Collage was upon them and excitement was at fever pitch. Even Rajani couldn’t help being infected despite feeling guilty about hiding things from her parents. Shikha also had to sworn to silence because if Kirti talked, then Nisha would question and then the fat would be in the fire.
“Uff Rajji! Why are you so paranoid? Festivals are part of college. And why would Uncle get mad at you?”
“Then why did Bhai not mention anything about his college festival?”
“Ask Bhai. But I personally think it’s because Bhai is not such a chatterbox as you are. And I am not asking you to tell all, but just stop stressing over not telling. It’s okay to tell and okay not to tell also. Make a decision and stick to it without moaning over it.” Shikha was blunt.
Rajani flushed but accepted her friend’s strictures. “You are right. It’s no big deal and I probably wouldn’t have been so uptight if I weren’t so worried about the Mysore trip. I am sure Papa won’t agree.”
“Oho Rajji! At least enjoy Collage. And we will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“Okay.” Rajani looked as if a load had rolled off her head.
“Buddhoo.” Shikha castigated her.
“I have to agree with you.” Rajani said sheepishly.
“Yeah of course. Here you behave like a student of nursery – running to take permission or inform your parents about every little thing – while Rita snatches your Harry from right under your nose.”
“He is not my Harry.” Rajani put her nose in the air. “He can do as he wishes. As if I care!”
“Liar liar! Pants on fire!” Shikha hummed softly.
“Now’s who’s behaving like a nursery student?”
“That’s right. Change the topic.”
“I am not changing the topic.”
“Yeah right. Swear on your parents that you don’t care the least bit about Harry serenading Rita.”
“Harry isn’t serenading Rita. He is performing with Rita.”
“Well you could have fooled me. They are in such perfect sync and the song and the longing in their voices gives me goose pimples. Doesn’t it?”
“No.” Rajani’s hackles were raised and it was all she could do to temper and manage an even tone. She knew what Shikha was trying to do and was desperately trying not to fall into the trap.
“No?” Shikha opened her eyes wide, “Really? But you are usually so sensitive to vibes.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about?” Rajani insisted. “Just a song.”
“Just a song!? Are you serious? They are sure to bring down the house with their direct from the heart duet. You can’t deny Harry sings well?”
“Rajji, you are such a dog in the manger!” Shikha laughed. “Are you or are you not interested in Harry?”
“You really know how to make a mountain out of a molehill don’t you? Of course I am interested in him. We are good friends. And I don’t think Rita is right for him.”
“Ahaaa, so you agree they have something going on between them? And that you don’t much care for it?”
“Oh shut up Shiks! You and your one-track mind. By the way, Suresh has his eyes on you.”
“Really?!” Shikha clasped her hands and swayed ecstatically. “Finally someone with some sense!” she coughed. “Who’s Suresh? Is he in our batch?”
“Two years senior. Physics honors. Tall dark and handsome.”
“Senior! How do you know him?” Shikha was skeptical.
“He was the one who was helping me with the poster. He asked me about a thousand questions about you.”
“That must be a tactic to get you talking,” Shikha dismissed.
“No! I am telling you, he kept staring at you.”
“Yeah I know which one you are talking about. I have seen him staring at you often. He is just like the rest of the guys – another fan of yours.”
“Exactly! Nobody in this college has any sense.” Shikha mourned.
“Shut up Shikss!”
Shikha winked and opened the door of their hostel room. She almost stepped on a white envelope that had been slid under the door. “What’s this?”
Rajani peered over her shoulder. “Looks like a card, addressed to you. Oooh! A love letter perhaps?”
“Shut up Rajji. If this is one of your jokes or attempts to get back at me for teasing me, I swear I will…”
“Oh shush! Open the card dammit.”
Shikha reluctantly drew out the heart-shaped card.
Shikha looked at Rajani who shook her head. Shikha opened it. I love you Shikaa – Girish.”
She stared in horror at the card. “OMG!”
“Girish?!” Rajani too stared before bursting out laughing. “This is super! Here all of you were busy ragging me when the real story is elsewhere. Hey Lucky, Maddy, look who got a card?” She plucked it out of Shikha’s unresisting hands and waved it.
Rajani had a field day teasing a shell-shocked Shikha who could only murmur at intervals. “Girish? Like really? I think he is crazy.”
“Yes of course. About you!”
“Girish is crazy. Crazy about Shikha.”
“Yeah right. He can’t even spell my name properly.”
“Poor thing got nervous.”
“Then he should have misspelt his own name not mine.”
“I think it’s cute. He’s written it the way he pronounces your name.”
So on and on it went, until Shikha was ready to scream. The word had spread through the hostel and to the boys as well by next morning. Shikha felt her ears burn as she entered the LH.
Whispers, snickers and outright guffaws (boys of course) assaulted her. Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse, Girish jumped up from his seat and came up to her with a swagger. “Hi Shikaa.”
Rajani went off the deep end – she stood there giggling for all she was worth. The rest of the class, though pretending to be busy were hanging on to the conversation more than Shikha was.
Shikha went red and glared furiously at him.
Girish lost some of his swagger. “I…I…don’t know why I sent the card.”
Shikha clutched that straw, “It’s okay. No big deal.” She shrugged.
“Great!” Girish got back his swagger and pumped his fist in the air.
Those rooting for Girish began clapping and whistling. Inspired, encouraged and misguided, Girish held out his arms and made to pull her into his arms. Rajani’s giggles dried up as she in watched open-mouthed shock. Even though Shikha too had barely a few seconds to register what was about to happen, without conscious thought, she gave Girish a shove. He stumbled and staggered – he crashed into Rajani and toppled over with Rajani in his arms.
The entire class was in uproar.
Rajani struggled to get up but the substantial weight of a stupefied Girish trying to grasp the sequence of events (and questioning his own intentions – does my heart beat for Shikaa or Rajani; what is my subconscious mind trying to say?) and the renewed eruption of her giggles held her down. Shikha held out her hand to help her up but Girish caught sight of her hand first and he grabbed it.
Taken aback, Shikha froze, Girish gave a tug and she joined the tangle on the floor of the LH.
“What’s going on here?” Cacomatix (as the Mathematics professor was respectfully addressed) was the icing on the cake. All that was needed was a candle and a matchstick.
Up next Chapter 94: Hearty Matters