Sunaina fussed over Rajani with hot soup, disprin gargles, antibiotics and paracetamols. But Rajani was too unwell to appreciate the tender loving care. All she wanted was solitude and sleep.
But that wasn’t to be.
She was the Goel family’s pride and honor. If she didn’t go, what would everyone think? How would her parents feel? And Abhi? Was this her way of taking revenge? Punishing him? Poor Ritu would feel rejected and insulted, wouldn’t she? How could she be so selfish and self-centered? Just because she had a measly cough and cold? Colds would come and go but her brother would get married only once.
Bombarded from all quarters, Rajani had little choice to be at the wedding. And the mehendi, sangeet, be a party to the mandatory dancing till the wee hours of the morning. And then back again for the haldi ceremony before rushing off to the parlor to take care of her pallor have a bit of a tussle over the sari, seedha pallu or ulta pallu, heavy not so heavy etc etc.
Rajani’s protests and objections cut no ice and she was at her brother’s wedding wearing a zari sari weighing about a ton while balancing her tottering shaky legs on pencil heels. The monstrous gigantic kundan set completed her misery.
“Smile!” Harsha lashed out at her in an undertone wearing a benign expression. “What will everyone think? That you aren’t happily married? Do you want your parents to be upset? Don’t you wish your brother well? Aren’t you happy that he is getting married? If not for your in-laws, at least have some consideration for your parents?” He raved and ranted confident that she wouldn’t be able to retaliate.
She was on mute.
Harried, hassled and guilty, Rajani rallied and marshaled her resources to put up a happier vivacious front. At least that was what she thought. Harsha continued to grumble and castigate her. She was heartily sick of him.
And so was he.
“You are looking lovely beta!” Nisha gushed, “I was worried yesterday but today just look at you.” She flicked away a tear looking like a lighted Christmas tree herself.
Seeing that her in-laws were crowded around Ritu, Rajani thought it was the ideal moment to unburden her seething tortured soul, throat silencer notwithstanding, “Mamma…”
“Oh there’s Mrs Sahani, I’ll talk to you later. Find your Papa will you and ask him call the driver,” She trotted off.
“Papa, Mamma wants you to call the driver,” she said with difficulty.
“Driver? For what?”
Rajani shrugged her cluelessness.
“Your mother is really something. What does she want the driver for? Just the driver or with the car? Really she is too much…”
“Papa…” Rajani tugged at his sleeve, determined to say her piece.
But Suryakant had other things on his mind. “Not now beta, there are too many people, too much happening,” Suryakant backed off hurriedly, “We’ll talk tomorrow evening okay. All the dust would have settled by then. You are looking lovely.” He smiled and patted her back.
Rajani nodded. She clenched her fists – she simply had to offload else she would go bust.
Where the hell was that Shikha ki bacchi? No doubt simpering and cooing with that equally besotted Amu darling.
“Shikhs,” she tugged at her arm.
“Hey Rajji!” Shikha hugged her exuberantly. “Ooops!” She folded her hands. “Namasteji. How are you Mrs Goel? And where’s Jijaji?” She giggled.
Rajani rolled her eyes and pinched her. “Ouch!” Shikha shrieked and rubbed her arm. “What did you do that for?”
Rajani gestured to her throat and tugged agitatedly. “Okay okay I am coming!” She turned to Amu and whispered to him. He held her hand as if he wouldn’t let her go. Rajani tugged insistently. Shikha laughed and blew Amu a kiss. “Just till the washroom. We’ll be back soon. I promise.” She lowered her voice again. “I love you.” Giggling at the theatrical way he clutched his heart, she went off with Rajani.
“What happened Rajji? All good na?” Shikha asked with concern. That was more than what Rajani needed. Ignoring the strain on her vocal cords, Rajani vomited out the events of the last few days. Shikha listened in horrified silence. A bout of coughing shook Rajani and interrupted her tirade.
“Uff you are such a crackpot Rajji!”
Rajani stared. She had been expecting a volley of abuses for Harsha. “Is that all you have to say?” Rajani rasped cut to the core. “Whose side are you on?”
“Of course your side.” Shikha said in soothing tones, “but you really are the limit. You should have thought of the consequences…”
“What Harsha did was right?”
“Tell me what did he do? You are angry with him because you think he nixed your stay at Chandigarh right? But that’s not his fault! He was concerned about your return trip so what’s wrong about that? If your father or brother couldn’t find time to drop you back then it was best that you go back with him. How can you blame him for that?”
“He knew they didn’t have time. He should have said no right in the beginning…”
“Would that have made you less angry with him? You are so determined to hate him and thwart him that you just don’t care about the implications and ramifications. Imagine asking policemen for help in the middle of nowhere that too at night!” Shikha was scandalized.
“Telling me to wear a sari halfway through was fine?”
“You should have worn one right in the beginning! You know they are a bit conservative. And with new brides everyone expects her to toe the line. It’s not such a big deal. Besides, it is just for a few days. Then you are back at the hostel. Do what you like then not here when all eyes are trained on you. He probably knows there are people like Biji at home who could make life miserable for you. Maybe he’s a bit rough around the edges but he does care about you. Didn’t he get tea and biscuits for you?”
“Biscuits for me and a feast for himself!” Rajani’s voice cracked.
“How do you know what he ate? Did you see? How could you throw the biscuits and insult Ma Annapurna like this Rajji? You know it is not done! No wonder you didn’t get any dinner.”
“I just saw red…” Rajani whispered.
“And look what you got in return! A bad throat, body ache, headache – take a chill pill Rajji.”
“You’ve changed Shiks. You don’t understand what I am going through.”
“Yes I have changed Rajji. And you haven’t.” She glanced at her phone. “Possibly because I have had the opportunity to mix with my in-laws and had time to understand a little bit of the relationship dynamics. We are the ones going to a new house, a new environment, they aren’t going to adjust, we will have to adjust, compromise and slowly win them over.”
“I didn’t know you were the Sati-Savitri types!” Rajani sneered.
“Whatever. I just know that you can’t enter a new home and act like a boss. You have to follow their rules and norms,” she paused, “and not overreact to every little real or imagined insult.” She put her hand on Rajani’s shoulders and shook her lightly. “Get off your high horse and stop fighting. Accept that you are married. And give in gracefully to the situation.”
“Why should I only adjust? Does marriage mean losing oneself? Can I not even decide what to wear, where to stay?”
“When you get married it is no longer about me, it is about us…”
“How come you know so much about marriage?” Rajani ignored the pain to jeer at her friend. “Don’t you mind losing yourself, becoming a slave to…?”
“Look Rajji, I don’t have the time for this right now. All I know is that a marriage is not a battlefield Rajji. I didn’t make the rules and I have no intentions of changing or challenging the rules. I just want to make Amu happy and be happy.” Shikha’s phone beeped. “Look Amu is asking if everything is okay with you? He says you look off. Any problem?”
Rajani pulled a face and crossed her arms.
“Come on Rajji, relax. Don’t create a scene here. It’s not going to change anything. You’ll still be married and only more uncomfortably so. Try to establish a better understanding with your hubby.” She elbowed her. “The honeymoon will help.” She winked and giggled.
“I don’t want to create a scene. I am not well. I just want to lie down. Is it too much to ask?” Rajani demanded.
“If only you hadn’t been so impulsive and hot-headed.” Shikha’s phone beeped again. “Why the hell did you stick your head out of the window in the dead of winter? You asked for it and now you have to pay for it!” Shikha snapped.
Rajani stared at her friend too hurt to speak.
“Aww. I am sorry Rajji,” Shikha hugged her and glanced at her phone. She started walking pulling Rajani along, “Everything will be fine. Just don’t be so rigid and uncompromising, smile and be happy.”
Rajani pulled her arm away, “I am sorry but I cannot pretend to be something I am not.”
“Whatever!” Shikha had run out of patience. Amu was waiting for her. He was starving and didn’t she care? Did her friend matter more than him? Was this how much she loved him? Did she know how awkward and embarrassing it was for him to be standing alone at a wedding where he knew no one? Didn’t she know he had come for her and only her? If she wasn’t back in another 30 sec, he was leaving. “Just please,” Shikha begged with folded hands, “please don’t do anything to mess up my wedding.”
Tears sprang to Rajani’s eyes.
“I didn’t mean it that way…” Shikha bit her tongue and held out her hand but Rajani had vanished.
Dammit to hell.
Shikha picked up her lehenga and ran to catch Amu.