Rajani finished rinsing the utensils. Time to sweep and mop the floor. She switched off the fans and silence descended.
It was better without the fan, Rajani decided. If only she could switch on the AC but she had heard enough about the electricity bill last month to back out. She swiftly swept the house and switched on the fan with relief.
No it wasn’t better without the fan. She splashed water on her face and stood under the fan to cool off. Another half hour and she could go back to maths she promised herself.
Just as she finished moping the drawing room, the doorbell rang. Who could that be Rajani wondered wiping away the sweat with her sleeve. Just hope it is not some neighborhood Aunty for a chitchat – that would mean chai, pakoras and in this heat! Hey Bhagwan was there no respite? Would it never end? Couldn’t it at least rain?
Perhaps it was Mummyji and Akash.
Rajani stared blankly at Shikha. “You?” She said stupidly.
“Yes ME!” Shikha threw her arms around Rajani. “Buddhoo!” They hugged and laughed.
“You look so grand?” Rajani drew back to look at her friend. “A pucca Memsahib!” She teased, half envious.
“Taadaa,” Shikha spread her arms and twirled around showing off her attire, “Look at my bag,” she held it out, “Louis Vuitton,” she said loftily and then spoilt it by giggling.
“OMG!” Rajani shrieked.
“And my shoes did you see? How’s my new haircut?” She slipped the glasses off her head and shook her curls.
“Wow!” Rajani stared. She felt like a frump. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? I would have changed…”
“I wanted it to be a surprise!” Shikha said. She looked her up and down. “And what is wrong with you?”
Rajani faltered. “What?” she looked down at herself. “This? Oh this is my most comfortable summer suit. Come inside. Let me switch on the AC. It is so hot! How did you come? Will you stay for lunch? Would you like tea or something cold?” She blabbered.
“Relax Rajji! This is me, Shikhs not some neighborhood aunty that you have to follow formal protocols. Uff! All this khatirdari and mehmanawazi really gets on my nerves.” Shikha shuddered. “Thank God, we don’t have any of this stuff at the home,” Rajani smiled to hear the a faint nasal twang, “all very casual and help yourself kinds.” She looked around as Rajani scrabbled around the fridge. Her eye fell on the tell tale bucket and mop. “You were mopping the floor?”
“So what?” Rajani handed her a glass of juice. “Don’t you clean up at home?” She deliberately stressed the accent.
Shikha stuck out her tongue at Rajani and grinned. “Yep I do!” she frowned. “But who does that in India? Where’s the maid? On leave?”
“Not leave. Left.” Rajani put on the tea.
“I don’t want tea. Come and sit down. I came to talk to you not have tea and biscuits.”
“How about pakoras?” Rajani grinned.
“God!” Shikha groaned, “the quintessential good bahu! Only the pallu is missing.”
“That’s because there’s no one at home!” Rajani could have bitten her tongue.
“Really?” Shikha was horrified.
“No!” Rajani shook her head. “I was just kidding. But yes if someone is around, a dupatta is a must.”
“Wow!” Shikha shook her head, “How can you stay here?” she gave a shudder, “I am so glad I am away from all this nonsense. But tell me where’s the maid?”
Rajani rolled her eyes. “Don’t ask.” She groaned. “We’ve run through three maids in the one month I’ve been here. They are so unreliable and such poor workers…”
“So you do all the work?”
“If I don’t Mummyji will! And I couldn’t sit lolling about while an aged lady went down on her hands and knees mopping.” Rajani said defensively. “Let’s not talk about maids and kitchen politics. Let’s talk about the foreign returned guest,” she smiled and looked critically at her friend. “You look lovely,” she said sincerely. At least she hadn’t got a raw deal. “Marriage suits you.” She smirked. “You’ve put on weight.”
“Excuse me,” Shikha huffed superiorly, “I am exactly as Amu loves – more of me to love,” she giggled.
Shikha sobered. “But what’s up with you?”
“Me?” Rajani swallowed. “Nothing. Why?”
“You look so thin and scrawny. Run down almost.”
“Rubbish. It’s the heat. And I have to maintain my figure you know.” She struck a pose. But Shikha wasn’t convinced.
“All okay Rajji?” she asked concernedly which was Rajani’s undoing. Tears sprang to her eyes. She jumped up. “I’ll be back in a minute. I’ll just put on some kichdi…”
“Kichdi? Yuck! I come all the way from the States and that’s all you can think of feeding me? That too kichdi? Hey Bhagwan! What did I ever do you?” She pleaded.
Rajani laughed and shook her head. “Drama queen. It’s not for you Madam, it’s for Akash.”
“Akash? Your SIL’s son right?” Rajani nodded. “Are they coming over?”
“Akash stays here,” Rajani said as she moved around the kitchen putting away utensils, pulling out the cooker, “His grandmother took him along to some relative’s place for a condolence meet.” She looked at Shikha. “I was also supposed to go. What if I hadnt been home?”
Shikha shrugged. “I would have come another day! I am here for nearly three weeks. Why didn’t you go along with them?”
Rajani shrugged. “I had to study.”
Shikha looked around. “Doesn’t look like studying to me.”
“I was just taking a break. I was tired from all that sitting and sitting.”
“I don’t believe this Rajji!” Shikha was incredulous. “You prefer housework to studying?”
“Stranger things have been known to happen.” Rajani mumbled. “Here taste this laddoo. How’s it?”
“Mmm. Nice! Did you make it?”
Rajani nodded. “Under my MIL’s strict supervision and guidance of course. And these namkeens.”
“Hmm. So tell me about your PhD plans.”
“Oh that’s still on!” Rajani said brightly. “I gave the written test and I am just waiting for the results.”
“You did well in the test right?” Shikha said knowingly.
“Yep I did!” Rajani grinned confidently. “I am more worried about the interview. God only knows what they will ask.”
“Relax. I am sure you will crack that as well.”
“Thanks Shikhs. What about you? You were planning to take up a job weren’t you?”
“Oh that!” Shikha pulled up a dining chair and sat down near the kitchen entrance as Rajani began dicing vegetables. “I am not keen on working. But when my MIL was there I was desperate to get out of the house! A job would give me freedom for 8 to 10 hours from that double-faced witch.”
“Shikhs!” gasped Rajani scandalized.
“Be thankful I didn’t call her something worse.” Shikha rolled her eyes. “She’s really something I tell you. The sweet darling for the world and &*&%& for me! She’s a thousand times worse than Biji.”
Rajani stared. “Oh! That bad huh? What does she do?”
Shikha made a face. “She exists.”
Rajani gaped all round-eyed before going off into one of her fits.