“Can’t?” Rajani squeaked.
“I mean…I…I have,” Rajani had to strain to hear, “I have a…some…a medical condition.”
“Medical condition?” Rajani’s heart sank.
“It’s an ulcer. Look, it’s nothing to worry about,” Harsha was at his placatory best, “Really. I am much better…
Rajani sat down with a thump on the bed unsure what to say or how to proceed from here. “Ulcer? Wha…how?”
“Oh please don’t make it more embarrassing than it is! Can’t you show some sensitivity?” Harsha lashed out. “It’s not AIDS if that is what you are worried about.” He began opening drawers. “I can show you my reports…”
“Sorry.” Rajani mumbled. “I didn’t mean that…it’s okay.” She backed away when he handed her a file, “I was just concerned.”
“I am sorry,” Harsha was contrite, “I am oversensitive about it.” He sat down beside her. “I need your support on this,” he held out his hand.
Relieved she clutched at it. “Yes of course. You have my full support.” She squeezed his hand.
“And you’ll keep it to yourself? Not discuss me with your friends and family?”
“No! Of course not. This is our personal business. Nobody else’s.”
“Thank you.” He pulled her into his arms in a brief hug.
“There’s no need to thank me,” she rebuked him. “We are life partners.”
“Yes. We have a life long journey ahead. There’s no need to rush things. As you know we are financially unsteady right now. A baby would make things very tight. And I wouldn’t want our baby to want for anything.”
Rajani’s heart warmed. “Yes of course! Perhaps this is God’s way of deliberately delaying things so that our baby comes when we can shower him or her with all possible material goods and comforts.”
“That’s my girl.” He gave an awkward pat on the head.
“What happened to the job as the accountant?” She asked, eager to help with the financial crisis and show that she bore no ill will towards him.
“The big boss is out of country. He will return in a week or two. Perhaps after that…”
“In that case, should I take up a few more coaching classes?” Rajani asked. “They actually pay pretty well. Mummyji said there were a couple of more ladies who had been asking her.”
“If Mummy says, go ahead. But be sure you don’t dump the kids half way. I remember as a child after a teacher suddenly left school I did poorly for a whole semester.”
“Oh. What was your favorite subject in school?”
“Oh wow!” She smiled at him. “Maybe you can help me with the problems the DU Professor sent me.”
“Sure. Why not? I would love to have a look at them and see if they still make sense!” They laughed.
“I’ll just be back.” Harsha vanished.
Rajani got up and flicked the switch. Light flooded the room. She blinked and set about arranging the bedclothes. She changed and emerged from the washroom, sniffing.
What’s that smell?
“Tadaa!” Harsha stood there wearing a look of boyish excitement. “Maggi! I was starving.”
“I just brushed my teeth.” Rajani protested.
“You can brush again!” he dismissed. “Come have a bite. I make a mean Maggi.”
Laughing, Rajani jumped on the bed and held out her hands but he held the tray away.
“We aren’t eating on the bed!”
Seeing the familiar signs of darkening of the brow, Rajani scrabbled off the bed. “I wasn’t thinking,” she excused herself. “I love Maggi.” She grabbed her bowl. “Let me see how well you make Maggi. Better than Rocky?” She twinkled at him.
“At our college…” she slurped. “Mmm, not bad. Actually very nice. Rocky used to make it really thick but I like it a bit juicy like yours.”
“Yes. There’s a trick to making Maggi you know. Next time I will show you and then you can make it for our midnight snacks!”
“Ah no! I am no good at Maggi. Best you make it.”
“Oh no. Today I made it. Next time you make it.” He passed the baton.
“No buts…” They had an engaging time arguing and discussing the fine art of Maggi cooking. Happier than she had been years, Rajani slept off dreaming of a wonderful comfortable future together. Mamma was right. Whatever happens happened for the best. It was good that she didn’t get her PhD admission letter. If she had, she wouldn’t have come closer to Harsha and this was more important than anything in the world. If she had a doubt or a question regarding the medical condition, she ruthlessly pushed it aside. She would focus on the larger picture. She would rise above herself. She would put him and their relationship first. Maybe later, once he began to trust her and rise above his own inhibitions and self-consciousness, she could ask him about…
Forget that, she castigated herself sternly, it is time for you to rise above your own and preconceived notions, and focus on his caring and child-like nature. He was terribly shy and self-conscious which came across as arrogance and rudeness. But she could now see through his thin facade.
If he had trouble opening up on his own, she would help to rip away his mask and get to the real Harsha, she vowed to herself. Successful relationships and marriages didn’t just magically happen Rajani remembered reading somewhere. They had to be nurtured and nourished like tender saplings and she too would put in her whole soul in making hers work.
True to her determination, Rajani began staying up late to ensure that they spent a few moments together away from the family in the privacy of their room. Not that it was always possible for they followed late nights. But Rajani made an effort and even got snapped at for her pains but slowly the barriers came down. And before she knew it, she had shared her life history, secrets, deepest fears and desires.
Harsha wasn’t as open as Rajani was but he was a good listener. He was quick to temper but also quick to apologize and make amends. He confessed he was devoted to his parents and he considered it the sacred duty of all children to look after their parents. He was open about his criticism of Abhi for considering shifting out from Chandigarh.
“He isn’t shifting out!” Rajani protested, “he’s just planning to go abroad for a fellowship, some experience…”
“What experience? It would be better if he spent his energies and resources on establishing his clinic in Chandigarh.”
“Setting up a clinic is expensive business. Maybe he’s going abroad to earn money…”
“Nonsense! He’s more likely to spend more money than earn money.”
“He’s very frustrated with the set up here. He’s unable to decide what to do.”
“What about your parents? Are they okay with his going abroad?”
Rajani shrugged. “I think they would prefer for him to shift to Delhi than go off abroad. Bhabhi is pressurizing him to join their clinic in Delhi…”
“That’s right, blame Ritu. Doesn’t he have a mind off his own?”
“I am not blaming Bhabhi!” Rajani was up in arms. “Why can’t he join Bhabhi’s clinic? If we had a clinic, there would have been no questions raised about her joining it would there? If that is okay then this should also be okay, isn’t it? After all men and women are equal?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
“Telling you.” Rajani stuck out her tongue at him. She staunchly defended her brother and made no bones about strongly condemning Harsha’s judgmental attitude. But privately she too agreed with Harsha. Her parents deserved to have their son stay with them. They had worked so hard to educate them, give them a good life and when it was time to rest, they were being deserted.
Poor Mamma and Papa.
“A great marriage isn’t something that just happens; it’s something that must be created.”
Click here for the next chapter: The Denouement