The next few days were agonizing for Rajani. To have the book and yet not read it – she had never undergone such exquisite torture. The temptation to cheat was simply overwhelming. “Mamma, can I read just one page, just one chapter I promise.”
Rajani nagged and pleaded with her mother so much that Nisha regretted her decision to buy the book for her.
“That’s enough Rani. First you say one page, then immediately one chapter. Nothing doing. If I had known, it was such a fat book I would have waited till the autumn break to buy it for you. Even one whole weekend won’t be enough. I have a good mind to lock it away – problem solved.”
Rajani was horrified. She immediately backtracked. “No Mamma please don’t do that. I promise to be good. I promise not to nag you anymore. And I will finish it over the weekend. I can start reading on Friday after school. Okay Mamma?”
“Hmm. We’ll see.”
So not only could Rajani not read the book till Friday, she couldn’t even nag Nisha for fear of repercussions – holding so much tension in was almost more than she could bear. School was not much respite for almost everybody seemed to be reading (some were even carrying it to school!) or discussing the book – for two whole days the poor girl sat alone, shunning even Shikha.
Rajani’s state was indeed pitiable – so near yet so far.
“I am back!” Friday afternoon saw Rajani dash home, throw her bag and grab the book hidden under her pillow – she dived right in. After that there was no holding her back. Nisha called her but in vain, Rajani was deaf, blind and mute to the world of Muggles. Her mother shook her head ruefully and handed her lunch – rolled up parathas, which Rajani gobbled down quite unmindfully. There was so much happening with Harry Potter – he had a crush on Cho! Oh how heartbreaking – Rajani was so going to kill her. That is after she did away with Rita Skeeter. Why was Ron being so mean to Harry. Whaaa – Cedric dead? How could that be possible no no no how awful – How could she wait until the next book came out?
Surely the suspense and the tension would kill her? How mean of the author to put them all through this torture.
“Mamma do you know the next book will take more than a year to be released, maybe two or three years!” Rajani was aghast.
“Thank God!” Nisha, on the other hand, was relieved. “Some good news at last. So much drama – first to get the book and then even more nautanki while reading – I shudder to think of a repeat performance any time soon.”
“But Mamma, what if I die before the book is released? Anshu was saying it may take up to three years for its release.” Rajani pressed the middle of her tummy as if to soothe a deep seated ache. “In any case, the suspense will definitely kill me.”
“Nonsense Rani. Don’t say things like that. Look on the bright side. You will get more time to save money to purchase the book.” Nisha said.
“Mamma!” Rajani stamped her foot and stomped out of the kitchen.
Nisha sighed and went back to chopping beans; Rajani and her theatrics. But the one she was actually worried about was Abhi. He wasn’t taking too well to the constant academic pressure – shuttling between his school and coaching classes, the poor boy hardly any time to breathe. On top of it, his father was not at all happy with his progress. He was constantly on Abhi’s case, breathing fire and hovering about him and his room. Nisha had the dreadful feeling as if something or someone was about to burst.
True to her premonition, a few days later, things came to a head.
Suryakant had gotten up in the middle of the night when he caught Abhi watching a football match on TV. He was furious and his bellow of rage even woke up some neighbors. Thankfully, they were unable to pinpoint the source of the noise for there was no repeat performance – at least none that was audible. He pulled off the TV cable wire and snipped it to pieces with a pair of scissors, while his family watched in horror.
“No TV in this house till you clear the medical entrance exams.” He waved the useless wires in front of Abhi.
“May as well sell off the TV then.” An unrepentant and defiant Abhi sauntered off to his room.
Suryakant’s temper shot through the roof. He went to the bedroom and brought his belt. He got in a few quick lashes before Nisha grabbed the belt and stood between him and her son. “Stop it.” She begged him. “Please stop before you do something you regret.”
Suryakant jerked the belt away; to Rajani, who stood paralyzed by the door, it looked as if he was going to hit Nisha next. But then her father dashed the belt to the floor and disappeared from the room – in fact he walked out of the house. “Suniye!” Nisha called but then she had no choice but to let him go for Abhi went berserk. He threw his books on to the floor and banged his head against the wall, “Abhi, Abhi beta, please don’t, please don’t be so agitated. Abhi, beta, just relax, you know how Papa is, please think of your poor mother,” she started crying and sniffling. “Please, everything will be all right in the morning. Just relax. Just relax. Have some water. Rani, get some water will you? Cold water. Rajani!”
Rajani shook herself out of her stupor and rushed to the kitchen. She offered the glass of water to Abhi but he dashed her hand away. Rajani gasped from the shock of being drenched with cold water. “Go away Rani, go to bed, let me handle this. Go and change. Abhi dear…”
Shivering in the sweltering heat Rajani walked out of the gate wondering where her father had gone. The scooter stood in its usual place. That meant Papa had gone walking. Rajani looked about her. She had never been out so late at night. It was so strange and eerie outside. It was as if the whole world was asleep – even the ghosts and witches, not a leaf or a shadow moved. She stared into the distance – Papa where are you? Come back, please. Don’t be upset. Everything will be all right. If Bhai doesn’t want to be doctor, let him not be. I will be a doctor. I will fulfill your dream. I promise Papa. Rajani stood there a long time silently peering out of the bars of the latched gate. She didn’t feel like swinging. She just wanted Papa to come back. Bhai to be himself again – ragging her, teasing her, it was ages since he did that. He hadn’t even bothered to disturb her while she was reading her new book, which she had been very apprehensive about. Bas, any moment now, he was going to come and take away my book just to irritate me. But she needn’t have worried – nothing of the sort had happened. And contrarily she had missed it.
“Rani!” It was her mother. “What are you doing here? Didn’t I tell you to go inside and change? You have school tomorrow, go to sleep.”
“Mamma, where’s Papa? Has he left us and gone away?” tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Don’t be silly, he will be back soon I am sure.” Nisha pulled Rajani along pausing at the door hoping and praying she was right.
“Mamma, I am not sleepy. Please let me wait by the gate. Let Papa come. I will go to sleep. Please Mamma.”
“No Rani, it’s very late. Almost 1 a.m. Time to go to sleep. Papa has just gone for a walk. He will be back soon.”
“Who takes a walk at this time? What if somebody attacks him? Some thief?”
“Rani please, keep your morbid thoughts to yourself.” Nisha walked back in, dread dogged her steps – so true, was this any time for a walk? What if somebody attacked him? Like he attacked Abhi. Who uses a belt on his grown up son in the 21st century?
“Mamma how is Bhai? What is he doing?”
“He’s fine, he is sleeping.”
“Is he hurt Mamma? Can I go and see him?”
“I told you he is sleeping. Besides he is fine.” Nisha took off Rajani’s soaking dress and pulled another over her head, “And listen Rani, there is no need to talk about what happened with anybody. Not Papa, not Abhi and definitely not Shikha.” Her eyes bore into Rajani’s. “Or anyone else. Understand?”
“Yes Mamma. But Mamma, why did Papa hit Bhai? What did Bhai do? That too in the middle of the night?”
“Never mind. You keep your nose out of this. Otherwise, you will also get a thrashing – from me. Understand?”
Rajani was dull and heavy-eyed when she woke up the next morning. Her father was sleeping in his usual place. Rajani rushed out of the room to check in her brother. He too was fast asleep.
Nisha came and stood behind her. “Everything is all right Rani. No need to worry. Let’s close this chapter here ok?”
Rajani nodded. “Yes Mamma.”
“Good. Now go and get ready, while I wake up your Bhai.”
An oppressive uneasy descended on the Ahuja household – especially during meal times. After that day, Suryakant (possibly regretting his actions – well one can hope!) stopped interacting directly with his son. However he turned up the heat on Nisha. Every other day, she was subjected to cross-questioning and called to explain and justify her son and his progress.
“Just look at your darling son’s marks!” he waved the report card at Nisha’s face threateningly. “Shameful. Is this some sort of a joke going on?” He threw it the air. “ I am warning you Nisha, with this kind of callous approach he won’t get admission in any decent college, leave alone medicine. He won’t even get a peon’s job. I can just see myself begging people to give my son a job.” Suryakant’s eyes were red and his teeth were bared in a ferocious grimace. Rajani cowered behind the door Papa, I am feeling scared. Don’t be so angry Papa please.
“Nisha tell your son to pull up his socks before it is too late. I am warning you, otherwise…”
“Ok ok, don’t worry so much.” She cast a worried glance behind her. “Don’t shout so much. It’s not good for your health. Everything will be fine. Bhagwanji will take care of everything. He will make everything all right. Have some faith, some patience.” Nisha attempted to soothe him but he just stomped out of the house. Nisha couldn’t help but heave a sigh of relief. Outside the house, he would be forced to exert some self-control. Hopefully, he would have calmed down by the time he returned – that is until the next time.
Nisha was in the unenviable position of having to constantly field and digest such dire predictions regarding her son’s bleak future. And she wasted no time in transferring all her palpitations and forebodings to Abhi.
“Abhi beta, you must be more serious about your studies. After all you are in class X now. You have to do better. Your father was very angry. I pacified him otherwise I don’t know what he would have done.”
“Please Mom!” Abhi was up in arms. “My results weren’t as bad as you are making it out to be. If you compare with my last semester report card my grades have improved but still…”
“Yes, we know beta but that is simply not enough. You need to be at least in the top 10 of your class. It’s not a joke going on. Do you know how many aspirants there are for each medical seat?” Flush with the gratification of having shielded Abhi from the wrath of his father and terrified of future consequences if he didn’t show expected results, Nisha had no compunctions in exhorting Abhi to strive harder.
“Oh please Mom, I am studying and trying my best. I know it’s not a joke going on. Nothing I do seems to please Dad. My teachers were so happy with the improvement in my marks but Dad? He finds it shameful!” Abhi smashed his fist on his book.
“Beta, you have to understand his view point as well. He loves you and he is worried about you. He knows it’s a very competitive world and he wants you to have the best. Just study a bit harder. I am sure you can top the class…”
“How much more can I study? There are only 24 hours in a day Mom. Shall I give up sleep and eating too? I wish I could jump off a roof or something,” goaded, Abhi retaliated.
“Abhi! Subh shubh bolo.” His mother was shocked. “Don’t say things like that beta. Just try.” She changed tactics and hurriedly backed off. “I am just saying that if you put you mind to it, you will surely be able to crack it. And,” she hastily added seeing his darkening expression, “And then leave it Bhagwanji, whatever he thinks best. All I am saying is study as if you really do want to get in to medical, that’s all.”
What if I don’t want to get into medical? Am I your beloved son or your slave – your passport to a safe secure old age? Your badge of honor and pride? Don’t my wishes count for anything? When will I do my thing?
“Yes Mom.” He turned back to his books.
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