“Namaste Aunty.” Shikha said for the nth time while taking her leave of the Goels. “Oh! I almost forgot. I got this perfume for you.” She pressed a box into Rajani’s hands, “and some chocolates for you Aunty.”
“So sweet of you to remember me!” Sunaina gushed. “But I guess I shouldn’t be eating them. Look at me, all roly-poly and your friend is determined to get that zero size. She doesn’t eat anything! She should be eating the chocolates, not me.” She thrust the box of chocolates into Rajani’s hands.
Rajani cast a helpless look at Shikha who narrowed her eyes at her. Rajani dropped her eyes and made a superhuman effort not to be hypnotized into offering the perfume to her MIL.
“Which perfume is this?” Sunaina took the box. “Chanel?! Wow.” She uncorked it and sprayed some on her wrists and inhaled deeply. “Mmm. I love Chanel! Thank you for a lovely gift Shikha. Do come again and call before coming.”
“Yes Aunty.” Shikha’s lips thinned. “Do look after Rajani, Aunty. She’s the self-effacing kinds and very shy. She doesn’t know how to take, she knows only how only to give.”
“Shikhs…” Rajani looked at Shikha pleadingly but Shikha refused to look at her.
“Just look at her Aunty, she looks positively skinny. Ill, and haggard and…”
“Nonsense!” Rajani disclaimed.
“I know!” Sunaina gave a theatrical shudder. “You should have seen her when she came. She was worse than this. It’s that hostel food, the exam stress.”
“You will take care of her won’t you Aunty?”
“Of course.” Sunaina affectionately pinched Rajani’s cheeks. “She’s like my daughter. It’s my duty to take care of her. But I have to say both of you have been very lax in doing your duties.” She looked from one to another sternly.
They looked at each other askance. “What?”
“In a few months, it will be two years since marriage. Where’s my grandson?”
Shikha simpered. Rajani flushed. “We are still babies Aunty!” Shikha said cheekily before vanishing through the door. “Bye!”
The door shut behind her with a thud and the room darkened.
“Switch off the AC, we are not millionaires are we?” Sunaina walked into the kitchen and looked around. Akash began to fuss. “I’ll just change and come Rani.” She said. “Will you give Akash his lunch? Don’t worry about mopping the floor, I will do it.”
“Oh no Mummyji,” Rajani was embarrassed, “you feed him. I’ll finish…”
“No, no!” Sunaina disclaimed, “He eats much better and quicker with you. You feed him I’ll clean up.”
“What will you have for lunch?”
“Oh I don’t want any lunch. You can finish the kichdi, Akash won’t have so much.” she vanished.
Rajani turned her attention to the little boy who made no bones about making his displeasure clear. She set about bringing him back to his good humor and soon they were both gurgling like the little babies they were.
Soon he had gulped down his lunch and was ready for a bit of play – with the bucket and the mop.
Rajani sighed and put him in the pram-cum-cot much to his disgust. He jumped up and down in anger. Rajani kissed him, “just two minutes Akku, two minutes,” she made a clown face. He laughed and chortled his delight. Rajani peeped inside her MIL’s room. Sunaina was fast asleep.
Mopping done and starving, Rajani served herself the leftover khichdi. Feeling rebellious, she added dahi. But she was still hungry. What could she have? Parathas maybe. Oh forget it, it was too hot. But Didi would be hungry when she came. Well perhaps she should knead the dough. She would kill two birds with one stone and use it for dinner too. And she would make herself a nice hot crispy ajwain paratha. Her mouth watered as she swiftly kneaded the dough.
“Mami!” Lonely and bored, Akash called for her. “Mami!” Washing her hands, she stuffed a laddoo in her mouth and ran to him. She put him on the floor and lost herself in his antics until the doorbell rang.
“I am dying! It so damn hot,” moaned Rekha, “Why isn’t the AC on?”
“Mamma!” Screeched Akash.
“Hello darling,” Rekha waved from her corner on the sofa where she had collapsed upon entering.
“Mamma!” Akash flapped his arms wildly demanding.
“Not now beta, I am sweating like a pig. I wonder what madness made me take up this job,” she whined. “You are so lucky Rani to be free of all this nonsense. What’s for lunch Mummy? I am parched. I want lassi.”
“Yes that would be nice.” Sunaina looked at Rajani.
“There isn’t enough curd,” Rajani said.
“There should be.” Sunaina got up to investigate.
“There is some,” Rajani said, “but it’s not enough.”
Sunaina looked at the half empty bowl. “Where did it all go?”
“I gave some to Akash,” Rajani coughed, “and I had some with khichdi,” she admitted guiltily.
Sunaina pressed her lips.
“Will somebody give me something to drink before I die of thirst?” Rekha called.
“Make her nimbu paani. Make some for me too. Come darling,” she took Akash from Rajani’s arms, “let’s go and chat with Mamma. Sorry beta, no scope for any lassi right now.”
“Why not? I am dying for some lassi.”
Feeling guiltier Rajani quickly made two glasses of nimbu-pani and asked, “Shall I get lassi from Mother Dairy.”
“Yes!” Rekha perked up. She drained the glass in one gulp.
“Okay but first give her something to eat. I am sure she hasn’t eaten anything since last night.”
“I have Mummy.” Rekha protested. “You exaggerate so much. But I have to admit I am starving. How about a Rani special?”
Rani laughed. “Give me five minutes. Hot crispy parathas coming right up.”
“Make one for me too.” Sunaina said.
“Yummy!” Drooled Rekha, “I could have a million of these. How do you make them so light and crisp?”
“Mummyji taught me.” Rajani smiled. “How is it?” she asked her MIL.
She nodded thoughtfully. “Not bad.”
Rajani smiled. “Thank you. Shall I make one more?”
“Okay one more, that’s it. You can go and get lassi. Take Akash along.”
“Won’t it be too hot for him?” Rajani wasn’t very keen. It was hot and carrying Akash around was backbreaking. It wasn’t as if the Mother Dairy was exactly downstairs.
“Yes, please do take him.” Rekha begged, “all this shouting and screaming is giving me a headache.”
“Do you want tea?”
“No lassi is fine and sooner the better.”
“Rani, since you are going to Mother Dairy, get milk. A bread and some veggies from the corner story. Don’t let them put ripened ladyfingers like they did last time and get two kgs of potatoes…”
“Get some ice cream. Chocochip one plus one is free.”
“But Mummyji,” Rajani protested, “I can’t lug so much weight and carry Akash…”
“Take the pram.”
“I’ll have to drag the pram downstairs…”
“It will take you two minutes.”
“Okay let him be.” Sunaina said. “But Rani, do change and go. What will people think? You know Rekha, her friend Shikha had come, so smart and well dressed, and just look at Rani.”
“Oh Shikha? She is in the US right?”
“Yes. She had a Louis Vuitton bag.” Rajani was impressed. “And she got a perfume…”
“Perfume?” Rekha sat up. “Which one? Let me see…”
“Just a minute,” Sunaina said, “say bye to Mami Akash, say bye.” She took him to the door and raised his hand and forcibly made him wave. “Say bye Mami. Say bye.”
Mami was off on parole! While he was stuck inside the jail? So not fair. Akash turned purple, he opened his mouth and let off a howl. And another, and another all the while, stretching out his arms to her pleading piteously, “Mami, Mami, Mami….”
Rajani yielded. She pulled out his pram, tucked Akash on one hip and bumped the pram along behind her. Akash’s tears dried up magically and he bucked about on her hips and thrashed about in excitement. Rajani’s dupatta twirled about her neck strangling her; she extricated it and threw it over one shoulder and in the process tripped over it making an undignified landing on terra firma on her bum. Akash at least was safe.
“Uff!” she grunted and heaved him into the pram. “You are a naughty boy. Do you know you almost killed Mami?”
Chortling and gurgling he applauded his achievements.
Rajani melted. “Okay fine I forgive you. Let’s go hunting!”