Feeling nervous and embarrassed, Rajani walked into the common room.
“Hi.” Her gaze met his for the briefest of time before skidding away. But that was enough to send her heart into overdrive. She clasped her hands together to stop them from shaking so much.
Something unpleasant was up for sure.
Harry’s hair was all mussed up and he wore an unshaven look. There was a glazed look in his eyes.
“Are…are you okay?” Rajani’s voice came out strangled.
“Yeah fine fine.” He shuffled from one foot to the other. “I…I…bought gifts for both of you.”
Rajani stared blankly at the bulging packet in Harry’s hands. “Gifts for both of us?” she echoed, confused.
“For you and Shikha.” He said. “As your wedding gifts.”
Rajani’s eyes flew to his.
Scalded, she dropped her hastily. Embarrassment flooded her. “Oh you shouldn’t have! What was the rush? I am coming back,” the words tripped over each other.
“Yes. Actually I…we wanted to send something for Shikha. She invited us all and the gift is from all of us – Sameer and the gang.”
“Oh!” Rajani went a flaming red. “But I didn’t invite the others…” she trailed off, feeling foolish and small.
“It’s okay!” Harry rushed to soothe, “I didn’t tell them either. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to invite or inform them about your wedding or not.”
Rajani grimaced. “Actually I was kind of hoping that I could get back to routine college without making a fuss of my wedded status. That’s why…” she trailed off.
“I was wondering.” Harry said with dawning understanding. “If Shikha hadn’t let the cat out of the bag you probably wouldn’t have told me either right?”
Rajani flushed guiltily. “I…I’ll just take Shikha’s gift…you didn’t have to get one for me…”
“I didn’t have to. But I wanted to.” She made the mistake of looking up at him. Her heart thudded madly at the look in his eyes. “Please take it, with my best wishes for a happy married life.” He held out the bag insistently.
Inexplicably tears welled up in Rajani’s eyes.
Her first wedding gift.
“What’s the matter?” The awkward and formal Harry vanished in an instant.
The tears spilled over and rolled down her cheeks.
“Rajani! What’s the matter? Tell me. Please? Don’t cry. Please!”
Unable to gather reinforcements, Rajani gave into her emotions. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed her heart out.
There was a crash.
Rajani’s sobs froze.
She looked up.
Harry was standing with his back to her over an upturned table. His fists were clenched.
“Harry!” Rajani cried.
He turned to her with a wild look. “Stop crying! Tell me what’s wrong?”
Rajani stiffened. She wiped her face and attempted to collect herself. “Wrong? Nothing is wrong. I was just touched by your gift…”
“Please cut the crap will you?” Harry snapped. “I have had enough of these lies and evasions. Are you telling me the truth or, should I ask Shikha?”
“Truth about what?” Rajani hemmed as she pleated her dupatta.
“Truth about your marriage. About why you don’t seem to be happy…”
“I am happy!” Rajani protested.
“Then how come you haven’t told anybody about it? Shikha has told almost everyone. Even Wiggy.”
“Shikha is more outgoing than I am. I…what are you doing?” Rajani asked as Harry took out his phone.
“I am calling Shikha.”
“Go on call her. She won’t say anything. She’s my friend.” Rajani blustered.
“Want to bet? I just have to tell her that you are bawling like a baby.”
Rajani was silenced.
“Well? Are you going to tell me or should I ask Rajani?”
“There’s nothing to tell.” Rajani was drained. “I want to study. But my family wants me to get married. I gave in. End of story.”
“Why did you give in? If you don’t want to get married, put your foot down…”
“Do you think I haven’t tried? I begged pleaded, fought tried every trick in the book. But…” she shrugged helplessly.
“But that’s not fair.”
“Who said life was fair?”
“Tell the guy you don’t want to get married. He will surely back off.”
“That would just give my parents a bad name, possibly a heart attack or two. Apart from all expenditure they have already incurred.”
Harry was silent for a bit.
“But you are coming back to college?”
“So that is good. They are letting you study…”
“Yes and I am grateful for that.” Rajani fiddled with the packages lying beside her. “Harry…”
“Please don’t refuse. I don’t wear saris.” He attempted to joke.
Rajani stared at him, feeling worse than ever. “A sari…”
Harry raised a hand. “Please don’t make a big thing out of it. It’s just a sari not the Kohinoor diamond or something.” He paused and then said. “By the way,” he cleared his throat, “please don’t bother buying a gift for me. And tell Shikha not to as well.”
“Why?” Rajani frowned.
“I am not getting married.”
“Why!?” Mystifyingly, Rajani felt free, as if a huge burden had lifted off her chest.
He shrugged. “I want to focus on my studies.”
“And your stint abroad?”
“Yeah. That is on. I will be leaving in September.”
“You already had the engagement ceremony didn’t you?”
“That’s no big deal. My parents will understand.”
“I hope you know what you are doing?” A niggling doubt, an unaccountable guilt nagged Rajani.
“Yes. I know. Okay bye. Take care. My best wishes to both of you.” He vanished.
Rajani sat in the common room for a long time after Harry had left. What was it that she was missing?
“Shikhs, Harry gave me a gift for you. From the gang.”
“How sweet! What is it?”
“I think a sari.”
“Nothing. He gave me a gift too.”
Rajani was silent.
“Rajji, remember to take a gift from my side too when you return.”
“There’s no need.”
“He isn’t getting married.”
“When did this happen?”
“I don’t know.” Rajani paused.
Harry had taken the decision just now. She couldn’t explain how she knew it but there wasn’t even an iota of doubt.
“Hmm? Nothing. Okay I better go now. How’s your cooking going on?”
“Terrible. I am going to try and bake a cake. For Amu.”
“Oh right! He’s coming tonight isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Shikha sighed. “But he is going to be in Delhi.”
“So you won’t meet him?”
“We are going tomorrow to meet him, some formalities and stuff.”
“Oh! What stuff?”
“Exactly the same kind as you and Haru darling were up to!” Shikha shot back.
“We emptied the Delhi shops.”
“I suppose we will be doing that too!” Shikha giggled.
What is your way of life – Calvin’s or Hobbes‘?