“Didn’t you eat?” Sunaina asked again.
“Oh dear. I gave the last two sandwiches and dahi bhalla to Harsha. Someone has finished off the gulab jamun too. Some neighbors also popped in uninvited.” She laughed. “We are close knit and don’t stand upon formalities. Anyway, shall I make you some parathas?” She looked at the pile of dishes in the sink. “I’ll just knead some dough and wash the tawa…”
“No, no please let it be…” Rajani was embarrassed. “It’s okay I am not really hungry.”
“Let me see if there is anything in the fridge.” Sunaina scrabbled around and dug out a little box. “I knew there was some left over rice. Now if only I could find the dal. Oh here it is. I wish we had a microwave. It would be so easy to heat this. Now first I will have to wash up…”
“Please Mummyji. I really don’t want anything. I am not hungry at all.”
“How’s that possible? You must eat something.” Sunaina opened the fridge again. “Oh I forgot! There’s ice cream! Don’t you just love ice cream in winters? Here,” before Rajani could voice her protest, she had served her a huge chunk.” Go on eat it up before somebody else comes and demands their share,” Sunaina said conspiratorially. “I’ll go and guard the door. Hurry.” She vanished.
Rajani’s throat was on fire but caught between her caring MIL and a protesting tummy not to mention a dizzy head, she obediently attacked the ice cream.
“Hurry,” Sunaina was back. “We are missing all the fun. Come on. Finish it up. Oh I must call up your parents to thank them for all the lovely stuff they have sent for us. I am not very partial to magenta but then it is the thought that counts.”
“Harsha said that magenta was your favorite color.” Rajani defended, “Mamma hadnt gone to the market, neither had I.”
“Oh! Silly boy. He has no idea of what I like or don’t like. Men!” She took out her phone and called up Nisha. “Namaste Nishaji. How are you? Yes, yes we are very happy to have our daughter back. The house was very quiet and lonely without her. Yes, she is fine. She is busy licking up an ice cream. We have a party on at home and we are enjoying a bit of chitchat in the privacy of the kitchen. Thank you for the lovely things you sent. Rani was just telling me that you hadnt gone to the market? Harsha has no sense of color or fashion. I have been telling him about something in purple for so long now but he went and got magenta. If it were possible, I would have got it exchanged. No, no, never mind, never mind, I wouldn’t dream of bothering you. I shall find something from here itself. Okay then bye, see you at the wedding. Do let us know if we can help in any way.” She disconnected the phone. “Finished? Do you want to eat anything else? Some namkeen maybe?” She turned around and fiddled with the cupboards. “I am feeling so bad. Nothing to eat for my bahu. It has never happened before. Usually there is a surplus of food. And today…how embarrassing.” She shuddered. “I wont be able to sleep.”
“No,” Rajani shook her head, “It’s fine really. I am full up after the ice cream.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Rajani nodded.
“Okay let’s go join the fun!”
“Oh you are back!” Rekha’s eyes were glittering, “You are so lucky Bhabhi! I have never ever won anything in Tambola until today. But with your money and tickets, I won 300 Rs!”
“Oh really? Buy me a ticket too beta,” Sunaina elbowed Rajani, “Let me see if you are really lucky!”
Rajani took out another 500 Rs note and gave it to her. “Shush! The game is beginning. Mummy, get your ticket. Bhabhi sit beside me. I will teach you how to play.”
Rajani sat between her MIL and SIL and tried to enjoy the game. But she found it silly and quite idiotic. Somebody calling out numbers and the rest going hysterical – a whole lot of crap. The numbers were more interesting – it was fun fooling around with them.
“Mummyji your triangle is done.”
“Oh it is isn’t it? I didn’t even notice.” Off she trotted to collect her prize and returned triumphant and flush with happiness. “Isnt this a fun game? And you have such a good eye. Rekha was right. You are indeed lucky for us.”
Rajani smiled politely. Her head was throbbing and her throat was scratchy. She squirmed uncomfortably in her seat and yawned. She yearned for her bed. Could she slip off? She looked around. Somebody seemed to be staring at her – glaring at her.
Rajani groaned to herself. But of course it was Harsha. She covered her face and slid down her seat.
She discarded all plans of sleep. She refused to go anywhere near that boor. Damn him.
She counted the days, hours minutes and seconds to when she would be back in hostel.
The party continued till 2 am by the end of which Rajani was poorer by 2000 Rs without having played a single game while her in-laws were richer by 1000 Rs each thanks to her ‘good luck.’
Rajani didn’t care either way. Sleep and fever made her woozy. She curled up in her corner of the sofa and dozed off.
At the first opportunity, Harsha gave her an earful for her lack of manners and poor upbringing. “Everyone else was awake and they gathered here to welcome you into the family, make you feel at home and you slept off? Don’t you have any shame and any consideration?”
Rajani stared at him blankly. She opened her mouth to give it back but no sound came out.
Her MIL bustled forward. “Oh poor thing! Be quiet son. Can’t you see she is unwell?” She put a hand on her forehead. “She’s running a temperature too. Call the doctor in the morning. Don’t worry Rani we will have you up and about for your brother’s wedding functions tomorrow. Go to sleep now”
Bhai’s wedding functions! Tomorrow? Rajani sank back on to the bed and wept silent tears. She didn’t want to go anywhere. Not the wedding. Not home. Not even college. She just wanted to sleep and never wake up.
But of course that wasn’t possible.
She wasn’t ten years old any longer.
She was married. She had responsibilities. She had a honeymoon and two weddings to attend to. She was honor and duty bound to laugh, joke, smile, dress elegantly and generally look like the quintessential blushing bride with the world at her feet.
Not as if she had been brought to her knees in less than a week into her wedding.
“Good morning beta! Such a lovely fine morning!” Her MIL sang out. “I am so excited for the Mehendi!” It is going to be so much fun, all the music, dancing…”
“Mummyji,” she rasped through her inflamed tonsils, “is it okay if I miss the Mehendi. Everything is paining, my head,” a bout of coughing racked her, “please.” She mouthed, unable to speak.
“How can you miss your own brother’s shaadi?” It was Harsha with his Book of Moral Code and Conduct.
“Shut up!” She wanted to scream but even her voice had ditched her. She looked mutely at her MIL who rose to the plea and the situation.
“Hush! Leave the poor girl alone. Can’t you see she is unwell?” she flapped her arms and Harsha withdrew but his glance seared her.
She closed her eyes.