Her father’s strictures ringing in her ears and determined not to mess up things, Rajani was extra cautious and alert during her check in.
And for starters, refused to entertain Harsha’s phone calls.
They were distracting and besides, a little tit for tat was overdue.
Only when Rajani sank into her designated seat did she heave a sigh of relief and congratulated herself.
Feeling smug and victorious, she felt confident enough to call back Harsha (after soothing Suryakant’s blood pressure).
“Why weren’t you picking my calls?” He attacked without any further ado.
“Haww! There were so many people around. So embarrassing!” Rajani’s kidney got a gush of fresh and cool blood.
“I am so glad you think so too.” Rajani was extra-sweet to his obvious annoyance. “Why were you calling?”
“I was worried about you.”
“Are you in the loo?”
“Loo? No! Why?”
“What if someone overhears you? What will they think? That you are worried about me? Wouldn’t that be shameful?”
“You are impossible to talk to.”
Rajani looked unhappily at her now disconnected phone. All her smug euphoria had vanished. Perhaps she had been overly harsh on Harsha.
She stiffened. She remembered the shopping, how casually and easily both Sunaina and Rekha had slipped past the payment counters, leaving her mother to pick up the tab. And Mamma was also no better, she seethed – what was the need to fall over herself and insist on paying the bill? The first time Sunaina had opened her purse but Nisha had pushed her away and that had set the tone. If only Mamma had called her bluff, she rued.
“Excuse me Miss,” an airhostess broke into a reverie, “your ID card.”
Rajani stared at it.
“You had left it at the ticket counter.” She offered helpfully at Rajani’s blank look.
Rajani’s eyes widened and instantly went a tomato red.
“Sorry. Thanks.” She mumbled, sinking deeper into her seat.
Deeply mortified, Rajani switched off her phone – the excitement and exertion of the past few days caught up with her and she dropped off to sleep.
Rajani slipped into her college routine in a surreal daze. Strangely enough, she felt detached and alien in a place, which had until now been her second home.
And a place that she had to still see became the center of her focus. Her relative sense of isolation and weekly calls from her parents gave way to daily calls – from her parents, Rekha, Ritu, Sunaina and of course Harsha.
Harsha had overtaken her mind and obliterated all other thoughts. Either she was arguing with him on the phone or replaying their conversations and identifying new ramifications. Each conversation just reiterated her dread and belief that they weren’t suited.
She begged and pleaded with her parents but her father was adamant. Finally Nisha put an end to the matter.
“Enough is enough Rani. Everything is fixed and you can’t back out now. We have too much invested in this. It is not just a question of your marriage but also your brother’s. Since when did you become so selfish? If you could but see your father – he has lost so much weight, running around, spending sleepless nights, arranging two weddings, finances and now you want to back out? Do you want to kill him?”
“No Rani, not another word. Learn to adjust. All girls do. Even I did. Do you think I had everything served on a platter? No. I had to adapt, change and accept so many things. The sooner you learn to do, the better it would be. And now I don’t want to hear another word about calling off the wedding. That is not and never has been your decision. As your parents and your well-wishers, it is our decision and it is best if you put your faith in us and Bhagwanji to do what is best for you.”
Rajani backed off and tried to detach herself from the relentless march towards her doom. Despite the fact that she was here in Bengaluru, in spirit she was in Delhi or Chandigarh right in the thick of things. Focus on academics was becoming difficult what with information overload from arrangements associated with three weddings. Rajani’s phone was constantly ringing and beeping. At least the calls were limited to evenings while Shikha kept messaging her throughout the day.
What are you doing?
Did you submit my application for transfer certificate?
Will do it today.
Has your leave been sanctioned?
Haven’t followed up.
Follow up then! Do you want to be suspended? The marriage isn’t going to be cancelled if you don’t get leave. You know that right?
I suppose so.
Amu’s coming in two days!
How’s Harry? The others?
Say my Hi to them.
Did you give them my wedding invitation card?
Why not?! There’s hardly any time left.
As if they are going to come!
That’s not your lookout. Give it. Please?
Fine. I was just hoping to give both ours together. That way I won’t have to answer too many questions.
What questions? Why are you so hyper? You are getting married. All girls get married. Big deal. Unless…
Unless you don’t want to break Harry’s heart.
Rajani’s heart sank.
She wasn’t too keen to meet him. Not after their last meeting. It was too fresh in her mind. And funny how much it hurt. That he was getting married. He was going abroad.
“You got married?” Harry had blurted bluntly.
Startled, Rajani was jolted out of her reverie as she walked down the corridor. She hadn’t heard anyone approach and nor had she expected Harry to speak to her. He had been giving her a rather obvious wide berth for quite sometime now.
“No!” Rajani was quick to deny.
“Oh!” Harry reddened. “I thought,” he gestured awkwardly towards her hands.
“Oh this?” Rajani raised her mehendified hands, “this was for the…the engagement function.”
Harry nodded. “Congratulations. I hope you will be happy.”
“Thank you. Oh by the way, Shikha wanted me to give you her wedding card. But I don’t have it with me right now.”
“Never mind. Thanks.”
“I’ll give you both – hers and mine when I get it. It is also around the same time as Shikha’s. If you come for her wedding, I hope you will attend mine too.”
“Thanks. But I don’t think I will be able to make it, what with leave issues and other commitments.”
“What commitments?” Inexplicably Rajani’s heart sank.
“I am also getting married. The engagement ceremony is next month and the wedding during the summer vacations. In fall, we will both be traveling to the US for higher studies.”
“Oh.” Rajani was having difficulty speaking. Her throat closed up and her heart thudded.
Harry was getting married.
Harry was leaving college.
Had she made a colossal mistake by rejecting him?
She could have been the one going abroad.
Far from all the bullshit that was going on in her life.
Just one step.
That was all that was needed to be free.
Just one single step.
She could see the invitation in Harry’s eyes. He didn’t need to hold out his hands. She could see them – outstretched, reaching out, promising to hold her steady, now and forever.
She tried to raise her hand, take a step forward, cross the Lakshman Rekha – her father’s face flashed before her eyes.
She stiffened and clenched her fingers.
“Congratulations! This is great news. I am so happy for you. I will tell Shikha. She will also be thrilled. What will you be studying…?” Rajani prattled on without a care in the world.
Click here for the next chapter: Shikha Talks