“FINE! We’ll just sit here then.”
Rajani flinched but refused to cow down. Shivering Rajani clutched at her hands, forcing herself to sit still.
They sat in complete silence for endless minutes.
Harsha’s phone rang. Stony faced and staring ahead, he let it ring.
The phone rang shrill and insistent – the ringtone grated on Rajani’s shrieking nerves. It was all she could do not pick it up and throw it out of the window.
Blessed silence descended.
Rajani heaved a sigh of relief. But it was short lived.
Her phone rang. It was her MIL.
Rajani gritted her teeth. She too wouldn’t pick it up – if Harsha could ignore his mother’s call, why couldn’t she?
She wouldn’t pick it up.
“Hello? N…Namaste Mummyji. Yes Mummyji. On the way Mummyji. I don’t know Mummyji. Ask Harsha Mummyji.”
She held out her phone to him.
But he ignored them both.
Rajani’s temper rose.
“Mummyji he isn’t speaking because he is angry with me for not wearing a bindi.” She spilled the beans. “He wants me to go to bindi shopping where there are no shops. And it is deserted and dark.” Her voice wobbled. “I am feeling scared Mummyji.”
Her phone crackled.
“Yes Mummyji.” She put the phone on speaker and held it up.
“Come home beta.” Her MIL spoke loud and clear. “I will come downstairs with bindi and even bangles. Just come home.” She coaxed. “Rani let me know when you reach home and wait for me to come down.”
With a screech they were off.
Rajani felt victorious. She had shown him! Who the hell did he think he was? Her lord and master?
Well he could have another think! She gloated.
Rajani’s victory was sweet but ultra short.
Bindified and decorous enough to qualify as a Goel Bahu she was allowed to join the gang high on spirits and tambola. She declined the drinks but couldn’t back out of the game, which went on and on. She tried to amuse herself playing with the numbers on her card but they too started blurring and she nodded off. She edged towards a corner and curled up into a little ball and closed her eyes. But someone or the other would shake her awake every other minute or so and she would find Harsha glowering at her.
He took her aside and gave her an earful. “How shameless can you be? Don’t you have any manners? Everyone is up and about and Maharani is sleeping.” He sneered. “Didn’t you parents teach you anything?”
“Don’t you bring my parents into it!” She flared up.
“Lower your tone!” He snapped. “Do you want to reveal your lowly antecedents to the entire family? You may have no shame, but I do.”
Incensed and insulted Rajani opened her mouth to retaliate in kind but Sunaina came in and nixed her plans.
Holi itself wasn’t any better.
If anything it was worse.
Holi for the Goels was the highlight of their humdrum lives. A free for all, a bit of harmless fun and way to enhance family bonding, where each of them participated with full fervor and enjoyment.
It was Rajani’s problem that she found it a disgusting and gross violation of her personal space and privacy. Leering discolored unidentifiable faces cornered her and clasped her close to their drenched bodies while hands covered with boot polish, gentian violet, and other unidentifiable muck slid up inside her kurta and groped her. Rajani shrieked in revulsion and screamed her protests, but was drowned out in the shouts of revelry and celebrations.
Holi hai bhai holi hai; bura na mano Holi hai.
Rajani squirmed, pushed and shoved her way out of the clutches of one pair of arms only to land in another pair of eager arms and wandering hands. She looked for help to her MIL but she was in the thick of things, high on bhang smothering someone with her ample bosom. Rekha too was living it up with Kuldeep – or was it someone else?
Rajani looked desperately for Harsha but he was nowhere to be seen. Or probably she couldn’t recognize him in the melee. Seeing her chance, Rajani ran towards the stairs of the terrace but a body detached itself and barred her way.
“Where are you going?”
“Home is here where everyone is. The house is locked.”
“I can’t do this anymore I can’t!” Rajani voice rose hysterically. “I have to go, Harsha please I have to go!”
“Shush!” He hushed her sternly but pulled her downstairs. He opened the door. “Go in. I will tell the others you are sick or something.”
He locked the door and vanished.
In the silence and emptiness of the house, Rajani felt a rush of overwhelming gratefulness and love for her hero and savior. He had come through when she needed him the most.
She scrubbed herself clean and attempted to wash off the feel of the slimy hands all over her body.
Squeaky clean but yet feeling filthy and violated Rajani called her parents and unburdened her soul. Suryakant was furious and threw a fit. He blasted Rajani. “Why didn’t you tell me all this before? This is not done! I will not allow them to treat my daughter…or any girl in this manner. How dare they? Have they no sense of decorum or shame? Just you wait I will show them who I am.”
“Papa, please relax. I am okay. Harsha was very supportive.” Comforted and soothed by her father’s reaction, Rajani felt generous, forgiving.
“How can you be okay?” Her father’s anger poured over her like a healing balm. “I am not okay! You are not some poor orphaned child from the streets. You wait I will come and take you away…”
“No Papa. Please Papa. Relax your blood pressure will rise Papa please.” Alarmed Rajani pleaded. “I am fine Papa. Really. Harsha and I got off on the wrong foot. But today he showed me a different side. Perhaps there was something wrong with my behavior. Everything will be fine Papa.”
“I still don’t like this. I will call up your father in law and demand an explanation…”
“No Papa please don’t! What if he takes offense? Let it be.” Rajani coaxed and soothed her father into subsiding – for the moment. Feeling light almost euphoric when the merry gang traipsed in Rajani rewarded Harsha with the widest and most brilliant smile yet. Rajani could swear that she saw the glimmer of an answering smile through the layers on his unrecognizable visage.
In the evening, Shikha called her up. “Happy Holi Rajji! I am so jealous,” she whined. “Can you believe it I am in India and I didn’t play Holi?”
Rajani was surprised. “Why not?”
“My in-laws don’t like Holi.”
“You should have gotten married to Harsha!” Rajani giggled and sobered as the morning’s memory returned. “His family plays Holi with no holds barred. It was so awful Shikhs, I don’t know what…” she gasped as the phone was snatched away. She looked up to find Harsha glowering at her.
“You are gossiping about my family to outsiders!”
“No!” Rajani jumped up. “No you got it all wrong! I was just…” But Harsha had left the room, with her mobile phone.
Feeling terribly guilty Rajani tried to corner Harsha. She had to justify herself. She had to! She wasn’t doing anything wrong! She was just sharing her thoughts, like she had done for so many years now.
“Harsha listen to me please, Harsha,” she begged and pleaded but he was in no mood to be placated. And there wasn’t much scope or time.
Needless to say, that visit did not end well. Yet it wasn’t as bad – Harsha had shown a kinder side and things could have ended on a good note but for that unfortunate incident, which was entirely her fault. She could accept and live with that. She continued to apologize for it until Harsha gave in and said ‘it’s okay‘.