Harsha stood up apparently unaware of her finer feelings. “Well, I guess it’s settled then. We’ll get married as per our parents wishes.” He looked around vaguely. “Bill?”
A waiter promptly came up with it. “What! So much for just two drinks?” Harsha was taken aback. “Isn’t this a college subsidized canteen?”
“No.” Embarrassed Rajani took the bill from his hand. “Actually this a private café. Never mind I got it.” She took it and gave it back to the waiter and told him to put it on her account.
“But they are fleecing you,” declared Harsha as he put away his wallet, “You should report to the higher authorities.”
“Yes we have several times,” nodded Rajani as she walked him out, “You are sure you will let me complete my studies and have a career after marriage right?”
Harsha waved his hand grandiosely. “Yes yes of course, I don’t like the idea of women sitting at home and wasting time in gossip, my mother is young and capable she will manage home, you can easily focus on your studies and career, don’t worry,” he reassured her.
“Thank you,” smiled Rajani relieved and grateful, “When are you leaving? Maybe we could meet up tomorrow?” feeling more kindly disposed towards him, “Get to know each other a bit more?”
Harsha spread his hands, “What’s the hurry? We have our whole lives ahead of us to get to know each other right? Besides there are barely two weeks left for the wedding, there is so much to do and I had some business meetings lined up tomorrow,” he paused. “Well, maybe we could go out for a quick lunch somewhere nearby? Nothing fancy huh?”
Rajani smiled and nodded, “Sure, what time can I expect you?”
“Well maybe around 2 pm, I have to leave by 3 pm for the airport, I have the 7 pm flight,” said Harsha.
“Oh the airport is not that far from here and besides it is Sunday not much traffic, you can easily leave at 4 pm for the 7 pm flight.” Rajani said helpfully.
“Oh no,” Harsha immediately said, “I can’t take the risk of missing my flight, I don’t want to waste your father’s hard earned money. I didn’t see the need to waste so much money just to come and see you,” he shrugged, “We all trust Ritu completely,” he said fondly, “but your father insisted and in fact booked the tickets, arranged for the guest house so the least I can do now is to not miss the flight, right?”
Rajani nodded with mixed feelings – oh so Papa had booked his tickets! He trusted Ritu to choose his future wife? Wasn’t he even the least bit curious?
She swallowed, “Okay as you wish, I will be ready by 1 pm,” she assured him.
“Fine,” he nodded affably, he paused, “Just wear something more formal will you,” he coughed, “I mean traditional.”
Rajani looked down at her traditional kurta churidaar and looked at him questioningly, “Sari you mean? I don’t have any,” she said.
“Well something with a dupatta then?” he made a wrapping motion around his neck, “Ritu had said you had long hair?” he looked at her reproachfully.
Rajani flushed and put a hand to her hair defensively, “I just cut it on a whim,” she said meekly.
“I like long hair,” Harsha took his leave.
Rajani had about ten missed calls from her mother, “Yes Mamma. I met him Mamma,” she called back as soon as possible.
“And?” her Mom asked.
“How does it matter?” she instantly snapped but was immediately sorry, “Not bad,” she said grudgingly. Of course he wasn’t Prince Charming but then neither was she any Cinderella – well maybe poor and oppressed but definitely no beauty and her dark skin was the bane of her existence. And apparently Harsha too had some reservations but was willing to overlook them. This was of course a big plus point as was the fact that they were not demanding any dowry, she frowned, or so her mother had said. But he had had no qualms about accepting air tickets to Bengaluru – we don’t demand but we do expect, she thought cynically.
On the other hand, he had no objection to her studying or pursuing a career –and this was the biggest saving grace. She had no further expectations. Of course (despite her protests and sneering at Shikha’s romantic inclinations) she would have liked to meet her Prince Charming. Like the other girls, she too had had (secret and carefully nurtured) dreams of ‘him’ coming riding on a white horse and instantly falling madly, truly, deeply and passionately in love with her. She of course would be more circumspect, cool, collected, calm, charming, touch-me-not until he wooed her and wore down her defenses and made her his forever and ever.
Rajani sighed, well that was obviously not to be and probably didn’t exist anyway and if she had to get married Harsha was as good as the next guy.
“Not bad?” Nisha screeched into the phone, “What do mean not bad? He is the best of the best,” she raved exultantly.
Rajani could almost see her normally unflappable mother doing a war dance in celebration of the fact that her stubborn daughter had caved in without a fight. Rajani felt sorry for her parents – she had really made life difficult for them over the last month. Crying and throwing a tantrum every other day – must not have been easy for them. After all did have a huge responsibility on their heads – ever since she had been born, they had been haunted with the specter of her marriage. And they had been so supportive and considerate of her desire to pursue higher studies despite her angst and rebellious attitude. She had behaved like the spoilt brat her Bhai always accused her of being. Not anymore, she vowed to herself, I will be the best daughter ever.
“Mamma,” expostulated Rajani lightly, “now that’s too much to swallow! Best of the best indeed! Not bad is all I can concede to.”
“Say what you like,” her mother exulted, “I know what is in your heart. Here speak to your father.”
“Hello Papa,” said Rajani a bit shyly.
“Everything okay Rani?” asked Suryakant anxiously.
“Yes Papa, I think so, he seems to be a decent guy and more importantly doesn’t have any objections to my studying or having a career after marriage,” she paused, “in fact I think they want a career girl.”
“Good, good, very good,” Rajani could picture her father rubbing his hands in glee, “Did you go out somewhere?”
“No we didn’t,” said Rajani, “We just had cold drinks at the café.”
“Why not?” asked Suryakant.
Rajani hesitated, she wanted to say because he didn’t want to spend money, instead she said, “It was late, but if he is free tomorrow, we will go out for lunch,” she reported.
Rajani had barely escaped her parents’ cross-examination when college friends attacked. She fended them off as gracefully and noncommittally as possible – she was reluctant to be feed for college gossip. Besides, her nerves were shot and frayed she was desperate to bawl her eyes out in her mother’s comforting embrace. If only Shikha was here, she would have known how to calm her down. But those days were gone – she was alone.
Just like the unclaimed bag, going round and round, on a deserted conveyor belt, waiting to be pulled off the display shelf by its rightful owner.
Or hijacked by a smooth-tongued Devil.
Oh but I like the way you look! So young, sweet and innocent.
Rajani’s heart missed a beat as she remembered Harsha’s laugh and casual compliment.
Click here for Chapter 118: Girl Talk and Lunch