“Rani!” Nisha pulled her into the kitchen. “What are you saying?”
“I hate him Mamma.”
“Hush!” Nisha shut the kitchen door. “Watch your words Rani. What will your husband think?”
“Funny how you are always worried about what somebody else will think? When will it matter what I think?” Rajani burst into tears.
Nisha and Shikha looked at each other in consternation.
“Nisha!” Suryakant called her. “Where the food? Harsha must be famished. Such a long journey.”
“Coming!” Nisha nodded to Shikha to handle Rajani while she set the table, chattering to Harsha. “And son, everything okay at home? How’s Sunainaji? And Rekha? I hope she didn’t suffer the after effects of the exertion. Such a nice girl, always smiling…and your father? I hope you like the food…”
“Rani? Oh she’s helping out in the kitchen. I told her to sit and eat, but she insisted on helping,” Nisha laughed, “I’ll just go get her, you please start…Rani…” she disappeared into the kitchen.
Rani was still sobbing and Shikha had joined her.
“Hey Bhagwan! I told you to console her not compete with her!” Nisha was ready to pull out her hair. “Rani stop crying this instant or there won’t be anyone worse than me on this earth.”
Years of conditioning turned off the tap. Rajani hiccuped. “Go and wash up quick! Harsha is waiting. Hurry up now! Hurry,” Nisha raised the roller pin.
Rajani and Shikha disappeared.
Harsha shot a sharp glance at Rajani red swollen eyes but forbore to say anything.
After lunch Harsha had a couple of meetings lined up with a few merchants for possible business deals. Suryakant and Abhi offered to escort and chauffeur him around town. Harsha in turn volunteered his services for any task that they might think he could help with regards to the wedding preparations. Bonhomie and goodwill blossomed as the in-laws bonded.
Suryakant and Abhi congratulated themselves in finding the perfect gentleman for their beloved Rani.
“All credit to Ritu,” Suryakant all but rubbed his hands in glee. He felt free. Rani had not been looking happy and he was beginning to have second thoughts but meeting Harsha had dispelled all fears and apprehensions. Harsha was the right groom and Rani was blessed to find such a life partner. “I must call her and say thank you. Abhi next time you talk to Ritu, let me know.”
“Of course Papa. And I agree with you. Harsha Sir is such a down to earth person who knows what is what. Thanks to his business sense and negotiating skills, we saved a couple of lakhs with the decorations. Thank you so much.” Abhi clasped Harsha’s hand and shook it over and over again.
Harsha waved away the effusive wishes, “It’s fine, my pleasure.”
“You are very kind and generous. I hope you will get along with our Rani.”
“Yes, even I hope so. But she still has a lot of childishness in her.” He intoned pompously.
“I apologize for any mistake on our Rani’s part. Do forgive her.” Suryakant folded his hands. “Rani has led a sheltered life. But she is a good girl. Under your guidance and support I am sure she will serve you well.”
Harsha too folded his hands. “Please don’t embarrass me.”
Overwhelmed by this generosity of the groom, Suryakant bore him off for some more shopping. “No, no I insist upon paying. It is our pleasure and honor. It is a token of our thanks and appreciation. Rani’s mother would have come but she was busy with the wedding preparations. Why don’t you choose something for your mother and sister? And your father too.”
“No. No. Please I couldn’t.”
“Oh but we insist. If you won’t choose, then Rani’s mother will come tomorrow…”
“Oh but I plan to leave tomorrow.”
“Such a short visit?”
“We just came for the ritual. We have Ritu’s wedding to attend too.”
“Of course, of course, but as our guest! We insist. And how about this sari? Or this?”
“No, my mother doesn’t wear this kind. Maybe something in pure silk? With a zari border, something sober and elegant.”
“Yes of course.”
The two men waited patiently as Harsha sifted through a mound of saris and ultimately shortlisted four. He appealed to his partners for help. Suryakant had little trouble sorting the complex issue – he bought all four. Congratulating themselves on solving a tricky problem with such ease they moved on to Mr Goel’s purchase, which was done in a jiffy. As they emerged victorious from the clothing store, Harsha’s eye fell on Bags and Shoes shop across the road.
“If you have a minute to spare could I just look in there? Dad needs a briefcase…”
“But of course!”
They all pitched in with their comments and suggestions more enthusiastically than with the saris and came up with a case that met their collective approval. Suryakant insisted on paying and after the mandatory protests, Harsha allowed himself to be overruled.
Loaded, they returned just in time for dinner. Everything was ready and laid out. Suryakant had it all organized with military precision via remote control and hourly updates.
“This is great food Aunty,” Harsha complimented her by taking another helping of kadi-chawal.
“You are like our elder son, you should address us as your parents,” Suryakant smiled to take away any sting.
“Yes, of course. I am sorry. It’s just that I am not yet used to it…”
“Never mind beta,” Nisha gushed, “I understand. All in good time, would you like some rice?”
“No. No I am stuffed. At the market also, Abhi insisted on tea and snacks…”
“But you did like it didn’t you?” Abhi asked.
“Oh yes. The chaat was delicious. Thanks.”
“You are most welcome. A friend of Ritu is my friend.”
“Oh Abhi! He is more than just a friend!” Nisha was scandalized.
“Oh!” The boys burst out laughing.
“No, no,” Harsha soothed Nisha who was glaring at Abhi, “I first consider myself a friend of his and then a relative.”
“Oh!” Nisha teared up and nudged Rajani, “You are so lucky.”
Rajani hung her head.
“You must be exhausted.” Suryakant said, “after the way we dragged you all over town. Nisha do you know what a savvy businessman your son-in-law is? He saved us a fortune.”
“You are too generous and kind,” Harsha disclaimed modestly.
“Nisha do you know they are planning to leave tomorrow?” Suryakant asked.
“Tomorrow?” Nisha was aghast. She shot Rajani an anxious glance. She sat quietly fiddling with her food. “But…this is too short a visit… we…I hardly had time to take care of you. Do stay another day.” Nisha said.
“That’s very kind of you.” Harsha was polite but firm. “I would if I could, but I have a lot of work piled up. I haven’t been able to do much because of the wedding and now again we will be leaving for Singapore next week.”
“Just another day beta,” Nisha pleaded, “Rani…”
“If she likes, she can stay,” he looked at her. She perked up. “I understand with the wedding there would be a lot of work. Rekha did a lot for mine. It is only right that Rajani too do her share. Isnt it Rajani?” He looked at her.
Rajani brightened and nodded enthusiastically. Rather too enthusiastically for a newly wedded bride.
Nisha gasped and squeezed Rajani’s hand.
Harsha raised his hand. “I will of course have to check with my mother…”
“Of course. Of course. Rani belongs to your family and you all have the right to decide. I will personally call her up and request her.” Suryakant said. “But no matter what she says, I must appreciate your kind generosity and understanding. I am very blessed to have you as my son.”
“All credit to my parents.” He said humbly.
Click here for the next chapter: A Guest at Home