“Look who’s come to meet you Rani?!” Star-struck Nisha squealed in excitement. “Your mother-in-law and sister-in-law!!! Just imagine! They actually came all the way. Get up and get ready beta. Now don’t be so rigid and ill mannered. Do you want our heads bowed in shame? If they can climb down why can’t you? Why are you so egoistic?”
“It’s not about ego Mamma please! They are horrible people and I don’t want to go back.”
“At least come and talk to them.”
“There’s nothing to talk Mamma.”
“You shouldn’t do like this Rani. Think of us. What will people say? They are already talking about why you are staying here that too during Diwali? I had no choice but to tell them you had a miscarriage that’s why…”
“Mamma!” Rajani was shocked.
“You don’t know anything about this cruel world Rani. We do. Are we your enemy? We will do what is best for you don’t worry. Just take that one step. The rest your father will handle. Look at him and learn from him. How he is diplomatically entertaining them yet making sure you won’t have any trouble when you go back.”
“How can he do that?” Rajani was skeptical.
“He has a plan.” Nisha said with pride. “Just go along with the flow. Come along now, change quickly and comb your hair.” She bustled away to do some heavy khatirdaari and mehman nawazi.
Rajani wasn’t convinced and continued to sit – although she had to force herself not to jump up to do her mother’s (and society’s) bidding.
She chanted over and over again to herself.
But the conditioning was too strong. Fidgety and restless, she chose a dress and slipped it on. She brushed her hair and swiftly dabbed some color. It wouldn’t do for them to think she was pining or unhappy, she thought defiantly.
She sat down. She didn’t want to seem too eager either.
She edged towards the door.
“Look who’s here!” Nisha reappeared.
“Mami!” Akash made a leap for her. Rajani enfolded him in her embrace and burst into tears. He remembered her! He loved her! Even though she had abandoned him. How could she have been so cruel to him? Oh how she had missed him, his softness, his warmth, his gurgles, she smothered him with kisses.
“Do you know how much Akash missed you?”
Sunaina stood there. “Everyday he would come home and hunt around the entire house calling Mami Mami. He thought you were playing Hide and Seek with him.” She brushed away a tear. “How to tell him that his Mami had deserted him, that she didn’t care as much about him? Can’t you see how thin he has become?”
Rajani refused to react or respond. Not that she had anything to say. She held Akash closer to her. But he squirmed and squealed in protest. Rekha came and took away Akash. Rajani made to move inside the bedroom but Suryakant was there too. He frowned at her. She plastered herself against the wall and wished she could disappear inside it.
“Won’t you forgive your poor old mother?” Sunaina pleaded. “I am old and confused. The business crisis, the stress, the tension, I don’t know what happened. I meant to give you the letter, I really have no idea how it reached the almirah. I know it is difficult to accept even I cannot believe it but trust me I had no ill intention. Why would I? It is a matter of great pride and honor that my daughter should be a doctorate that too in a difficult subject like Mathematics. It is just old age and senility. You won’t understand now. At my age,” she sniffled and dissolved into tears.
“There there,” sniffing Nisha was all over her consoling and supportive. Suryakant gestured to Rajani to follow suit but she just stood there like a statue quite unconvinced. Suryakant nodded to Ritu who led Sunaina away to the drawing room.
“What do you want Rani?” He was stern. “What else do you expect? Do you want her to fall at your feet? This is too much! Is this what we have taught you? Don’t make me ashamed of you.”
“She is a liar and a drama queen.” Rajani said baldly. “I don’t trust her one bit.”
“How cynical and mean!” Nisha was shocked.
“It’s the truth Papa.” Rajani ignored her mother. “I can’t live in the same house as Mummyji or Didi. Didn’t you see how she snatched Akash away from me?”
“Don’t overreact beta. Akash was crying and besides, Sunainaji wanted to speak with you, that’s why…”
“Yeah right.” Rajani crossed her arms and dug her heels in.
“Shameless girl…” Nisha raised her voice.
Rajani dissolved into tears. She ran inside the room and slammed the door shut.
She threw herself on the bed and sobbed her heart out. Nobody came to pacify her or call her. Exhausted from her bout, she dozed off.
It was dark by the time she woke all puffy-faced and eyes not much more than slits. She washed her face and peered out of the door. She could hear everybody talking (and laughing!) in the drawing room. She strained to hear – was that Akash or Sameer? Rekha or Bhabhi? And Mummyji? Or had they left? Should she venture out?
She heard footsteps.
She ran back inside the bedroom and lay down artistically on the bed. It was Nisha on the way to the washroom.
She did her business and left without speaking to Rajani.
Oh so that’s the way it was was it? Fine, she wasn’t dying to speak to anyone either. Besides, she had won! She was sure their unwanted guests had left. She sat up on the bed. Or were they putting up in a five star hotel at Papa’s cost?
“Where are they?” She asked Nisha.
“Where?” She insisted.
“Why do you care?”
“You said Papa had something up his sleeve?”
“He did. But you threw a spoke in the wheel. Grow up Rajani. Crying does not win battles. Diplomacy and patience does. If only…” Nisha clammed up.
Just another smokescreen to make her do their bidding, Rajani was glad she hadn’t fallen into the trap. She was free.
Except she wasn’t.
She had no money, no identity, no credentials, not even a phone of her own. How long could she go on like this – sitting and twiddling her thumbs at home? Or at best playing Nanny to Sameer while Bhai and Bhabhi were at work?
The familiar feeling of suffocation was back. She could feel heavy negative vibes from Bhabhi and even Bhai. Not that they said anything. Perhaps that was the problem. They completely and totally ignored her in the few waking hours they were at home. Weekends were slightly better for they would take a trip to Delhi and come back only on Monday morning. Even though she missed Sameer, on those days Rajani felt like the good old days had made a come back.
If only Papa didn’t look so sad and stressed out. He had picked up a couple of more tuition classes and was rarely home.
“Papa looks so haggard and ill…”
“Naturally. Everyone blames him for encouraging this rebellious behavior,” Nisha sniffed into her dupatta, “and he blames me for giving you the wrong kind of upbringing. He is angry with me for insisting that I send you to college, so far away just to study. He’s right, we should have gotten you married earlier…”
“I don’t believe this Mamma!”
“What’s not to believe? All this education addles your brains. It gives you next to impossible dreams which instead of building a family, destroys homes….”
“Mamma what nonsense you speak…”
“Is this any way to talk to your mother? Is this how you speak to your in-laws? No wonder they kicked you out! If Ritu…”
“If Ritu what Mamma? Be careful Mamma, one of these days, she will kick you out of your house!” Cut to the core, Rajani lashed out.
“How dare you?” Nisha’s eyes bulged and she raised her hand.
Rajani flinched but held her ground. “I only spoke the truth Mamma. It hurts doesn’t it?”
Nisha dropped her hand. “At least she doesn’t create a scene or drama like you do. She is adjusting and staying here with her in-laws isn’t she?
“How tough would it be to ‘adjust’ with in-laws like you?” Rajani sneered. “Kowtowing and desperate to do her bidding? A readymade crèche, with free boarding and lodging thrown in?
“Mind your tongue Rani.”
“Bhabhi has Bhai wrapped around her little finger….”
“Perhaps it would have been better if you had focused on wrapping Harsha around your little finger, given birth to a boy…”
….and is just bidding her time until she drops the bomb,” Rajani ignored the blade as it sliced through her and continued darkly, “You better look sharp Mamma, I believe they…”
“Enough!” It was Suryakant.
“You destroyed your in-laws home and now you want to destroy your brother’s life too?” Nisha’s voice hit the ceiling. “You know what your problem is? You don’t know how to be happy. And you don’t like others to be happy. That’s why not content with destroying Harsha’s peace of mind you are sitting on our heads and doing the destructive tandav dance. Hey Bhagwan give this girl some sense. Or call me to you. I can’t take this anguish and pain any more. My poor husband doesn’t sleep, eat or drink. All he does is work and work and work, earning money so that he can sustain his daughter. Oh what sins have we committed that we had to see this day?”
Click here for the next chapter: A Ray of Hope