A couple of hours earlier…
Abhi reached Rajani’s college campus. “Yes Mom. I am here. Yes, I will tell you once I meet her. Mom, let me find her hostel first.”
Nisha turned to Suryakant. “Here, tell Abhi how to reach the hostel.” She thrust the phone in his hand. She was almost as excited as if she was going to meet Rajani, or Abhi. Or perhaps both of them. Oh, how she wished she could be with them at this moment. See them, hold them close, feed them hot crisp parathas just the way they liked not all the idli-sambhar they were forced to have, her poor starving babies… “Has Abhi found Rani?” Nisha broke off her tragic train of thoughts to enquire about the whereabouts of her darlings.
Suryakant impatiently waved her away as he barked instructions, “Yes, can you see the HDFC bank?”
“What do you mean ‘no’? Look carefully. It’s written in big bold letters H –D –F – C.”
Abhi rolled his eyes even as his tummy rumbled in protest for the nth time. He gritted his teeth and controlled his irritation with a superhuman effort. After all that was his Dad at the other end.
“Yes Papa. I know Papa. But there really isn’t any HDFC bank over here.”
“But didn’t you say you were near the bus stand?”
“That was ages ago Papa. When I was talking to Mom. I have been walking since then. Should I go back? But Papa, where (the hell) is Rani? She should have been here or at least called.” Abhi annoyance and irritation found the real culprit. “Let me try and call her Papa.”
“Okay.” Suryakant disconnected the phone and turned to Nisha. “Where is Rani? She should have been there, directing Abhi not me from Chandigarh. She should have received him at the bus stop….
“Oh but, how can Rani go out of the campus?” Nisha took up the cudgels on behalf of her poor baby. “A single girl alone in such a big city…”
“The bus stop is not really far from the campus. Besides, Shikha is there with her isn’t she?” Suryakant snapped.
“Must be busy in class or some test. Poor thing always has some exam or the other…”
“But she could have at least texted? Besides, her classes finish by 1 pm on Saturday and it is past 2 pm now. She should have been the one to call up and ask about Abhi! This is the height of irresponsibility!”
“I hope everything is fine with Rani,” Nisha fretted. “It’s not like her. She was so excited about Abhi going to meet her. I expected her to have bombarded Abhi and even us with phone calls and messages. But since the morning she hasn’t contacted anybody…”
“Oh now don’t you start!” Suryakant stomped off preferring anger over concern.
Abhi was sleepy, tired and hungry. Besides he urgently needed to visit the washroom. But the Maharani was missing. Fuming her called her up only to get a busy tone. Damn Rani – she couldn’t be bothered to call him and ask his whereabouts and now she was yaking away with some Goddamn fool. Couldn’t she make out he was calling her? Really how irresponsible could she get? He could have been dying or worse and she didn’t care one bit. Serves her right if I fainted at the hostel gates out of sheer starvation and dehydration not to mention retention.
In the meanwhile, Nisha too had dialed Rajani’s number.
Oh Rani’s phone was engaged! That must be Abhi talking to her – Nisha was relieved and sent up a prayer of gratitude. “Rani and Abhi are talking.” She went off to report to Suryakant.
“About time.” He grunted. His phone rang. “Yes Abhi. What did Rani say?”
“That’s it. I haven’t managed to speak to Rani yet. I called her but her phone is engaged. She doesn’t even have the decency to call back. And she isn’t even at the hostel. I managed to reach but the guard at the door says she isn’t in. What am I supposed to do now?”
Suryakant sat up. This wasn’t like Rani. What if Nisha was right? What if something had gone wrong? What should he do? Whom could he contact?
“Call up Shikha,” he ordered his wife.
At the college
“Shiks!” Rajani grabbed Shikha in panic. “Where’s Bhai? He should have been here by now.”
“Relax Rajji.” Shikha soothed. “He must have got held up in traffic or something. Why don’t you call him up and ask?”
“Yeah maybe I should.” Rajani dug out her mobile and stared. 15 missed calls from Bhai. And 20 missed calls from Home.
“Oh no!” Rajani and Shikha stared at each other in consternation. Now what?
“Call him up.” Shikha urged.
But Rajani baulked. “Bhai will surely kill me.”
“Well, not that he isn’t going to kill you otherwise!” Shikha rolled her eyes. “At least it will be less painful this way.” She consoled.
Rajani glared at her. Shikha grinned and shrugged. “As Reema said, all your fault. If only you hadn’t proclaimed with such fanfare your Bhai’s imminent arrival none of this would have happened.”
“Et tu Shikhs!” Rajani huffed. “I thought you were my friend.”
“I am.” Shikha asserted briskly. “Now call him up before he panics and calls the college authorities or worse your parents.”
Rajani paled. “Oh no! He wouldn’t do that! Why would he disturb Mamma and Papa?”
“Because he wouldn’t know what else to do? Besides, if you ask me, they already know – 20 missed calls from Home.” Shikha was quite out of patience and no state to handle Rajani’s waterworks. She backed off
“Fine do as you wish, I am off to the hostel for some peace and quiet.” She shuddered. “I have had enough excitement today to last me a lifetime.”
“Hey wait Shiks!” Taken aback, Rajani protested. “You can’t ditch me like this! You have to come out with me…”
Shikha’s phone rang. She looked at it and stared at Rajani. “It’s your Mom.” Rajani took a step back.
Shikha held out the phone to her. “Talk to her Rajji. You know she’s calling me because she is worried about you. Go on take the call. Otherwise I will have to take it and then hand it over to you.”
“But what shall I say?” Rajani looked ready to run.
“The truth? Go on pick up the phone dammit.”
But Rajani stood paralyzed in an agony of indecision. Nerves jangling at the persistent call, Shikha took matters in her own hands – she connected and held it to Rajani’s ear.
“Shikha? Shikha beta where is Rani? Everything okay beta?” Hearing her Mamma’s familiar warm voice, Rajani broke down. “Oh Mamma!” She couldn’t speak any further as she was busy sniffling and sobbing.
“Rani! What happened beta? Rani?” Tears ran down Nisha’s cheeks.
Shikha rolled her eyes. She should have taken the call right in the beginning. “Namaste Aunty.”
“Shikha beta! What happened? Everything okay?” Suryakant wrested the phone away from his weeping wife.
“Yes Uncle. Don’t worry.” Shikha was at her reassuring best. “Everything is fine and so is Rajani.”
“Then why is she crying? And why didn’t she pick up Abhi’s phone? Poor boy has been roaming around the campus hunting for the hostel for over an hour now.”
Up next Chapter 81: Abhi and Rani Meet