It all started in the last period when Mrs. Braganza arrived unusually late.

'Sorry girls.' She says with a smile plastered on her face. Sam catches my eye and mouths 'What's wrong with her?' I shrug; I was as clueless as she was.

Unfortunately, our sharp-eyed teacher notices. 'Samanvitha and Kala! Next year,' she threatens, 'I'll make sure you're in separate classes.'

'We're sor-'

'But ma'am,' Sam replies, 'how will Kala do all my homework then?'

I glared at Sam. Honestly, that girl just needs to learn when to shut up! I brace myself for a lecture when I hear…laughter.

That's right. Mrs. Braganza, who had once thrown Sam out of class for coughing during one of her lectures on the structure of the human skeleton, is actually laughing.

'That's very funny, Sam' she says. I look at our normally stern teacher, amazed. 'Now settle down everyone. I want to talk to you about Socials.'

Um, what? 'Er, ma'am.' I butt in, 'Sorry to interrupt, but you teach us science. Biology, remember?'

'No, no. I'm not talking about your studies. I'm talking about the annual dance.'

And quite suddenly, Mrs. Braganza wasn't the only one giggling. Next to me, Isha, Vaishnavi and Amrita are whispering frantically, and most of the class is smiling. Only Aparna looks confused. 'You mean like a prom? But we're an all-girls' school!' our resident ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) asks.

Our teacher explains it to her. 'No, Aparna. St. Charles' School for Boys and St. Charles' School for Girls organize the Socials together. It's a night of great fun and an opportunity to get to know the students of your sister institution better. And you never know,' she added with a wink. 'I even met my husband at the Socials.'

Isha looked as though all her dreams had come true. And maybe they had – I've heard her complain about the lack of boys in our school every, I don't know, two seconds?

'So what do we do at Socials?' Aparna was still confused.

'Well, it's basically a dance, like you said, and only students from St. Charles are allowed. You are not allowed to invite anyone else to Socials. 'Vaishnavi's smile disappears. 'But more than the dancing, girls, think of all the fun you'll have with your friends! Picking out dresses, and getting fancy hairstyles and looking your very best. I'm sure none of you will ever forget that night.'

'Ma'am,' I ask, 'it's not compulsory, right? Can I just stay at home if I don't want to come?'

I mean, a dance? I'll have to wear a dress and actually talk to a boy. So not my cup of tea.

'Well, when Sister Mary-Agnes was principal, it wasn't. But Sister Francis believes that it will help make you more confident in tackling social situations, so attendance is mandatory.'

There goes my only chance. Arghh!

'As if anyone would actually miss this' Isha whispers to me. Then, louder, 'Ma'am, when are the Socials?'

'I'm passing around a sheet with all the details to each of you. It needs to be signed by your parents and shown to me tomorrow. But for now, girls, let's get back to the nervous system'

As Mrs. Braganza began to talk about the medulla, my mind was still focused on the nightmare that is Socials….

YOU MEAN I'M NOT GROUNDED?

On the bus ride back home, I take out the circular Mrs. Braganza had given us and look at it.

St. Charles' School For Girls

Sub : Socials

2 January, 2014

The Socials will be held at St. Charles School For Boys on 25th January between 4 pm and 9 pm.

Attendance is mandatory for students of class 10 and 12.

Kindly sign this notice in acknowledgement and return it to the class teacher at the earliest.

Principal

25th! That's less than a month away! How am I ever going to-

'KALA! Are you deaf? We're here I said!'

Oh, if it isn't my not-so-nice neighbour. I briefly wonder when Isha began to speak like everyone was beneath her notice (maybe when she was a month old) and then realise she's right. The driver has been honking for the past five minutes while I just stared at the sheet of paper in my hand.

Attendance is mandatory, it said. No magical escape route. Maybe I can think of one at home.

As I get off the bus, I notice Isha waving to one of her (many) friends from the boys' school. 'Bye Karan! See you tomorrow.'

'Sure!' he replies. 'And by the way, there's something I want to ask you tomorrow.' He grins.

Isha laughs – it isn't her regular laugh, it's high pitched and it made me want to tear my ears off. Apparently, Karan didn't share my sentiments. He looks quite pleased and smiles at her as the bus leaves.

I sigh. Why do girls like her even exist? All pretty and self-assured and confident? They make people like me feel inadequate.

Ugh!

We walk down the lane to our neighbouring homes.

'See you tomorrow!' Isha calls out.

I just let myself into number 42 without replying.


'Kala! Come down for dinner!'

'Just a second mom!'

A few minutes later, we're all at the table. 'We' being my mom, my dad and me.

'So Kala, how is school? Still passing all those subjects?'

'School is fine, dad.'

'How can you even think of her failing?' Mom has this belief that whatever you say automatically comes true.

'Well her teacher said-'

'Braggie? Why would you even listen to a thing Braggie says?'

In case you're wondering, Braggie refers to Mrs. Braganza. Ever since the PTA meeting, dad has been quoting Mrs. Braganza. And why shouldn't he? Mrs. Braganza looks like the sort of teacher who knows what she's doing, with her crisp suits, stately manner and her calm-yet-commanding voice. Mom, on the other hand, hates Mrs. Braganza – because Mrs. Braganza used to hate mom when she was in school. Yes, my teacher is that old.

'So did anything interesting happen today?' mom asks.

'We got our math results back – I got 89 and before you say anything dad, it's the highest in the class.'

'I wasn't going to say anything other than "good job" ' dad protests. 'Nothing else?'

'Sam broke another test tube in the chem lab today. And Isha failed the math test.'

'Kala, I told you not to speak about Isha like that.' Mom doesn't like the fact that Isha and I don't get along, because Isha's mom happens to be her best friend. 'Nothing else? You're absolutely sure?'

'Oh, we got a circular about the socials.' I try to whisper this so it goes unnoticed.

Unfortunately, mom hears. 'Socials! Brilliant! You know I had a dress planned out for you since you joined St. Charles, purple and pink. Isha's mom and I planned the whole thing out when we were in school! Our daughters in matching dresses looking as pretty as we did! This is going to be great, I can just tell! ' She pauses uncertainly when I don't respond. 'Aren't you excited?'

Dad answers for me. 'Socials? There's no way she's going.'

'Exactly, dad! It's right before the exams. I need to study.'

'Practice exams.' Mom corrects. 'And you don't need to study, you're doing pretty well.'

'There will be boys at the dance! Can we really let any boys near our little girl? I know teenage boys and they can't be trusted.' Dad argues.

Go dad! You rock!

'If you remember, Kumar, we met at the Socials and you were a teenage boy too. Kala Kumar, you are going to that dance and that's that.'

Damn! In desperation I say, 'Mom, when did you get so fat?'

There! This probably will get me punished for the rest of my life.

'Nice try.' Mom snorts. 'I know when you're lying to me. Now get to bed.'

I drag myself up to my room.

'And before I forget, Kala, we're going dress shopping this weekend. You can bring Sam and Neha along if you want.' Mom calls out from the ground floor.

I fall asleep immediately, hopeful that tomorrow will be less distressing.

But since when has the universe given me what I wanted?