“Guess what?” Avantika sang out as she tripped into office wearing a pretty blue and obviously new suit.
“You are getting married!” They shrieked and jumped up in excitement. “Your parents agreed? Finally! His parents agreed? Fantastic! When’s the date?” Avantika was smothered with questions, good wishes and hugs. She sparkled and laughed clearly on top of the world. “Wait! Wait!” her protests fell on deaf ears, “At least let me answer your questions!”
“First tell us how this miracle happened.” Rajani asked.
“It was a lot of hard work!” Avantika laughed with a glance at Pakhi. “Actually he got a job in Bengaluru…”
“Bengaluru!” Rajani cut in, “You’re going to Bengaluru?”
“Yep.” Avantika nodded, “that’s the price I have to pay.”
“And may it be the only one,” Aditi said with a sour expression. “I thought at least you had better sense.”
“Couldn’t keep away from the honey trap could you?” Aditi sighed.
“Don’t you worry Ma’am,” Avantika said a bit cheekily, “I’ll make sure he is on my side in this battle. I was the one to encourage him to move to Bengaluru – far from the madding crowd.” She bared her teeth.
“Good.” Aditi’s lips twitched. “Make sure to keep him dancing to your tunes.”
Aditi nodded and walked away.
“I wish you didn’t have to go away.” Rajani said glumly.
“Aww.” Avantika gave a quick hug. “We’ll stay in touch. And I’ll come to Delhi, meet my parents, in-laws you guys. But yes I will miss you all too, especially our lunches.”
“I thought you would say the gossip,” Pakhi joked.
“Oh that I intend to keep abreast of, never fear.” Avantika vowed. They laughed.
Avantika put in her papers and was married soon after. She moved to Bengaluru and despite her apprehensions, Rajani had no time to miss her. She was busy juggling career home and motherhood. Rajani felt as if she was constantly running and always late – either for office or for work. Battling guilt at not being able to do justice to either, she had attempted to raise the topic of her leaving her job and being a stay at home mum. She even offered to go back to taking tuition classes at home. Sunaina jumped at the suggestion. She clearly wasn’t quite the doting and willing grandmother for Anisha as she was for Akash and Dipika.
But Harsha would have none of it. “That would be foolish.”
“Foolish? But how?”
“Avantika has left. It’s a massive opportunity for you. You should ask that you be promoted to her post. After all you can write too. Or better offer to do both jobs.” Harsha explained. “For a price of course.”
“How’s that even possible Harsha? What about Anisha?”
“What about her? I am with her till almost noon every morning and then her grandmother is here. It’s not like she’s in a crèche or being taken care of by servants.”
“Harsha you don’t understand,” Rajani tried to control her rising annoyance at his deliberate obtuseness, “Mummyji is tired of playing Nanny. She also wants to be free to do as she likes…”
“So who’s stopping her? Anisha? She’s just a baby and Mummy loves her.”
“I’m not saying she doesn’t love her,” Rajani said evenly, “but she likes to go out with her friends, hold kitty parties, see movies and you have to admit all that is not really possible with Anisha.”
“Nonsense. I’ll speak to Mummy.”
“What’s the point of speaking to her if you don’t see her side? And tuitions pay very well these days. In fact Mummyji said she could get at least 6 or 7 students at the click of her fingers. What does that mean?”
“That she’s been exploring that angle. That she wants me to take care of Anisha. And it’s really not fair to expect her to bring up my baby. Besides I want to be there for Anisha.”
“You are there for her the whole night. What more do you want? Besides a job has it’s own advantages…”
“Like if we want to take a loan.” Rajani stared. “Your car loan is almost over. I was thinking of investing in a house…” he droned on and on about his plans future plans for them and Rajani tuned out. There was just no respite for her. She was getting sucked in deeper and deeper. On one side was the rising job pressure – the office business wasn’t doing well, she needed to work harder, everybody did, they couldn’t afford to hire another person in Avantika’s place, Tanya, Aditi and Rajani would have to divide her work amongst themselves, put in longer hours if necessary. And on the other hand, by 5 pm, her MIL would begin calling her up with diverse queries and information. Rajani was hard put to read the subtext. Where was the thermometer? Anisha was fussing. May be she was coming down with something. Maybe some fresh air would do her good. If only she had a car, she could taken her out for a ride. The baby feed had finished, could she order from the local chemist? There was an impromptu dinner party. Rajani should swing by the Monday market to buy vegetables at wholesale prices. And fruits too. Especially watermelon. And while she was there, may as well veggies for Rekha as well. Poor thing didn’t even have a car of her own. And she had two demanding school going kids. Rajani was lucky she didn’t have to bother with homework like Rekha did. And why just two kids, poor Rekha had 20 kids. The job of a teacher was never done. Poor thing…. Sunaina went on and on until Rajani was dizzy and wanted to scream. She couldn’t breathe, she felt as if she were being slowly strangled. She slept fitfully with reiterating dreams of climbing endless and ever-increasing flight of stairs. Her legs ached and her heart thudded as she strived harder and harder. Would they never end? She despaired.
If she ever reached the top she would jump off, she swore.
“You look terrible,” Riteish was brutal. “Take an off. Take some rest.”
Rajani shook her head. “I get more rest at the office than at home.”
Riteish stared. Rajani flushed and looked away. “It’s true.” She said a bit defiantly. “In the office I can put my head down for a bit and no one would even mention it. But at home there’s no scope to even sit.” She yawned deeply.
“But…but that’s… that’s impossible!” Riteish burst out trying to match Rajani home sketch to the image he had embedded in his head.
“Haven’t you heard? Nothing’s impossible.” Rajani said. “Home is different for men and women.”
Riteish flinched at the raw anguish in her eyes. “That’s not true!” he said defensively. “Shweta is free to rest and do as she likes. We never force her to do anything. Half the days she doesn’t emerge from her room until evening, nobody says anything. And my mother is the one who cooks her favorite dishes and coaxes her to take a bite.”
“If only I had a mother-in-law like that.”