A long weekend followed by Rajani’s impromptu visit to Chandigarh delayed the next council of war by almost a week.
“Everything okay at home?” Pakhi asked worriedly.
“Yes.” Rajani said noncommittally.
“So what’s the update? Did you go to the lawyer?” Tanya asked whilst laying out the spread.
“I did.” Rajani eyes were unnaturally large in her face and her cheekbones stood out in sharp relief. “He charged Rs 20k to tell me things were not as simple and next to impossible for a single mother. Divorce was not a problem, custody was. I should, he insisted call a male relative to stand next to me. Without my father or brother, even the judge would be unfavorably disposed towards me besides making my case weaker especially with regard to custody of Anisha unless it was an amicable and uncontested divorce.”
“So what did you say?” Pakhi asked with foreboding as she heard another door shut with a dismal clang.
“I couldn’t say much because it turned out that he knew Kuldeep, Harsha’s brother-in-law.” She took a deep breath. “In fact since Kuldeep is a divorce lawyer, he suggested that I consult him, ask him to mediate and try to settle it out of court.”
“Strange sort of a lawyer,” Aditi commented cynically, “handing over his easy money to another.”
“And just your luck Rajani to land up with such a lawyer.” Groaned Pakhi. “Get some pooja or havan done!” she advised. “Always some hitch or the other.”
“They all probably have some unwritten code of not taking or at least knowingly taking cases involving colleagues.” Tanya said distressed at the hunted look on Rajani. “Did you talk to Kuldeep?”
“Last Monday, Kuldeep had come home to drop off the kids because it was a holiday. On the pretext of some work I requested a ride to the market and on the way, asked him for help.”
“Oh. What did he say?”
“He stopped the car and listened to me. I told him everything, not that he didn’t know,” Rajani said woodenly, “but I thought it best to clarify about Harsha’s preference for men, his late night parties, constant chats, his growing meanness, rudeness and violence. How his mother abused me, deprived me and often barred my entry to the kitchen. Once there was no water to drink even and even Anisha isn’t spared. How she cribs and grumbles over the cost of ghee, and milk bills.”
“Then nothing.” Rajani was pale. “He was kind, gentle and understanding. He said he was getting late for a court case and that he would talk to me later.”
Pakhi smiled encouragingly at her and held up crossed fingers. “Let’s hope for the best.”
Rajani’s eyes flickered.
“What are you hiding?” Aditi was suspicious.
“Nothing.” Rajani shook her head.
“Then why did you go to Chandigarh?” Tanya also questioned.
“And if you did why did you come back?!” Pakhi exclaimed. “I was so hopeful that you had finally taken the call and walked out. Something did happen last week didn’t it?” She asked with sudden certainty.
“It’s all my fault.” Rajani’s voice wobbled. “I should have taken a stand earlier. Much much earlier. Now…” she couldn’t speak further.
“Come on Rajani!” Tanya put an arm around her and hugged her close. “Don’t you know it is never too late?” Rajani shook her head. “I’ve no options left but to…” she trailed off.
Pakhi shook her. “Rajani! You are scaring me. What happened? Tell us. Is Anisha okay?”
Rajani raised bleak eyes to her. “I’m a horrible mother. Sometimes I wish…she…she… she…then I could just end it all.” She burst into tears.
“Then do it!” Aditi voice cracked. “Of what use are tears?!!!! Bloody nonsense.” She spat and walked about agitatedly.
“Shush Rajani. Shush.” Tanya gently comforted her. “Keep your chin up dear. You’ve been terribly brave so far. I’m sure you’ll tide over this obstacle too.” Tanya looked pleadingly at Aditi as she opened her mouth to make another scathing remark but chomped down on it and contented herself by gnashing her teeth. Seeing Rajani’s pathetic state, Pakhi also began to blubber.
“Come on Rajani control yourself. Please! Just look at Pakhi.” Tanya also sniffed. Rajani made a heroic effort to control herself. Tanya handed her a glass of water. “Now calm down and tell us what happened. Don’t keep it bottled up.”
“Last weekend was awful,” Rajani sniffled. “My MIL and I had a big argument and she attacked me for maligning her son and their entire family. I also counterattacked for ruining our lives for getting her son married when she knew he was gay. She then said that if he was gay then Ani couldn’t be his daughter and accused me of being a woman of loose morals. I was flabbergasted and before I could retaliate and say that he was gay not impotent or infertile she demanded that I produce a son.”
“Is she crazy or what?”
“Exactly what I said to her. I said there was no connection between one or the other. And besides I couldn’t produce a son out of thin air, it was her son who was interested in men but before I could complete the sentence she said…she said all that didn’t matter so long as I was willing and…and that…that Kuldeep was also willing.”
There was dead silence.
“You mean Harsha.” Tanya corrected.
“No.” Rajani said. “Kuldeep.”
“W…what the hell!?” Pakhi screeched. “She is completely mad.” She crumpled the newspaper that served as their tablecloth and tore it into bits all but frothing at the mouth. “Send her to the mental hospital.”
“What did Harsha say?” Tanya was equally horrified.
“He isn’t here.” Rajani said woodenly. “He’s gone to Singapore.”
“Ohhhh!” The entire ‘tablecloth’ went flying along with Pakhi’s lunchbox spilling dal all over. “What kind of a person is she? Her own daughter’s husband! Wasn’t Rekha there? Didn’t she say anything?”
“She was there but in the other room. But when I confronted her, she said it was my fault. I was the one who cried on Kuldeep’s shoulder. It was his greatness and kindness that he was willing to step in…” Rajani choked.
“OMG!” Tanya clapped a hand to her mouth. “This has to be the worst nightmare ever.”
Rajani shook her head. “It isn’t over yet.”
“What are you saying?!!”
“I was furious and terrified. Harsha wasn’t there, neither was my father-in-law. What if Kuldeep came and…scared, at the first opportunity I walked out with Anisha. I went to ISBT and caught the first bus to Chandigarh. By the time I reached my MIL had already called up my parents and psyched them. My father’s blood pressure shot up and he had palpitations. My mother was hysterical and seeing her state, Anisha also threw a major tantrum. She vomited and had high fever. My mother shrieked and wailed incessantly with my father sobbing pathetically. This went on for two whole days.” Rajani was dry-eyed and unemotional.
“How awful.” Tanya commiserated.
“I told my parents everything and begged them to let me stay there but my father folded his hands and said they were too old and weak to take the responsibility of another girl. He begged me to go back. I screamed how can I after knowing they want me to sleep with their daughter’s husband? You know what he said?”
“What?” They gazed at her in horror.
“Can’t you do this much for your poor old father?”
There was a crash and a clatter. Aditi had walked off.
“No!” gasped Pakhi distressed.
“I walked out again and caught the bus back to Delhi. Harsha had come back, so had my FIL.”
“What did your husband say?”
“He didn’t believe me. He said I was lying and making up stories trying to malign his mother and sister.”
“What will you do now?”
“What can I do?” Rajani shrugged. “Just take precautions not to be alone.”
“This is untenable and unconscionable. This is not done. Just not done.” Tanya chanted shell-shocked and horrified.
Click here to read the next chapter – Of Parables and Parallels