Rajani’s phone rang. She stiffened and cast a look at Riteish. He backed off.
“Yes?” She was curt.
“Sorry.” It was Harsha.
“Sorry doesn’t make a dead man alive.” She snapped. “All because of you I nearly lost my job today.”
“You made me lose my temper.”
“What did I say? I just asked a simple question.”
“One that was loaded with connotations, accusations and subtext.”
“I can’t help it if you have a guilty conscience. I just wanted to know what is your plan of visiting the doctor.”
“I’ll come and pick you up from office.”
Rajani dearly wished she could say go to hell but years of conditioning held her back. Besides from the corner of her eye she saw Aditi pass by. She swallowed the bitter pill and muttered, “Okay,” and disconnected the phone. Still seething and simmering with the unsaid words jostling for release, Rajani stared blindly at the manuscript in front of her. Why was life so unfair? Why did she have to get married? Why couldn’t she go back home? Was there no succor? Was this how she was going to spend her life? With a man for whom she had no feelings? Wouldn’t it be better to end it all. Jump off the nearest…
“Madamji,” Parkash interrupted her flow of thoughts, “Riteish Sirji is calling you.”
“What?” Rajani asked Riteish ungraciously.
“Oh, I just wanted your help with the theme for a teen birthday party…”
“What do I know?” Rajani wasn’t in the mood for any sort of interaction preferring to wallow in the misery of her thoughts. “Ask Avantika…”
“I did! She shooed me away.” He was downcast. “I got an earful from Wolfie, do you want me to lose my job?”
“Nonsense. As if she would do that.” Scorned Rajani but she sat down beside him. “What’s the problem?”
“I don’t know what young girls would like – this or this?” He showed her a selection of designs. Interested despite herself, Rajani heaved herself out of the dark pit and focused on the screen. Bit by bit home faded away there was just her, Riteish and art. Life and color returned to her face as Riteish made one outrageous comment after the other.
“Rajani you must be knowing a lot of girls, why don’t you put in a good word for me?”
“Good word for you?” Perplexed Rajani looked at him.
“Yeah, you know recommend me for marriage. My parents are least bothered. Couldn’t you take pity on me?”
Rajani stared. “You want to get married?”
“Yes.” He looked at her eagerly with a hopeful expression. “Do you have someone in mind?”
“The only unmarried girls I know are Nidhi and Avantika.”
“Ask them.” He looked dead serious.
Rajani’s nostrils flared and her abdominal muscles fibrillated and bubbles of laughter rose up and choked her. Surely he was joking? Or was he was crazy? Giggling she escaped to her seat. Feeling loads better, she slipped the last piece of chocolate into her mouth and picked up her pencil. Enough of extra-curricular activities time for some serious work. She couldn’t afford another goof up. Determined not to be caught on the backfoot again, Rajani took extra pains with the proof reading. She was late for lunch and worse Aditi was there.
“Sorry Ma’am.” It slipped out again.
Rajani blanched as Aditi glanced at her. “Sit and eat.”
“Yes Ma’am.” At least today she had a proper lunch like everybody else.
“Wow Rajani,” Avantika exclaimed, “Party today huh? Are you pregnant or something?” She winked.
Rajani flushed and shifted uncomfortably. “No…nothing like that. Actually the maid…she maid was creating trouble…please have some. My MIL cooked. She cooks well.” She offered everyone.
“If you distribute that what will you eat?” Aditi remarked.
“Yes,” Tanya said, “it’s not like there’s a ton of it.”
“I’m okay Ma’am. I’ll just have the paratha. I don’t usually take any veggie.”
“Just.” Rajani shrugged uncomfortably. “Just don’t feel very hungry.”
“So no maid huh?” Tanya commented, “You will have to cook now?”
“My MIL cooks.”
“Not you?” Aditi’s eyes poked her.
“No,” Rajani gave a forced laugh, “they don’t much care for my cooking.”
“Even I am not very good at cooking,” Pakhi said. “But my MIL is very encouraging and supporting.”
“Actually I quite like cooking,” ventured Rajani, “but cooking doesn’t like me.”
“Meaning?” Tanya asked.
Rajani gave a helpless shrug. “I don’t know. Something or the other always goes wrong, no matter how much pains I take. Either there’s too much salt, or chilli sometimes oil.”
“It happens,” Tanya said consolingly, “even I used to mess up in the early years after marriage.”
“Funnily, earlier my dishes used to turn out very well. Everyone used to love the way I made rajma and pasta. But these days, something is always off. I just can’t understand it.” Rajani shook her head. “Most frustrating and depressing.”
Aditi finished her lunch and stood up. “Sounds like somebody is tampering with your dishes after you finish cooking.”
Shocked, Rajani could only stare at Aditi.
“She’s right you know,” Tanya said after Aditi left, “it could be your MIL. Perhaps she feels insecure…”
“Insecure! About me? One silly old dish? Ridiculous.” Rajani was fuming. Ma’am was right. Only that could explain all the mishaps with her cooking. Hell and damnation!
“Nidhi didn’t come to office today?” Rajani changed the topic. “
And she didn’t finish her work yesterday either.” Rued Tanya. “Pakhi will have to stay late. Unless Riteish agrees to help out. She is really unprofessional.”
“Perhaps she isnt well?” Rajani ventured feeling the need to defend the absent Nidhi.”
“Of course she is unwell.” Snorted Avantika. “Vijay came back yesterday from the marketing tour.”
She looked at the others. “Who’s Vijay?”
“A fellow in the Sales division.” Pakhi paused. “Also Nidhi’s much married boyfriend.”
“Married!” Rajani was shocked. “Married with two kids. And he had a love marriage.” Tanya shook her head.
“Maybe they are just friends?” Rajani suggested.
They looked pityingly at her. “Yeah and pigs can fly.” Avantika said.
“But she told me she was as good as engaged. Somebody had spotted her at a wedding and instantly fallen for her. His parents weren’t agreeing but he went sort of went berserk and his parents had to give in?”
“According to her, the whole world is besotted with her.” Pakhi said. “Lalji, Parkash and Riteish included.” They burst out laughing.
“Except for BBW.” Avantika objected.
“Oh but,” Pakhi fluttered her lashes at her, “it is she who doesn’t like BBW.”
“Oh yes. Silly me!” Avantika smacked herself.
“But I don’t understand.” Rajani spoke up. “Why do you think she is having an affair when she is going to get married.”
“Probably another game of power control and dominance.” Tanya mused. “Forget her and her shenanigans, you tell us, is your brother actually leaving the country?”
“Yes. They are in the process of wrapping up things here, getting their paperwork down. Just a couple of months, maximum three months and then they would permanently leave.”
“Cheer up. It’s just Canada not some other planet.” Tanya said in bracing tones at Rajani’s downcast expression.
“They have a son don’t they?” Pakhi asked. “How old is he?”
“Not yet one year old.” Rajani face softened. “He’s a darling.”
“How will they manage over there with such a small child?”
“I think they are planning to leave him behind with Mamma and take him along once he is older and they are better financially settled.”
“What about you? When do you plan to have a baby?” Tanya asked.
Rajani flushed. “I don’t know.” She mumbled.
“Don’t mind my asking, but I was wondering what if Nidhi decided to get married soon and both of you also became pregnant how would I manage at the office?”
Avantika raised a hand. “Don’t worry I will be here. The eternal spinster.”
“Your parents still haven’t agreed?” Tanya commiserated.
“What?” Rajani looked from one to the other.
“Nothing much.” Avantika sighed. “Same old story. My parents don’t appreciate me taking my own decisions. After having taught us to be independent from a very young age.”
“You have a boyfriend?”
“Yeah. I have known him since my childhood. We grew up together. But our castes don’t match and my parents…” Avantika shrugged.
“Oh!” Rajani felt bad. “What about his parents?”
“They are okay. It’s my parents who are objecting.”
“I’m sorry. What will you do?” Avantika began clearing up the lunch mess.
“What can I do but wait and hope for the best?”
“Maybe you could run away and get married in a temple or something?” Pakhi suggested. “It would be so romantic.”
“Possibly but think of the shame and gossip it would create. I have a younger sister and brother. Their future would also be impacted. Bride and groom would be difficult to find for them as no one would like to enter into an alliance with a family where the daughter of the house is such loose morals and character.”
“That’s really nice of you to think of them.” Rajani was impressed.
“How can one not think of them?” Avantika stood up and brushed away the crumbs.
“Oh I forgot.” Tanya said as they descended the stairs.
“We are getting a receptionist.”
“What on earth for?”
Tanya shrugged. “So that whenever Noyonika calls the office a soft professional voice would respond with Welcome to Paperworks. How may I help you?”
The girls stared at her. “Really?”
“Yeah!” Tanya shook her head in irritation. “This is her latest bugbear. Ever since she’s come back she’s been giving me lessons on phone etiquette. The phone rings I answer, mostly in the midst of something and I say Yes? But she finds that insulting rude and unprofessional.”
“So they are ready to pay someone 10 or 20k just to answer the phone?”
“Who knows?” Tanya pushed open the office door. “Maybe they have some other agenda? Just yesterday Parkash threatened to walk out as Noyonika called him home and made him wash the utensils and clean the house.”
“Oh no!” They were horrified. “How can they do that?”
“That’s how things are. Be careful, someday you may get called in to babysit, shop…” she laughed at their expressions. “It’s not funny but what can one do if one wants to keep ones job?”
“You didn’t agree to play receptionist.” Rajani pointed out. “Not everyone has the luxury. And it is a call that we have to take individually depending on what is more important.”
What would she do in such a situation wondered Rajani. “There should be some safeguard…”
“Lunch break not over yet?” Ears red and heart thudding, Rajani slipped away to her seat before BBW could say anything more.
Click here for the next chapter: Blame Game