed her.
“So what if he is a boy?” Rajani persisted.
“Rajani, please I don’t have time for all this.” Nisha was irritated. “Enough is enough. Since then you have been nagging me. And now even though you got your book you already started with your new demands. At least learn to be happy and satisfied with what you have right now and not moan what will or will not happen after 6 years?”
Abashed, Rajani looked down at her precious Harry Potter. “Sorry Mamma.” She clutched the book close to her.
“Anyway, come for dinner.”
“Yes Mamma.” Rajani stuck out her tongue at Abhi behind her mother’s back. “My book.” She reiterated.
“Yes and you can keep it. I don’t even want to read it,” Abhi snapped rudely.
“Haww why?” Rajani was scandalized, “you liked the Harry Potter books didn’t you? Don’t you remember, the last book, we read that together.”
“Yes and uff!” Abhi put a hand to his head and pulled at his hair, “such a bl…pain it was with you hanging over my shoulder interrupting me every other second for the meaning of each word. No thank you.” He clapped his hands hard and bowed low. “Maharani may kindly read first and then I will read it – that is if her Royal Highness has no objections. Besides,” his lips curled, “if I had time, I would rather play a game of football.” He vanished into the washroom.
Rajani drooped – poor Bhai, so much to study and no free time at all. She looked down. She brightened – she couldn’t believe her luck – Harry Potter in her arms and Papa had brought it for her. Oh how surprised Shikha was going to be. She hugged the book and the pleasant thoughts to herself.
“Bhai come quickly, Mamma has made your favorite biryani.”
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