Rajani reached the airport heart thudding and hands clammy. It was a wonder that she managed to board her flight without any mishaps. Perhaps she was too distracted, and preoccupied with her imminent life sentence nuptials to mess up. Funny how our subconscious is more organized than our conscious isn’t it?
Her father was at the airport to receive her and whisk her away directly to Chandigarh without giving her a chance to meet the in-laws or Harsha.
“Time enough for all that. Besides, it’s not good to interact too much before the wedding.” Nisha had declared.
“But why?” Rajani wondered, “Shikha is constantly with Amardeep and…”
“Her case is different. Amardeep wants it like that…”
“Harsha doesn’t want to meet me?” Rajani was cut to the core.
“I didn’t say that! Sunainaji is not very keen. She said you have a lifetime to get to know each other and these last few days you should spend with your parents. Very sweet and understanding of her. I am so glad she has a daughter too. Only mothers of daughters understand how other girls and mothers feel.”
Rajani was quiet. It was sweet of her, she grudgingly accepted, but why did she get the impression that she was being fatted up and pampered to the hilt before being sent to the guillotine?
“I wanted to meet Shikha.” Rajani had said.
“As you wish!” Her mother had laughed.
“Shikha will be accompanying you back to Chandigarh.”
At least that was something!
“Papa, where’s Shikha?” Rajani looked around in dismay. “Isn’t she coming with us to Chandigarh?”
“Yes.” Suryakant grunted.
“But where is she? Arent we going home directly from the airport?”
“She had some work at her in-laws place, so we have to pick her up.”
Rajani giggled to herself. So desperate to show off her Amu darling!
But to tell the truth, she had been keen to see the man who had completely smitten her friend.
“Shikha!” Rajani’s eyes nearly popped out when she saw her. Rajani could hardly recognize Shikha under the make up and bright glittery dress that she wore.
“Hello Rajani,” Shikha was formal and restrained. She flicked Rajani a warning look.
Uncaring and thrilled to see her friend after so many days, Rajani enveloped her in a bear hug. “Shikhs! I missed you. Where’s…” she shut up as Shikha gave her a heavy poke in her ribs.
“Meet my fiancé, Amardeepji. Mummyji, Daddyji.” She introduced everyone in a carefully modulated voice – very unlike the chirpy bubbly Shikha Rajani was used to.
She raised her eyebrows at Shikha, her eyes dancing with merriment and mischief. The bubbles rose up.
Shikha paled and frowned heavily at Rajani.
Rajani sobered at the look of panic on Shikha’s face and backed off. She emulated Shikha and was more circumspect in her interaction with Amardeep and the others
As if she were meeting her professors!
The bubbles rose up again.
“Hello Jiju,” she said with a straight face. If they were looking for formality they were going to get it!
To her surprise, instead of another castigating frown, she was rewarded with an approving smile and a sigh of relief.
“Helloji,” he nodded back amiably as he towered over them, “happy to meet you…”
“Namaste,” Suryakant interrupted restless with the delay, “we should be leaving…”
“Oh no, you must come in for a cup to tea…”
“Thank youji, we want to reach Chandigarh before it is dark…”
“Oh but we can’t let you go without…”
“Please no formality…”
“Shikha is like my daughter. How can I accept hospitality from her in-laws?”
“What are you saying Ahujaji! This is the twenty first century…”
Fighting a losing battle and afraid of offending the groom’s family, he allowed himself to be persuaded to accept a cup of tea and one biscuit. Rajani uncaring of any social solecisms hungrily dug into the proffered delicacies while covertly observing Shikha and her fiancé.
Amardeep was every woman’s dream man. Tall, fair and handsome, a ready smile, with a warm glint in his eyes.
Sitting next to each other, they made an eye-catching couple. Amardeep’s eyes were constantly on Shikha who would glance his way once in a while only to blush at the look in his eyes.
Rajani too blushed as Amardeep’s eyes tangled with Shikha’s and a palpable frisson of heat passed between them. Rajani looked hastily at the others. But they were oblivious to the game being played out right in front of their noses. Fascinated, curious and intensely jealous, Rajani’s eyes skidded back to them. She felt guilty for gawking at what was intensely personal and private, yet she couldn’t quite restrain herself.
A blushing Shikha was shaking her head at him. Wearing a secret smile, Shikha turned away from him to speak to her grandmother-in law across her. But she slowly slid her hand towards Amardeep, who instantly engulfed it in his. And that was where it lay enfolded in his embrace throughout the rest of the time they were there.
Rajani couldn’t help marveling at way Shikha and Amardeep looked like a unit – as if they had known each other for years, completely tuned and in sync. He was clearly besotted with Shikha and didn’t care who knew it. He was open and casual about feeding her bits and pieces of the snacks laid out in front of them. Shikha was a bit embarrassed and would try to take them from his hand but he would insist of feeding her himself. His parents too were indulgent about it while his Dadi egged him on for all she was worth.
And Amardeep played along fully so naturally that it didn’t look odd or out of place.
Perhaps the only ones who found it odd or felt awkward were Suryakant and Rajani.
Rajani couldn’t help but compare them to her relationship with Harsha. She tried to imagine herself in Shikha’s position – she instantly shuddered mentally. No! It didn’t fit and so embarrassing with her father and in laws sitting around them.
This Shikha ki bachhi needed a talking to!
It was time for them to leave and to compensate for his (and Rajani’s) transgressions (water in daughter’s sasural and all that stuff) Suryakant thrust money in the hands of the three young ones scampering about the house.
And of course, there was a special envelope for Amardeep.
Amu let go of Shikha’s hand and slid his arm around Shikha’s waist and pulled her close to him.
Rajani’s eyes flickered and she looked away hastily, giving the couple some space.
Harsha had never made any such overtures towards her. But she liked it that way. She wouldn’t have been able to take Harsha pawing her in public or making sheep eyes at her, the way Amu was. Feeling the bubbles rise, she quickly slid into the waiting cab.
Finally they were off.
As the car slid down the road, Shikha peered out of the window waving at the receding figure of Amu till she couldn’t see him anymore.
“Shikhs!” Rajani pounced. “What on earth is the matter with you?”
Shikha sniffed and blinked away a tear. “What? Nothing.” She surreptitiously dabbed at her eyes.
“Are you crazy? Have you lost it?” Rajani was incredulous.
“Yeah,” Shikha looked at Rajani with a mournful expression, “I have lost it Rajji.” She cast a look at Suryakant sitting in the front seat and lowered her voice; “I hate being apart from Amu for even one second.” She confessed. Tears slid down her cheeks, looking woebegone and quite the tragedy queen.
A stab of envy and doubt pierced Rajani as she stared at Shikha.
She was glad she wasn’t crazily besotted with Harsha. But, she admitted to herself, she wouldn’t mind Harsha being this obsessed with her…
“What’s that?” Rajani asked.
Click here for the next chapter: Worlds Apart