“Yes. It is lovely.” Rajani said. “You have lunch here?” They were on the terrace and for miles they could see trees and only trees interspersed with buildings. She looked around at the terrace. A rickety table stood under an asbestos sheet projection at one end and a massive faded umbrella that was bent at the waist at another end. There was no ‘table’ under the umbrella but an elevated structure, an upturned buckets which had clearly seen better days a threadbare mooda and a neat little stack of bricks gave it the semblance of an open air dhaba.
Tanya nodded walking towards the covered shed. “This is a great place for lunch in winters. Summers it is too hot, so they allow us to have it in a utility room downstairs. But that’s really tiny so we have lunch in batches.”
Nidhi shook out a sheet of newspaper and spread it on the table. Placing their lunch bags on the table they invited Rajani to sit.
Rajani gasped as the chair rocked and wobbled.
They laughed. “Don’t worry it wont collapse,” Tanya said, “not under your weight.” Rajani grabbed the table for support. “The table might though.” Rajani hurriedly let go as the table creaked and groaned.
“How many people work here?” Rajani asked but her phone rang. It was Harsha. “Hello? No they haven’t said anything yet. Yes but they have given me some more articles for proofreading,” Rajani flushed and lowered her voice, “No they havent mentioned anything about that yet,” she mumbled indistinctly, “yes I will ask. Lunch?” she flushed as Nidhi nudged Tanya and then giggled. “No I didn’t get but the office people are insisting I share…yes okay I can do that. Bye.” She disconnected the phone.
“Oho so the hubby darling is worried about his beautiful wife?” Nidhi exchanged glances with Tanya as they opened their lunch and spread out the spread.
Rajani reddened “Nothing like that. He was just…”
“Just what?” Nidhi poked. “Stop it Nidhi,” Tanya said mildly, “let the poor girl be.
And you,” she turned to Rajani, “You should have gone to the furthest corner and whispered sweet-nothings.”
They went off into gales of laughter. “Come on eat. Here try some of my kadhi-chawal.”
Nidhi offered a generous helping. “My mother makes lovely kadi-chawl…”
“But I couldn’t eat so much!” Rajani was horrified, “What about you?”
“I always get extra because everyone likes it and today,” Nidhi shrugged, “I guess it is all for you!” She smiled at Rajani.
“Have a puri.” Tanya offered. “Please,” she requested, “otherwise I won’t be able to have any kadi-chawal. Nidhi here have some puri bhaji. My son insisted he wanted to feed his friends puri bhajii so I got up at 5 am just to cook.”
Rajani looked at her wide-eyed. “Five am? Wow. How many puris did you make?”
Tanya shrugged. “At least 50 maybe 60 because my daughter also wanted to take for her friends.” Tanya stuffed her mouth. She chewed and swallowed. “But after a throwing a tantrum.”
“Why?” Asked Nidhi reaching out for some bhajji. She nudged Rajani who was still hesitating. “We will be insulted if you don’t eat, right Tanya?”
Tanya nodded. “She accused me of partiality. That I always favor her brother. That she wanted to treat her friends to dosa.” Tanya shook her head. “We compromised on idlis.” She shook her finger at them. “Get ready to eat idlis tomorrow.”
Nidhi and Rajani laughed. Although to tell the truth, Rajani’s heart sank a bit. What would she get for lunch? MIL was happy to have her as an assistant but she refused to hand control of the gas burner. And Harsha wasn’t too happy about her sharing food with the others. “Why are you sharing food? Are you some beggar? Go out and buy something.” He had said.
Rajani felt uncomfortable. They were genuinely nice people, so warm and welcoming. But Harsha was right. She should have bought something, contributed something. But she hadnt been expecting to hang around for so long. Maybe tomorrow she could get something? But what if you don’t get the job? Mocked the voice in her head. What if the salary is not enough to please Harsha? Rajani sighed. It was nice to sit here with the others, eat, jabber, laugh, breathe without a care in the world. Just like college. Please Bhagwanji. She crossed her fingers. “What exactly is Paper Works all about?” asked Rajani.
“We publish magazines, and news bulletins which are by and large women-centric. Cooking, home décor, children, fitness etc etc.”
“Who writes these articles?”
“We used to have a couple of writers but now we have some tie-ups with international magazines so we re-do them and carry them in our magazines. A few articles are developed in-house by BBW and some even by the top boss.”
“Who’s the top boss?”
“Anil Bansal is the MD and his wife,” Tanya shared a look with Nidhi, “Nayanika Bansal is the Chief Editor of Paper Works and is the top boss.”
“Not Anil Bansal?” “He is the topmost boss but he rarely interferes. Paper Works is basically his wife’s toy, something to flaunt and show off. But she also hardly comes to office and prefers to send instructions by phone and mostly leaves the running of the show to BBW.” Tanya and Nidhi cleared up the lunch and packed up the empty boxes. “I need to buy some stationery for my kids,” Tanya said.
“Could I come too?” Rajani asked eagerly. “Let’s have coffee. My treat.” She insisted.
“Don’t be silly.” Nidhi said. “Please!” Rajani begged. “Unless you don’t drink coffee?”
“It’s not like that,” Nidhi said.
“I understand how she’s feeling,” Remarked Tanya as they descended the stairs and walked towards the row of shops at the other end of the building. “We will have coffee, thank you.”
Relieved, Rajani smiled back. “Some cake? Those muffins look nice.”
“Don’t push your luck!” warned Tanya. Rajani laughed and splurged. “We are stuffed!” protested Nidhi.
“We can have the rest later.” Rajani dismissed airily while surreptitiously crossing her fingers. “They won’t spoil.”
Sipping hot coffee, munching muffins Rajani thought she died and gone to heaven. She certainly felt ill enough. Her legs were trembling and her heart was thudding madly yet she felt at peace. Her home and its tangled complicated mess seemed far far away. She wished she could stay here, forever and ever. “Will you ask Ma’am if she has decided to hire me?”
“Relax Rajani. In all likelihood the BB has made a decision but the final call will have to be taken by HRH.”
“HRH?” Rajani was confused. “Her Royal Highness.”
“Oh you mean Mrs Bansal right?” “Yep! Though she prefers to be called Dr Nayanika. She worked hard to earn her doctorate in social sciences.” Tanya said.
“But I think she worked harder at renaming herself.” Nidhi snorted. Rajani stared as Tanya chortled.
“What do you mean?”
Nidhi shrugged. “Her name was Naina but she thought it was too common so she changed it to Nayanika.”
“Oh wow. I didn’t know people did that!” Rajani was surprised. “Must be a whole of hassle…”
“Of course! Change name in all documents, ce
rtificates, even put an announcement in the papers. I wonder what’s the real reason,” Nidhi wore a thoughtful look. “Perhaps some astrologer…” “Enough of woolgathering,” Tanya held the office door open, “ time to work.” She looked at her watch. “The others are late!”
“So are you!” BBW loomed at the doorway of her cabin. Tanya flushed a beetroot red and Rajani did her best to follow suit. Nidhi had slunk off to her seat and was furiously tapping her keyboard.
“Sorry Ma’am, I…” Rajani felt compelled to shoulder the blame. If she hadnt insisted on the coffee and pestered them with questions.
BBW cold eyes swung to her. “Did I say anything to you?” Rajani paled and her breath hitched in her throat.
She edged away to where she had been sitting and began working on her proofs. Idiot she berated herself. Now she won’t give you the job. Nobody will. And why should they? You are good for nothing.
She bent over the manuscript but her senses were attuned to Tanya and BBW – surely she isn’t going hit Tanya!