“All okay Tanya Ma’am?” Rajani asked hesitantly. It was lunchtime and today only the two of them were there. Nidhi was busy on the phone while Avantika had gone to the bank for some work and Pakhi had her check up.
Tanya rolled her eyes. “How many times have I told you not to call me Ma’am?”
Rajani shrugged apologetically, “Sorry Ma,’a…you look upset. Is everything okay? Did something happen at the office?” Struck, she paused. “Did I do something?”
“Uho Rajani, you are not the source of the world’s troubles! Besides I don’t let office stuff get my goat.”
“Something at home then?” Rajani persisted. She had never seen Tanya so low and distracted. Besides she could have sworn she had seen sheen of tears as she fiddled with her mobile.
Tanya swallowed and laughed. “Isnt it always?” She looked at Rajani.
Rajani looked down. “I am used to my issues but I’ve never seen you like this and I…I find it very upsetting to see…” Rajani trailed off.
“Rajani, Rajani,” Tanya shook her head, “as if you didn’t have troubles of your own! Tell me, why were you screaming at your MIL at lunchtime yesterday?”
Rajani darkened with anger. “I was hopping mad yesterday. You know I especially made the chole for Pakhi because she had been craving for it? Everyone had it for dinner and it was just fine. But when I got it to office it was awfully salty.”
“So you think your MIL put the salt in it.”
“I don’t think, I know!” Rajani was bitter. “She was furious at dinner time when everyone praised my cooking.”
“But you have no proof. You shouldn’t have yelled at her like that. After all you have to live in that house. She wouldn’t have taken such an earful from her DIL lying down did she?”
Rajani drooped. “No. I guess not. I should have handled it more diplomatically. She was upset especially because she heard the others talking in the background.”
“So, how did she extract her pound of flesh?”
Rajani sighed. “She went off to some friend’s house last evening and came back late at night.”
“That sounds too good to be true!” Tanya laughed.
“Yeah.” Rajani made a moue. “I didn’t have the house keys. And she didn’t leave it at the neighbors either.”
“So you were homeless until she came?”
“What did you do?”
“What could I do? I tried calling her but she refused to pick my phone and my husband said it wasn’t possible for either of them to come home early. So I just hung around until she came at 9 p.m.”
“You should have gone for a movie.”
“I could have but I was scared to go alone.”
“If you’re scared you shouldn’t have thrown a tantrum at the first place. And if you did you should have stuck to your guns and not given her the satisfaction of seeing you waiting for her and at her mercy.”
Rajani heaved a sigh. “I suppose you are right. But then I thought she would be madder than ever before if she found that I was enjoying myself elsewhere, and who knows what plug she would pull this time. I simply cannot compete with her.”
“Also true. As the saying goes, if you live in the water you cannot afford to annoy the crocodile.”
Rajani giggled. “Not crocodile! Hippopotamus!”
“Hey! I love hippos.”
“Okay a croc with the body of a hippo. A hipcroc.” Rajani exploded with snorts and giggles.
Tanya couldn’t help joining in. She began packing up the lunch things. “Well anyway, time to go. Where are the others?” She looked at her watch.
“You didn’t tell me what happened with you?” Rajani poked Tanya again.
“Nothing much. Just that our son’s report card wasn’t too good and my husband got mad.”
“Oh! I hope he didn’t hit your son.” Rajani was worried.
“Oh no.” Tanya disclaimed. “He wasn’t angry with Suhail, he was mad at me.”
“You? But why?”
“For not being a good mother. For not overseeing Suhail and Tina.” Tanya pushed back her chair. “For watching TV. For not finding the right home and work balance.” Her lips twisted. “For being married to him. For existing.”
“Don’t say that please!” wailed Rajani.
“Well maybe not for existing.” Tanya smiled but her eyes were bleak. “But sometimes it does seem like that.”
“Hi!” Avantika popped into the lunchroom. “Look what I got!” She held up a packet. “Jalebis!” She looked around. “Isn’t Pakhi back from her check up? She’s been dying to have some hot crisp jalebis.”
“I guess she must be coming soon.” Rajani said.
“Have some.” Avantika offered.
“Oh no.” Rajani refused. “Let Pakhi…”
“I got for her too…oh there she is! Pakhi!” She sang out holding up her goodie bag. “Jalebiiiiiis.”
“To hell with your jalebis.” Pakhi burst into heartrending sobs.
The girls gathered around her murmuring consoling soothing words.
“Why isn’t everyone back at their workstations yet Tanya?” Aditi came in carrying her lunch.
“Sorry. We are just going. Pakhi…” she nodded towards the hysterically sobbing girl.
“Control yourself Pakhi.” Aditi said unemotionally. She waited a few seconds before cracking the whip. “Pakhi.”
Pakhi gulped and blubbered noisily before settling down to sniffling and hiccupping softly. “Go and wash your face.” Aditi ordered, “And come back here for lunch. The rest of you go back to work.”
Reluctantly they shuffled back whispering amongst themselves. Rajani was in tears and Avanitika too looked close to tears.
“I hope the baby is fine.” Rajani worried.
“Oh that must be it!” Avantika looked at Tanya. “The doctor must have said something…”
“But then she wouldn’t have come to office,” objected Tanya, “then she would have been ordered bed rest.”
Fretting Rajani wandered to her seat and attempted to focus on her work. But then Pakhi’s sobs still echoed in her heart. And on top of it a buzzing humming sound hovered incessantly over her head.
Oh no not again Rajani groaned silently.
The last few days, Nidhi had been frequenting the vacant workstation right next to her seat. It was secluded, isolated and had the best network reception in the entire office. Plus it had a landline connection. Giridhar often came here to vent out his feelings to the unfortunate publisher or any other hapless soul who may have been the victim of his ire. Rajani sat in frozen shock and awe as Giridhar raved and ranted into the phone at the top of his voice, “I feel like putting my hand in through the telephone, catching you by the throat and strangling you.”
Rajani of course vacillated between horrified shock and an intense desire to giggle but Mr Bansal the Chief looked pleased as Punch – Ahh here was someone who was actually earning his salary.
Following her hasty wedding, Nidhi often frequented this space, whispering like a buzzing bee distracting and annoying Rajani no end. But it was worse when Nidhi was audible and the conversation went something like this.
What should I cook for you this evening?
No you tell!
You are too much.
Something special? Like what?
Oh! Stop it.
Oh! The things you say.
Shush. What will people say?
No, there isn’t anybody around me.
But that is scandalous!
Okay I have to go now.
But first say it.
No you say it.
Okay we’ll say it together.
I better go now.
Even I want to talk to you but work calls.
Ok. I promise I will pay the penalty this evening.
Yes special penalty.
Yes whatever you say.
I miss you.
I miss you more.
I love you.
I love you more.
See you soon.
And so on and so forth it went until Rajani gagged and was ready to tear her hair out.
Just like you all for more reasons than one I guess! 😉
Click here for the next chapter: Resolutions