College admission paperwork and formalities done, Lalit settled the girls in the hostel and flew back to Delhi. There was so much happening that the girls didn’t have much scope to moan and cry over his departure. Besides, Lalit was smart enough to preempt another crying session (the airport scene was still fresh in his mind).
He dropped the girls at the hostel in the evening and casually mentioned he would leave for Delhi the next day. Curious and distracted over their accommodation, the girls didn’t instantly latch on to the implications of that – he would leave without meeting them for they had classes from the next day. And by then it was too late to shed tears.
The hostel offered either single rooms or four seaters. Neither set of parents was keen on single rooms for them (apart from the expense there were other obvious considerations) and neither were the girls. Twin sharing would have been ideal but they were stuck with four seaters. The two other girls sharing the room were Lakshmi and Madhu – aka Lucky and Mads who gave them a reserved welcome, making space for them but mostly leaving them to their devices. Besides, it was late and they had to unpack, make their beds, etc. etc.
Morning was a blur and a mad rush. They overslept and if it wasn’t for the unfamiliar sounds of the other two getting ready for college, it is likely they would have slept through the morning.
“Whaa!” Rajani peered blearily at Shikha. “What’s up? What are you doing here so early?”
“Wake up Buddhoo. Forgotten or what? We are at the hostel. Remember? Class in another 20 min.”
That woke up Rajani. “20 min! How…what…oww!” Her arm hurt.
“Hurry. No time to groan. We have to rush.” Shikha hustled her and vanished into the washroom.
“Bye see you in class.” Lucky (or was it Mads) smirked.
“Hey wait! Where exactly is class?” It suddenly struck Rajani that she had no idea where to go.
“It’s down the lane, take the first right and there is the Academic section. We are Eco students – you will have to find out from them about your class. Don’t you have a schedule?”
“Schedule?” Rajani scrabbled through her papers. “Oh yes – LH 4 at 9 am.”
“That means, Lecture Hall number 4 fourth floor. Okay bye. We are going to have breakfast.”
“Breakfast?” Rajani’s stomach growled. “Where do we eat?”
“Rajjii! Still here? Go hurry!!!” Shikha seemed to have walked under the shower and come out – or probably she hadn’t bothered with a towel. Rajani stared at her blankly. “Okay just freshen up, you can shower in the evening.” Shikha pushed her and scrabbled around her bag for a dress. Giggling, the other two girls pushed off.
Shikha was changed and brushing her curls by the time Rajani emerged. “Hurry Rajji. Hardly 10 min left.” Shikha said.
“10 min! I can’t Shiks. You go. My hair will only take 10 min.” Rajani was in despair. “And my arm…”
“You focus on choosing your dress. Let me manage your hair.” She unwound her hair and gave it a few quick strokes. “Ouch!” Rajani yelped but Shikha didn’t care. She plaited it up loosely. “There! Done in 2 min. flat,” Shikha’s eyes were shining. She was enjoying herself unlike Rajani who looked positively miserable. “Shikhss, you go I can’t be ready so fast.” She quailed as Shikha glared. Shikha chose an orange tee-shirt and threw it at her, “Come on wear this and jeggings – no need to struggle with buttons. You have one minute before I begin helping you with this as well.” She turned around and began counting, “60, 59, 58, hurry, 55, 54….”
Rajani dashed to the washroom and was out in record time. Shikha was standing by the door holding their bags and phones. “Good thing we set our bags at night.” She grinned. “What fun isn’t it? Let’s run. We have 6 min.”
“I am starving.” Rajani complained.
“Forget it. No breakfast today. We are free from 11 – 12 – brunch then.” Shikha panted pulling Rajani along.
“Brunch! I’ll die by then,” Rajani stepped up. The brisk walk cum jog to class took 12 min. But luckily for them, many boys were still streaming into the class. The professor was inside and had just begun taking attendance. They slipped into the crowd and sneaked in without drawing any attention to themselves – at least that is what they thought.
Two brightly colored attractive young girls entering in a crowd of shuffling browns, blacks and blues could hardly go unnoticed. But victorious and giggling, the girls were oblivious to the interest they generated, especially in the boys.
The lecture hall was stepped and huge. There must have been over a 100 students in the class – boys and girls sitting decorously apart. The boys sat on the left side while the girls on the right. Rajani and Shikha too walked over to the far right without much thought – in fact quite relieved to be some distance away from the alien species. Thankfully, the number of girls in the class was more than the boys.
The girls looked serious and studious – they had their books out and were staring at the professor with rapt attention ready to catch any pearls and gems of wisdom that he was about to spout. A few girls here or there whispered amongst themselves (notably Shikha and Rajani). But as soon as the professor began his talk, they snapped to attention and pens flew across notebooks in perfectly choreographed motions.
The scene on the other side was quite a contrast. The boys sat slouched, eyes closed or propped up with pins – reluctance, rebellion and boredom writ large on their faces. Each seemed to be involved in some deep commune with the inner self and none opened their mouths (except to yawn and set off a chain reaction in the row).
Once the professor began his lecture, a few boys desultorily scrabbled around for a pen, a notebook, or a sheet of paper torn from another. Unlike the girls who seemed to function as unit (at least in class) the boys were a disjointed lot with no sense or time or rhythm – rousing at odd times over the course of the lecture to take some interest in the proceedings. The others mostly hung around with dazed expressions as if they had dropped in from another planet and couldn’t quite make out where they were or why. The smarter ones at the back prepared to snooze with their eyes open – a technique honed and crafted to perfection during their school days.
After the first class (English) the students trooped out – the girls to their next class and the boys to the canteen. Except for those who had the next class here in LH 4 – Math class.
The girls perked up, they would now know exactly who all were in their batch. “Here, take this.” Rajani passed on a few almonds to Shikha who chomped on them hungrily looking around them with interest.
Only a few, about 10 or 15 of them were girls. The rest were boys – some took the opportunity to slide down the bench and attempt a short snooze. In a little while, more boys began streaming in, brighter and fresher after their relatively longer night followed by carbohydrate and caffeine overdose. Some were still munching.
“I am starving,” Rajani groaned doubling over.
Shikha nudged her. “Look.”
Rajani straightened wondering if the professor had entered. She turned a crimson red – it was HK. She refused to call him or think of him as Harry. For her, there was one and only one Harry.
HK caught sight of her the exact moment she looked up. An unmistakable grin lit up his features. He turned right and walked towards the girls’ side. Rajani shied away like a nervous filly. “Relax,” Shikha hissed. “He won’t eat you up. Not in class.”
Rajani ducked her head and rummaged furiously through her bag, half buried in it. She was sure she heard a distinct snicker but she wasn’t quite sure if it was Shikha or HK. No matter, she hid behind (or rather in) her bag until the class shuffled and stood up to greet the Math professor.
There he was right across the aisle grinning at her. She kept her expression blank and put on her best studious expression.
“Hey Rajani,” he called softly.
Unable to believe her ears, she swung around to face him.
“Do you have a spare pen or pencil?”
Rajani fumed but she was mindful of the teacher ahead and Shikha’s warning tug beside her.
“Sure,” she nodded and handed him a sketch pen.
Rajani was very proud of herself that despite his risible expression and Shikha’s silent giggles, she maintained a calm serene façade even as she alternately seethed and bubbled inside.
Up next Chapter 72