“Hello!” Kuldeep had come with Harsha to pick up Rajani for lunch. “Don’t look so dismayed,” he laughed, “I am not going to hang around with you two love birds. I am just the chauffer.” He bowed low. “Won’t you step into the car Mademoiselle?”
Blushing Rajani sat in the car. “Hello,” she mumbled shyly to Harsha who sat in front. He muttered something she couldn’t catch. But she noted that his ears were red. She stuck her tongue out at his rigid head. His leg was broken, could he not turn to even look at her?
Was she that ugly?
“Here we are your Royal Highnesses!” Kuldeep jumped out and helped Rajani out before rushing to assist Harsha who didn’t seem too keen on getting out of the car.
“What’s the need to have lunch outside? Mummy is hosting lunch…”
“Yes yes and there will be lots left over.” Kuldeep almost dragged him out of the car, “you can have that at night. Spend some time with your fiancé. Trust me, this time won’t come again.” Kuldeep grinned and winked. “Make the most of now. Now go on inside and have a nice long lunch and err,” Kuldeep coughed and winked, “pretty much anything else you may care to do.”
He burst out laughing at their tomato red faces.
“Carry on,” he waved them ahead, “Call me when you want to be picked up.” He revved his car and vanished. Rajani stood and shuffled from one foot to another, as Harsha seemed disinclined to go in. Finally taking the lead, she swept inside the restaurant.
She immediately backtracked. “Do you need help?” She offered her hand.
Looking scandalized and affronted, Harsha brushed aside her outstretched hand and moved in ahead of her. Rajani couldn’t resist sticking out her tongue again. This time he caught her as he looked behind to see if she was following.
His lips thinned and Rajani’s face flamed. She hurriedly ducked inside the dark interiors of the restaurant.
“What will you have?” Harsha’s tone was curt as he flipped through the menu card.
Shyness and hesitancy forgotten, Rajani’s BP shot through the roof. What on earth was the matter with him? Why was he so curt and short? She was the injured party here, she had a list of complaints as long as the menu card and look at him glowering away for no rhyme or reason.
“I don’t care.” She snapped.
“Neither do I.” he snapped the menu card shut. “But we have to eat.”
“Why? We can go home – to our individual homes,” she emphasized, “and eat there.” She threw down her napkin and stood up.
“What are you doing?!” He hissed. “Sit down! People are staring.”
“So let them stare.” But Rajani sat down.
“Behave yourself!” He hissed.
“Behave myself?” Rajani’s pitch rose. “What should I do? Fall at your feet and beg pardon?”
“If you don’t know how to behave at a public place, let’s go…”
“No I am not going anywhere till we have sorted this out.” Rajani controlled her temper with an effort though she was spitting mad.
“I don’t want to sort anything.”
“Fine then I don’t want to marry you either.” Escape was at hand.
“Your order Sir? Ma’am?”
Harsha ordered something while Rajani toyed with her glass of water wishing she had the guts to walk off.
But then she had an axe to grind – several in fact.
“What’s the matter?” Harsha’s tone was calm, resigned even.
Rajani tapped her fingers on the table. Where should she start? Which was the worst?
“Why didn’t you pick my phone?”
“Why were you calling me?! It was so embarrassing! Everyone was there and here you were calling me every half hour or so.”
“That was because you weren’t taking my calls. And I just called a couple of times. Why didn’t you take my call?”
“What was the emergency? We were meeting today. What was it that couldn’t wait?”
“You didn’t invite Shikha and her family!”
“They were invited! I specifically remember writing down their address…”
“I meant personally. You know I have only one friend. And just because you didn’t invite her, she couldn’t attend my wedding function. Do you know this the first function of my life where Shikha wasn’t present?” Tears were falling thick and fast.
“Stop crying!” Harsha glanced around the restaurant. “Everybody is looking at us! What will they think?”
“I don’t care what they think!” Rajani flared. “I don’t even know who they are,” she scrubbed her face and looked around. “And there’s nobody here…”
“That’s is no excuse and the waiter will be here any minute…”
“That’s what is important to you? What the waiter will think? Not what I am feeling?”
“Oh okay,” Harsha sighed. “I am sorry. I will check with Mummy and Rekha. Everyone was so busy and I am out of commission because of my broken leg…”
“As if you were going to go and invite them!” Rajani was in no mood to yield. “I specifically requested Didi to invite Shikha’s in-laws. I am sure she understands the delicacy of…”
“Are you implying that my sister deliberately didn’t invite your friend?” Rajani quailed at the sudden change in Harsha’s tone.
“No no I didn’t mean that,” she backtracked.
“Then what did you mean?”
“Nothing.” She subsided as the waiter reappeared with their order.
“But I do have other issues,” she attacked once the waiter had left.
“I don’t like being told how to behave in public. How I need to touch feet…”
“That’s our custom.”
“That’s just oppression in the name of custom and tradition. I refuse…”
“Don’t talk nonsense. We have to respect each others customs…”
“Oh really? Would you respect our custom?” Rajani was sweet.
“Wash your father-in-law’s feet and drink the water.” Rajani challenged.
“There’s no such custom,” he scoffed.
“But if there were? Would you?”
“Yeah sure! Of course I would.”
Rajani melted. “I am not touching anybody’s feet as if I was beholden to them or I was some medieval slave.” She declared but without any heat.
“As you wish.”
Rajani relaxed. She smiled at Harsha.
“But don’t complain to me if people talk about their ‘ultramodern’ bahu and her lack of culture and poor upbringing etc.”
“I don’t care what people say.” Rajani huffed. “So long as you are okay with it, I don’t mind.”
“Let’s see.” Harsha waved his fork. “What will you have for dessert?”
Rajani played around with her food. “I have one more issue.” She said in a small voice. She was tired of fighting and didn’t want to spoil the tentative truce. But she couldn’t let this slight pass either. It nagged her and niggled her no end.
“Now what?” Harsha put down his fork and looked at her resignedly.
“It’s more of a request actually…”
“What?” Harsha was getting impatient.
“I wish you wouldn’t discuss me with Ritu or anybody else,” she said in a rush. “I don’t like it. You can say what you like or don’t like directly to me.”
“Okay.” He took the wind out of her sails. “What do you want for dessert? Ice cream?”