Love me or Leave me
Such moments are rare in people’s lives but when they come they make all the difference. And when they occur in a small town like Ballia, where things hardly ever change, these moments acquire a monumental significance. On the morning of June 27, 2013, soon after sunrise, Priya’s friend called up to say that the results of the IIT entrance exam were out and could be seen on the Internet. Priya’s heart beat violently as she read down the columns of the successful candidates. Somewhere in the middle of the list she screamed out loudly forcing her mother to rush out of the house to enquire what the matter was.
‘Shobhi has made it! Shobhi has done it! Shobheeeee!’
‘What has Shobhi done?’
‘He has cleared IIT. He will be an engineer. Papa’s dreams have been fulfilled.’
‘Really? Are you sure you’ve seen the results properly?’
‘Here, see for yourself Ma! Shobheeeee! Get up!’
Priya did love Shobhit. You couldn’t not love a younger brother that the whole household raved over, and that when you were his only sister. He had to be pampered because he had to get admitted to an IIT to become an engineer. Once there, he would not have to lift his little finger to get a job. But Priya simply adored Arjun, her elder brother, even though little fuss had been made over his schooling, and now his college education. Arjun had studied in a municipal school where most teachers had more important things to do than to teach on a regular basis and Shobhit had been to the best school in town where not a class was to be missed if the best grades were to be obtained. The mathematics was simple. Shobhit was doing everything he could to sharpen his mind, having little time to build a good body. Arjun, on the other hand, looked after his body to make it as broad at the chest and as shapely at the waist as possible; he had allowed the mind to remain quite unattended at school. His development had been of a rather different nature; he was self-schooled.
Arjun lifted his younger Babua and virtually threw him into the air. Poor Shobhit was still not fully awake but he could guess what the news was going to be. He had been rather certain that he would make it in this exam. Arjun and Priya danced around the half-awakened brother with a very proud and cheerful father looking on from behind and a mother quite unable to keep the gush of tears that were trying to corroborate her extended smile. Arjun was now pulling out his grandmother from her sedentary position, forcing her to put out a few steps in a dance of his making, while she pulled herself back yelling at him for daring to make her legs move that fast at her age. Arjun’s father came to her rescue and his serious look brought the commotion to a halt. Then the hugging and kissing began and continued till Shobhit pleaded to let him breathe and see the results with his own eyes.
The sound of excitement is discernible from a distance and it is different to ordinary and more mundane sounds. It catches the ear easily and awakens the curiosity of the eye. The sounds that emanated from the house of the Mishras caught the ears of their neighbours on both sides and pulled out Mrs. Sumitra Verma and Mrs. Chetna Chauhan. Within five minutes the two were at the gate of the Mishras not wanting to be excluded from all the meaningful gossip.
‘Oh, so you also heard those noises? What’s the matter?’
‘God knows. Come let’s find out, Sumitra. You’ll be shocked when you know what my stone of a husband told me. He told me that it was the internal matter of the Mishras and that I should stay in my own house. Imagine. These men are so dead, aren’t they?’
‘You’re telling me? I’d suffocate to death if I had to stay inside my house at such a moment, and if my husband told me to stay at home, I’d just . . . There comes Aarti Mishra. Aarti ji, what’s going on in your house? What has happened?’
‘Come Chetna, come Sumitra. My Shobhit has been selected in the IIT exam. Shobhit Mishra is to be an engineer. Can you believe it?’
‘Of course I can. I always knew that your Shobhit would shine. He is very bright, isn’t he Chetna?’
‘Of course he is. I know of a lovely Brahmin girl for him.’
‘What do you mean? My son is just eighteen yet.’
‘Old enough to get engaged. You can marry them later on. Isn’t it Sumitra?’
‘I would never think of marriage at this age. It’s quite ridiculous.’
‘Come on inside, why are you standing here? And don’t even mention marriage inside. Remember Arjun is the older of the two. I will first think of his marriage. And I am not even thinking of the elder one’s marriage for the next five or six years.’
‘Yes, I can see that Arjun is your problem, Arti ji. I can understand.’
‘Why is he my problem, Sumitra? What are you talking? Come on in. Arjun is a very capable boy.’
‘Of course he is a capable boy. I never said that he is not. Only, these days which sensible man does a BA or an MA? Those are things of the past, aren’t they?’
‘Okay, we’ll talk on that topic some other day. For now, come on inside.’
‘No, no. We must return quickly. It is too early in the morning to socialize. We’ll come later, after getting breakfast ready and after our bathing, dressing and all the other rituals are over.’