“Rani beta, chai.” Rajani woke with a start. She looked around in confusion. She had fallen asleep on the sofa while studying at night. “You work too hard Rani.” Sunaina scolded affectionately, “What’s the need to stay up so late?”
“Thank you Mummyji,” Rajani was embarrassed, “sorry. I just dozed off. The Professor at DU he had given me some work. But I,” she shrugged, “I just fell asleep.”
“But of course any normal human being would! And look at you,” she waved a hand, “all skin and bones. Shikha was right. Everyone will think we don’t give you enough to eat.”
Rajani reddened. “No, it’s nothing like that.”
“From today I will make you eat like I do Akash, puree and pour it down your throat,” she frowned.
Rajani laughed, feeling warm and pampered. “Please Mummyji! I’m not that bad.”
Sunaina made a face.
“Okay I promise I will eat properly. Promise.” Rajani coaxed.
Sunaina relented. “Make sure you do. I want you strong and healthy for my grandson.” Rajani’s eyes flickered. “That reminds me, we must go and meet your Bhabhi one of these days. When is her due date?”
“In another 10 days.”
“Ah good. Your brother is still in Chandigarh.”
Rajani shook her head. “Bhabhi was having pregnancy related issues, so he was commuting but then that was very taxing. So he…” She trailed off.
“I know that. But what about his job in Chandigarh? Has he taken leave?”
“He wasn’t getting leave.”
“So he is jobless?”
“Not exactly.” Rajani was uncomfortable. Surely Sunaina knew all the details, and probably better than she knew. So why poke her? “Bhabhi’s father runs a clinic below their house. While he’s here, Bhai is pitching in there to set up the pediatric section.”
“Wonderful. Wonderful. This way everyone is happy.” She paused. “Except your parents.”
“No. They are fine.” Rajani said airily. “In fact they only insisted that Bhai should be with Bhabhi during this time. Besides, Bhai wasn’t happy with the place he was working in and had already applied to a few places. He should be getting an offer any time soon in Chandigarh.”
“Ahh that’s nice. Your parents are considerate and accommodating.” Sunaina paused. “Ritu is a smart shrewd girl. She’ll take your brother places. Just you watch and wait.”
Rajani was silent.
“Oh! Look at the time. Your Daddyji will soon be demanding his juice, his shoes, his chai…” she got up and vanished.
Rajani stretched lazily and sipped her tea. Bhabhi was…no she wouldn’t think negative thoughts.
She would focus on the good things. Life was getting back on track; everyone was nice and accepting of her. She wondered why she was ever upset and disturbed. What was wrong? Nothing. Everything was just perfect. Well, almost. But she would handle that too. It was just a matter of time. She felt it in her bones.
Harsha was softer, gentler. And they managed to have civilized conversations without either them stomping out of the room or bursting into tears. He was actively looking for a job for her, which gave him extra brownie points.
“I talked to somebody,” Harsha said, “about a job in the accounts department.”
“Oh that would be nice.” Rajani was overjoyed. “I never thought of that! But what about qualifications? It’s not like I have experience or…”
“He’s a friend. Besides he owes me.” His lips twitched.
“What?” Rajani was curious.
“He regularly copied from me during the exams.”
Rajani was scandalized. “And you let him?”
Harsha shrugged. “I felt sorry for him. He wasn’t good in academics.”
“Aww that was sweet of you.”
He reddened and turned away.
Rajani giggled to herself. Tonight she would be able to report a happier picture to her beleaguered mother whose fasts and prayers were increasing exponentially. Each time Rajani unburdened herself to her mother, Nisha would promptly recall her own horror stories of how she had to cook on angeethis, how there was no electricity, how they had to grind their own wheat, even work in the fields. Until her father shifted to Chandigarh.
And then she would begin her long drawn out standard lecture on marriage, compromise and adjustment.
“Rani beta, it takes time to build a relationship. Nothing happens magically or overnight. Just be patient and hang on. Remember, you have gone to their house not the other way round. You have to prove yourself worthy of their love not them to you.”
“But Mamma, why does Didi continue to stay on here!” Rajani’s irritation knew no bounds. Even Akash couldn’t offset her growing antipathy to Rekha. “Everything for her house is bought and paid for by us.”
“Let her beta. It’s only money. Besides, each one of us comes armed with their quota of love, health and money. She clearly has a bigger quota. What can we do?”
“I can’t stand her Mamma. She’s so selfish and mean. Not only to Mummyji but also to her own son! I feel like murdering her sometimes.”
“Hey bhagwan give some sense to this girl I beg you!” Nisha moaned. “Haven’t I told you Bhagwanji sees everything and He will take care of it. You stay out of it and mind your own business.”
“I can’t bear to see the way she ill-treats Akash. He keeps crying Mamma, Mamma but she is either too tired or too busy gallivanting around town. My heart breaks for the little boy.” Rajani said.
“That’s why Bhagwanji sent you there.” Nisha intoned heavily. “To take care of Akash.”
“Very funny Mamma. I cannot take his mother’s place. Didi should…”
“Why don’t you have a baby of your own? Rekha will be forced to take care of her son.”
“Mamma your logic is amazing!”
“I am serious Rani.”
“Oh please Mamma, I haven’t even managed to settle down completely here and you want me to have a baby?”
“A baby will help you settle down. Feel part of the family.”
“I am not sure I want to feel part of this family.” Rajani muttered in a spurt of rebellion.
“Oh Rani! The things you say!” Nisha was distressed. “You’ll surely give me a heart attack one of these days. Don’t be so hasty and judgmental. You have gone to a new place some adjustments and compromises are needed. Be patient and have faith. All will be well.”
“Rajji ki bachchi, I am off.” Shikha called from the airport. “You are so busy in your new family that you couldn’t spare even a single day for your childhood buddy and sistah.”
“Oh please don’t be such a drama queen! As if you had time. I couldn’t go to Chandi but I did call up twice to meet but you were too busy kowtowing to your beloved in-laws.”
“As if I had any choice,” Shikha grumbled, “cooking and serving so many people who landed up to meet me and hand their list of requirements. That too while dying of nausea. Oh Rajji it was so tough to hide my condition. I think she guesses something for she kept her eyes focused on me and even asked me once or twice if I was okay. I pleaded a headache and got away with it.”
“Wow. You are cool and smart.”
“Aren’t I?” Shikha preened at the high praise and rare admission. “And you better take some lessons from me pronto. You are such a buddhoo.”
“Yeah yeah,” Rajani grumbled, unable to deny the accusation. “How are you feeling otherwise?”
“Great just great! I can’t wait to get back to Amu, see the look of joy and surprise on his face when he gets to know he is going to be a Daddy soon.”
“Wish I could see!” Rajani said.
“Done!” Shikha was excited. “I will set up the camera and then tell him.”
“Crazy girl!” Rajani laughed. “What do you want Shikhs? Girl or boy?”
“Either would do but a boy would be great. It would establish my place in the hierarchy. And I wouldn’t have to have another baby or stress over an heir for the family.”
“I don’t care about all that. I want a girl, a baby doll with whom I can play whole day long.”
“That’s great! My son will marry your daughter.”
“Hey that’s an idea!”
“Isn’t it? So what are you waiting for? Get to work. Made any progress with Haru darling?”
“Not just Haru but the entire family,” Rajani said a bit smugly. Maybe, just maybe Mamma was right. A baby would make everything all right.
“The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.” Henny Youngman
Click here for the next chapter: The Aunt Speaks