“Tanya,” Aditi stopped by Rajani’s desk where Tanya was discussing something with her, “where’s Alka?”
Tanya pursed her lips and shook her head. “No idea. Yesterday she didn’t pick her phone and today her phone is switched off.”
“How irresponsible.” Aditi fumed. “And unprofessional. She could have at least sent a message? How difficult is that? Noyonika is on the warpath,” Rajani flushed guiltily, “and I don’t think I have any option but to order her suspension.”
Suspension! Thank goodness she had managed to drag herself to office yesterday. But what if Alka was in some trouble…
The office door swung open with a rustle, a clatter, and the sickly sweet odor of cheap perfume. They turned around in unison.
A bright red silk sari clad woman with a thick band of orange vermillion stood there smiling at them.
They gaped at her. “Alka?!!” Rajani spoke first.
“Yes!” she giggled and simpered. “I got married.”
“But…but, so quickly?” Tanya asked.
Alka played with her thick mangalsutra. “I…we ran away and got married in a temple.”
“Our parents weren’t agreeing. There was a lot of hullabaloo and chaos, but then his parents accepted me. They held another ceremony yesterday and now everything is good!”
“Congratulations!” Tanya said. “I am glad it worked out fine. Your parents…?”
Alka shook her head. “They haven’t yet agreed. But I don’t mind. My MIL is very nice and welcoming.” She held up her arms and looked at her glittering self, “She gave me everything. She’s just like my mother. So caring so affectionate…”
“My best wishes Alka,” Aditi interrupted the gush, “but this is no time to come to office…”
“No Ma’am!” Alka tittered, “I haven’t come to join. I came to tender my resignation.” She giggled. “And introduce you to my husband.” She went to the door and waved urgently. An obviously uncomfortable and ill-at-ease man entered and nodded. He handed Alka a packet. “Oh I got sweets.” She giggled as her new husband vanished. He’s very shy.” She opened the box and offered them sweets. “Ma’am may I go and meet the others too?” she requested.
Aditi nodded and walked away. The others crowded her. “You sneaky girl! What does he do? Where did you meet him? How long have you known him?”
Alka laughed and fended the questions deftly. “I met him at my earlier office. He works in the accounts division there. We’ve known each other for over a year now. We’ve wanted to get married for a long time but our parents weren’t agreeing and in fact my parents forced me to leave that office and take up a job here and fixed a boy for me. But,” she shrugged, “when it is meant to be.”
“Why are you leaving your job?” Nidhi asked.
“That’s the only thing my mother-in-law asked for that I should stay at home with her. Poor thing is very lonely, only three boys, no daughter. Now she doesn’t want to let me go.”
“All the very best.” They chorused even as Rajani wondered whether she should be envious of her or pity her.
“I want to go home.” Rajani accosted her MIL a few weeks later.
“Did you ask Harsha?” Her beady eyes glittered.
Rajani gritted her teeth. Was she a convict requesting parole? “If you say yes, he won’t say no.”
Sunaina laughed fondly. “He’s such a good boy.”
How I wish he were a bad boy.
“Why do you want to go?”
“Because Bhai is leaving for Canada…”
“Oh! Of course you must go! Take Harsha along. Even I would love to meet him before he leaves,” she gushed. “I’ll ask your FIL.” She paused, busy making plans, “I know! Let’s make it into a picnic, a fun trip for the entire family. I’ll ask Rekha and Kuldeep too. Your mother and father won’t have time to feel bad that their only son is leaving the country.” She tripped off to dial numbers and pull strings, while Rajani stopped short of pulling out her hair.
Why Bhagwanji Why?
It was all set. They were all going, except for the FIL – he refused to close down his business just for some silly old family trip. Rekha dropped in with her kids and husband as they planned to leave early next morning leaving behind her full time maid at home for her father’s convenience. Rajani prayed fervently for an office emergency, which would prevent her from going. Although that didn’t happen, little Dipika had diarrhea and fever. Since Kuldeep refused to go, Rekha had little choice but back down and insist that her mother too stay back and give moral support. For a moment or two Rajani was afraid she too would be asked to drop the idea. But they had other plans for her.
“Rani,” Rekha said, “Take Akash along with you.”
“To Chandigarh?” Rajani gasped, “but…”
“But nothing!” snapped Rekha, “I can’t manage him and Dips alone, I haven’t slept the entire night and,” she burst into loud noisy sobs.
“Oh you poor dear,” Sunaina rushed to console her daughter.
“Mami I want to go with you. Mami! Please. Mami,” Akash tugged at her dress.
“Okay dear,” Rajani crouched down, “but what if you miss your Mamma?”
He threw his arms around her. “I will miss you more if you go without me.”
She clung to him.
“Take him along Rani.” Sunaina said, “Harsha will be there too and Chandigarh is not too far away. Poor thing has been looking forward to the trip.” She sniffled.
Probably feeling sorry for herself. Well I guess this is the best case scenario, Rajani admitted to herself, Akash was a sweetheart. Not that she wanted Dipika to be unwell, she hurriedly sent up a prayer for her recovery – once they were in Chandigarh. And instantly felt guilty.
“Harsha!” Fawned Suryakant, “So sorry your mother and sister couldn’t come. We were so happy and excited. And look who’s here – the big boy himself. Come and meet a friend.” He dragged a reluctant Akash and introduced him to Samir, who made his feelings about the intrusion very clear. He turned away. Akash seeing no reason to bottle up his feelings either threw an impressive and vocal tantrum.
“Oh poor thing is tired.” Nisha fussed and hovered. “Or is he hungry? You come in Harsha beta, let Rajani handle Akash. Oh there’s Ritu, go along now, freshen up and chit chat. I’ll bring the refreshments.” She bustled away.
Rajani took the cranky baby outside and managed to soothe him down and convince him to come inside for some nourishment.
Once inside, Rajani could only stare at Ritu and Harsha who were like a house on fire. She had never seen this side of Harsha – carefree and happy. A lump came to her throat.
Was there something wrong with her?
Harsha turned towards her and she waited for the familiar blank unfocused look to cover up his dislike and disgust on his face. But to her surprise, he got up and came towards her, “Give him to me. You look exhausted. Go and freshen up.”
Rajani’s brow wrinkled as she let him take her burden. It was a jolly family that greeted her as she emerged from the washroom.
Everybody was laughing uproariously over Akash and Lucky’s antics as the came out of their shells. Even Papa was laughing hard. Too hard.
What the hell?
Nauseated, she went to the kitchen, meaning to throw up some of her angst on her mother’s comforting and capable shoulders.
“Not now Rani,” Nisha instantly latched on, “there’s no scope for anything other than your brother’s imminent departure. God only knows when I will see him again,” she buried her face in her dupatta, “if at all,” her voice indistinct.
“Oh please Mamma, this is the 21st century, you can see him everyday if you like on video call…”
“It’s not the same thing…”
“He said he would be coming during Diwali to attend Bhabhi’s brother’s wedding right?”
“That’s months away!” Nisha refused to be consoled.
“How many months ago did you see me?”
“From the moment you were born, we were ready to send you away but Abhi..,” she began sniffling again.
Click here for the next chapter: Clearing the Air