“Didn’t they let you sleep at home? Is that why you got married?”
“Whaaa…?” Rajani woke up with a jerk.
Harsha was standing over her head glaring at her.
“When did you come?” She said.
“What does it matter to you? You carry on with your beauty sleep while the entire household slaves away for the Maharani.” He was furious.
So was she.
“What the hell are you saying?” Rajani flared up. “Do you have any idea of my day?”
“No I don’t Madam.” Harsha said, “So tell me, how many crores did you earn today?”
“For me, any day any time that is not spent in earning money is wasted. So, tell me,” he taunted, “how many crores did you earn today?”
“How many did you earn?” Rajani erupted.
His sneer turned into a snarl. “You dare question me? Your husband?”
“Oh my God! You say that as if husbands were equivalent to god. But let me tell you one thing – you are neither god nor husband.”
“What the hell do you mean by that?”
Rajani flushed. She clenched her fists but stood her ground. “You know what I mean.”
“No I don’t.”
“Fine.” Rajani shrugged.
“How dare you talk to me like that…?”
“If you can talk to me like that, I see no reason why I cannot.” Rajani was in no mood to relent and there’s no saying how things would have ended if it weren’t for Sunaina bursting in on their bust up. “This is exciting news! Your Mama and family have come over! What a lovely surprise. Come on out. Come come Rani, they want to meet you. Wear something nice, something classy and expensive. I don’t want them to be disappointed in our Bahu. Come on hurry up. Come Hari, let her get ready.”
Rajani watched them leave the room not quite sure whether to be grateful or angry at the interruption. Things could have gotten very ugly – Harsha looked ready to murder her. But then she was nearing the end of her tether. She didn’t care if the roof blew off if only she could get some answers. Besides, she desperately wanted a baby. A baby who would be hers, and only hers.
After the close shave, Harsha gave her a wide berth, rather, a wider berth. She was glad, she told herself. If only she could get rid of that niggling doubt, what was it that made him behave so boorishly? And if reports were to be trusted, only with her? What had she done? Why marry her?
The days passed slowly, each a photocopy of the other with no respite in sight. Even her DU results weren’t out. She checked the website again and again. She was desperate to get out of the house, challenge her grey cells and not do mind-numbingly boring home chores, over and over again. On the plus side, a maid had been appointed and that was a big relief.
And of course her much awaited trip to Chandigarh with Shikha, which had been fixed for two weeks later.
“Oh but what if my interview is held then?” She worried.
“The results are out?” Shikha asked.
“You didn’t tell me!” Shikha accused.
“I am telling you now. I got to know an hour ago.”
“Is this anyway to tell? By the way, congratulations.”
“Thanks,” Rajani laughed, “it’s just that I was more or less confident of the written test. But the interview is another ball game.”
“When is that?”
“I don’t know. They said they would post the letter.”
“I am sure it wont be held in a fortnight. Besides we are going on a weekend and you can always come back. It’s not like you are going to Timbuktu?”
“Yea true. Well then that’s fixed then.” Rajani allowed her excitement to be rekindled. “I can’t wait!”
“Me neither. I have to tell you so many things or I will simply go bust.”
Just two days before her scheduled trip, her MIL complained of uneasiness. Both her son and husband claimed they were too busy to attend to her. Rekha too had a friend’s baby shower to attend. It fell to Rajani to fuss over her MIL and soothe her hurt feelings. She took her to the doctor, who checked her blood pressure, which was slightly on the higher side.
“Don’t worry Mummyji, everything will be fine.” Rajani reassured her, feeling sorry for the lady. Poor thing nobody even asked how she was, not even Didi. How mean could they be? No wonder she looked so pale and distressed. “Lie down and rest Mummyji.”
“Yes beta. Thank you beta. If you weren’t there,” she choked up.
“But I am here, aren’t I?” Rajani said brightly. “Now rest.”
Later that evening, Rajani was in the kitchen father and son were watching some cricket match when there was a crash, a yell followed by silence.
Everyone came rushing. Sunaina had fainted.
“What happened?” She whispered when she came to.
“Just relax,” Harsha fussed over her worriedly. “Have some water. Let’s go to the doctor.”
“No.” she held him by the arm, “no I am fine. Just a bit dizzy. I have been feeling feverish. But don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” She closed her eyes and sighed. She put a hand to head and groaned. “I think I hit my head when I fell.”
“Let’s call the doctor,” Rajani said.
“No need,” FIL who rarely spoke vetoed the suggestion. “She said she’d be fine, didn’t she?” A cheer went up, he trotted off. Sunaina slid an arm over her eyes.
“Let me know if you need anything Mummy,” Harsha hovered around her for a few more moments. There was another cheer and he too shuffled off.
Rajani was left holding the fort.
“Sorry Shikha, I can’t go to Chandigarh,” she texted. “MIL not well.”
“Rubbish!” Was Shikha’s instant reply, “it’s all a sham. Don’t fall for it.”
“I have no choice Shikhs, she really isn’t well. She fainted and worse nobody cares. How will she manage?”
“Like she always has. My problem is I don’t want to go home but I have to.”
“Meaning?” Rajani was confused.
“Meaning I have been handed a long list of things which are apparently available only in Chandigarh.”
“Yes. My MIL is really deadly. She knows she can’t stop me from going so she’s extracting her pound of flesh this way.”
“Exactly! You don’t know these people Rajji and your MIL seems to be a class apart. Didn’t you see how smartly she flicked the perfume from you? Better look snippy and shift out from your in-laws. You are such a buddhoo Rajji, you won’t be able to survive a year with them.”
“You survived with her didn’t you? When she went to the US?”
“I did because I am smarter than you and not an idealist. You wont do any hanky-panky just because it is not right. When in Rome do as Romans do.”
“What hanky-panky have you been up to?”
Shikha sent several emoticons. Happy dancing ones.
“I am pregnant.”
“Wow! Congratulations and celebrations.”
“Thank you but no celebrations please.”
“I haven’t told anybody, not even Amu. I didn’t want to give my darling MIL any reason to nix my return to USA.”
“She wouldn’t do that would she?”
“Oh I bet anything she would. Horrible woman, so jealous and petty I cannot tell you. She’s bound to cook up some archaic family practice that mandates the girl to stay with her MIL for the entire pregnancy or some such rot.”
“But you will have to tell her?”
“I will. Once I am safe and sound in USA. And I have booked my mother’s tickets in advance. Aren’t I smart?”
“And now I am going to delete this chat before that snoop reads my messages.”
Rajani chewed her lip. There was much to swallow and digest. Surely Shikha was wrong? Her MIL couldn’t be feigning illness could she? And why would she? What did she hope to gain – attention? Didn’t she know everyone in her family, including her daughter was mean and selfish? Actually Didi was the worst of all, she didn’t even call and ask, despite having been informed. Strange people.
If they couldn’t be bothered, why couldn’t she go to visit her parents?
No she couldn’t.
She wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she did.
Besides couldn’t believe anyone could be so devious as to pretend to be ill.
“Water, I want water.” her MIL’s voice was weak and faint.
“Here Mummyji.” Rajani rushed to help her sit up.
“Thank you beta,” Sunaina was very grateful, “bless you beta. What will I do when you go to Chandigarh?” She put an arm over her eyes, but Rajani saw the tears trickle down the corner.
Rajani’s heart went out to her. “Don’t worry Mummyji. I won’t go to Chandigarh until you are up and about. Until you say so.”
Sunaina’s eyes sparkled as she stared at Rajani in delight. “Really?”
Rajani laughed. “Really!”
“Oh you are such a dear kind soul!” Sunaina was clearly overjoyed.
And that made up for Rajani’s disappointment.
Rajani woke with a start. The scene played out in her mind.
Crash, yell silence.
If her MIL had actually fainted and overturned the chair in the process, she couldn’t have yelled could she?
Rajani went hot and cold. Shikha was right. She was buddhoo. Grabbing her phone she went to the washroom. She swiped screen of her phone and went through her chat with Shikha. She cleared the chat with Shikha.
Damn that woman. Her blood boiled. How dare she? She would go to Chandigarh and be done with it. And look at Harsha. Sleeping peacefully, she wanted to grab him by the collar and show him his mother’s true colors.
She stilled. Was that why none of them were as concerned about her health? Did she do this often – create a scene just to get attention. How pathetic and tragic was it if she had to go to such lengths to get their attention. And worse, even that didn’t work. She suddenly felt sorry for Sunaina.
Poor thing. She was just another woman trying to find her place in her home. But nothing she did pleased her children or her husband. How sad and tragic was that? But did that mean she could manipulate and emotionally blackmail Rajani? Make her cancel her trip? How mean!
Rajani wished she could call up and talk to Shikha, share her thoughts, be scolded into not cancelling her trip. Rajani walked out to the balcony. It was going to be another hot sultry day. Tears clouded her vision. She couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t! She needed the break desperately. Go home, to Mamma and Papa. Pretend the last two years had never happened. Shop and giggle with Shikha. Shikha would leave for the States soon and she wouldn’t be able to meet her for another year. She made up her mind. She would go to Chandigarh. She would tell Harsha that she had changed her mind and she wouldn’t listen to anybody.
“Harsha, I wanted to,” Rajani approached her husband as he was getting ready to leave, but he cut in, “Mummy told me you had cancelled your trip?”
Rajani nodded, “Yes but…”
“I really appreciate your gesture.” He smiled at her.
Rajani went red. “It’s okay.” She mumbled.
“It means a lot.”
“You are welcome.” Rajani swallowed and smiled.
And that was that.
“A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows the public opinion.” Grantland Rice
Click here for the next chapter: Jinxed