“Okay so I did a bit of homework and there are several viable options for you,” Pakhi said encouragingly. “Have you considered confronting Harsha asking for a divorce upfront?”
Rajani paled. “I couldn’t! What if he agrees? What if he…”
“What do you mean Rajani?” Pakhi was taken aback. “You still want to continue with him?”
Rajani faltered. “No…I didn’t mean it like that. Where would I go? My parents would never agree. And all said and done he is Ani’s father. Is it right to deprive her of her father’s care?”
“Oh please Rajani!” Pakhi was exasperated, “don’t you go all principled and self-sacrificing for Anisha. You think you’ll be able to give her a happy upbringing if you are unhappy and depressed?”
“And what if the court gives Ani’s custody to…to him?” Rajani wore a hunted look.
“It won’t.” Pakhi was confident. “The court prefers to give minors to mothers…”
But Rajani wasn’t convinced. “But what if he can prove that he is a better position to take care of her? He has his entire family with him, while my parents aren’t. How will I prove that I can work and take care of her?”
“The court will direct him to pay money…”
“But until then where will I stay? If I file a court case, I need a place to stay until the divorce is finalized isn’t it?”
“We’ll rent a place for you, find a PG…”
“Oh! Maybe I could stay with you?” Rajani was hopeful.
“Sorry,” Pakhi shook her head regretfully, “I asked but they don’t allow married girls to stay there. One girl whose husband is abroad has hidden the fact that she’s married.”
“I can’t hide Anisha can I?” Rajani was in despair.
“Why don’t you call one of the myriad helpline numbers for women?” Pakhi quickly surfed through the net and handed her a couple of numbers. “Go on and speak with them. Maybe they have shelters for women with…”
“I can’t stay with them! I don’t know what kind of people, facilities they offer. What if Anisha falls ill? They will have a stronger case against me.”
“Talk to them at least,” Pakhi urged, “at least find out what your options are?”
Reluctantly and with trepidation Rajani dialed the helpline number. Pakhi hovered anxiously as Rajani narrated her woes to the faceless person on the phone. She put down the phone.
“Well?” Pakhi asked eagerly. “Do they have working women’s hostel?”
“Only for single women. Not for children.”
“What are your options then?”
“She said since you have a child, it would be better to adjust.”
“Yes. Especially since she is a girl.”
“She clearly has no clue how to deal with such cases.” Blasted Pakhi. “What’s her name? I’ll lodge a complaint…”
“No Pakhi,” Rajani was dejected but firm, “she said without any parental support it’s an impossible path.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” Pakhi furious. “She doesn’t know anything. Useless woman.” She fumed. “We’ll rent a house for you. Ask your parents to come to Delhi and stay here for you.”
“They won’t Pakhi. They won’t.” Rajani raised tortured eyes to Pakhi. “They are terrified of court, police…”
“…basically of moving out of their comfortable lives.” Snapped Pakhi.
Rajani reluctantly nodded her head. “I know I am not strong enough to go for it myself. I also know that I cannot risk losing Anisha. She is the only one that matters. And that leaves me only one option…to adjust and compromise.” She choked.
“There has to be a solution! You can’t take the easy way out and say you are not strong. If you can take their nonsense you are strong enough to go if on your own,” exhorted Pakhi. “We’ll find a rented accommodation for you, file a case, shift there and I am sure your parents will join you once you take that step.”
“What if they don’t?”
“Then I’ll join you there!” Pakhi refused to take no for an answer. “Will that be okay then?”
Rajani nodded, albeit half-heartedly. Her instincts weren’t supporting this decision. Taking Ani’s responsibility single-handedly! What if she asked for her father? What if she fell ill in the middle of the night and had to be taken to the hospital? That day when Riteish had dropped her to the hospital, she had got a taste of managing a sick child alone in a hospital in the one hour that it took for Harsha to arrive. Paperwork, arranging for admission, medicines all with a sick child clinging to her, demanding her father, and not allowing her to even visit the washroom. She hadn’t been able to manage one hour how would she manage a lifetime?
Yet an independent place to stay was nothing short of heaven. If Pakhi were to be there, perhaps her parents would be embarrassed enough to shift in. The constriction around her chest eased, she could breathe. Then there would be no problem.
“Here,” Pakhi had been busy, “these are the list of brokers around here. It would be ideal if you stay near the office right?”
“Good,” Pakhi said briskly, “I have found out a crèche nearby as well. You can check in on her during lunch time as well.” She smiled encouragingly. “So let’s start by calling the broker. Try this one.”
The couple of brokers she called up were helpful and cooperative. Rajani and Pakhi sneaked off an hour early from office to view their options.
“Who’s going to stay?” asked the elderly uncle-like broker.
“We.” Pakhi said aggressively. “Why?”
He shook his head. “I would advise you both to go for a PG accommodation…”
“My parents would also be joining in.” Rajani asserted herself.
“Then get your father along. House-hunting is not children’s work, especially not girls.”
“What’s your problem Uncleji?” Rajani protested. “We have money and are not precisely children. We are both married…”
“Then get your husbands along…”
“Why do we have to get them? Why can’t we…” Rajani snapped.
“Listen to me beta,” the broker interrupted kindly, “this is not a woman’s job. Trust me, I have been in this business for the past 30 years. Not once has a girl come looking for a place to stay alone. A PG would be best for you…”
“I told you my parents would come! They are in Chandigarh…”
“Houses are not running away and neither am I. Come with him.” The broker sat back in his chair.
They looked at him in frustration. “I don’t understand your problem Uncleji,” Rajani felt cornered, “but your wish,” she sneered, “there are other brokers too.” She threatened not so subtly. “Come Pakhi let’s go.”
“That’s the problem with today’s generation,” the broker rued, “Discourteous and impatient. On tiny problem and you want to run away…”
“What do you know what problem has brought us here?” Pakhi was incensed.
“Listen to me beta,” the broker sat up, “No matter how difficult things are at home at least you are safe. Do you think life is like the movies where you can rent a place at the drop of a hat? I am your father’s age and I have two daughters your age. But not all brokers are like me. They are young ambitious and aggressive. On the pretext of showing you a place what if he locks the empty house from inside?”
He nodded at the look of dawning shock and horror on their faces. “Yes. Even if there are two of you, you wont be able to do anything. Once they sense your weakness they will set a trap for you, keep a few friends waiting inside…”
The girls didn’t wait for more they turned on their heels and fled.