Akash was having a field day. Sitting in the pram, he was surrounded with goodies he had never been allowed to investigate. He pulled at one packet and scrabbled at another, gurgling his excitement. Sweating heavily, Rajani was only too glad to have him out of her hair. Over the past hour or so, she had got several phone calls with requests for additional supplies. She ran of out money but the local shopkeeper knew her and generously offered her credit. Then her phone died. Heaving a sigh of relief, Rajani made her escape, she was keen to get back to prison home.
“Time to go home Akki,” Rajani said, “Eeks!” She picked him up just in time he had dug a little hole in the dal packet and was happily widening it.
“Bad boy!” She scolded him. “Come let’s go home. Are you thirsty? It’s hot isn’t it?”
Not pleased at being deprived of the fruits of his hard labor, Akash blew his top.
Rajani reached their apartment complex with a squirming squalling baby on her hip and considered the tricky problem facing her – how to go to the third floor? Should she take Akash up first? Or could she try all together, like she had while coming down? No the pram was too heavy. But she was exhausted the thought of having to do three flights of stairs twice was daunting.
“Okay Akash, would you like to climb up the stairs?” She put him down. He calmed down and accepted the olive branch. Good humor restored he accepted the challenge and began his trek upstairs on all fours. Rajani sighed. The steps were dirty but she didn’t see any other option. As it is she had her hands full pulling the loaded pram up the stairs. But after one flight of stairs, Akash decided it wasn’t as much fun. His pram was a better option.
“No! Akki! No!” Rajani shrieked as he turned directions and almost came under the wheels of the pram. “Go on climb up. I am coming right behind you. Come on! I’ll race you.”
“Mami,” he blubbered.
Rajani wished she could join him.
“What happened?” The Dhobi’s son stood there.
Aunty at 23!
Rajani bit her lip and shook her head.
He picked up Akash and put him in the pram and pushed it. Brushing away her tears, Rajani lent her savior a hand. Huffing and puffing they reached the top floor. A grateful Rajani pressed a juicy mango in his hands. Grinning he dashed away.
“Why are you so late?” Her MIL stood at the door. “What did you give him?”
“He helped me up the stairs. I was having a tough time. So I gave him a mango.”
“A mango! Do you know how expensive mangoes are?”
“Fine! I won’t have any,” she snapped.
“Oh! I didn’t mean it like that beta,” Sunaina rushed to soothe. “Come in you must be tired. Here have some cold water. Don’t worry about the things. I’ll put it away. I’ll put the lassi in the freezer we’ll have chilled lassi together. Go on, freshen up.” Sunaina smiled.
Rekha stretched and groaned. “Why is Akash making such a racket Mummy? Oh! Has Rajani come back? My lassi?”
Rajani waved a hand and disappeared for a much needed shower – no respite there either. Boling hot water cascaded down. Shrieking she turned it off and settled for two mugs of bucket water which was deliciously cool. She filled a bucket for her bath before bed.
“You only got 6 packets of lassi?” Rekha complained.
“How many was I supposed to get? There are 6 of us aren’t there?”
“I told you to get 4 extra packets. I wanted to take them home. I’ve guests coming”
Rajani shrugged. “I didn’t hear. You can go and get them.” She turned away.
“Mummy,” Rekha wailed, “I have such a bad headache. And I have to go home and cook too. God only knows when Kuldeep will come. How will I manage?” She buried her face in the cushion and burst into tears.
“Relax, beta relax,” Sunaina caressed her, “oh my poor darling. Don’t worry, you mother isn’t dead yet. Rajani and I will make a couple of dishes. You can take serve them to your guests. I will go down and get lassi, don’t worry. Now calm down. Look at Akash, poor thing is so worried about his darling Mamma. Play with him while we sort out your dinner. Come along Rajani.”
Fuming Rajani followed her MIL to the kitchen. Rajani emerged an hour later, soaked to the gills. She was glad she had filled that bucket. But there was one more thing to be done before she could upend it on herself. Pay the outstanding due and get the extra lassi packets. Not that she wanted to but her MIL’s rant made Rajani feel petty and unreasonable. As if she were single-handedly responsible for breaking up Didi’s marriage.
“My poor baby,” Sunaina sniffed as she dropped besan paste for the kadi pakoras, “the whole day she has to work and then go home and take care of home. If only her MIL was alive things would have been so much easier for her.”
“Who has guests for dinner during weekdays? So inconsiderate and insensitive.”
“They should keep a cook.” Rajani said.
“Good cooks are hard to get. And they charge so much.”
Aha. Why spend money when you could go and get it all for free?
“I’ll finish up in the kitchen and then go down for the lassi.” She grimaced. “I wouldn’t have let you go either. It’s just my knees. They creak and ache so much I can barely sleep at night.”
“Let Didi go,” Rajani said, “the walk will clear her head.”
“No, no, poor thing I don’t want to disturb her. The whole day she is on her feet running after dozens of naughty children. I’ll go.” She smiled at Rajani.
“Mummy, hold Akash will you? He’s so hyper!”
Akash was on a full-blown tantrum and his Nani had her hands full trying to calm him down. Rajani too pitched in. Between them, they managed to feed him, sponge him and lull him to a deep sleep. “He looks like an angel doesn’t he?” Sunaina said fondly looking at the sleeping baby.
Rajani nodded, wishing she could doze off too. A light snore. She looked up. Her MIL was fast asleep.
Rajani rolled her eyes. A second trip was clearly on the cards. Unless she wanted another spiel about how tough life was for Didi. What did she care about Didi? But she did need to pay off her debt to the grocer. She wouldn’t be able to rest easy until that was done. May as well get lassi while she was at it. But she was dammed if she got another item. She slipped out without a word.
“Oh there you are!” Sunaina was up and chatting with her daughter. ““I know I dozed off but I said I would go didn’t I?”
“And she didn’t even say she was going Mummy,” Rekha complained, “I had few other things that I wanted…”
Rajani clenched her fists. Not again!
“Give the poor girl a break Rekha,” Sunaina cut in. “Don’t listen to her Rani. You go and take a bit of a rest. You need to study too don’t you?” she urged considerately and affectionately.
It was Rekha’s lucky day, Rajani decided. One more word and she would have thrown a tantrum that would have made Akash jealous.
Rajani sighed in relief. Her quota of good deeds for the day was over. It was her time now. Another bath and some Math time.
A couple of hours later, Harsha returned home to find her fast asleep over her books.
While his mother and sister slaved away in the kitchen.