Shikha looked at Biji wide-eyed.
“What are you looking at me like that for? It is your darling mother’s plan. Send my daughter far away from her in-laws,” she mocked, “she will rule the house as they won’t be able to drop in even once in while.”
“Biji!” Kirti rose in protest but Biji raised a hand effectively silencing her. She continued her dire monologue. “From sweeping to dusting to cooking to washing utensils and clothes and ironing….”
Shikha’s stared at Biji in horror.
All the red heart balloons floating around in their sparkling clean mansion, as she lay draped in a baby pink silk sheet (one bare shoulder peeping out) while Amu cajoled, coaxed and serenaded her with gifts, flowers and songs, popped one by one.
“Do you have any clue about any of this? I haven’t even seen you bring in the washing! Today’s girls are useless.” Biji pulled agitatedly at her hookah. “They have no idea or intention of running a house! All they want to do is go shopping, partying…”
Shikha was all but wringing her hands as all her fairy tale dreams came crashing down. She panicked and looked at her mother in rising hysteria, she didn’t know a thing about running a house! What was she thinking? Mummy wasn’t going to be there, and neither was Papa – how would she ever manage?
“Mummy,” she whimpered, “I don’t want to get married…”
“Nonsense! This is no way to deal with a challenge. Besides, not marrying is not an option,” Biji declared.
Biji raised an imperious hand. “Not one more word. Bahu! Tell the maid to take the next week off. I want Shikha to do all the housework, starting from my bed tea to my nightcap.”
Thus began Shikha’s training for married life.
While Shikha labored in the kitchen, Rajani pored over her Math formulas.
Rajani had just realized that her semester exams would be exactly a month after she returned from her leave. How would she ever manage? She would have to take her books along…
“Are you crazy Rajji? Carry books to your wedding? I can just see your wedding photos – a pretty dulhan looking deep into the pages of her Math book!”
Rajani giggled, she could also picture it. But exams were exams, nothing was more important. That’s what she had been led to believe and that’s what she would always believe.
“Grow up Rajji. That was for when we were kids. Things are different now. It’s time you shifted your focus…”
Rajani burst out laughing. “Cooking! Really?”
“Yes and there’s no need to laugh so much. Everybody eats and the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!”
“You are welcome to burrow into Amu’s heart with your culinary skills but cooking is not for me. I am happy with my numbers…”
“You are happy but will your family be happy?”
“Mamma and Papa know that…”
“I meant your in-laws Buddhoo. It’s no longer about Mamma and Papa, it’s about Mummyji and Papaji and of course Haru darling.”
“I am not cooking! I already told Harsha that I didn’t know how to cook and he is okay with that. But the best part is that he apparently loves cooking! He can organize an entire dinner party on his own without any help.” Rajani giggled. “That’s one of the reason’s I agreed to marry him. I’ll play with my numbers while he can rustle up new dishes for me to try out while I slog it out.”
“Lucky girl!” Shikha was for the first time truly envious. One day in the kitchen and she had already had enough of it. Did Amu know how to cook? He stayed alone, perhaps he did.
“What did you do yesterday?” Amu called up Shikha.
“Biji made me slave in the kitchen! It was such a nightmare. Oh Amu I cannot cook at all.” To her own horror, she burst into tears.
“Don’t cry! Cooking is no big deal. Truly. Sweetheart! Please don’t cry my dearest darling. Don’t worry I will cook if you don’t know how to cook.”
Shikha’s sobs died away. “You know how to cook?”
“Yes of course I know!” He boasted. “I have been staying alone in the States for 5 years now. I had to learn cooking. Don’t worry it’s easy as pie. I will teach you…”
“The gas stove hates me. The oil splashed on my arm and I burnt my fingers too…”
“Aww my poor darling. You were learning how to cook? Just for me? That’s really sweet of you. You don’t have to worry about a thing my princess! Stay away from gas stoves and the likes. No menial tasks for you! After all what is this slave there for?”
Shikha giggled. “You are such a smooth talker!”
“What! You think this is just talk? I lay bare my heart and you call it talk? I am completely heartbroken. How insensitive and mean can you be?” He disconnected the call.
Shikha was horrified. She hadn’t meant to hurt him and she did think he was being very ‘filmy’ but it seemed he really did mean it! Her heart fluttered.
She begged her father’s phone and called him up. “I am sorry Amu, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was just joking…”
“What did you call me?”
Shikha bit her tongue. In her agitation and rush to convince him, her private pet name had slipped out. And now she was in for it.
“What did you call me?”
“I…I am sorry…”
“What did you call me?”
“How come you never called me this before?”
“It’s just a silly thing. It doesn’t mean anything. My friend Rajani teased me about you right in the beginning and…”
“Teased you? Why?”
Shikha was blushing and her heart was thudding madly. She wasn’t quite sure if he was furious or laughing at her.
“Just like that…”
“Just like that? There must have been some reason?”
“No. No reason.”
“You’re lying.” His voice was flat.
“Truly there’s no reason. Rajji is like that. Making a mountain out of a molehill. Just because I said you were handsome and sweet…”
“Oh! So you think I am handsome? And sweet?”
Shikha could have bitten her tongue. In her rush to explain, what had she let slip!
“Are you blushing?”
Shikha made a strangled sound.
“And you call me Amu?”
“Only between us,” Shikha assured him. “I am sorry. We…I didn’t make to poke fun at you. I won’t say it again if you don’t like it…”
“You can call me anything you like, sweetheart.” His voice sent shivers down her spine.
“Amu,” she whispered helplessly, wishing she could be near him, see him…
“How sweet that sounds! Sweet sweet Shikha.”
Shikha gripped the phone tighter, closer, “Amu darling,” she managed to break free of her inhibitions.
“Oh my sweet heavenly Shikha! Why are you so far away? Just you wait I am coming for you and then there will be no escape for you! I will bind you in chains and keep you tied to me forever and ever…”
Shikha blushed, giggled and simpered. She too couldn’t wait. He loved her. He was crazy about her. And they hadn’t even met. This was true pure love. An instant connection, a feeling of rightness. He was her goal. He would complete her, fulfill her pamper her.
Biji be damned.
Starry eyed, she dreamed of a future filled with joy, love and laughter. Of lazy Sunday mornings and sleep ins. He would wake her up with a cup of steaming tea and crispy pakoras. He would take her out for a long drive, see the sights, have lunch fool around on the beach kick up a storm. And the best part? No exams, no marks to worry about.
Life was good! Shikha hugged herself in excitement. She couldn’t wait to see her Amu darling, she blushed, snuggle in his arms, he would crush her close and perhaps he would even kiss her.
Would she kiss him too?
Shikha blushed. No! How could she do that? What if he thought her too bold?
No. She would just melt in his arms.
But how the hell did one melt in somebody’s arms?
Click here for the next chapter: Cooking up a Mess