Rajani’s heart sank even as a chorus of protesting voices rose. “BBW? But why? Such a pain, now we have to be all goody-goody. Damn it.”
In-laws at home and BBW at work, thought Rajani despondently. Just as she was beginning to enjoy their carefree company. Was there no respite for her?
Ill at ease Rajani stood up. “I’ll go down…”
“But why? You haven’t even had lunch?”
“Ma’am…” she mumbled incoherently.
“Relax,” Pakhi said kindly, “she isn’t really the ogre that she looks. Besides she often has lunch with us, only sometimes she works through lunch. So better get used to it. Nidhi hand me a fresh newspaper will you. You know how she is about cleanliness.”
They groaned. “The MIL at work!”
“Good practice for you two.” She nodded to Avantika and Nidhi. “You’ll have no trouble dealing with your MIL.”
“As if you have trouble dealing with your MIL!” Retorted Avantika.
“True,” Pakhi smiled, “My MIL is a sweetheart. Touch wood! What about yours?” She turned to Rajani.
Rajani ducked her head and shifted uncomfortably.
“Don’t worry we won’t reveal your secrets to anybody,” Nidhi said, “least of all your in-laws. It’s no secret I plan to shoot my in-laws before I get married.”
Enraptured with the idea, Rajani forgot herself so much as to raise a hand for a high-five.
“Hello Ma’am,” the others chorused. Flushing in embarrassment, Rajani stood up knocking over her rickety chair.
“Sit.” Aditi commanded even as she squeezed herself beside Tanya on the bench.
“Sorry we got held up.” Tanya held up her bag. “Actually I forgot the idlis at home and was waiting for the driver to bring it. Good thing though for now we got piping hot lunch!”
“It seems to be a day for forgetting,” Nidhi commented, while serving herself, “You forgot your lunch, Rajani forgot her vegetables,” Rajani flushed as she felt a pair of penetrating eyes pierce her.
“And I may as well have forgotten my lunch,” moaned Avantika. “The hostel lunch is quite quite inedible. Thank God for you guys otherwise I would have starved!”
“But what will you do for dinner?” Tanya worried.
“Dinner is better because otherwise all of us would gang up and protest but lunch time they are safe to send any goop.”
“Language Avantika!” Tanya reproved.
“The dal isn’t bad,” Rajani ventured shyly.
“Great! From now onwards, the dal is yours. I’ll have whatever vegetable you get.”
Rajani went a bright red. “Sure,” she mumbled, “if…if I, I mean I don’t usually have lunch. Today is an exception.”
“Don’t say that!” Pakhi protested. “Lunch time is the best part of the day a time to eat and chill. Bitch about our grouses, in-laws whatever, the best psychotherapy session ever!”
“Exactly! So tell us Rajani about yourself and your family,” Tanya invited.
Rajani froze. “I’m married,” she fumbled.
“Yes we saw,” Nidhi interjected with a sly look, “He looks quite old…”
“How’s your Father-in-law’s sister Pakhi?” Aditi cut in.
“Not at all well Ma’am.” Pakhi looked sad. “They are suspecting cancer. They are coming over to Delhi for facilities are not that good in Bareilly.”
“They will be staying at your place?”
“And that means WORK and MORE WORK.” Nidhi shook her head.
“Not just his parents you will have to shoot all your husband’s relatives,” Avantika chortled.
“Good idea!” Nidhi agreed.
“Why are you so anti-inlaws?” Asked Pakhi, “you aren’t even married.”
“My mother’s married. I have seen her dedicate her entire life to her in-laws and what did she get in return? Nothing.”
“Nothing?” Avantika said.
“Actually, nothing would be nice.” Nidhi was bitter. “Insults, humiliation…”
“Not all in-laws are like that!” Tanya interjected. “I get along perfectly well with my in-laws. And they are so good for the kids….”
“It matters whether you stay with your in-laws or your in-laws stay with you.” Everyone fell silent as Aditi spoke. “Your in-laws have come to stay with you right?”
“And your mother came to her in-laws place didn’t she?” Tanya addressed Nidhi who nodded. “It’s all about who’s house it is and who pays the bills.” She looked at her watch and stood up. “Be downstairs in ten minutes.” She left the table.
“There you have your solution Nidhi,” Avantika said blandly, “no need to shoot your in-laws just force them to come and stay with you. Then you can make them plot your murder.” They fell about laughing.
“But I stay with my in-laws!” Pakhi dissented. “I don’t have any problem. Everyone is so nice and loving.”
“May they continue to be so!” Tanya intoned.
“How long since you were married?” Asked Rajani.
“Two months ago.” Pakhi said. “You stay with your in-laws right?”
“So what has been your experience like?” Tanya asked.
Rajani began clearing up the table. “I’m with Nidhi,” she smiled brightly. “Is Madam married?” Rajani asked.
“It’s a big mystery,” Pakhi shrugged “some say not, while others say she’s separated.”
Pakhi shook her head. “No idea.”
“Gayatri used to say she hates kids and that it was her evil eye that caused her to almost miscarry.” Nidhi reported.
“What nonsense!” Tanya defended the BBW. “She’s really the limit. And you too for spreading idiotic rumors.”
“No! It’s true.” Nidhi nodded her head excitedly. “Somebody else was saying she ate up her own child…”
“What the hell!” exclaimed Tanya. “Just drop it will you? Ma’am is a bit stern and strict but she doesn’t have a single mean bone. I have been working with her for the past three years and she has always been very nice to me.”
“That’s because you always do what she wants…” Nidhi snapped.
“And you are hell bent on disobeying her,” Avantika butted in.
“Let’s go down shall we?” Tanya stood up gathering their lunch things.
“Thank you,” Rajani smiled formally at Tanya and Pakhi, “It was very delicious. I had got some chikki…” she held out the packet hesitantly.
“Chikki!” They pounced on it.
“I should have wished for something else, that would have also been granted,” rued Pakhi as she chomped on a crunchy piece, “I was craving for something sweet. Why didn’t you take it out earlier? Madam missed it.”
“I felt embarrassed and scared,” admitted Rajani.
“Scared?” Tanya laughed. “But why?”
Rajani shrugged. “I don’t know. Those eyes they are scary as if they can look right into you.” She gave a shiver.
“You are so imaginative!” Avantika said.
“Or do you have something to hide?” Nidhi inserted.
“Come on let’s go!” Tanya hustled.
“It was a perfect lunch!” Avantika declared getting to her feet, “Thanks to you guys,” she saluted them including Rajani who was embarrassed.
“Thank you for the dal.” She responded.
“Oh please!” Pakhi groaned, “please no thank you for food huh?” she broke off another piece. “You know the saying grain grain has person’s name,” giggling and chattering they tripped down the stairs and dispersed to their seats.
Rajani had barely settled down to work when Riteish came up to her. “Why this partiality?” He said accusingly. “What is my fault?”
Rajani stared at him in confusion. “Excuse me?”
“No excuses! I want justice.”
Rajani was even more confused and a little bit apprehensive too. Had she messed up the poster with her suggestions? Or was he simply crazy? “What justice?”
“Chikki for everyone else but me? Very unfair,” he intoned in a passable imitation of the infamous Gabbar Singh of Sholay fame.
Rajani laughed and rolled her eyes. “You nearly gave me a heart attack!”
“So did you!” He returned the compliment. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw everyone munching but me! What’s my fault?” He asked dramatically.
“Here.” Rajani took out the packet.
“Ah I knew it!” He crowed. “I was sure you would have kept some for me.” He broke off a big chunk.
“Don’t you have any work?” Aditi stood behind them.
Rajani’s heart sank but Riteish was unaffected. “I just dropped by to tell her if instead of teddy bears I could use bunny rabbits or if…”
Aditi raised a hand. “You can save the creativity for your work. Now get back to your seat.”
“I was just going Ma’am,” Riteish said in an injured tone, “the chikki is delicious thanks. Did you have it Ma’am? Rajani did you offer Ma’am?” he gestured to Rajani and sauntered off munching on his piece.
“Ha…have some Ma’am,” Rajani mumbled offering the remains of the chikki, apprehensive that Aditi might be insulted.