“What did the doctor say?” Suryakant called to enquire.
“Nothing much. He recommended tests mostly for me and some for him.”
“No.” Embarrassed Rajani mumbled. “It’s too early to start worrying. Just to…to continue…trying…”
“Yes of course,” Suryakant was matter of fact, “I should have also thought of that. Maybe you both should go on a trip somewhere together. Should I book tickets for Goa?”
“No! Please Papa. Let it be. Why bother? Nothing is going to happen…” The words slipped out easily naturally. Rajani held her breath. The cat was out of the bag. Now perhaps Papa would understand.
“It’s no bother beta. Your anniversary is coming up soon. Let this be our gift to you.”
“Please Papa, who knows how they will interpret…?” Rajani was in despair. Why couldn’t Mama or Papa hear what she was trying to say? Were they deliberately…no no that couldn’t be.
“Why do you say that? Did something happen?” Suryakant got a whiff of her anguish.
“There was such a massive argument over the doctor’s appointment…”
“Why? What’s wrong? I am spending the money…” “That’s the thing Papa, they think you are interfering…”
“Oh yes yes, I understand, my mistake,” Suryakant was taken aback and appropriately contritely, “I will call and apologize…”
“Oh please Papa!” Rajani exclaimed. “Why should you apologize? The whole world is interfering and giving advice. Today the Aunty on the third floor questioned me just as his Buaji…” she trailed off. “Okay bye Papa, I have to go now.”
“You should lure him and pull him close to you,” Buaji had exhorted over and over again when she had stayed over at their place last week, winking and nudging pointedly until Rajani was quite red in the face. “Men have to be seduced you know, things don’t just happen on their own, you have to put in a lot of effort,” Buaji had leaned close to Rajani, “you think I would have had three strapping boys if I had let things be and waited for your Uncle to take the initiative?” Rajani choked and mumbled incoherently but Buaji wasn’t interested, she was on her own trip down memory lane. “I tried many things scented candles, books, pictures, you know those kinds,” she said suggestively, “expensive lingerie,” she giggled. “Don’t look so scandalized, I wasn’t always this fat or,” she looked scathingly at Rajani, “so skinny as you and I flaunted it.” She sat up straight, “He couldn’t resist me for long, especially when I wore the red…”
“Prema, I can’t find my socks,” her pot-bellied husband rolled in, with his bald pate shining through the carefully combed thinning hair. “They are by the pillow, I kept them there so that you could find them easily,” She said in a long-suffering tone. “What will you do without me?”
“Oh,” He shuffled back inside.
“Men are like babies, you have to mother them most of the times and other times be like the apsaras and…” Buaji jerked her head and nodded suggestively, “pull, pull Hari close, tie him to your apron strings, and don’t let that Sunaina bully you. How do you stay with her?”
Thankfully Rajani didn’t have to answer that question for Uncleji made a querulous demand for his nursemaid and she jumped up to answer his distress call. Not that Rajani was in any condition to respond in any manner struggling as she was with shock horrified fascination over and above a crippling attack of giggles. The image of Buaji wearing red undergarments and seducing Uncleji was too much for her sensibilities and she retired precipitously to the washroom to indulge in one of her rare fits at ‘home’.
Rajani pushed open the office door and stopped in surprise. Who was that?
“Good morning!” A young tall slim dusky girl with a long plait greeted her. “How may I help you?”
Who are you to help me? Rajani was tempted to retort but remembering her first days at the office, she smiled and said, “Good morning. I’m Rajani and I work here.”
“Oh! Rajani ma’am. Please come in. I should have guess that you weren’t a visitor. So sorry,” she apologized gracefully. “I’m Alka the new receptionist.”
“Nice to meet you Alka and welcome to the office,” Rajani smiled her greetings.
It was a busy day and there wasn’t much scope to interact and chat around. But even then Riteish found an excuse to call her over and share a few words with her.
“So did you ask them?” “Them?” Rajani was confused. Riteish changed the background color once again. “Avantika,” He coughed, “Nidhi.”
He was serious! And she thought he had been joking, fooling around to cheer her up! The dormant but ever hyper giggles rumbled and prepared to take flight but at his defensive expression they dried up. She sobered. “Both are already booked.” She said softly.
The background color darkened until nothing could be seen before righting itself. “It’s okay Ma’am I was just wondering.” He looked at her. “It’s nothing serious Ma’am!” he brushed away the concern in her eyes.
“If you are so keen on getting married why don’t you ask your parents to look for a girl?”
“They are very keen that I get married.”
“Then what’s the problem?” “My parents want dowry.” He met her shocked eyes defensively. “I don’t agree with them. But I don’t blame them. They are old fashioned. They gave a lot of money for my sister and expect it back through me.” He shrugged. “But I refuse to take dowry. So,” he trailed off.
“It’s a stand-off.” Rajani completed with dawning understanding. He looked embarrassed. “Yeah well, I don’t really know any girls and I just thought…”
“I understand,” Rajani rushed in feeling bad about having judged him. She was glad she hadn’t mentioned to anyone else. “I appreciate your sentiments.” She said sincerely even as deep regret and despair flooded her. Did men like Riteish actually exist? Men who had an identity and opinion distinct from their parents? Where was he when she was getting married?
“No lunch Rajani?” Tanya stood by her desk. Rajani looked up from her work and shook her head, “No Ma’am. Riteish called me and I couldn’t finish this. Nidhi is waiting…”
“Oh. Okay.” Tanya pursed her lips. “Why don’t you pass her the pages that you are done with so that she can start working on it while you and I have a quick lunch? I hate eating alone.” She smiled.
“Sure Ma’am.” Rajani gathered her papers and laughed as her stomach gave a happy rumble.
“What have you got?” Tanya asked as she took out her tiffin from the hot case.
Rajani flushed. “Not sure. I think rajma.”
“Oh yum. I got cauliflower, and dal. Attack!” They tucked in with gusto.
“So what’s up with you at home?” Tanya asked.
“Fine.” Rajani ducked her head. She hesitated. “We are visiting a infertility specialist…”
“Oh!” Tanya looked at her frowning, “But you are married for only a couple of years aren’t you?”
Rajani nodded. “Isn’t it too early to visit a specialist?” Her eyes twinkled. “You should be having fun trying.”
“It’s not possible without…without trying is it?”
Tanya put down her spoon. “What do you mean Rajani?” she asked carefully.
“Nothing.” Rajani looked down.
Tanya was quiet. Waiting. Without judging.
Rajani responded to the space the silence. “If…if someone, say your son if he…he had a boil would a mother, I mean would you not know about it?”
“A boil? Where?”
Rajani was unable to say more. But then her expression said it all. Tanya shook her head. “My son is 14. I doubt if he would say anything.” She paused. “Unless it was excruciating and intolerable. But then again it is difficult to what he would do or not do. Why do you ask?”
“Nothing.” Rajani began clearing up the table.
“Yes.” She stood up. “Does your….I mean are you talking about physical relationship with your husband?”
“Because of the boil?”
Rajani again nodded.
“So you’ve never…” Rajani shook her head.
“Ever?” Tanya managed to keep any sort of expression out of her voice.
Rajani finally looked at Tanya and shook her head.
“Oh my dear!” Tanya was shocked at the desolation and guilt in Rajani’s eyes. “Don’t blame yourself!”
“He does.” Rajani said jerkily. “First the punditji had forbidden any sort of, then he said he had a boil and now he says I am u…ugly and…” tears choked Rajani.
Tanya spontaneously reached out to enfold Rajani in her arms. “You aren’t ugly!” she said fiercely. She hesitated but opted to keep her suspicions to herself. “Do your parents know?”
Rajani shook her head. “I tried to tell them a couple of times,” she gestured vaguely, “but I think Mamma didn’t grasp what I was trying to say.”
Yeah right. “But you need to tell them.” Tanya glanced at her watch. “We better get back.” She stood up and picked up her lunch box. “Clearly and in no uncertain terms. So that your mother understands.”
Tanya almost gasped at the bewildered raw hurt and accusation in the softly spoken words. Tanya opened the door. “Parents are humans with failings. Often they don’t like to face reality, take difficult decisions. But you are the one who has to face the consequences, so you must put your foot down, make them listen, make them understand.”
Rajani nodded and gave a wan smile.
“But it is not your fault.” Tanya said firmly. “Understand?”
Click here for the next chapter: Gifts and Presents