Rajani crashed out on her parents’ bed and woke up to strange snuffling sounds. She sat up in alarm. “Oh it’s you little darling!” she cooed in relief as she found Sameer looking accusingly at her. “Sorry I slept off. I didn’t mean to insult you your honor.” She gathered him up in her arms and nuzzled his tummy.” He looked impassively at her before going off into gurgles. Delighted Rajani cuddled him and tickled him – he returned the favor by shrieking and kicking her with all his might.
“Sammy Sammy Sammy!” Rajani chanted completely enchanted with her nephew. He waved his tiny chubby arms red in the face demanding to be picked up. Not content, he fussed and grumbled. “Okay fine! Missing your Mommy is it? Are you hungry baby? Or do you need a change?” she scrambled up from the bed. “Where is everybody?” She froze.
She was hearing voices.
Surely that wasn’t Harsha?
Barefoot she padded to the door and peered out. Harsha was here! What was he doing here? When did he come? She wouldn’t go back. She wouldn’t.
Sameer set up a wail. Heart thudding, hands cold and clammy, Rajani wished she too could follow suit. A dreadful feeling stole over here. She could feel the gates shut behind her with an ominous clang.
Ritu came and took away Sameer leaving her empty and bereft.
“Rani beta!” Nisha called, “Come and see who’s come!” She sounded overjoyed.
Betrayed, Rajani slid down by the door clutching her middle to dispel the hollow feeling, but it just grew and grew enveloping her, suffocating her. She wouldn’t go back.
No matter what anybody said.
“What are you doing here?” Nisha came looking for her. “Didn’t you hear me? Come and meet Harsha. So sweet of him to come looking for you post haste. Poor thing hasn’t slept all night.” She looked at Rajani’s pale wan face and drew her into the kitchen. “Make some tea for Harsha.” She nudged her. “The way he likes it.”
Rajani looked blankly at her.
“What does he like for lunch?” Nisha asked. “Paratha? Rice?”
“Say something! What does he like to drink? Tea, coffee? Lassi?”
“Coffee.” Rajani croaked.
“That’s good.” Relieved Nisha took down the jar of coffee and thrust it into her hand. “Here you make it for him. And serve the muffins along with it. I will serve lunch in a bit. Good I made Kadi chawal. He likes it doesn’t he?”
“What does it matter Mamma?” Rajani snapped out of her dull despair.
Nisha stared. “Wh…what do you mean beta?”
“I mean why all this drama about welcoming the ‘honored guest’?” Rajani was at her sarcastic best.
“No drama beta.” Nisha said worriedly, “We are genuinely happy to see him here. So nice of him to come all the way…”
“He could come all the way here but where was he yesterday? When I was kicked out of the house?” Tears started to fall.
“He would have come yesterday too beta, if only you had let him know.”
“Why should I let him know? So that he can drag me back to the prison? I don’t want to go back there Mamma! Don’t make me, please Mamma,” Rajani’s voice rose.
“Shush!” Nisha shut the kitchen door. “Calm down beta calm down. Everything will be all right, I promise you. Your Papa is speaking to Harsha and his parents. Everything will be all…did you put sugar in the coffee? Oho. Let me taste it. Does he like it sweet?”
“It’s not fair Mamma,” Rajani ranted as she twisted and untwisted her fingers, “It is not fair.”
“What isn’t beta?”
“This.” She gestured to her mother. “You are so concerned about what he will eat, whether he likes something but over there, nobody even cares about what I like or don’t like.”
“Of course they aren’t!” Nisha laughed, “why would anybody ask about your likes or dislikes in your own home? Harsha is a guest in this house but his house is your house to do as you please.”
“No it isn’t. Mummyji doesn’t like me entering her kitchen to make even a cup of tea out of schedule. Everything lives, breathes and eats as per her routine, her schedule. If I am out to the market or the park while the evening tea is being served then it is served and kept by the kitchen sink to drink whenever I return. I don’t even have the right to reheat it, leave alone make a fresh cup.”
“You need to assert yourself beta…”
“How Mamma? She passes so many comments and taunts that I can’t drink or eat anything. Sometimes, I cannot even breathe,” Rajani sobbed into her hands.
“Rani! Rani beta,” Suryakant entered the kitchen in search of her. “What happened?” He asked Nisha. “Why is she so upset? Everything is sorted. Harsha doesn’t bear any ill will and Goelji too is ready to forgive and forget…”
“Good for them!” furious Rajani snapped. “What do they have to forgive and forget?” she spat. “I am not ready to forgive and forget. I refuse to go back there Papa. I refuse! I refuse!” she screamed and dashed out of the kitchen. She ran to the bedroom and locked the door.
She threw herself on the bed and cried her heart out. Her father banged on the door. Her mother pleaded from the window. She buried her head under the pillows to drown out the call for her blood.
She wouldn’t give in.
She opened the door.
“Papa please don’t make me go back there. Please Papa.” She begged.
“Okay beta. Okay. Calm down. Please beta,” Suryakant patted her on the head, “Just relax. These things need to be sorted out in a civilized manner. Even if you don’t go back.” He added hurriedly before she could throw another tantrum. “It’s a legal contract. If you have been ill treated in any way, they are answerable – to you, to me and to the court of law. Don’t’ worry, if they are guilty, I won’t let them go scot-free. We have invested a lot in this marriage and we want our dues back, don’t we?”
“Come and talk to Harsha. Be brave enough to tell him your side of the story to his face. If you hide inside the room, he will think you are the guilty party. That his father was right, that you are ill mannered. You shouted and screamed for no rhyme or reason and you stormed out of the house.”
Horrified Rajani stared at her father. “But that’s not true!”
Suryakant shrugged. “It’s your word against theirs, two against one. And let’s be honest, if Ritu says something and if we say another, whom would you believe?”
“But I won’t go back with Harsha. Please Papa. Please.”
“Of course not beta. I promise not to force you to go back. I leave that decision entirely up to you. I promise.” He smiled at her encouragingly.
“Thank you Papa.” She leaned against him. He put his arm around her and hugged her briefly.
“Shall we go and talk to Harsha? Just tell him your side of the story and let him go his way. We don’t want to unnecessarily inconvenience him do we?”
“I guess not.” Rajani mumbled.
“There’s my good girl. Now come and talk to him. Politely.” He looked at her warningly. “We should not give him or anyone else any scope to point fingers at us. Understand beta?”
“Good. Good. Now coolly calmly discuss your problems and sort…I mean tell him to go back to Delhi. Okay?”
Rajani nodded. She hugged her father. “Thank you Papa.”
“For what beta?” He had tears in his eyes. “Always remember that while your father is alive nobody can ill treat you or force you to do things against your wish.”
“Yes Papa. Thank you Papa.”
“If the abuser is a parent or caretaker, the abuse may be the most attention the child has had from that person. To the child, withholding attention can be a powerful form of coercion. Sexual molestation may be accompanied by physical expressions of affection that are sometimes the only affection the child receives.”
― Rick Moskovitz,
PS: The quote is perhaps extreme for the present scenario but I thought it helps to explain the mindset and attitudes of so many people particularly girls who are very needy of parental and societal approval. Do share your views. Thanks and Happy Navratri and Dusshera to all of you