“Where were you?” Harsha eyes probed her.
She raised her chin. “Talking to my friend. Any problem?”
“Don’t use that tone with me.”
“Check your tone first.” She turned away and then turned back. “I am going to speak to my mother. If that is okay with you? Sir?”
Harsha looked away. She stalked off, feeling victorious. She had won this round.
“Mamma,” she whimpered, but Nisha was of no help.
“Rani beta, try to adjust,” Nisha had advised, “You are the new member, you have to learn their ways not they yours. Smile beta, smile. Be happy you have such a wonderful family. Just think of it how would we like if Ritu hung around with a tragic face?”
She should adjust! She should just shut up and bear whatever was dished out to her should she? Didn’t she have a mind, thoughts, feelings an identity of her own?
“And Rani stop behaving as if you are the only one who has to compromise and adjust. Women all over the world do it!”
That still doesn’t make it right!
After the wedding, it was time for her honeymoon. And interestingly, Rajani was actually looking forward to it.
Ever since her wedding she hadn’t had a moment to herself. She craved solitude like one would chocolates or munchies. Wherever she went, either her MIL or SIL accompanied her. And on the rare occasions that they were home, they were content to sit by her side and jabber. Rajani found it exhausting to just listen to them talk – how they could go on and on about anything and everything was beyond her. A captive audience, she had little choice but to look very interested and nod her head time to time taking cue from them on when to laugh and when not to. Only once in a while would she wander off to her bed in Chandigarh pull the covers over her head…
To give her credit not once did she have one of her giggling attacks, nor was she in any danger of losing control. And to give them credit, they didn’t expect her to talk – they were aware she had a bad throat and should rest it as much as possible before her honeymoon.
At least Harsha wasn’t a big talker – perhaps she would get the much-needed peace and quiet on the plane. If only their seats were far apart. Or she could ignore him, like she had in the car journey from Chandigarh. The blush of shame stained her cheeks as the memory of that journey washed over her.
The flight to Singapore was uneventful and silent, mostly because Harsha gave her a wide berth at the airport and once on the aircraft, promptly fell asleep. Which only made Rajani even more resentful. She curled up in her seat and tried to count sheep but invariably ended up counting her woes, which did nothing for her peace of mind.
The interminable night and flight ended – only to land up in another contretemps.
Harsha’s cousin Dimple who was supposed to come to the airport to receive them didn’t arrive.
They loitered outside the airport until Rajani was ready to scream.
“Let’s check into a hotel.”
“And who will foot the bill? Your father?” He snapped.
“Why are you dragging my father into this?” Rajani’s temper shot through the roof.
“Because he arranged for the “honeymoon”. He should have arranged for our stay too!”
“You only wanted to stay with your cousin. He did give you money for the hotel didn’t he? Use it.” Rajani retaliated. “Your cousin is clearly not interested in entertaining us.” Besides who stays with relatives on a honeymoon?
“Don’t tell me what to do and what not to do okay? Here I am worried about my cousin and all you are concerned about is your precious sleep. I didn’t sleep a wink…”
“Rubbish! You slept the entire journey right until the time we landed.”
“Nonsense! Wait here,” he ordered as he parked the luggage trolley in one corner and vanished.
Rajani felt like the prime attraction in a circus as everyone passing by gawked at her. She looked like a clown, she thought bitterly, with her bling sari, thick band of sindoor, armful of chura.
She wished she were invisible or at least be like the other idiotic girls dressed similarly dressed like her but clearly loving it. They clung to their new hubbies quite unashamedly and simpered at their superheroes. The men lapped it all up and strutted with their chests jutting out. Cooing and cuddling they would wait at the pick up point, get into their respective cabs and drive off. Not one couple waited for anyone to come and pick them up.
Not even the greying and decaying ones.
She was the only one standing and waiting. So awkward and embarrassing.
She stared hungrily at the food counters, wishing she had money to buy something, anything. She drooled over the tempting array of pictures – an ice cream? No her throat wasn’t still up to the mark. Maybe a burger. Oh they had Maggi. That would be lovely – hot and soupy, she could feel it slide down her sore throat to her cramping stomach.
She swallowed. She looked around. Was there any drinking water around? For free?
“Come on!” Harsha barked into her ear.
“Are you blind or what?” He steered the trolley and pushed it through the crowd. Rajani had to hurry to keep up with his tirade. “I have been waving at you for like an hour! All because of you we’ll have to pay waiting charges to the cab I booked! I had to come back all the way just to pick up Maharani’s luggage.”
It’s your luggage too! She held her peace only too happy to be leaving the airport.
“Where are we going? To a hotel?”
“Why would we go to a hotel? We are going to my sister’s place as planned.”
“Oh but they clearly don’t want us! If they did, they would be here to receive us?” Rajani protested.
“Things are not always as they appear to be.” He rebuked her. “Deep, their three year old son had an accident.”
“Oh no!” Dismayed, Rajani stopped in her tracks.
“Hurry!” He urged. “There’s our cab waiting.”
“He broke his leg.”
“Oh poor thing,” Rajani melted. “I hope he is not in too much pain!”
“It’s my sister I am worried about. Her husband Dhrupad is on tour. Dimple had to manage it alone, in a foreign country.”
“Bhaiyya!” Dimple fell into Harsha’s arms and burst into sobs.
Rajani stood there feeling sorry and unwelcome.
“Relax Dimple.” Harsha was kind and gentle. “Relax. I am here now. I will take care of everything.”
Rajani stared. She hadn’t seen this soft caring avatar of Harsha. Or did he reserve the harsh avatar only for her?
“Sorry Bhabhi,” Dimple offered a watery smile. “It’s just that…”
“Oh please don’t apologize!” Rajani rushed in, “How is Deep?”
“He’s okay now. Fast asleep. The last two days were a nightmare. He was in so much pain and Dhrupad was unreachable. In fact he still doesn’t know.” She drooped. “I haven’t slept for two whole days.” She shook herself. “Look at me prattling on about me and my woes. And I haven’t even congratulated you! Congratulations!” she hugged them both. “Go on freshen up. I’ll make tea and breakfast.” She smiled and went into the kitchen.
Harsha followed her. Rajani reluctantly tagged along. She was starving.
“Sorry,” Dimple apologized, “the kitchen is in a mess. I didn’t have time…”
“Dimple, you relax.” Harsha said. “Rajani will make tea and breakfast. Just show her where the things are. Rajani,” he nodded his head towards the pile of dishes in the sink.
Rajani stared at him in shock.
Click here for the next chapter: Back to Hostel