After her mega bout of crying Rajani emerged calmer. Nothing seemed to matter. Perhaps, just perhaps she could pretend it had been a bad dream and forget all about it.
But that of course that was too much to ask for. Phone connections and neuronal connections just didn’t let her be. But to give Rajani credit, she tried her best to put her altered reality behind and move on.
Packing away her wedding finery and washing away the giveaway band of red on her hair, Rajani slipped into her old clothes and old life. Unable to find answers to life’s convoluted questions, Rajani turned to her first love – good old reliable Mr Mathematics. Her agitation and restless eased in the face of his stolid presence and reliable, predictable behavior. Head bent, chewing her nails as she wrestled with yet another tricky problem, life’s complexities faded into insignificance – most of the times.
At the oddest of moments, flashes of visuals, snatches of conversations would haunt and taunt her. But in all the mess and confusion of anger and despair at the injustice meted out to her, her overriding and favorite grouse was Shikha.
She missed her friend – her ex-friend, she thought bitterly as the tears started to flow again. Not just her world, her name, but even Shikha had changed. Rajani had been feeling terribly guilty and terrified of Shikha’s reaction about missing her wedding ceremonies.
But Shikha didn’t even mention it!
There wasn’t time to do more than smile and wave but still Rajani couldn’t help feeling hurt. Shikha hadn’t even called her to blast her. She could have texted a rant, a complaint – did Shikha even notice that she was missing? Was she so busy in her new family and friends?
Did you call her? The voice in her head nagged her.
“Hello Shikha,” she called up after a bit of an internal tussle, “I didn’t…
“Rajjjjjiiii ki bachiiii!” Shikha jumped at her through the phone, “Where the hell are you?”
“Me? Exactly where you left me – at the hostel. Where are you?” Rajani retorted.
“Oh me?” Shikha giggled, “I am in the seventh heaven of delight. Oh Rajji,” Rajani could clearly visualize the blissful expression on her face, “I am so so very lucky. There is nothing more I want from life, just to be with Amu forever and ever. You know Rajji I sometimes have to pinch myself just to check if I am dreaming!”
“That’s great.” Rajani forced enthusiasm into her voice. “When and where are you going for the honeymoon?”
“What does it matter, so long as we are together? Besides, our life will be one long honeymoon – Amu and me in the US of A!” Shikha sighed dreamily. “But we are going to Mauritius and you caught me in time, I am at the airport! Bye, take care, catch you later to exchange notes on honeymoon!” she giggled.
After that there was no news of Shikha. Rajani couldn’t help worrying and wondering about her. She made her mother inquire about Shikha from Kirti.
“Yes, yes, Shikha is fine,” Nisha reported, “just busy in her new home. As you would be if you had been here, not in a hostel.” She sniffed.
“When did she come back?” Rajani asked.
“A couple of days back. She is running around for her visa. If she doesn’t get it then her husband will fly back alone. Early next week sometime.”
“Oh!” Rajani felt bad and guilty. Here she had been thinking Shikha was happily busy but now it appeared that Shikha was under a lot of stress. Poor thing! She was so keen to go with Amu. To be stuck with her in-laws would be a real shocker for her.
She tried calling Shikha but each time it was busy and neither did she call back. After about a week, Shikha called her up.
“I didn’t get the visa,” she blubbered. “Amu’s gone and I am stuck here in this hell hole. Everybody is so mean to me.”
“Oh Shikhs!” Rajani wished she could be with her. “I am sure it’s not that bad!”
“What do you know? You are enjoying yourself in the hostel – peace quiet, mistress of your time and sleep. Not like me. Slaving away.”
“How awful! Are they torturing you? Have you told your Mamma?”
“Of course I have. But she said all this is ‘normal’! Life is nothing but an endless cycle of cooking and cleaning, cooking and cleaning. These people don’t do anything else! And when I complained to Mummy, she said that’s what she had been doing for the past quarter century. Just imagine. How horrible! But my main problem is Amu – I miss him terribly.” She sniffed and snuffled. “If only I could see him, I would happily wash all the utensils!”
“You have to wash the utensils?” Rajani was aghast. “Don’t they have a maid?
“Of course they have a maid. I was just trying to explain how much I miss Amu.”
“Uff!” Rajani groaned. “You are such a crackpot! Relax! You will get the visa soon wont you?”
“Perhaps. But what if I don’t? Rajji I swear I’ll kill myself, I swear.”
“HEY HEY, just relax will you?” Rajani alternately yelled and soothed her overly agitated friend. “It’s just a matter of time Shikhs. It’s not like they’ve refused the visa have they? Just hang in there. And try to control your emotions. What will your in-laws think?”
“I don’t care what anybody thinks! I just want to be with Amu. There’s so much pain in my heart, I can barely breathe, leave aside eat or sleep. I think I am going mad…”
“Calm down Shikhs. Everything will be fine…”
“But what if they don’t give me the visa?” Shikha’s moaned. “Shall I sit on a dharna outside the embassy?” She brightened.
“Are you crazy?” Rajani snapped aghast. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Love is what is wrong with me. My love has gone taking my heart and now I am dying. Please help me Rajji please…”
“Stop behaving so melodramatically Shikhs!” Rajani was fast running out of patience and time. This was the nth time Shikha had called to cry on her shoulder. “This is real life not some Bollywood movie.”
“What do you know of real life emotions, love, separation, to be denied the only thing in the world that you care about? Nothing!” Shikha intoned dully uncaring of any emotions she may have been trampling, “Nobody understands me…”
“Amu does,” Rajani said tartly, “doesn’t he?”
“That’s the thing Rajji, what if he finds someone else? What if we never meet ever again? I will die.”
“Hey Bhagwan! Shikha Su…Singh you are his wife not some girlfriend whom he can pick up and discard at his whim and fancy…”
“So you mean he will accept me just because I am his wife not his love? That is what I am afraid of! What if he finds love elsewhere? I wouldn’t be able to bear it!”
Rajani was hard put to soothe and console Shikha as she dreamed up scenarios one worse than the other. She would text her and call Rajani at the oddest of hours, regardless of whether she could be in class or sleeping. And then one fine day, the phone calls stopped.
Busy and frankly a bit relieved, Rajani didn’t bother. But after a couple of days she began worrying. She texted Shikha but there was no response. Damn, thought Rajani as she dashed from pillar to post organizing an upcoming international conference at her college, had her visa been rejected? Hope she hasn’t gone and done anything stupid.
At the first opportunity, Rajani called up Shikha.
But Shikha didn’t pick up her phone.
Rajani’s blood ran cold, the phone almost slipped from her nerveless fingers.
Something was seriously wrong! Why hadn’t anyone informed her?
Please Bhagwanji, please let Shikha be alright please, please Bhagwanji…
Click here for the next chapter: Refuge