Rajani dropped her case and looked around the stark utilitarian room with its single barred window – she was home. Silence and peace enfolded her. She raised a hand to pull the curtain.
The churas clanked.
In a burst of annoyance and rage, Rajani swiftly and deftly slipped them off. She was free of her shackles. Not completely. She still had the toe rings on. They pinched and hurt, she bent down but couldn’t take them off.
“As long as you wear the toe rings nothing can harm your husband,” her MIL’s words echoed. “You must wear them always for his continued good health and prosperity.”
Rajani threw herself on her bed and burst into gut wrenching tears. She was married and there was no escape. The last few days had been worse, if that were possible. It was as if each day fate taunted her saying ‘Cheer up, the worst is yet to come.’
The honeymoon was a complete and utter disaster. Rajani spent most of her time in the kitchen while Dimple took care of her son. To give Harsha credit he helped in the kitchen and even cooked up decent meals. Rajani wouldn’t have been able to serve an edible meal by herself, she was quite sure. Under Harsha’s exacting eye and strict guidance, she learnt how to chop and cut vegetables, identify spices and of course wash up as per Harsha’s SOPs and exacting standards. Dhrupad returned on the second day and Harsha would disappear with him for hours on some networking and exploring business expansion possibilities.
Dimple was out of sorts and lay in bed most of the time and it fell to Rajani to handle Deep as well.
And that was the saving grace.
She and Deep hit off instantly. Deep’s lisping talk and chortles enchanted Rajani and kept her sane. He in turn clung to her and demanded she feed him, bathe him tell him stories. This she was only happy to do for it not only distracted her but also spared her from the kitchen work.
“Bhaiyya is such a sweetheart!” Dimple gushed over and over again on the last day of their visit when she deigned to rise from her bed and take them on a whirlwind tour of the city while on the way to the malls. They stopped long enough to click some photos for the album. “I don’t know what I would have done without him. He is a master of everything – be it home or the kitchen. Wasn’t the kadi-chawal just out of the world? In a crisis all I ask for is Bhaiyya. He is like a rock, unfazed no matter how bad things are. You are so lucky to have him as your husband.”
Rajani tried her best to keep the shock and disbelief out of her face.
“Come here Deep,” Dimple called, “Say sorry to taiji for spoiling her honeymoon. Say sorry!”
“Sholee!” He clung to her legs with his good arm. Rajani bent down and hugged him, hiding the tears in his tiny but chubby frame.
“It’s not your fault!” She kissed and cuddled him soaking up energy and hope from his joie de vivre.
They shopped till they had no money left. Both Rekha and Sunaina loved all the things Rajani had bought for them, “You have such good taste and a really good eye!” Sunaina praised her. “The jacket you bought for yourself is really chic. Can I try it?”
“Sure.” Rajani smiled.
“Oh I look about 20 years younger don’t I?” Sunaina modeled with the jacket with a light stole thrown about.
“Yes! Mummy it really looks good on you.” Rekha gushed. “Let me try.”
She too modeled in it and raved about it until Rajani caved in. “Please take it.”
“No, no! I couldn’t!” Rekha looked at it longingly.
“Please take it. Mummyji could also wear it sometimes.”
“Oh you are so generous!” Rekha and Sunaina both hugged her. Harsha wore an approving look. Rajani felt a tad bit better. Besides she was looking forward to Shikha’s wedding and before that the accompanying ceremonies.
“I want to go to Chandigarh.” She spoke to Harsha. “I want to be there for Shikha’s Haldi. I will come to Delhi with Mamma and Papa.”
“How will you go?”
“Not again!” Rajani groaned. “Just put me on a bus! Papa will collect me.”
“It’s not safe.” He refused.
“You are deliberately being obstructive.” She accused.
“And you are being rude. I didn’t want to say it but where’s the invitation for the Haldi, Sangeet and Mehendi?”
Rajani stared. “What do you mean? They sent a card didn’t they?”
“A wedding invitation card by post. No personal visit. No follow up by phone. No shagun. Nothing. We don’t go to weddings where we are not invited personally.” Harsha declared.
What a whole lot of bullshit!
Rajani argued, pleaded, begged cried but to no avail. Ultimately Sunaina intervened. Rajani and Sunaina went for the wedding ceremony. It was a victory of sorts but a hollow one. She had never thought she would go to Shikha’s wedding as a guest, an outsider. But that’s how she felt. Shikha was too busy and wrapped up in the horde of cousins and relatives that had landed up and couldn’t do much beyond waving to her.
Her parents were not of much help either. “Where’s Harsha? I do hope he is well?” They asked anxiously.
“Perfect health Mamma,” Rajani was bitter, “busy riding his high horse with his oversized nose in the air.”
“Rani!” Nisha was scandalized and cast a look for Sunaina. Thankfully she was happily engaged in exchanging notes with an acquaintance. “Don’t talk like that!”
“Why shouldn’t I? It’s the truth.”
“But…” Nisha frowned, “That set your MIL is wearing looks very familiar,” she whispered.
“Yeah. It’s the one you gifted me for the wedding.”
“Why is she wearing it?”
“She liked it. She asked me if she could wear it.”
“Oh but you shouldn’t have given it to her!” Nisha protested. “It’s yours and it’s very expensive…”
“What should I have said? No it’s mine and I can’t give it you? Please Mamma,” Rajani said. “Rekha’s sari is also mine…”
“No! You should have let her know diplomatically…”
“I don’t know how to be diplomatic and if you wanted me to be you should have taught me the skills, instead of how to read and write.” Rajani was bitter.
“Hush!” Suryakant shushed them both. “What does it matter who wears what? Rajani or her MIL, it is one and the same thing. You did the right thing beta. Don’t fight over material things. If you need more, just ask me. I will…”
“No please Papa, you have given enough. Now just let it be. Tell me how are Bhai and Bhabhi?” She changed the topic. “Any news?”
“They’ve reached Mauritius. We got a call after they reached and after that nothing.” Suryakant said.
“Abhi had told me that they were going to disconnect from the world so that they could connect with each other.” Nisha giggled and blushed.
Rajani couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy.
She would be happy with just disconnection.
Click here for the next chapter: Coping