Rajani wiped the sweat from her brow and disconnected her father’s phone for the 3rd time – she was in no mood to talk right now.
Her phone beeped – Beta please talk to me – it was her Dad’s text.
Rajani closed her eyes and bit her lip – roar of the traffic and scorching heat of Delhi roads did nothing to soothe her frayed nerves. She was tempted to ignore Papa’s plea but the image of his lost hunted look was too much for her – In the auto Papa, will call from the airport after check in is done – Rajani reluctantly texted back.
Rajani grimaced as she pulled the scarf more securely around her face and leaned back into her seat trying to avoid the hot air swirling around. Almost 8 pm and still no let up in the heat and the rush hour traffic wasn’t helping. And now her father – well at least the airport would be air-conditioned she consoled herself.
The last six months had been a blur. Desperate for a job and unwilling to be trapped at home once again, Rajani had poured her heart and soul into the training workshop. She stayed up nights slogging and mugging up names of drugs, their uses and what not. She was determined not to lose this job opportunity. Especially with Harsha commenting every now and then about rising costs and difficulty finding good jobs.
“I know Harsha, I know.” Rajani said wearily. “I am sure I will get the job. Don’t worry.”
“How do you know?”
“I know.” Rajani was confident. “Everyone found the question paper tough, I thought it was easy.”
“Maybe you are being over-confident and…”
“Why must you always run me down?” She snapped.
“I didn’t mean that,” Harsha backed down, “I am just wondering how we will manage if you don’t get this job?”
“How is it so important? Your business is running fine isn’t it? Your parents bought a car and I didn’t even know about it until they got it!”
“You are hardly home…”
“Yeah right. Blame it all on me.”
“It’s not about blame. It’s just clarifying the situation.”
“Yeah that Didi should be consulted on the make and the color of the car, while I should be called up a thousand times at the office to get this vegetable, that mithai, samosas from so and so place, all because Didi…”
“Rekha is expecting surely you don’t grudge her this much? When you…”
“When I what? Become pregnant? I don’t think it will be in this lifetime.”
“And whose fault is that?” Harsha’s voice hardened.
“My reports are near normal…”
“There’s a difference between normal and near normal,” Harsha snapped. “Just tell me when everything is normal, I will do the needful.”
Rajani opened her eyes wide. “Really?”
Harsha turned purple. “Really.”
Rajani backed off. She would have to visit the doctor soon, chalk out a strategy, hasten the process and conceive asap just to satisfy the world’s curiosity and interest in her marital affairs.
Didn’t everybody have anything better than to ask about ‘any good news’? Now even unknown aunties in the apartment complex had begun to question as she went down to the shops, the bank or Mother Dairy. But the one following the details most closely was Suryakant. That’s probably why he was calling her – to find out if she had her periods. Rajani shook her head. She had stopped feeling embarrassed or awkward – so long as he didn’t ask about her love life!
“Hello Papa,” Check in formalities done, Rajani found a relatively secluded corner at the airport to call up her father, “How are you? And how is Mamma?”
“You went to the airport in an auto?” Mr Ahuja ignored her questions, “who the hell goes to the airport in an auto!!” he said incredulously.
The blush of shame stained Rajani’s cheeks, “I do Papa, I do,” she said dully.
“But why?” he objected, “Surely your company will reimburse the taxi fare? Besides it’s so hot in Delhi, you could get heat stroke…”
“Yes Papa, the company will pay the taxi fare and the difference will go to Harsha’s pocket,” said Rajani, “If he had his way he would have made me walk to the airport.”
“All that husband of yours thinks about is money,” burst out Mr Ahuja, “What kind of a man is he, sending his wife alone to the airport that too in an auto! Why didn’t Harsha come to drop you?”
Rajani closed her eyes and prayed for patience, “You know him Papa,” she gritted her teeth but maintained her tone, “Why do you always ask the same questions?”
“Your father-in-law could have sent the driver with the car, what’s the point of staying with your in-laws if they cannot do this much?” Mr Ahuja fumed, “I will call him up and let him know I don’t appreciate nor expect this kind of behavior from him, last time he promised and besides Delhi is so unsafe…”
Rajani, her patience wearing thin, interrupted, “Oh please Papa, please don’t do anything of the sort, you know its not going to make any difference,” she paused and then said in a faint bitter tone, “If anything, things will be even tougher for me.”
“But Beta, you are Harsha’s responsibility, he could have easily dropped you in his car,” Mr Ahuja belabored the point.
Rajani wearily rubbed her forehead and dropped her backpack, “Oh Papa, as if you don’t know what the situation is like at home, if it’s any consolation, Harsha did ask Daddyji to send the driver but Mummyji deliberately sent the driver off and roped in Harsha to take her shopping in the evening.”
“Your mother-in-law is the root of all evil, I am telling you that woman is really something,” spluttered Mr Ahuja, “Even the astrologer at the time of your wedding had said that it was the woman of the house who would create the most difficulty for you.”
“If you knew that, why did you get me married Papa?” Rajani shot back and not for the first time in her 3 years of marriage, “I didn’t want to get married at all, I wanted to continue studying, go for higher studies but just because Bhai wanted to get married, I had to get married, why Papa why?” her pitch rose as the injustice of it all attacked her once again.
“Why rake up all that, what good is that going to do, what’s done is done, and besides these are initial teething troubles, happens in all marriages,” Mr Ahuja said in a soothing tone, “Ok tell me did you eat lunch?”
Rajani laughed mirthlessly, “Some distant relative had passed away and Mummyji said that it was family tradition to keep a fast, but since she was diabetic and the men needed to keep up their strength as the Bahu of the house, I should honor the tradition.”
“What nonsense! Don’t tell me you haven’t eaten anything since morning?” Mr Ahuja was furious.
“Since last night Papa,” said Rajani.
“Nothing doing Rajji, go immediately and eat something, use my credit card,” ordered Mr Ahuja. “Use your sense, don’t give so much importance to your MIL. You should have eaten something…”
“But I promised her Papa!” Rajani was scandalized. Papa was advocating deception.
“Harsha also promised a lot of things when you got married, did he follow through on them? Why should you?”
Rajani’s head spun. “I don’t understand what you are saying Papa. What do you expect me to do? Stay in their house but fight with them at every turn? One day I allow myself the luxury of disagreeing or arguing with my MIL and I have to pay the cost – a torn kurta, discolored dupatta, forgotten lunch box, an unexpected fast…”
“That’s the thing Rani, when in Rome you need to do as Rome does. Smarten up, change your tactics, learn from your MIL, take a few tricks from her handbook. It’s time you stopped kotowing to them and make them pay for all your…”
“No Papa, you cannot get away with blaming my in-laws or my husband when it’s all your fault,” rage engulfed Rajani, “because of your old-fashioned ideas, I am not only stuck in an awful marriage but also in a marketing job for which I am neither qualified nor have an aptitude for, I travel twenty days a month and slave away at home on the other days to make up for my life of ease and one long vacations. I dare not go back home without gifts for Mummyji and Didi and Akash. Perhaps even Harsha expects…got to go Papa,” said Rajani’s beeped, “Harsha’s calling probably to find out if I reached the airport or not.”
“What? He hasn’t enquired until now?” erupted Mr Ahuja but he was talking to thin air as his daughter disconnected the phone.
Nisha, who had so far been sitting on corner of the bed ceaselessly and silently chanting hymns, jumped up and hovered anxiously around her husband, “What did she say? How is she? Why hasn’t she eaten?” Nisha fussed.
“That Sunaina Goel,” swore Mr Ahuja and swept the contents of the table on the floor in a fit of anger, Mrs Ahuja jumped up in alarm, “How dare she treat my daughter like this, making her fast for no rhyme or reason and why the hell does Rajani take all this nonsense I don’t understand, couldn’t she have eaten something at the office? All your fault,” he glared at his unfortunate wife Rekha, “Why didn’t her teach her to stand up for herself?” he snarled before charging out of the room.
You made sure to nip that spark thirty years ago.
“Running away was easy; not knowing what to do next was the hard part.”
― Glenda Millard,
“I’m learning quickly, once you quit one thing, it gets easier and easier just to leave situations rather than deal with shit.” ― Doug Cooper,
Click here for the next chapter: In the Meanwhile