The days that followed the publication of the results were a nightmare for the small branch of the Kuttiparambil family in Chennai. It was certain that Shikha wouldn’t make it to BITS Pilani as she did not have the required total for the integrated Masters programme there. Michael was at a loss to know what to do with his daughter next. She had topped the school and had an excellent total. It was her marks in English -88%- that caused her to miss BITS by the skin of her teeth.
“I’d asked you to appear for the entrance exams. You could have gone for a professional course at least here in Chennai”
“But I don’t want to, papa”, said Shkha who was at the tether end of her patience by the end of the first week after the announcement of results.
“You don’t want to, you don’t want to. What the hell do you want to do then? “. One of the rarest of occasions when expletives crept into his language. Rani knew it was time to step in. She touched his arm and told him to leave the issue for the moment.
“Some decision has to be taken, right?” exploded Michael. “What in God’s name is she going to do now? If she were a little older, I could have sent her to US or UK . Tell me Rani, what have you in mind for her?”
“I told you, papa. I want to do B. SC in Maths. All the colleges here have it. So I just don’t understand what the problem is”.
“Oh, you won’t understand. What can you understand? All you are interested in is having an easy time, gallivanting round the town with your silly friends, reading silly novels and watching movies. An easy life, that’s what you want. An easy life. You have no ambition. Look at – - -
“Please papa” cut in Shkha in a voice bordering on a scream. “I’ve told you to stop comparing me with my cousins. I don’t care a shit what they are doing. And don’t talk like a semi literate. Maths main is not a cakewalk. You could never handle maths. Isn’t that why you went in for humanities?”
Rani stepped in firmly.
”That’s enough Shikha. Go to you room”
“Gladly”, screamed her daughter who then stormed into her room, banging the door after her so hard that the cutlery on the dining table rattled. Michael, who hated any door being banged anywhere, made to follow her but Rani restrained him. He tried to shake her off.
”I said NO”, said Rani quietly. That was a Rani he saw very rarely, and who made him feel uncomfortable. He cooled down instantly and walked into his study and banged the door after him – louder than Shikha did.
Such scenes were a daily fare in the Kuttiparambil family in Chennai. Then one day Michael ceased getting excited over the issue. He fell silent. He took no interest in whatShikha was doing. He didn’t ask her how many colleges she was applying to. The B.Sc programme never figured at the dining table, or after family prayers when all issues were discussed pleasantly or unpleasantly in normal conditions.
Michael did not seem to care if Shikha lived or died, swam or sunk.
That hurt Shikha more than his angry words. She asked Rani about it.
“I gave him an ultimatum”, said Rani.
“ What did you tell him”, Shikha asked, curious.
“That’s not important, Shikha”, said Rani gently. “You just go ahead and apply in Rosary College. You’ll be happy there.”
“Shall I tell him I’ll prepare for the Civil Service exam? It’ll make him happy”, askedShikha looking worried.
“So you have decided to get yourself spat upon by ministers to please your father”, said Rani sharply, referring to Shikha’s pronouncements in the usual argument between the father and daughter on a career in Civil Service. “Don’t make any commitments to do things you dislike. You go ahead with maths. We’ll take things as they come after that”.
Shikha thought Rani sounded a little disgusted. She felt a little uneasy. Mama wasn’t the same ever since the fracas between her and papa began after her ineligibility for BITS was confirmed. She and papa didn’t seem to be on talking terms. Except for the bareessesntials, they didn’t have anything to say to each other. The light hearted conversation appeared to have vanished from the Kuttiparambil family.
What troubled her most was the change in her father. The fight seemed to have gone out of him. He seemed to be avoiding both her and her mother.
A sense of guilt began to take possession of Shikha. It was not a pleasant feeling.