“Thank you Harsha.” She was stiff.
“For what?” He didn’t look up from his mobile.
For letting me stay with my parents. The words stuck in her throat. “I spoke to your mother…”
“My mother?” He looked up.
She faltered. “Mummyji was very nice to me…”
“She is of course nice. But you didn’t have the courtesy to even call her up once did you? Poor thing, all alone.”
She had come just this morning dammit. What was the need to talk so much? And had Harsha enquired about her parents? Rajani seethed.
“My mother’s been alone for years now.” Rajani scoffed.
“Your mother’s used to it. Mine isn’t.” He snapped. “If it was anybody else, they would have refused to let their bahu stay over for a minute longer than is necessary. Rekha had to return to her in-laws the very same day by the evening flight.”
“But now she doesn’t stay with her in-laws does she?”
“What do you mean by that?” Harsha’s eyes bore into hers.
Rajani refused to blink.
There was a knock on the door. It was Nisha. “I just wanted to check if you were comfortable beta,” she said, “are you cold? Would you like another blanket? A glass of warm milk perhaps?”
Harsha stood up. He shook his head. “Thank you. Please don’t bother yourself about me. I am comfortable. You must be tired. Please go and rest.”
“Ah you are sweet boy,” she patted him. “Rani beta, make sure your husband is comfortable. The towels and the toiletries are over there. Ok?”
“Good night beta. I can’t tell you how nice it is to have you at our home.” She gave her final gush for the night. “I do wish you didn’t have to leave tomorrow…”
“I also wish I could, but my mother is alone,” He paused and shot a glance at Rajani.
“I completely understand. I was being selfish. Perhaps Rani should…”
“Okay Mamma, good night Mamma,” Rajani all but pushed her mother out of the room before her mother sent her back along with Harsha. Was she a piece of luggage? Unwanted luggage? Did her feelings not matter to anybody?
She barged into the washroom for a good bawl all by herself.
By the time she calmed down enough to emerge from the washroom (because she was freezing) Harsha was fast asleep. Rajani’s blood pressure shot through the roof. Here she was sobbing her guts out and he was snoring away – how dare he?
She wanted to claw his face, pull of his bedclothes, anything to destroy his peaceful slumber just as he had destroyed hers. Her eye fell on the neat row of cosmetics arranged on the dressing table, she reached out a hand and swept them en masse on to the floor.
Rajani jumped and looked apprehensively towards the bed.
An oblivious Harsha snored on.
Her brief spurt of rebellion oozed out of her like the lotion from the bottle. She bent down to clean up the mess of her own making.
Rajani overslept and it was her mother who woke her up. “Get up Rani. It’s late. Harsha is missing you,” she snickered. “He’s asked about you at least a dozen times.”
Rajani woke up with a groan – it hadn’t been a nightmare. She was married. And she didn’t even have the freedom to wake up when she wanted – not even in her own home.
Only this wasn’t her home any longer…
“Rani! Come along for breakfast. Everyone is waiting for you.” Nisha called from the kitchen.
Feeling small and guilty and yet rebellious, she joined the others at the dining table.
“So Harsha beta what would you like to do today?” Suryakant boomed. “Would you like to see the sights? The rock gardens….”
“Thank you I have heard a lot about it. But perhaps the next time. I would like to reach home before it is dark.”
“I understand. But we will miss you. Abhi, ask the taxi fellow to come around 2 pm…”
“No no, that will be too late, around 11 would be perfect.”
“Oh but that’s just a couple of hours from now…”
“It gets dark so early in winters. How will Rajani come?” Harsha looked at Abhi. “When you come to drop her, do stay over at our place.”
Suryakant and Nisha looked at each other. “Oh but Abhi won’t be able to go to leave Rani,” Nisha said, “It’s his wedding two days later…”
“Oh yes. Sorry, my mistake. So how will Rani go?” Harsha asked Suryakant. “I think you will also be very busy?”
The luggage piece spoke up over loudly. “I can go by myself. I…”
“I don’t want you traveling alone.” Harsha was blunt. “It’s not safe. Mummy and Daddy wouldn’t allow it either.”
“But…” Rajani eyes shot sparks.
Suryakant raised his hand. “No he’s right Rani. We are so taken up by the wedding preparations that we didn’t think about your return trip.” He smiled at Harsha. “I must appreciate his concern for you.”
“I can take a flight to Delhi!” Rajani interrupted the Harsha deifying process.
“That would be an unnecessary expense for the luxury of staying over for just another day,” Harsha’s halo glowed brighter.
“No just one day!” Rajani looked at him triumphantly, “I can stay a day longer and catch the early morning flight on 30th …”
“Mamaji is arriving with his family from the US on 29th evening specifically to see you. It would be rude not to be present at home…”
“Rani beta, you first duty is towards your new home.” Suryakant was gentle. “Harsha beta may I request you to defer your trip by a couple of hours? That way Rani could spend some time with us and go home with you?”
Harsha nodded gracefully. “But of course. We can leave at 2 pm.”
“Yes that would be best. Have an early lunch and be home in time for dinner.” Suryakant looked at Nisha who was looking dismayed.
“Yes,” Nisha said distractedly. All eyes were on Rajani who was weeping into her food.
“I am sorry beta,” Suryakant apologized to Harsha, “she is disappointed. She is very attached to us. Don’t worry she will soon consider your family as her own. It is early days yet.”
“Hush Rani beta,” Nisha led her away from the table. “The way you are crying anyone would think you are being sent to jail or something.”
“Exactly Mamma!” Rajani stopped crying to rave and rant. “Exactly how I feel. Imprisoned. Under my veil. Who in this age and time wears a ghoonghat? And his Mamaji and family are coming I am sure I will have to scrape and bow to get into their good books.”
“What nonsense you speak Rani.”
“It’s not nonsense Mamma. It’s a fact. Do you know how I am supposed to greet elders?” She bent to demonstrate. She emerged red-faced. “I haven’t seen anybody else do that. Not Rekha. It’s just me. To humiliate me. To show me my position.”