“Cook?” Rajani hesitated. “Not much. There hasn’t been much scope, what with school and now college,” she defended herself. “I can make soup,” she asserted.
“That’s good. We can have soup at home before going out to dinner!”
Rajani laughed along with him.
“My mother is an excellent cook. And her snacks, sweets are to die for. We never buy all that stuff.”
“That’s nice.” Rajani said, her heart sinking a bit.
“Don’t worry, she will teach you how to cook. She can cook for hundreds of people. She loves throwing parties. I am sure you would enjoy helping and learning to make new dishes from her.”
“Perhaps on weekends and holidays.”
“All that can be worked out,” Harsha waved his hand dismissively.
“Do you also know how to cook?” Rajani’s eyes narrowed and her voice was sugar sweet.
“Oh yes! Mother made sure we both knew how to cook. I am not so good as her but I can cook a full four course meal for a dozen or so people quite easily.”
Rajani’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Yes! Nothing to it. In fact I find cooking very relaxing and soothing. But I know how to cook only North Indian dishes and sweets.”
“Yes. I am famous for my gulab jamuns.”
“Wow.” Rajani put down her fork and stared at him feeling at quite a disadvantage. “Is Rekha also an expert cook?”
Harsha frowned. “I think it’s not proper to address Rekha by her name. She is younger to me but older to you. You should call her Didi.”
Rajani’s eyes flashed but she held her peace.
“But she will of course give you due respect as her older brother’s wife and call you Bhabhi.” He decreed.
“Is Didi also an expert cook?”
“Rekha can of course cook very well. Gajar ka halwa and chole are her specialties but poor thing doesn’t find time to cook. First she was working in a school and now she is expecting a baby.”
“Oh that is nice!” Rajani’s face lit up. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you. We are excited about the first child in our family but that happy event is still some time away.”
“Oh good! I love babies.” Rajani smiled.
Harsha nodded approvingly. “Anything else you would like to order? Dessert?” He picked up the menu card. “I think they have only ice cream.”
“I like ice cream.”
“So do I. But ice creams are criminally overpriced in restaurants. I saw an ice cream van while coming here. We can have it there.”
Rajani rolled her eyes but forbore to say anything. She dug into her purse and brought out a gift-wrapped box. “I got a little something for you.” She slid it across.
“What is it?”
“Open it and see. I wasn’t quite sure what to get you. I hope you like it.”
Harsha opened the box. It was a pair of cuff links.
“You shouldn’t have bought it.”
“Why? You don’t like it?”
“I don’t much wear suits and all the formal stuff.”
“You may need it in future. Maybe at the wedding?”
“Yeah maybe. But I am not comfortable with this gifting business. Waste of money and unnecessary formality.”
Rajani reddened. “I like gifting. Giving and receiving.” She added boldly.
Harsha snorted. “It’s all Western propaganda and their materialistic culture.”
“I like it.” Rajani insisted.
“All you women are the same.”
And all you men are the same Rajani sneered to herself. Finding reasons not to gift or appreciate them. She was tempted to snatch the cuff links back. He didn’t even say thank you.
“Oh by the way,” Harsha made a big show of hunting through his pockets, “I almost forgot.” He bent down and extracted a slim packet from his bag. “Mother sent this for you. Rekha‘s choice.”
“What is it?”
“It won’t bite.” He held it out. “Go on take it. It’s not a snake. At least I don’t think so.”
“Very funny.” Rajani accepted it. “A bracelet?” Rajani stared at it with mixed feelings. It was chunky and flashy. To tell the truth, Rajani wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it.
“Thank you.” She slipped it in her purse.
“Aren’t you going to wear it?”
“Maybe later.” Rajani refused politely.
“Why not now?”
“It wouldn’t go with my dress.” Rajani fumbled.
Harsha looked at her. “I thought I told you to wear a traditional dress?”
Hackles raised, eyes flashing, Rajani shrugged. “I didn’t have anything suitable.”
“We will have to see about that.” He grunted.
“What do you mean?”
“I meant buying you proper traditional wear. Jeans and stuff are okay but not for formal occasions like this.”
“Formal occasion? I thought the point of us meeting was to make sure we got over the formalities and became comfortable with each other. We have to achieve some sort of comfort level and understanding if we are to spend the rest of our lives together?”
“It’s not just about us.” Harsha’s lips thinned and he reddened. “I told you to wear a traditional dress because my mother wanted me to click some photos of you to show to the others.”
Rajani flushed. “I am sorry.”
“How does that help? I have no choice but to lie to Mother and say I forgot to click pictures. And since I never forget anything, she will know I am lying. That will hurt her, the very thought of which is very distressing.”
“I said I am sorry.” Rajani pleaded. “Look how about if you take a picture of me sitting behind the table like this? What I am wearing won’t show will it?”
“Hmm. Worth a try. Wait. Wear the bracelet. No! Wear it on your right hand.”
Swallowing, Rajani wore the ugly bracelet and slid her left hand out of view.
“The bracelet is looking nice.” Harsha complimented her.
“Yes. Thank you.” Rajani agreed dully.
“I don’t think you like it.” Harsha was quick to note her reservations.
“Why do you think that? Of course, I like it.”
“You don’t look very pleased.” Harsha’s tone of censure raised her hackles.
“At least I never said anything negative like you did when I gave you the cuff links!”
“I didn’t say anything negative! I just said you shouldn’t have bought it as I don’t use it much.”
“Which means that you didn’t appreciate the thought or the gift. Perhaps I should have consulted you first before buying it?” Rajani’s pitch rose.
Harsha looked around scandalized. “Why are you shouting? What will everyone think?”
“What everyone thinks matters, what I think doesn’t matter?” Rajani choked up.
Click here for Chapter 120: Postmortem