‘So,’ Praveena said to herself. She went back to the conversation she had had with Ms Marrie the previous morning. She sat in the couch with a book she hadn’t opened at all. ‘Pa doesn’t want me to start a self help group because he’s afraid I’d fail.’ She sighed, nodding to herself.
‘That’s so unlike him,’ her inner voice observed. Praveena agreed. It was unlike her father. He never cared about winning; he only considered participation. She recalled her numerous failed attempts at sports. He had always said, “Just get involved. That’s more satisfactory than winning itself.” Then why did he become contradictory all of a sudden? Praveena couldn’t discern her father.
She stared at the cover of the book in her hand without really seeing it, when her mobile phone rang, cutting through the silence and shaking her off her reverie.
She picked up. Anil. An unenthusiastic smile came across her lips.
“Hey,” she answered dully.
“Hey, Hi!” he exclaimed excitedly. “All set?” Praveena could imagine him bouncing off his feet as he spoke. It had been a long time since she had heard him this enthusiastic.
“Nope,” she heaved a sigh. “I couldn’t convince Pa. He doesn’t like the idea,” she shook her head, forgetting he couldn’t see her.
There was surprised silence from the other side before Anil laughed, “What are you talking about?” he asked incredulously.
Praveena was taken aback by his response. “What are you talking about?” she asked leaning on the couch get get more comfortable.
“The convocation of course!” he said happily, “What were you talking about?” he asked a little doubtful.
Praveena slapped her hand on her forehead before saying, “Nothing, I’ll tell you later.” Rubbing her forehead vigorously, she continued in surprise, “So, the convocation. Have they announced the date yet?” She made a mental note never to hit herself on the forehead again. It was painful punishment.
“Do you ever,” Anil asked exasperatedly, “check your mails?”
Praveena smiled to herself, “never,” she said. “So, when is it?” she asked quickly.
Anil heaved a tired sigh, “It’s this Saturday. You planning to show up?” he added sarcastically.
Praveena slouched her shoulders lazily. “Saturday…” she went through her mind-calendar and realised she had no plans at all. “Ya,” she said nodding, “I might be there.”
“Great!” Anil exclaimed happily. “Try to reach on Friday itself. Let’s catch up,” he said hopefully.
“Sure,” Praveena replied enthusiastically. And all of a sudden, she felt excited to visit her college, as a senior. Four days more, she thought gleefully. This would be good, she decided pushing the thought of a self group to the back of her head.
That night, Praveena told her father about the convocation. He, like Anil, chided her for not being aware of it earlier. He had planned to make an important business visit to Kerala the next day.
Since Praveena wanted to reach Bangalore beforehand, he suggested she leave Thursday evening, and he would meet her in Bangalore on Saturday.
With all her hasty plans made, Praveena prepared herself for the graduation ceremony. At the end of Saturday, she would officially become a psychology graduate. She would no longer be a student. She knew people expected her to take responsibilities and act more womanly. She laughed at the idea in private. She couldn’t imagine herself as a proper woman, getting ready to raise a family. After the convocation, her aunt Kameela and the family members would put more pressure on her and Kamal.
‘It’s no use worrying about what would make you miserable,’ Heeding her inner voice’s advice, she took a deep sign, rolled over, and fell asleep.
As Praveena got off from the train on Friday morning, she saw Anil grinning ear to ear. He wore a blue denim and had folded the sleeves of his black shirt half way through — just the way she liked it.
She grinned back walking towards him.
“I didn’t expect you here,” she said surprised.
Anil shrugged, “Well,” he smiled slightly, “I figured you might like some early morning company,” he added as they walked out of the station.
“Great,” Praveena replied brusquely. “Now,” she said with an air of authority, “Did you find a good hotel for me to stay?” She raised her eyebrows, with a mocking smile.
“Hotel?” Anil exclaimed shaking his head. He had stopped walking and faced Praveena with his hands on his hips. “Honestly!” he said exasperatedly, “Didn’t you check your mail, even after I told you?” he shook his head in disapproval. Praveena noticed his dark eyes glinting in the morning sunlight.
“Well,” Praveena reasoned, “I thought, since you had already told me, I wouldn’t need to check them.” She raised her eyebrows challenging him.
“’Students and their families can stay in the college hostels’,” he quoted the e-mail in a high-pitched voice. Praveena nodded quietly. She knew whatever she says would only provoke Anil to prove her wrong. Smiling to herself, she walked beside him. It had been long since they had spoken so freely. The last year – after Niveda’s death – at college had dried out their friendship.
All around Praveena, people carried huge bags in one hand and pulled their kids along on the other hand. Seeing their tired faces, Praveena smiled in disbelief. People travel for all sorts of reasons, she mused. There are the people who look troubled and travel purposefully to solve their problems. Then there are the other people who travel just for the joy of it. Though what joy they could find in traveling in these back-breaking conditions, Praveena didn’t understand.
She walked passed a woman holding her daughter’s hand and rushing towards the train that had started moving slowly. The little girl looked no more that ten years old. The mother carried a large travelling bag on the other hand. Something told Praveena they were going to a temple to fulfil a sacrifice the mother had promised. She guessed the little girl was about to lose her luscious locks of waist length hair.
Shaking her head at the evident stupidity of these people, Praveena followed Anil to the black Mercedes Benz.
“It’s a friend’s” Anil told her knowingly, as she stared open-mouthed at the shiny beast.