It was now over a month and a half since she had joined Paperworks and there was still no sign of any monetary returns. The first month she was informed it would be too much of a bother to make the salary for just a week ten days and it would be better to get a more solid amount the next month. But now it was past the first week of December and still no sign.
“Ask about your salary.” Harsha ordered.
“I have,” Rajani said wearily, “umpteen times. Nobody has got it so how can I?”
“You mustn’t be asking the right person.”
“Whom should I ask?” Rajani gritted her teeth.
“Whom did you ask?”
Rajani rolled her eyes. “My colleagues and Tanya. Everybody asks her as she is our direct supervisor.”
“Ask her boss.”
“Nobody dares ask Aditi Ma’am.”
“So will you continue to work even if they don’t give the salary? Are you some sorted of bonded laborer?”
“That seems to be my destiny.”
“What did you say?”
“Nothing. There’s some issue with release of funds from the client side. Once that is cleared they will issue our checks.”
“Nonsense!” Harsha snorted. “Bansal is a smart businessman. He has hired a bunch of giggling girls who just want to get out of the housework and have some fun away from home. Salary isn’t important for them.”
“Without knowing any of them how can you pass a blanket sweeping judgment on them?” Rajani seethed. “Don’t forget even I am one of them.” Go on say it – salary isnt important for me either she challenged silently.
“It is a money making tactic adopted by Bansal to delay giving salary while he invests it elsewhere and mints money.” Harsha refused to take the bait.
It was Rajani’s turn to snort. “Oh really? How much money would he earn this way? And if it is so lucrative maybe you should think of implementing in your business then perhaps you wouldn’t have to depend so much on my salary.”
“You stay out of my business.” Snapped Harsha.
“And you stay out of mine.”
“As if I want to get it in. But you’re such a naïve fool somebody has to look out for your interests.”
“I wish you would take as much interest in my interests at home.”
“What do you mean?” Harsha reared up. He got and put on his slippers. “Forget it. I don’t want to know.” He paused at the door. “Find out about your salary. We’ve got some expenses coming up.”
“What expenses?” Rajani stared. “Papa paid for the doctor’s…”
Harsha held up his hand. “No need to keep rubbing that in. Besides you are the one that needs fixing.” He slammed the door shut on his way out.
How do you know? She wanted to yell. The reports haven’t yet come in. Besides how was she expected to conceive without any action? Tanya was right she had to let her parents know in no uncertain terms. Something was terribly wrong somewhere and it couldn’t, shouldn’t be allowed to go on.
So desperate are you? Harsha’s taunt echoed making her cringe. I don’t care about that, just my baby, Rajani defended herself stoutly. She would call up Mamma and tell her clearly, in no uncertain terms, what was there to be embarrassed or guilty about. It wasn’t her fault. Not even if she was ugly…
“Rani beta,” her MIL stood beside her, “I made some gajar ka halwa, taste it and tell me how is it?” She beamed at her. “That Hari is such a grouch,” she laughed fondly, “I got an earful for haranguing him. Can you beat that? Here I am slaving away for you all and instead of thanks all I get are taunts and snaps.” She sniffed.
Rajani scrambled up. “Thank you Mummyji. You should have called me…”
“No no beta I wasn’t talking about you. You are the only one in this house who understands me, cares for me. I didn’t want to disturb you on the only Sunday you get with your husband but when he stormed out I thought I could…”
“Please Mummyji you are welcome to come in anytime.” Rajani protested embarrassed.
“Actually I know why Hari is angry,” Sunaina laughed, “He likes moong dal halwa better than gajar ka halwa.”
“Then you should have made moong dal…”
“But you like gajar ka halwa don’t you?” Sunaina smiled warmly. “I made extra you can take for your office friends and show off your sasuma’s culinary skills.”
“Thank you Mummyji, but they are already in awe,” Rajani replied tongue in cheek.
“Oh you are so sweet Rani.” Sunaina simpered. “Let’s go out shall we? Just us girls. Rekha is coming over. She will leave the kids with their Mamaji Kuldeep and your Papa can entertain themselves.”
“Where do you want to go?” Rajani wasn’t too keen on traipsing from one mall to another.
“Oh it’s a surprise!” Sunaina tittered. “Rekha wants to buy me something for my birthday.”
“Oh!” Rajani’s heart sank. She had completely forgotten about it. She also needed to arrange for a gift. Or was she being gently reminded of it? She would have to ask Harsha. “I…I haven’t got my salary yet…”
“Never mind dear. That’s okay.” Sunaina smiled. “We girls just want to have some fun. So let’s go, ah,” she turned towards the door, “there’s Rekha. Come on hurry up!” Sunaina gave Rajani a push. “And don’t forget your purse.”
Reluctantly and with foreboding Rajani got dressed and joined the others in the lobby where Harsha was enjoying himself with the kids.
“Mami!” Akash detached himself from the melee and jumped at Rajani. Dipika now a cute little toddler followed her brother. “Where are you going Mami? I want to come too!”
“No beta,” Sunaina said kindly but firmly, “Mami needs some time off. You stay and play with your Mama.”
“Mami please!” Akash wailed. “Mami!”
Rajani melted. She gathered him into her arms and hugged him warmly. “Be a good boy and I’ll get you something.” She whispered to him.
“Promise.” She nodded and pinched Dipika’s chubby cheeks as she flashed her a dimpled smile. “Yes for you too. Okay bye.”
“Oh this is so much fun!” Rekha declared downing yet another cupful of the spicy jaljeera water after umpteen rounds of golgappas. “I need something sweet now.” She looked around. “Ice cream?” Sunaina nodded. “Rani beta do you have change?”
“Yes Mummyji.” Rajani dutifully paid off the vendor.
“I think I’ll sit in the car. Rekha will you help me to the car?”
“Sure Mamma, Rani get us ice creams will you? My mouth is on fire.”
“So what are you planning to give Mamma on her birthday?” Rekha asked when Sunaina was busy on the phone. Rajani shook her head. “I don’t know. I will have to talk to Harsha.”
“I told him Mamma wants a diamond ring.”
“A diamond ring?” Rajani’s heart sank.
“Yeah. She’s earned it right? High time her son gave her something decent right?”
Rajani nodded. Oh so that was the expenses Harsha was mumbling about. And no wonder he was so interested in her salary. Hopefully her salary would be delayed indefinitely, Rajani crossed her fingers.
“Good news!” Tanya declared over lunch. “You’ll get your salaries by tomorrow.”
A cheer went up. Except from Rajani.
“What happened Rajani? Don’t want your salary?” Pakhi asked.
Rajani shook her head morosely. “My MIL wants a birthday gift.”
“Don’t be stingy-mingy Rajani Rani,” Nidhi taunted, “A birthday deserves a gift!”
“Sure,” Rajani looked at Nidhi, “ But a diamond ring?”
A gratifying horrified gasp went around the table. “That’s deep.”
“And I already paid for the gifts her daughter bought for her darling Mamma.” Rajani seethed.
“What do you mean?” Avantika asked.
“On Sunday, Didi took Mummyji shopping for her birthday present. Mummyji chose a particularly expensive designer suit. Didi took me aside and said that she had forgotten her wallet and I should pay for it and that she would pay me half when we reached home.”
There was silence.
“Why half?” Avantika couldn’t help asking.
“Her brother is giving the diamond ring, I could gift my MIL at least half a suit…”
The chair grated as Aditi pushed back her chair and walked away. Rajani looked around guiltily. “Oops maybe I shouldn’t have said that. I completely forgot Ma’am was sitting here. Now she’ll be mad at me.”
Nidhi shook her head impatiently. “Forget her. She’s mad at the whole world. But tell me, did your SIL give you ‘half’ the money.”
Rajani shook her head. “When has she ever? They sent me to buy stuff for the kids, while they shopped for groceries.” Rajani began giggling.
“What?” They poked her. But she lolled about helplessly while they waited impatiently for her to gain some semblance of control. “What?”
“I…I came back and watched them from afar as they stood in the payment queue with a loaded trolley.” Rajani’s voice quivered and shook.
“Then?” Avantika asked her eyes glowing bright.
“As they inched closer to the payment desk they became antsy and looked around. I hid behind the racks. Didi rang me up but I didn’t take the call. By now the situation was desperate they were next in queue.” Rajani’s shoulders shook but she held on valiantly. “Mummyji began unloading the trolley on to the counter and before she finished, Didi had vanished.” The girls collapsed in a heap of laughter.
“So let me get this straight,” Tanya spoke over the uproar, “Your SIL took her mother birthday shopping and forgot her wallet?”
“And she made her mother pay for her groceries?”
“That is standard,” Rajani said, “everyday on the way back I get a list of things to purchase most of which is meant for Didi’s home.”
“That is ridiculous!” Pakhi was all goggle-eyed. “You mean to say she won’t be shelling out her share of her mother’s gift?”
Rajani shook her head. “No chance.”
“This is heights of cheapness.” Tanya shook her head disgustedly.
“I am still waiting for the diamond ring story.” Avantika began gathering the lunch things. “Or are you done with your birthday gift to your MIL?”
“What birthday gift?” Rajani asked. “Only Didi has been good enough to gift Mummyji.”