Rajani tried to busy herself in academics but her heart wasn’t in it. It wasn’t just that Shikha wasn’t there (or that weird odd statement of Shikha’s – surely she had just said that to make her feel guilty?) but that the others were behaving oddly too.
Harry was awkward and ill at ease around her and after the first mumbled hello he gave her a wide berth. The others – the few who were continuing their further studies in the college like Sameer and Girish seemed to be avoiding. Or at least it seemed like that to Rajani’s overactive guilty conscience. Perhaps they were busy in their academics and own circles. But Rajani was quite sure Harry had ‘told all’ and painted her the ‘villainess’ of the piece. Since nobody was there to bully her out of her self-absorbed notions, Rajani withdrew further and further away – waiting for the axe to fall.
It did – soon enough.
Her mother called to break the ‘good’ news, “Rani, they are such lovely people,” she gushed, “And Harsha, what can I say, such a decent boy, soft-spoken, polite and well bred, even his parents, though his mother,” she paused and laughed. “Oh never mind, mother-in-laws are all like that, I am sure Ritu can find a thousand faults in me,” Nisha prattled on, “They don’t have any demands, can you believe that!” she exclaimed quite unable to believe their good fortune, “We want nothing, just your daughter, ever since our daughter got married, we miss having a girl in the house, we cant wait to have her in the house,” isn’t that wonderful?”
Rajani frowned, “So that means I have to give up my Masters?”
“No, no, not at all,” Nisha hastened to correct Rajani, “Why are you always so negative?” she scolded. “In fact they were all very happy that you are so keen to study and are interested in a career, they were very impressed that a girl opted for Mathematics honors,” she said proudly.
“I hope they are not expecting me to sit and keep track of their business’ profit and loss,” Rajani sneered refusing to be mollified – in fact quite the contrary. Rajani was quite irritated – what did they mean ‘a girl opted for Maths honors’ – she fumed.
“Oh ho Rajani, you are always ready to do battle, can’t you just take a compliment, must you always dissect it, analyze it and take umbrage at anything and everything,” Nisha snapped. “Now listen carefully. Harsha will be flying down next weekend, make sure you are on your best behavior,” she said sternly. “I want no hanky-panky mind you. It’s for your own good I am telling you. Don’t get any crazy ideas of acting weird and scaring off this guy.” Rajani flushed. “You will only be inviting trouble for yourself if you, I am warning you. Your father has short-listed a couple of other families as back up in case this one doesn’t work out, but they are the conservative kinds. So Harsha is your best bet. Try and adjust beta.” She softened her tone. “Adjustment and compromise are part and parcel of any successful relationship. You know that don’t you beta?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Rajani muttered. “I agreed to whatever Papa thinks best. So why does he have to come down?” Rajani protested. “What’s the point of meeting the guy if he is my best bet?”
“In our times that was the norm, but things are different now,” intoned Nisha whilst at the other end Rajani grimaced not that different she muttered to herself.
“But I have to admit, the Goels are very traditional and even Harsha was happy to go along with his parents’ wishes, he also said there is no need to see the girl…”
“I wonder why?” Rajani instantly sat up, “What’s the catch? Is he like very ugly or something? Not getting any girl so any girl will do?” she was suspicious.
“Don’t talk nonsense Rajani!” Nisha snapped, “Always ready to think the worst! This attitude of yours will get you into a lot of trouble I can see that.” she predicted direly, “Harsha is just shy, natural and very endearing I thought. He is quite cute and young looking, actually he is almost 30 but nobody would think he is a day older than 25,” Nisha revealed.
“Almost 30,” gasped Rajani, “But Mom….”
“Now now don’t be difficult Rani,” Nisha butted in hurriedly, “I have got to go but remember to behave well and don’t get into any argument, mind your tongue, dress properly. Oh that reminds me, buy a new dress, something bright, yet sober. Don’t worry about the expense. Go as soon as possible. Harsha maybe traveling in a day or two as soon as the tickets are booked.”
“But Mamma, I have never gone shopping alone!”
“There’s always a first time. Have you ever traveled alone? Stayed in a hostel alone? No right? Now start shopping alone.” Nisha calmed down. “This is a rare one off, very soon, your husband will take you shopping, buy you pretty things of your choice. My blessings and prayers are with you that you get a loving kind husband. Yet to tell the truth, I am more or less convinced that this is not a dream but a reality – Harsha is a very nice boy.”
“Boy.” Rajani snorted.
Rajani went shopping with Rupa and Shree, without revealing the exact reason. She didn’t want to spend the next couple of hours discussing her impending marriage. And it turned out to be a good decision for Rajani ended up enjoying herself. They weren’t Shikha of course but it was good to laugh, joke and shop as if there was no tomorrow.
The day of Harsha’s arrival dawned – dark and gloomy day, much like Rajani’s mood. Decked up in her new suit and glowing from a rare session at the parlor (Nisha’s orders), Rajani went to meet Harsha in the Guest Room. It was a small room with a couple of ancient sofas with equally ancient magazines. The walls were shorn of any decorations except the latest calendar and a list of do’s and don’ts. Harsha was intently reading the list and didn’t lift his eyes even when she entered the room and stood quietly beside him.
She took the opportunity to check him out, not that she could see much of his face. Physically at least he was a perfect match for her petite structure, Rajani thought caustically, he had a bit of a receding hairline, a bit of a bulging middle and wore thick black framed spectacles.
But he was fairer than her – one point to him she thought sourly.
Feeling at a disadvantage, Rajani took matters into her own hands. She deliberately cleared her throat and held out a freshly manicured hand, “Harsha? Hi, I am Rajani,” she smiled brightly – over-brightly.
Harsha turned around but ignored her outstretched hand; he joined his hand in the traditional way and said politely. “Namaste. Yes I am Mr. Harsha Goel.”
Rajani rolled her eyes mentally – that was two points to him. She quickly gave him the once over – thin lips, sharp nose, clean-shaven, eyes mostly hidden behind the glasses. Like Nisha had said, he didn’t look his age, but only if one ignored the receding hairline. And in no way was he cute!!! Mamma must have been taken in with his fair skin, she thought bitterly.
Rajani hurriedly recalled herself as she observed Harsha also examining her intently. She folded her hand and responded in kind, “Namaste Harshaji,” that’s one point for me she gloated silently, “Please sit, would you like some water, tea, coffee?” she asked formally crossing her fingers surreptitiously what if he said yes?
Thankfully he shook his head and looked around rather disdainfully. “Can we go out somewhere nearby, some canteen perhaps?” Rajani nodded and motioned him outside, but he waved her on ahead. Grudgingly Rajani conceded one point for manners and half a point for refusing her offer for refreshments (she deducted half a point for the disdainful expression – justifiable though it may have been). She giggled to herself wondering how he would react when he saw Rocky’s joint.
Click here for Chapter 116: A Rocky Start