“Ah there is she is!” Nisha hurried up as Suryakant arrived with Rajani to the dining table, “Come and have lunch.” She pulled up a chair beside Harsha for Rajani, but she took the one that was furthest away from him. Nisha looked helplessly at Suryakant who shook his head. He nodded to Ritu who slid in beside Harsha and began an animated discussion with him about Diwali and shared memories and incidents. Harsha laughed and chatted with her completely at ease, while Rajani seethed.
Nisha attempted to make the conversation more general and non-specific but without much success. Pale and silent Rajani picked at her food, feeling restless and uncomfortable. He hadn’t even looked at her. Why was he even here? To talk to Bhabhi? And look at him jabbering away with her as if there was no tomorrow. Did he even care the slightest bit about her? Rajani stiffened. She had had enough of compromising and adjusting. It was time he made an effort. She wasn’t going back. And that was that. Decision made, she defiantly dug into her food.
“Mamma, the kadi chawal is very tasty.” She said determinedly. “Could I have some more?”
“Of course beta.” Nisha smiled relieved.
“Thank you Mamma. I am starving. This is the best kadi ever!” she declared over-loudly. “Papa, when did you buy the computer? You never told me?” She turned to Nisha. “How is Aunty Mamma? I must go and meet her soon. Shikhs will kill me. As it is she’s really mad at me for not keeping in touch with her. And Mamma do you know Shikha is pregnant?”
Nisha nodded with an apprehensive glance towards Harsha. “Yes. Kirti told me. But I think she is more excited about her visit to US than her grandchild!”
Rajani laughed. “Even I would be I think! When does she go?”
“Still sometime away. Arre Harsha beta, have you finished already?” She started as Harsha pushed back his chair. “You barely ate anything.”
“Thank you Aunty. I am done.” He looked at Rajani. “If you’ve finished, I would like to leave now.”
Aunty? Who the hell did he think he was? Carry on as if nothing had happened? She would show him.
Rajani made a show of serving herself some more kadi chawal. She spooned some into her mouth, chewed, swallowed and shrugged. “Sure. Carry on. Have a good trip.”
“Rani!” Nisha was scandalized. “Don’t…”
Rajani raised her hand. “Please Mamma. Let him go. I am not going anywhere.”
“Rajani,” Harsha said in a warning tone.
Spoiling for a fight, Rajani pounced, “What Rajani? Who the hell do you think you are? There was such a massive incident yesterday and you come here and pretend as if nothing happened? Did you even ask me how I was? How I managed?”
“I am here am I not?” Harsha said in a mild tone, though the tips of his ears turned red.
Furious and shaking with anger, Rajani slammed her hands together with a resounding clap, “Thank you very much,” she spat facetiously, “I am honored and overwhelmed. Now please carry on. I am not coming back to Delhi. Ever.”
“If this is the way you spoke to my father,” Harsha clenched his fists, “I am not surprised he threw you out of the house.”
“Oh! So you admit your father lied to Papa that I walked out of the house?”
“Rani,” Nisha plucked at her sleeve but she ignored her mother. Self-righteous anger coursed through her veins and months of frustration spewed out uncaring of the damage it wreaked in its wake.
“For your kind information,” her voice was sugar sweet, “it was your beloved mother who hid my interview call letter, like some cheap Hindi movie vamp.”
There was a crash as Harsha stood up and his chair fell over.
But Rajani was on a roll. “And instead of getting to the root of the matter, punishing the culprit what did your father do? He threw me out of the house. Without any money. Without a phone. What kind of civilized person behaves like this in this time and era?” Rajani gave back as good as she got.
But her victory was short-lived.
Harsha raised his hand and swept the contents of the table by his side on to the floor.
Including the computer monitor.
He crunched his way out of the house.
Nisha set up a shriek and fell with a thump on the settee.
“Abhi!” Suryakant shouted.
Abhi nodded and ran out after Harsha while Sameer decided he didn’t like anybody else stealing his limelight and set up a racket of his own. Only Rajani stood there frozen in horror. Yet there was a sense of vindication – now everybody knew what a temper Harsha had. Now they would understand how difficult it was to stay with a man who was so short tempered. And violent. She shivered. This was a side that was new even to her. She had seen him angry and rude, several times but violent? Never. She sent up a prayer of gratefulness. Thank God she was out of that hellhole.
“Well?” Suryakant asked Abhi as he returned.
Abhi spread his hands and shook his head. “He left.”
“Did he say anything?”
He shot a glance at Rajani. “He said it was impossible to live with such an ill-mannered, ill-bred girl.”
“What!” Rajani shrieked, “How dare he say that!” She waved her hand at the stuff scattered over the floor, “After doing this, he dare point fingers at me? How dare he? Papa call up his father and complain. Better still call the police and lodge a complaint. Papa!” she shook him urgently.
“Calm down Rani. Calm down.” He jerked his arm away. “Shouting and screaming is no way to resolve a problem. You shouldn’t have said that about his parents. It is natural that he would get angry.”
“I don’t believe this Papa!” Rajani was incredulous. “You are taking his side? Didn’t you hear what he said? That his father was right to throw me out? How could he say that? How could he?”
“Perhaps he shouldn’t have said that. But I don’t want to comment or correct him. I have the right to criticize and teach my children…”
“Perhaps! You don’t have the right to criticize him but his family has the right to criticize abuse and use me, as they feel right? This is the twenty first century isn’t it? Or have we gone back to medieval times?” Agitated, Rajani flapped her arms. “He still calls Mamma Aunty. Why do I have to call his mother Mummyji? Why? Why?” Rajani was screaming.
“Rani you really do need to control your temper. This is no way to behave,” Nisha rebuked her.
“You too Mamma?” Rajani’s voice was raw and cracked. “You too can find faults only with me? What Harsha did was right?”
“His parents will chastise him. My job is to chastise my children. And today I am afraid you made me feel very small and ashamed…”
“Ashamed because I spoke the truth?” Rajani was too angry to even cry.
“No Rani,” Suryakant spoke up, “what you said was perhaps the truth but this is no way to speak. You should have…”
“Said horrible mean things about him and his family in honey-coated sugary tones like Harsha did? That’s acceptable?”
“To make a relationship work it is important to keep that you keep your cool.” Suryakant shook his head heavily. “You shouldn’t have said anything Rani.”
“I don’t believe this Papa,” Rajani was incredulous, “All dos and don’ts are directed towards me. Where is the place where my feelings my wishes, my desires come first? Where I come first?”
“He who walks in the middle of the road gets hit from both sides.” George P. Shultz