A palpable air of excitement hung about the Ahuja’s house – gone was the hushed silence and the air of gloom and doom. Music blared from Abhi’s room while Nisha bustled about in the kitchen neck deep in preparing delicious goodies for her children.
Rajani was on the phone with Shikha. “Bhai reduce the volume will you?” she yelled holding the phone away from her ear, “I can’t hear myself talk,” she screamed but got no response. She swung off the bed, “Hang on Shikhs,” she spoke into the phone and marched into Abhi’s room and pulled the plug off his music system before walking off.
Unfazed, Abhi paused in his sit-ups just long enough to plug it back in and raise the volume up a notch for good measure; Rajani stuck out her tongue at him and attempted to manipulate the referee. “Mom! Look at your darling son causing noise pollution, why don’t you ever say something to him?” she grumbled swiping a hot pakora from under her mother’s nose, “Yikes, its hot.”
“Oh never mind him dear, he manages to get so very little free time, let him do his thing Rani, let him be,” Nisha cajoled her while bribing her a plateful of piping hot crispy pakora.
Rajani victoriously swung the plate by Abhi’s room and slammed her door shut, “Sorry Shikha, Shikha are you there? Sorry to keep you waiting,” she apologized, “ but I couldn’t hear myself speak over the din but now that I agreed, Bhai is in a celebratory mood…”
Shikha squawked like an agitated hen. “What – you agreed and didn’t even bother to tell me?” Rajani winced and held the phone away from her ear.
“Relax Shikha, I called you up to tell you, didn’t I?” Rajani paused and drew patterns on the bedspread, “Besides, I am not exactly thrilled with this decision, but Papa is happy and that’s what’s important isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Shikha said a bit doubtfully, “But its your life that’s that stake and if you don’t accept it wholeheartedly then…”
“You also didn’t want to get married did you?” Rajani interjected, “But you also agreed because your father wanted it so, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, but then that was initially, now I am convinced this is the right decision, why put off the inevitable? Besides my fiancé is a nice guy,” Shikha couldn’t quite keep out the hero worship in her voice.
“Oho so now he is your ‘fiancé’ is he? And you didn’t even invite me to the ceremony?” Rajani instantly pounced.
Shikha giggled, “You know what I mean right?”
“No I don’t. Besides, stick to one thing Shikhs. Just yesterday you were trying to convince me to ‘give it a shot’ it weren’t you?”
“So? What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to agree to marriage because you want to get married not because your father wants you to get married.”
“Shikhs, I don’t have much choice,” Rajani said bleakly, “You should have come yesterday – home was like a mausoleum and a deathly hush was in the air. I was hardly able to breathe but today, just because I said yes, it’s as if it is Diwali or something.”
“I suppose I should be grateful that I wasn’t married off while I was underage because apparently Bhai wanted to get married straight after MBBS and its payback time,” her voice wobbled and then firmed, “But don’t worry Shiks, whatever happens happens for the best right? Besides,” she said cheerfully, “Papa promised to find a guy who would not only allow me to complete my studies but also let me work after marriage, so I suppose it will all work out fine.”
“Yeah sounds cool,” exclaimed Shikha, “ a win-win situation, okay got to go now, talk to you later,” she disconnected the phone.
“Yeah a win-win situation,” echoed Rajani softly, “provided Papa can find such a guy.”
The remaining days of her vacations passed reasonably smoothly without any major confrontations – though Rajani was constantly nagged by doubts and suspicions – it was all very well to plan for her wedding draw up guest lists and shopping lists but the crucial element was still missing.
“Mom, how do expect to find the proper and pliant groom so quickly?” unable to ignore her inner concerns any longer Rajani finally confronted her mother just the day before she was to leave for college. After a long drawn out battle, Mr Ahuja had allowed Rajani to return to college provided she promised to toe the line when they had chosen the groom and fixed a date.
This time since Shikha wasn’t returning to college, her father was accompanying her to Delhi by the morning Shatabdi to put her on an onward flight to Bengaluru, before returning to Chandigarh by the evening Shatabdi.
“My vacations have ended and there is less than a month left, if I am to get married before 28th Jan which is when Bhai and Ritu have set their wedding for.” Rajani pointed out with irrefutable logic – her heart gave an leap of hope – perhaps, just perhaps, they wouldn’t be able to find a groom and once Bhai got married then things would get sorted out just fine, she crossed her fingers and sent up a heartfelt plea.
Nisha agitatedly twisted her fingers, “We know some people, a nice boy…”
“Wait, don’t tell me you already found a guy for me? Unbelievable or were you already on the lookout for a guy and didn’t tell me before?” she narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
Nisha coughed and cleared her throat, “There is this nice boy, a distant relative of Ritu, they run a family business, export and import business,” she revealed proudly, “He is the only son, one sister but she is already married,” Nisha put a hand on Rajani’s head, “You have a very good kismat, to get such a suitable groom in so short a time,” she put her hands together in supplication to the Almighty, “I had all but given up hope and without Ritu’s help and support we would have been nowhere.”
Rajani’s heart sank and a dull listlessness encased her limbs – the last vestiges of hope slipped away from her. “So it’s all fixed is it?” she said woodenly, sinking down on the nearest chair.
“No not yet. But in principle they have agreed.” Nisha went on. “We will be meeting the boy’s parents and the boy next weekend,” she coughed, “you know to discuss their ‘expectations’ and whether we can fulfill them.” Nisha paused to draw a deep breath. “And of course the boy may like to meet you before finalizing the match.”
Rajani stared blankly at the floor as her dreams shattered with a shriek only she could hear. “Rani dear,” Nisha sat down beside her, “don’t look so devastated.” She gently turned her face. “Ritu has assured us that the boy has no objections to continuing your studies.” She watched with some satisfaction as life flared back in her daughter’s eyes. “Really Mom?” she said almost disbelievingly, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, yes, my dear Rani, even Abhi has met the boy, who says that Harsh is a real gentleman,” misty-eyed Nisha laughed and caressed her hair. “You are indeed very lucky but a lot of credit goes to Ritu, she is the one who fixed it all up, we had all but given up hope,” Nisha hurriedly folded her hands and sent up a quick prayer, “But it is still early days, nothing is fixed as yet,” she backtracked, “but you do need to understand that everybody has played their part and now everything rests with you to keep up your end of the bargain, don’t do anything that would hurt our image and standing in society, do you understand?” Nisha cautioned her, “You know we have earned nothing except ‘honor’ and your father would not be able to sustain any damage to his reputation, everything rests your shoulder, make sure you do nothing to make us bow our heads in shame.”
Nisha was off on her favorite topic and as usual Rajani bowed her head and nodded obediently, “Yes Mamma.”
Click here for Chapter 113: The Road Not Taken