If it weren’t for Sameer, the Ahuja house would have been a mausoleum. A deathly silence and a pall of gloom and doom hung like a thick shroud over the house, Sameer’s shrill cries the only respite from the deafening silence.
Entangled and imprisoned in a web of her own making Rajani sank into a world of nightmares, warped tortuous thoughts from which there was no escape.
She dreamed she was hanging from the edge of the terrace.
She wanted to desperately let go and yet she was unable to do so.
And there was Harsha holding her baby his arms.
He smiled at her.
He offered her the baby.
Heart thudding she held out her arms eagerly.
Still smiling he dropped the baby from the terrace.
Rajani’s mouth opened in a soundless scream.
She moaned delirious as fever racked her.
Hours, days, weeks passed, as did Diwali. Rajani made a slow recovery. The fever subsided but she was wan and listless.
Nisha made constant efforts to make her see reason.
“You are married now Rani. Your place is by your husband’s side not at your parents. What will everyone think? What you are doing is not right.”
What about me? What do I think? What happened to me is that right? Is it fair?
But nobody cared for her questions besides she knew the answers.
She wasn’t important – family was; society was.
She didn’t matter – Harsha did.
Life wasn’t fair – it was all about doing the right things.
It was time she grew up and faced reality.
Even though her father didn’t pester her or question her, she felt his disapproval and unhappiness more keenly than her mother’s.
She tried her best to rise up to his expectations but every time she gathered up courage to even think of Delhi she broke out in a cold sweat. I am sorry Papa. I can’t do it. Not even for you. She wept silent bitter tears and turned a determined blind eye to the silent condemnation and accusatory looks that Bhai and Bhabhi sent her way.
Or was that her overactive guilty imagination?
Rajani dearly wished she move on, make a fresh start but everyone seemed to be waiting for her to climb down her high horse and crawl back to that hellhole.
They could hope and pray all they liked, she wouldn’t budge from here. This was her home too, she thought.
Or was it?
The home she had grown up with suddenly wasn’t enough for all of them.
Or for just her?
Relegated to the settee in the drawing room she couldn’t help but be glad that they weren’t the social kinds, unlike her in-laws. She felt a grim satisfaction as she thought of the questions they were in all likelihood having to field regarding her continued absence.
Serve them bloody right.
Sameer was the only bright spark in her life and even he was bittersweet. She would never have a baby of her own. She would never see Akash again. He had just begun to say Mami in his adorable baby voice. Mami Mami Mami he would chant while clapping his hands standing in the middle of the room. Who was taking care of him now? Was he crying for his Mamma?
She buried her face in Sameer’s warm body and muffled her sobs in his tummy.
“If only you had a child,” Nisha moaned, “everything would be fine. Why aren’t you pregnant?” She asked baldly.
Rajani paled. She opened her mouth but no words came out. She ducked her head.
“Oh I wonder if that is why your in-laws are so upset?” Nisha fretted. “Are your periods okay?” She paused. “Wait. It’s been over a month, didn’t you get your periods yet?” She held her breath.
Rajani shook her head. “I haven’t got them for over two months now.”
“Oh!” Nisha was overjoyed. “I’ll go and get a pregnancy kit right away.” She scrambled up.
But Nisha was gone.
“Go on. Take the test. Hurry.” She clasped her hands and prayed. “Go on!” she pushed her. “Bhagwanji please, Bhagwanji please….”
Resignedly Rajani went through the motions and reported the negative results.
Nisha’s face fell ludicrously. “I’ll get another. The kit must be out of date. I’ll ask Ritu to give you a check up.”
“I am not pregnant Mamma.”
“How do you know? You are such a child. You don’t know anything.”
“No Mamma. You don’t know anything.”
“What don’t I know?”
“Never mind Mamma.”
But Nisha wouldn’t rest. She had found the culprit and she would sort it. She roped in Ritu and made Rajani go through a battery of tests. “PCOD? Hormonal issues?” She was taken aback. “Will she be able to conceive?”
“With treatment, hopefully yes.” Ritu said cautiously.
Suryakant insisted on taking her to the city’s most famous and renowned specialists. Tests were undertaken again, treatment started and reassurance given. Nothing so serious that couldn’t be cured or managed with a bit of skill and money.
“Now everything will be fine.” Suryakant was content.
If only she could speak. If only she could tell them. But she had promised Harsha. She couldn’t betray his trust could she? Besides what good would that do? She didn’t want to stay married to him, period.
“How long can you going to continue like this Rajji?” Shikha asked from afar.
“What else can I do?” typed back Rajani on her mother’s phone.
“Do something. Take a stand.”
“I have taken a stand.”
“Well then take the next step.”
“I don’t know what the next step should be.”
“Where do you see yourself in say five or even ten years?”
“Teaching Math in a college. A PhD degree in hand.” A baby girl in my arms.
“That’s great. So how about taking that first step towards that goal?”
“My certificates are in Delhi.”
“Well get them then.”
“I am not going back there.”
“Come on Rajji, you have to.”
“No I don’t have to.”
“Ask your Bhai to go to Delhi get it.”
“Nothing. You tell me, how are you? Has your baby started kicking yet? It is a boy right?”
“Yes it is a boy. Yes he has started kicking.”
“How are you managing alone? When is Aunty going?”
“Mummy will be coming next month. Amu is very caring and helps around the house. Plus we have a lady who comes in thrice a week.”
“That’s nice. Hope you are eating well? Have you put on weight?”
“But of course! I am a football now. It’s that Ritu isn’t it?”
“Your Bhabhi. She’s the one creating trouble right?”
“No. Bhabhi doesn’t say anything. Mamma is the one who goes on and on.”
“Sometimes it is the silence that is more damning and killing than the nagging.”
Tears slid down Rajani’s cheeks. “I am impressed. How do you know?”
“My MIL is a doctorate at the silent treatment. She never spoke an ill word against me, at least not in my presence. Yet when she was here, we fought like cats and dogs.”
“I have no clue.”
“No it is sad. So Ritu giving you the vibes is it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. Or Mamma. She keeps nagging Papa about building another room on the roof.”
“What is Papa saying?”
“Nothing. He doesn’t speak, eat or sleep. At least that is what Mamma says. I feel so damn guilty I can’t tell you.”
“I can imagine. But it’s not your fault. It is theirs. They shouldn’t have forced you to get married. You weren’t ready.”
“But nobody is ready to accept that. Can you believe that my MIL sent sargi before Karwa Chauth? Mamma insisted that I keep the fast. She made elaborate arrangements, held up a photo of Harsha…” Rajani froze in the midst of her typing.
Think of the Devil.
Her mother’s phone was ringing.
Heart thudding, Rajani almost dropped the phone while handing it to her mother.
“Namaste Sunainaji, Namaste. How nice of you to call.” Gushed Nisha. “Oh! That is great! So happy to hear that! So nice of you to call. Welcome, welcome. Yes yes, of course of course, she is now more your daughter. She dare not refuse you. I have brought her up to be an obedient good girl. But I have to confess sometimes the spirit of youthfulness carries her away. Don’t worry with time and age this too shall go away. As her mother and teacher I humbly request you to forgive her follies and give back her status and position in your family. Oh you are so kind and generous. Yes, yes, we look forward to seeing you. Have a safe journey. Namaste Sunainaji Namaste.”
“Don’t you find it odd,” she continued, “that when you’re a kid, everyone, all the world, encourages you to follow your dreams. But when you’re older, somehow they act offended if you even try.” ― Ethan Hawke,