As Poo walked off, a deep burning anger overwhelmed her – anger against the world, her college ‘friends’, even Khushi and the others in her family but most of all herself.
How could she let herself be lulled into a false sense of security, hadn’t she had first hand experience how cruel people were, didn’t she carry the scars of it? Wasn’t the sight that greeted her in the mirror enough to make her remember? It was all Khushi bhabhi and RMwasis’ fault – if they had not been so kind, so accepting and non-judgmental, she would have never forgotten her roots, her history, her experience, she told herself fiercely. Unke saath rehte rehte toh she had even forgotten that she was scarred, nobody paid the slightest attention to it and she, she had taken that as the gold standard – ki log toh aise hi hai, warm and kind, that she was un-scarred, that looks truly didn’t matter, that if she just left her hair open and let it cascade down her damaged side, nobody would notice that she was disfigured. And how could you be swept away by kindness and baddapan of her adopted family and actually begin to believe that you are indeed Punya Singh Raizada and not Punya Prasad who had been shunned and rejected by her own kith and kin.
One should never forget where one came from ones humble beginnings, ones roots – how many times had Nani said that?
Yet you forgot? She lambasted herself.
And you even forgot what your real purpose for joining college was – was it to make friends? Was it to find a boyfriend, a life-partner, to marry, settle down and have kids? Nahi she berated herself, never, you are here to make a pehchan, an identity of your own, to be able to stand on your own two feet so that you didn’t continue to impose on the Raizada goodness and hang on them like a leech for the rest of your life. They have given you an opportunity – what more can you ask for? Focus on your studies, your career and forget the rest, she gritted her teeth as she reaffirmed her resolve.
Bahut ho gaya all this dependency and leaning – it was time she let go of her safety net, her warm cushion and strike out on her own – she dug out a hair clip from her bag and gathered up her lustrous locks and twisted it into a bun and clipped it up just as she entered the classroom.
A couple of girls were huddled in a group and whispering amongst themselves; they instantly dispersed as one of them spied her. The school grapevine had clearly been active and the news had spread before she arrived – in fact there was no need for Poo to make good her threat to tell all to everybody for Ajay, terrified of coming in the crossfire between ASR and Vinay, had told everybody how mean Vinay really was, that he, Ajay had tried to convince Vinay but failed, bechari Punya was shattered etc etc.
Poo’s heart quailed, yet she walked into her class rather defiantly and slid into her seat when all she really wanted to do was go home and bawl her heart out in the arms of Nani or Bhabhi. But isme rone wali kaun si baat hai, she told herself sternly, if you cannot accept the truth, make peace with your own reality how can you expect the others to accept it? This is the first test, your first challenge and you have to win it – she clenched her fists in grim determination.
She bravely met the pitying looks that came her way and stiffened even further, her face flushed and eyes spitting anger – they looked away hurriedly and began murmuring amongst themselves avoiding her. She sat down straight and proud, meri koi galati nahi hai dammit, she told herself fiercely, one throws acid on my face and the other on my heart and I am the one who is supposed to hide my face and feel ashamed of myself – what bloody nonsense, I refuse, I simply refuse she railed against the world and its twisted double standards – I refuse to kowtow to its idiotic norms and rules, I don’t need anybody, she swore to herself just as Neerja slid in beside her.
Poo slipped a mask on to her face and raised cold blank eyes to Neerja prepared to meet pity and concern but all she met was a pair of panic-stricken eyes, “Hey Poo could you please lend me your accountancy notes for the last week, I missed all of them and now I can’t make head or tail of anything that’s going on in class,” she looked pleadingly at Poo.
But Poo was feeling rebellious and cynical, “And then do you want me to ask Arnav Singh Raizada to arrange for a job for you?” she shot back.
Neerja looked confused and bewildered, “What? Arre nahi nahi, my dad has a firm of his own, I have a job lined up,” she sighed, “provided I can pass the exams, oh Poo save me,” she wailed, “Woh bhi dad is gonna test me, ek toh I missed the classes because I had fever, and now Dad is insisting that he will interrogate me this weekend and I swear I wouldn’t have bothered you but look I did try to study on my own,” she dug out her book and showed her, the pages all marked and heavily underlined and then looked dejectedly at Poo, “Please?”
The constriction around Poo’s throat eased remarkably, she nodded her head, “After class,” and then feeling ashamed of her earlier rudeness, “If you like I could discuss with you,” she offered hesitantly.
“Oh would you!” Neerja gushed, “Thanks so much, actually that is what I wanted but I didn’t want to bother you, waise bhi I am such a dodo, it takes me ages to understand anything,” she said sadly.
Poo grinned, “Not if I explain it,” she boasted with a return of her self-confidence and then giggled with Neerja.
The teacher came in and there wasn’t much scope for chitchat; but after the class, a very worried and apologetic Vinay accosted her and begged her forgiveness.
Poo just looked at him contemptuously and just walked off without deigning to respond. Neerja looked at both of them strangely and had a hurried conversation with a couple of other girls.
Furious, she hurried on after Poo, “Oh he tried his tricks on you too did he?” she asked in a disgusted tone, “He is really an awful guy I must say.”
Poo looked at her in surprise, “What do you mean ‘too’?”
Neerja nodded, “Yeah, sometime ago he was really very kind and nice to me,” she explained, “And you know I am such a dumbo, I was really grateful for his help in academics until he dropped pointed questions about how much my father’s company was worth, his hiring policies and if I could arrange for a job for his brother,” she looked at Poo, “I asked Dad and he toh threw a tantrum and warned me severely to stay away from such kind of opportunistic ‘friends’ and since I wasn’t really into him, I had no trouble withdrawing, but I guess this time he went too far,” she said somberly, “I am sorry Poo,” she said sincerely, looking very troubled.
Poo shook her head, “Don’t be, there is no permanent damage,” she smiled a bit shakily, “Only my ego is a bit bruised,” she fiddled with the strap of her bag, “and a reality check every now and then is good right? Besides, if he is that kind of a guy,” she shrugged, “I am better off knowing now than later hai na?”
Neerja smiled and nodded, “Yup there is that, now if you are ok can you please discuss accountancy with me, that is if you have the slightest fellow feeling for me as a human being?” she begged, “for my Dad will really have my hide if I don’t manage to answer his questions satisfactorily enough,” she rolled her eyes and made a funny face.
Poo let out a genuine laugh, “Come on let’s see if we can give a pleasant shock to your Dad! But a short class today ok? I have to be home early, for the kids will be alone, tomorrow I can stay back late,” Punya explained.
Neerja happily and gratefully agreed and both were soon engrossed in some heavy academic discussion giving Poo some respite from the otherwise rather disastrous day.
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