The next few days passed without any untoward occurrence and Rajani was lulled into a sense of security. Aditi was her usual cool composed self and Rajani found it hard to believe that she could ever be in such a situation or that she had shared it with her. Perhaps she had dreamed it up. Perhaps Harsha was right. All those sleeping pills were finally taking their toll. She was hallucinating. Perhaps she had had dreamed up Kuldeep’s incidence as well. No mother would allow her daughter’s married life to be spoiled like this. No father would suggest his daughter should…everyone couldn’t be wrong could they?
She was wrong. She was demanding, she didn’t know how to adjust, or compromise, she was a spoiled brat who was over-sensitive and read too much into non-existent things. Well she would be better she would try harder. Where there’s a will there’s a way isn’t that what they said? Well she would try harder to be better, to adjust and compromise – walk the tightrope and not fly off the handle at the least imagined slight.
If Kuldeep cracked a risqué joke she laughed as well, if he sat too close to her on the sofa, she tried not to be too obvious about her discomfort. If her mother-in-law made pointed remarks about wanting a son in the presence of Kuldeep and absence of Harsha she passed it off as a sign of her hyperactive imagination and oversensitive nature. She would be the good silent girl. A dumb person has no enemies – her mother had drilled it into her since her childhood. Perhaps she should do what her mother advocated – smile and be silent. Let the world say or do what they wanted. She wouldn’t give them any scope to turn this into a battle of wills or egos – and if there was no battle no altercation, she would be safe and of course Ani.
“Hey Rani!” Kuldeep loomed large at the doorway. “What are you doing in the kitchen?”
“Making dinner for Ani.” She stiffened but replied politely.
“Oh! Don’t you breastfeed her?” Rajani’s hand stilled. Be silent Rani. Don’t overreact. It doesn’t mean anything. She chanted to herself as she continued stirring the pan. “Don’t you know that the longer children are breastfed the healthier they are?”
“Excuse me,” Rajani swiftly ladled the steaming khichdi into a bowl and attempted to pass him, “Ani’s crying let me….”
“Breastfeed her.” A blast of alcohol fumes hit her in the face. “It is the most beautiful sight and long since I saw…” There was a crash and Rajani dropped the bowl of hot kichdi on Kuldeep’s foot. He howled and hopped on one foot Rajani pushed him and grabbed Ani and ran into their bedroom. She securely locked it and switched on the TV at a loud volume to distract Ani who was hungry and cranky. Shaking and shivering she picked up her phone and called Harsha but there was no reply. She called him over and over again and even toyed with the idea of dialing 100 but she couldn’t. What could she say? Why would they believe her? What if they accused her of throwing herself at him? She was one and they were many. And what about Ani? No she couldn’t. But she couldn’t take this nonsense any more. She couldn’t breathe. Where was Harsha? Why did he never pick up her phone? And even if he did would he be of any use?
“Rajani, open the door.” It was Harsha! Relieved she opened the door. “Where were you?!” she screamed at him. “I called and called….”
“Yeah so?” He snarled back. She flinched. Harsha had also been drinking? Since when did he drink? “What’s the emergency? You look fine. And why is the TV on so loud? Didn’t your parents teach you any culture any manners?”
“Papa!” wailed Anisha as he switched off the TV. “Hungry.” “You didn’t give her dinner? How callous and selfish can you be?” He yelled. “Just to satisfy your lust you would throw yourself at any man? And if he spurns your advances you burn his foot with your daughter’s dinner? Get out of my sight!” He pushed her away and took Anisha with him to the other room.
Burning with injustice Rajani bit on her lips to keep from screaming at him. He was feeding her starving baby. Her anger could keep. She would bide her time. This wasn’t the right time. To avoid meeting Harsha and provoking his ire and another scene, she slipped into the tiny balcony attached to their room and huddled quietly in one corner chanting the Hanuman chalisa praying for strength and succor. Thank god Harsha was home. At least Anisha wouldn’t go to bed hungry. Ages later after things seemed to have quieted down Anisha crept out of her hiding place and peeped inside their room. Anisha was fast asleep and so was Harsha. Even though she was starving, she forbore to venture out of the room in search of sustenance, what if Kuldeep was staying the night, like they often did? She gently closed their bedroom door and locked it. She heaved a sigh of relief. She would swallow two sleeping pills and think about it all tomorrow. Perhaps this was also one of her confabulations. Perhaps none of this was real. It was all happening inside her head like they showed in the movies – maybe aliens had taken over her thoughts and were playing mind games with her. Maybe…she started. What was that? She sat up in alarm. Someone was banging on the door.
“Come out you bitch in heat. Come out. I’ll give you what you are so desperate for. Why are you sleeping with that useless good for nothing moron who can give you nothing. I can give you your hearts desire, quench your thirst, come on out. Rajani!” Kuldeep shouted and banged on the door spewing curses and foul language sparing none.
Anisha woke up and began crying. Rajani enfolded her in her embrace and rocked her. She kicked Harsha but he lay like a log. “Harsha. HARSHA!” She pushed and prodded him but to no avail. It was as if he was dead. Kuldeep continued to shout obscenities and no one came to stop him – not his wife, not his MIL or FIL.
The next morning by the time Rajani woke up, Kuldeep and family had left. Rajani confronted Harsha and blasted him. “How could you allow this to happen? Is this the breeding, upbringing and culture that you are so proud of?”
“It is all your fault,” was Harsha’s defense. “Do you even have any idea what he did last night?” Rajani was incensed and wished she could throttle him and his entire family for that matter. “What kind of a man are you? Are you even a man?”
“Hold your tongue!” He raised his hand to strike her. She took a step forward. “Go on strike me and I am going to the police station. All of you will be in jail.” She threatened. “Just hit me once.” She goaded. Harsha dropped his hand.
“It is your fault.” He reiterated. “If you had not publicly discussed our private issues it would have never come to this.”
“If you had privately sorted out our issues I would never have to gone public.” Rajani retaliated. “It is still not too late. Let me go. Give me a divorce.”
“Take it and get out.” He snapped. “But you are not taking Anisha.”
“Try and stop me.” Rajani refused to back down.
“Fine. Go to court. We’ll see who wins.” He mocked. “Even your parents will be on my side. They will testify against your capability to care of Anisha. And Kuldeep will testify how desperate and shameless you are. With no money no support how will you convince the judge – with your body?” Rajani clenched her fists. She was well and truly trapped. With every sentence Harsha spoke iron gates clanged shut around her. There was no escape. If only Anisha…no! Anisha was her raison-d’etre. She had to escape and with Anisha. Aditi was right. She didn’t know these people.
“All that will come later.” Rajani gathered her resources and stood her ground. “First I will go to the police station and file an FIR. None of you will be able to hold up their heads in your precious society I will make sure of that.” She turned on her heel and went back inside as Anisha woke up and began crying.
Silence wasn’t going to help. Aditi was right – they would just take it as a sign of weakness. They knew she didn’t have her parents’ support. They knew she was theirs for the taking. Yesterday she escaped but for how long? She had to take action and fast. But what? She despaired. Where could she go? Where would she be safe? Who would help her if her parents didn’t? Think Rani think! She exhorted herself as she bathed Anisha.
“Mamma don’t go office. Please Mamma.” Anisha lisped.
“I have to darling,” Rajani said automatically, “I have to go to office to earn money to buy you toys? Isnt it?”
“Get me a toy Mamma?”
“Later sweetheart.” Rajani wiped her dry. “Mamma has no money now.”
“No.” she slipped the frock over her head.
Anisha ran to the corner of the room and came back with her piggy bank. “Here take my money Mamma.”
Rajani’s heart broke. “Thank you darling. You keep it safe for me.” She hugged her close. She was the only one to offer her money. Everyone else just took from her and swept her bank account clean every month. To even think of striking out on her own, she needed money. And she had nothing to call her own – except her wedding jewelry. Rajani was suddenly energized. She cuddled Anisha close. “Mamma will get you a toy today promise. Be a good girl okay?” Anisha nodded and clapped her hands happily.
Now where were the locker keys? What else did she need? Her passport and her certificates. Armed with her documents and locker keys she sneaked into the bank feeling like a thief. It’s my jewelry she justified and made it a point to leave the ones her in-laws had gifted her. She didn’t want anything of theirs. Except Ani, she faltered. No! Ani was hers and hers alone. She thought fiercely feeling tears clouding her vision. Focus Rani focus. She blinked. What was in that white envelope? Oh! Her car papers. Well, she thought grimly in a burst of righteous rebellion, the car was hers too. Bought with her hard earned money. Perhaps she could sell it and get some money? She slipped it in to bag along with her other loot. Loaded, she burst into the office late but heady at having pulled off the heist successfully. No alarms had gone off. No police had burst in and gheraoed her with armed weapons. She had done it!
“All good?” Pakhi searched her face.
Rajani nodded brightly. “Yes.”
“I was worried when you texted that you’d be late.” She confessed.
“No, I am fine thanks.” Rajani slid into her seat suddenly tired and exhausted. “Just didn’t sleep too well last night.” “
Rajani shrugged. “Some bad dreams that just wouldn’t go away.”
“I’m sure things will be better soon.” Pakhi said for lack of anything better to say.
“Yes. Even I think so.” Rajani too forbore to say more. What was the point of hashing and rehashing her tragedies? They all blamed her in any case. Besides nobody could help her but herself. They could only provide emotional support and a shoulder to cry on. But that only made her anger weaker. She needed to harness her fury and channelize it into action. She would not be another Sati, she swore to herself.
And then out of the blue, mother-in-law called to apologize on Kuldeep’s behalf. “I am sorry Rajani. What happened, happened and let bygones be bygones. Kuldeep was drunk. He didn’t know what he was saying. We are all family and we can have differences but that doesn’t mean we go to the police does it? Think of the dishonor and shame it will bring to your family, your parents.”
Taken aback, Rajani could only say, “He should also apologize.”
“Is it not enough that I as your Mother am apologizing? Do you not have the least bit of consideration for us? Do you want to destroy everything?” she was sniffed. “I always thought you were a warm generous and giving person. When did you turn vindictive Rani? Close this chapter here Rani. Forget and forgive. Move on.”
How much more can I forget and forgive? I want to move on but none of you are letting me. You just keep dragging me down hell bent on drowning me in the muck.
“Come on Rani,” coaxed her MIL lovingly, “what are you thinking so much about? Let go of your anger and hurt. It will help nobody – not us, not your parents, not you and certainly not Anisha. Poor Anisha she was so upset and cranky. I took her to the park, bought her some toys and then she insisted on having ice cream. Would you believe it she had a whole ice lolly all by herself!” she laughed. “You would have loved to see her Rani! She refused to let me hold it. She held it delicately and nibbled at it holding one tiny hand under it to prevent soiling her clothes. Oh she’s such a graceful elegant little lady,” marveled Sunaina. “Come early today, we’ll go for a movie just the kids and us. It will be great fun!”
“Okay.” Rajani wavered and gave in. She was tired of fighting and the olive branch was more than welcome. She was glad she hadn’t shared the details of her horrific night with the others. They would have been sure to chew her head off especially at her decision to go back home. But by apologizing her MIL had given her an upper edge and she would utilize that to wrangle a better deal for herself and Anisha. Besides, even if she had in a spurt of fury had packed her most important documents, collected her jewelry she hadn’t chalked out the rest of her strategy.
Where would she go? Where would she stay? How would she sell off her car? Her jewelry. Was it legal? What if they thought she had stolen it? What if they asked for bills? What if she got entangled with some sleazy moneylender like in the movies? She shuddered. She shouldn’t take any hasty decision and jump from the frying pan into the fire. She rubbed her head. If only she could sleep, forget it all. She lay down her head.
Everyone was grinning – teeth bared macabre grins, she was running away, away from them screaming Anisha Anisha Anisha oh there she was – in Kuldeep’s arms. She sat up sweating. Perhaps she could give her documents and jewelry to Aditi for safekeeping. But how much did she really know her? How could she trust her, if she couldn’t trust her own family? Better to keep it with herself, in her bag, ready to run, if worst came to worst.
Click here for the next chapter – Escape Velocity