“Excuse me Bhaisahab.” Rajani said in a louder voice.
“Yes?” Two massive scruffy men in rumpled uniforms turned to her. The third pot-bellied one yawned and stretched. He demanded water and tea punctuated with expletives.
Rajani blenched. Had she made a mistake?
“N…nothing.” She backed away.
“Don’t worry, beta, I have a daughter your age,” One of them said, “Is there a problem?”
Her courage returned. “Yes. My husband,” she pointed to the car, “is being most unreasonable. He insists that I wear this sari, otherwise he’s going to leave me here and go away.”
To her utter horror and shame, the men burst into laughter. Rajani was glad of the darkness that hid her flaming cheeks.
“Recently married eh?” The Pot Belly asked.
Rajani nodded. “Three days ago.” She reported in an over loud voice. She had nothing to hide. Why should she be embarrassed?
They again burst into laughter. “Take my advice girl,” the one with the daughter took pity on her and said, “and choose your battles wisely.” He waved his hand, “This is not your turf. Besides, your husband is right. A new bride should wear a sari. What will people say? He has your best interests at heart.”
Rajani made a rude sound.
“He is only trying to protect you from the wrath of his relatives. Be a good girl and do as your husband says.” He turned away to join his colleagues.
Rajani looked towards the car. She could see his teeth gleaming in the darkness. Rajani had a sudden urge to throw the sari down and do a war dance around it with blood curdling yells and shouts. Perhaps that would soothe the fire raging in her blood.
A dog squealed and scampered past her as a car swerved a halt in a shower of dust. A blast of music hit her as the door opened and half a dozen boys spilled out.
It’s not fair!
Seething with resentment, Rajani walked back into the motel and bawled her heart out. The two attendants in the washroom fussed over her.
“What happened? Did he beat you? Curse you?”
“No. No.” Rajani shook her head still sobbing away, “he insulted me. He insists that I wear a sari.”
“So what’s wrong in that?” The women were flabbergasted.
“Forget it!” Rajani snapped. Refusing help, she swiftly mummified herself. Her intentions of sweeping into the car with long elegant strides were foiled by the tightly bandaged sari and she ended up half shuffling, half hopping to the car. She gritted her teeth and refused to acknowledge Harsha’s eyes boring into her from the restaurant where he was clearly enjoying a hot cup of tea and snacks.
Shaking with rage she slammed the car door. Feeling hot and suffocated, she rolled down the window and blew smoke into the chilly air.
Harsha appeared after an indecent interval, which did nothing to improve Rajani’s temper.
“Here, I got a cup of tea and some biscuits for you.” He thrust a steaming paper cup and a packet into her hands. Without missing a beat, Rajani threw them out of the window.
Back on the highway, their car sped down the road but Rajani refused to roll up the window. She welcomed the icy winds that burned her cheeks – anything to cool her boiling blood.
Good, she thought viciously, hope you catch a massive cold and…no better if she caught a massive cold and died. That would teach them a lesson.
She stuck her head out of the window. Her brain froze. She hurriedly withdrew and surreptitiously drew the hood of the jacket over her head. She stared into the darkness unmindful of the flickering lights or the vehicles that streamed past. All she could see was the ICU, the somber doctor saying, “I am sorry we couldn’t save her.”
Her father shocked and horrified, clutched his chest, while her mother fainted. Abhi shouting and screaming, doctors nurses gathered around…Rajani teared up at the heartbreaking scene.
She floated over to Harsha standing alone in one corner, sobbing and mumbling, “I am sorry Rajani, I am sorry I was mean to you. I am sorry I didn’t understand you. I sorry Rajani, please forgive me…”
Would she forgive him? Nah, not in a million years. He didn’t deserve her. Serve him right if she caught a cold and died. Then he would realize her worth, how mean and rude he was. He would repent and cry but she would never come back. Never. People would ask him about his beautiful and young wife, “Do you miss her, did you love her?”
“Yes, of course I miss her,” he would cry, “Of course I loved her. And will continue to love her forever and ever. I am sorry I didn’t open my heart to her. It’s entirely my fault. It is all because of my ill-mannered, obnoxious, rude, overbearing, insensitive, mean, aggressive, unacceptable, untenable, indigestible, loathsome, horrible, awful, dreadful, evil, nasty…”
The car halted. They had reached.
Frozen, Rajani stumbled out of the car and into a houseful of people.
“Rani beta!” Her MIL hurried forward, “Oh how I missed you. I am so happy to see you.” She enveloped her in a warm hug. “Oh but you are so cold! Was the car window broken?” Rajani shook her head avoiding looking at Harsha. Her throat was beginning to itch and her limbs were cramping.
“Mummyji, I’ll just change…”
“Yes, yes freshen up. We were waiting for you only! Come let me choose a sari for you.”
“Of course. This one is nice but a bit rumpled…”
“Are we going somewhere?” Rajani was dismayed. A hot cup of soup and a warm bed was what she yearned for.
“I wanted to,” Sunaina confessed, “but everyone was in favor of a Tambola party at home. Come on hurry up, it is time for some fun!”
Sunaina hustled Rajani giving her little choice with her steady prattle and selective hearing.
Head throbbing, stomach growling Rajani was back in the midst of a hullabaloo. Everyone was having a grand time. Rajani’s eyes rounded as she took in all men and women raised their glasses and downed them. Scandalized she sought out Harsha but he was having soup. Not fair! She wanted some too.
Rekha dragged her, “Come let’s play Tambola.”
“I don’t know how to play.” She resisted.
“It’s easy as pie. You have to buy a ticket, only 50 Rs. Buy two,” she advised, “change won’t be a hassle then,” Rekha held out two tickets and looked expectantly at her.
Rajani looked blankly at her. “I don’t have my purse.”
“I’ll get it. Where is it?” She vanished. “This is your purse right?”
Rajani took out a 500 Rupee note.
“I don’t have change right now.” Rekha took it from her. “I’ll give you the change later. Here take a ticket and a pen. I’ll show you how it is done on your other ticket.”
Rajani looked around. Wasn’t anyone else hungry? When was dinner?
“Didi what about dinner?” Rajani couldn’t control herself any longer.
Rekha looked up from her diligent study of the ticket. “Dinner? Thanks, we’ve had ours. What did you have on the way?”
“Nothing?” Rekha blinked. “But Bhaiyaa said he was full?”
“I didn’t have anything.” Rajani was beginning to feel dizzy.
“Mummy!” Rekha raised her voice over the din, “Bhabhi hasn’t had dinner.”
All eyes swung towards her. Rajani could feel Harsha’s mocking sneering eyes boring into her.
She wished the earth would open up and swallow her.
“Oh you poor girl. Come let me get you something.” Sunaina led her to the kitchen.
“Give me your ticket,” Rekha said, “I’ll play this game for you and you can join in the next one.”
“I am sorry beta, but all the food has finished!” Sunaina confided to her in the privacy of the kitchen. “Harsha said he had eaten. Didn’t you eat?”
He had eaten and just a packet of biscuits for her! She was glad she had rejected that and passed a clear-cut message that she was not one to be messed with.
That should show him.