“Congratulations!” Pakhi and Avantika landed up at the hospital.
Rajani’s wan pale face lit up. She struggled to sit up.
“Relax!” They pushed her back. “How are you? Where’s the baby?”
“She’s in the nursery. She’ll be back soon.” Rajani leaned against the pillow.
Avantika looked around. “You are alone? Nobody with you?”
“Harsha’s gone with the nurse to the nursery.”
“No one else? What about your parents?”
“My parents were here. They left this morning. Papa has a new job.”
“But someone lady should be here! To help you feed, go to the loo.” Avantika protested. “We went to visit Nidhi and the hospital was jam packed…”
Pakhi nudged her. “That is also not good for the baby!”
Rajani nodded gratefully. “Yes. Harsha doesn’t like too many people around for fear of infection.”
“So he’s happy?”
“And you? Are you happy that you have your baby girl?” Avantika asked.
“Yes. But she’s dark like me. I wish she was fairer like her father.”
“What nonsense Rajani.” Pakhi snapped. “You are lucky Tanya or Aditi Maam aren’t here. They would have chewed your head off.”
“I’m just thinking about her future.” Rajani defended herself. “What people…”
“Bloody hell!” Pakhi stomped out of the room.
Avantika nodded reassuringly at Rajani and rushed out after Pakhi and returned with her.
“I’m sorry Pakhi.” Rajani apologized abjectly. “I shouldn’t be putting conditions. If I do it…” she choked and swallowed tears.
“Did anyone say something?” Avantika asked.
“Oh here comes my baby.” Rajani held out her arms and asked rather defensively. “Well?”
“So cute!” they chorused. “Congratulations.”
They wished Harsha as Rajani introduced them. Rajani gestured to Harsha who nodded and left the room. “She’s so tiny. Nidhi’s baby is bigger isn’t she?” Avantika said.
“Stop comparing!” Pakhi flared up. “Another thing I hate.”
“Okay fine!” Avantika rolled her eyes at Rajani. “You don’t have to be so militant about every little thing.” She paused. “If you’re not careful you’ll end up just like BBW.”
“So what’s wrong with that? The world needs more of her kind.”
“Have you come here to visit Rajani and her new baby or fight with us?” Avantika turned to Rajani and her baby. “So what’s her name?”
“We were thinking Anisha.”
“Aww. That’s a sweet name!” Pakhi smiled knowingly. “And a nice mix of Rajani and Harsha right?”
Rajani blushed and nodded.
“But she looks exactly like you!” Pakhi cooed over the baby firmly clamping down on her rising tide of emotions.” She straightened. “Oh I almost forgot. We got a gift for the baby, from all of us at the office.”
“Thanks so much.” Rajani flushed with pleasure.
“And some chocolates for you.” Avantika dug it out from her bag. “We wanted to get sweets but we thought there would be a surplus of sweets,” she looked around and trailed off at Rajani’s expression.
“Harsha’s gone to get sweets for you people.” Rajani smiled brightly. “Ani doesn’t much care for sweets and that’s why we also…” she began rocking the fussing baby.
“Harsha’s gone to get sweets for us?” Avantika was surprised. “But…” she trailed off as Pakhi nudged her, “but the chocolates are just for you.” She continued smoothly as she slipped the packet under her pillow. “Okay fine!” she said mock sternly, “you may share them with our darling Anisha.”
Rajani’s expression cleared and she smiled at her beautiful daughter. “How’s Nidhi? And her daughter?”
“They are fine.” Avantika looked at Pakhi who rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Uff Avi! You and your imagination.”
“It’s not my imagination!” Avi protested. “Come on! You also noticed…”
“It’s too early to say anything!” Pakhi objected.
“Oh yeah?” Avantika sneered. “Didn’t you just say Anisha looks exactly like Rajani?”
“What are you girls talking about?” Rajani looked curiously at the two arguing.
Pakhi sighed, “Avi thinks that…”
“…and Pakhi also agrees but refuses to admit…”
“Oh shut up both of you!” Rajani snapped, “and come to the point will you? Harsha will be here any moment.”
“Nidhi’s baby looks exactly like Vijay.” Avantika watched with interest the changing expressions on Rajani’s face.
“No!” she gasped when the penny dropped.
“Yes.” Mocked Avantika. “See.” She scrolled through her gallery and showed the photograph.
Rajani stared silently at the telling snap. “Just a coincidence.” She said weakly.
“Coincidence my foot!” Avantika dismissed. “Don’t you remember her cribbing how everyone was blaming her for not conceiving when actually her hubby’s sperm counts were very low?”
“Yes but then she got her aunt to make ‘gond ke laddu’…” Rajani said.
“Gond ke laddu!” Avantika sneered. “If they are so effective why don’t they patent it and sell it to couples flocking the fertility clinics?”
Rajani’s heart thudded. Harsha stood behind wearing an accusatory look on his face. God knows what he thought! “Perhaps they should. At least Nidhi benefitted.” She clarified. Harsha kept the box of sweets and left the room. “Please have sweets.” She offered clamping down ruthlessly on her rising feeling of dread. She wished she could join her daughter and wail out loud. He could go to hell.
“Why is she crying?” They were concerned. “Does she need changing? Feeding?”
“I don’t know.” Rajani felt helpless and, she was ashamed to admit to even herself, trapped.
Thankfully the Sister came bustling in and shooed them away.
Days and nights rolled into one endless cycle of feed change rock feed the monotony broken by intermittent peaks of extreme panic and despair. Where was all the joy, euphoria and love that had made her undergo all the torture and humiliation? Had she made a mistake? Perhaps Pakhi had taken the right decision. NO! Her poor baby. She couldn’t think that. Not in a million years. But she yearned to sleep. Undisturbed. For a night. For a couple of hours. For a minute. A few seconds. If only somebody would take care of her baby. Maybe if she went to Chandigarh. But nobody was free to go and drop her. Not even her MIL who was ever ready for some free travel. Rekha had a new job and she needed her mother to look after her kids. And now that Rajani was on maternity leave, she was free to go and stay with Rekha for best results.
“May as well go now,” Sunaina said cuddling Anisha, “later it will be just you and me right? Enjoy your Mamma while she flies off to her office.” She looked at Rajani. “In any case there’s not much to be done with such a small baby. Just feed and change. And the cook will come. You can order groceries over phone. So you can rest and relax as much as you want with no MIL to harangue and harass you.” She tittered.
Rajani smiled weakly wondering how she was going to cope with a newborn baby but also catering to the exacting requirements of two men. One wanted black tea other milk tea, one wanted fresh juice other wanted sprouted salads for breakfast. She was constantly on the phone ordering items or answering doorbells, with Anisha in her arms.
“Why don’t you ask your mother to come and stay with us?” Harsha was concerned enough to suggest.
Hassled and harassed, Rajani jumped at the offer. But Nisha was strangely reluctant.
“Oh Rani, how can I stay at your in-laws place? What will everybody say?”
“Oh please Mamma, don’t keep saying that!” Rajani snapped. “Nobody has the time to say anything. Besides Harsha only suggested that I ask you to come over.”
“But what will your in-laws think?” Nisha objected.
“So long as they don’t have to spend money they don’t care. Mamma please come.” Rajani pleaded.
“It will be so awkward staying in the same house as your FIL and your MIL not even at home.” Nisha fussed.
“If MIL was here I wouldn’t need to call you over. And you needn’t come out of the room while he is home. You take care of Ani, I’ll manage the rest…”
“But how will your Papa manage alone?”
“So many excuses Mamma.” Rajani was bitter. “You took care of Lucky when Bhai and Bhabhi went off to Canada. Can’t you do this much for me?”
“That’s different beta. Besides I didn’t have a choice.”
“Well I’m not giving you a choice either. I’m booking your train ticket. If Papa is a problem, get him along. I don’t care. I just want to sleep Mamma.” Rajani broke down.
“I’m sorry beta but after our insult we aren’t comfortable going to your place.” Nisha confided.
“Insult?” Rajani stiffened.
“When we had gone over for your delivery and we stayed at your place for one night. Such rudeness, such inhospitality! We swore never to go to your place again.”
“And yet you expect me to spend the rest of my life here?”
“That’s your home, your destiny you have to bear it.” Nisha defended and attacked. “If only you had given birth to a boy.”
There wasn’t much to say after that but cope as well as she could. When Tanya called up to say she wouldn’t get more than six weeks of paid leave, Rajani was quite relieved and happy to join work.
She would finally get some much-needed rest.