“Why are you so late!?” hissed Pakhi as Rajani sneaked into office just before lunch. “Watch out BBW is on the warpath.”
Rajani ducked her head and went straight to her desk.
Pakhi stared at her perplexed and with a sinking feeling. There was something wrong, seriously wrong. She hesitated before determinedly walking towards Rajani.
“Don’t have any work?” Aditi steely voice stopped her in her tracks. She slunk back to her seat and waited impatiently for lunch.
“Come for lunch Rajani.” She stood over her head.
“I am not hungry.” Rajani refused without looking up. “I have a lot of work, better do it during lunch hour.”
“Fine I’ll sit here and have my lunch.” Pakhi pulled a chair and opened her lunchbox.
“Don’t! You’ll get into trouble. You know you aren’t supposed to eat here.”
Pakhi shrugged. “Who’s to see? Tanya is on leave and BBW is out on a meeting. Besides today I got my breakfast as lunch. Stuffed parathas.” She held out a rolled paratha to Rajani. “Go on have it.”
Rajani shook her head. “I’m not hungry.”
“Liar!” Pakhi pounced. “I saw you swallow!” she teased. Rajani couldn’t help grinning. “Go on, I got extra for you.” She bit off a large piece. “Try this pickle. It’s really yummy,” she mumbled through a full mouth.
“Thanks.” Rajani gave in and forgot her woes enough to enjoy her meal and giggle as Pakhi played the fool and imitated her hostel warden on the warpath for having left the fan running.
“What’s that?” Pakhi gasped staring at Rajani.
Rajani paled and draped her slipping dupatta carefully around her neck. “Nothing.” She mumbled.
Pakhi raised a hand and pulled at the dupatta. There were bruises around her neck. “How…?”
“Tried to hang yourself Rajani?” Aditi stood behind them.
“No!” Rajani shot to her feet. “I would never do that to Ani.”
Aditi and Pakhi waited.
“Harsha…he lost his temper,” Rajani finally choked.
Aditi waved a hand at Pakhi who put an arm around Rajani and made her sit down. “What happened?” Aditi asked gently.
When Rajani didnt reply, Pakhi burst out and filled Aditi in on Harsha’s preferences and her parents’ stick in the mud attitude and Rohan’s offer for mediation.
“I see.” Aditi was remarkably calm. “And what exactly happened to provoke this?” she pointed.
Rajani swallowed and the words came tumbling out. “Rohan had a long talk with Harsha. He told me Harsha was understanding and had promised to work out things between us. He then left for Bengaluru.”
“Then?” Prompted Pakhi.
“After he left Harsha yelled at me for sharing private and personal details with others. I also lost my temper and gave it all back to him. I demanded that he give me a divorce and custody of Ani otherwise I was going to court…and with his condition the court would surely grant my plea. He said I could do as I pleased but I one thing led to another and before I knew it he had his hands around my throat and was choking the life out of me.”
“Wasn’t there anybody else in the house?” Aditi asked.
“Everyone was there – MIL, FIL…”
“Nobody said anything? Did anything?”
“My mother-in-law pulled at him, screaming. He was so angry that he pushed her and she hit her head on the door.”
“Then my FIL came out and yelled at Harsha. He walked out of the house.”
“You should have also walked out.” Aditi said. “Filed an FIR.”
“How could I?” Rajani pleaded. “My mother-in-law was hysterical so was Ani and my father-in-law was yelling at me to get ice, water, medicine…”
“You should have told them to go to hell,” Pakhi said fiercely.
“You can still go to the police station.” Aditi said. “If you like I can come with you.”
Rajani was silent.
“I did go to the police station.” Rajani confessed. “I wish I hadn’t.”
“It was such a scary alien place. It took me hours to make a complaint and Ani was very cranky and irritable. The lady police was very sympathetic but advised me to sort it out with my husband or call my parents.” She fell silent.
“Rajani?” Pakhi gently prodded her.
“She called her parents and they convinced her to withdraw her complaint.” Aditi said cynically.
Rajani raised dull blank eyes to Aditi. “Actually I didn’t need to call them. They called me. My in-laws had already called them. My mother screamed at me and my father threatened to commit suicide if I didn’t withdraw my complaint.”
“And you fell for that?” Aditi snorted.
Rajani shrugged helplessly. “He’s my father. I…I love him, even if he doesn’t. I can’t…”
“Can’t you see he’s bluffing?” Aditi said pityingly.
“What if he’s not? I wouldn’t be able to live with it.”
“You’d be surprised at what all you can live with.” Aditi said grimly.
“But Rajani,” Pakhi added her two bits, “Can you live with this? Being afraid for your life? Being a slave to your in-laws?”
“I don’t see any other option. Can you?”
“Its all that Rohan’s fault,” fumed Pakhi, “if he had not mislead you, given you false hope you would have never provoked Harsha into losing his temper…”
“That’s what my parents said. That it was my fault for provoking Harsha.” Rajani said dully.
“Oh Rajji!” Pakhi gave her a quick hug. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it like that. I blame Rohan. At least Harsha wasn’t as violent before this. Harsha didn’t dare say anything to his cousin so he took it out on you.”
“I am also furious at Rohan.” Rajani admitted. “Ever since he tried to play moderator, Harsha has become bolder, ruder and meaner. Every other night he goes out for dinner and returns late at night, no questions asked or entertained. With his violent nature coming to the fore I don’t dare provoke him, what if he hits Ani?” Rajani shuddered.
“Bloody hell!” Pakhi clenched her fists and swore. “Did you talk to Rohan?”
“What did he say?”
“He was horrified and very sorry. He couldn’t believe his brother could be so violent. He offered all support.”
“He felt so guilty that he offered to find a rented place for me in their apartment complex in Bengaluru.” Rajani paused. “I could work at his office.”
“Sounds great!” Pakhi said excitedly. “Maybe you should take up his offer.”
“Maybe.” Rajani said.
“He didn’t ask you to leave Anisha?” Aditi asked.
Rajani shook her head. “He suggested sending her to the hostel.”
Aditi gave a mirthless laugh. “So that the coast is clear.”
Rajani looked blankly at Pakhi before flushing a deep red. “You…mean…?” Rajani clapped a hand to her mouth her eyes wide and horrified.
Aditi shrugged. “Another man’s protective instincts coming to the fore. Besides you are a fruit ripe for the picking and your Rohan is a kind man, he feels sorry for you and is ready to help you however that might be, whatever the cost might be.”
Rajani and Pakhi looked at each other puzzled. There was something off in the words and her tone.
“Don’t you get it?” They shook their heads.
“Poor Rajani,” Aditi’s tone was mocking, “poor poor Rajani. The virginal bride, deprived and denied the pleasures of life, oh so not fair. It was his duty to help her, give her what she was so desperate for.” Aditi shrugged. “If Harsha couldn’t, well he could…”
The chair grated as Rajani shot to her feet. “Maam please!”
“Somebody has to tell you the facts of life Rajani. They are all vultures Rajani, circling and hovering waiting patiently for the right moment to peck at your flesh.”
Rajani’s stomach heaved and she felt like throwing up. Rohan was such a nice guy! Surely Ma’am couldn’t be right?
“Go home Rajani.” A horrified Pakhi urged. “Anything is better than this. If you landed up your parents wouldn’t throw you out I am sure. At least you will be safe. So what if they scold and yell at you? They’ve been doing that for years, since you’ve been born. What’s a bit more? Go to your parents Rajani, go to Chandigarh.” If Pakhi had her way she would have packed her off right there and then.
“You don’t understand Pakhi.” Rajani shook her head despairingly. “I’ve had this conversation a zillion times with my parents. They have only two options for me – shut up and bear it or leave Ani and go home so that they can get me married off to someone else.”
“Don’t listen to them. Go home and stay put.”
“I can’t. They are rude and mean to my daughter. My mother curses her and wishes her dead, while my father…”
“What about your father?”
Rajani gave a mirthless laugh. “He’s very supportive and scolds my mother for saying such things. He said don’t worry beta, you can leave that good for nothing fiend whenever you like and move in with us. Let him and his little girl rot in hell.”
Pakhi banged her fist on the table. “Bloody hell! She swore rubbing her sore hand. “I swear Rajji I could happily murder your father.” She ground out.
“There’s a third option.” Aditi said. “Take the help of the law, and file an FIR against both your in-laws and parents.”
“Where would I stay? I couldn’t file an FIR and stay with my in-laws could I?”
“Why not? That is legally your house too and you could always request the police to send a lady constable to oversee your security.”
Rajani sighed and nodded. “I did fix an appointment with the lawyer. Although I doubt if I would be able to go against my parents as well.”
“There comes a time when forbearance ceases to be a virtue.” Aditi quoted Burke.
A/N Dear friends thanks for sticking along for so long. I understand that things are very bleak, desperate and depressing so I thought of giving you a heads up. I finally found some time and rough drafted the remaining chapters. And the good news is that I hope to finish Moonshine in 10 chapters (although I reserve the right for a few plus/minus chapters as I am not quite sure how garrulous or taciturn Aditi is going to turn out to be). Have a wonderful weekend and hope you will spare a few minutes to share your thoughts.