“Oh hello Shanti! Come in, come in,” Kirti warmly ushered in Mrs Sinha. “Biji you remember Shanti right?” As Shanti turned to greet the elder Mrs Suri, Kirti immediately turned to the girls – she frowned warningly at them, put a finger to her lips and hurriedly waved them away.
Giggling softly the girls obediently rushed away but unable to resist they peeped out through the doorway, only partially hidden by the curtains.
“Namaste Mataji. How are you? So good to see you here. I saw your kurta drying outside, so I thought of coming over to say Namaste to you. And here,” she handed a covered box, “I made kadi-chawal for lunch. It is so tasty – I must have finished half of it myself.” She laughed – her trademark laugh. Sinha aunty funneled her mouth and made a hooting kind of a sound – hoohoohoohoo
This was exactly what the girls had been waiting for – Rajani rolled on the floor clutching her stomach but Shikha was made of sterner stuff. She stood still by the doorway her eyes focused unblinkingly on Sinha Aunty avidly drinking in her gestures, storing it up for later replay. Kirti looked back just in time to see Shikha standing by the door wearing an intense focused look pushing her lips into a budding snout.
“Shikha! Go in and study.” She made urgent motions with her hand, afraid that Shanti would see her and take offence.
But Kirti needn’t have worried for Shanti was on a roll. “You know yesterday I made Chole bhature, yummm,” she had the most rapturous expression. “So tasty, so tasty,” her hands waved and danced patterns in the air, “I cannot tell you Mataji. Everyone was licking their hands. I wanted to get some over but the hogs finished it all up. I am going to make puri sabzi tomorrow. My puris are very soft and delicious. You know my secret? I use hot water to knead the dough, you should try it sometime Kirtiji. Oho,” she looked down at the phone in her hand, “sorry I got to go, tell me how the kadi-chawal was,” her voice faded in the distance.
Feeling a bit short of breath, Kirti heaved a big sigh. How did she manage to speak so much so fast?
She turned back as she heard snuffling from the next room. Of course it was the girls – actually Shikha was speaking and Rajani was as expected giggling uncontrollably.
“Oh Kirtiji,” Shikha spoke in a high-pitched voice, “today I boiled some water, so tasty I cannot tell you. I would have got it but what to do,” she too moved her hands up and down, “they all drank it up. I will tell you my secret you take some filter water and put in the kettle on and there! You have it – tasty out of the world hot water, everyone’s favorite.”
Kirti felt bubbles of laughter rising but she clamped them down, “Shikha, is this any way to talk about a elder person?”
Shikha turned her bright dancing eyes to her, “Mom, isn’t she funny? Come on be honest.”
“I…I have a lot of work, I can’t waste my time chatting with you people. Rajani I really don’t know what will happen the next time you meet Sinha Aunty.” Kirti shook her head and vanished before she gave in and joined the girls – really Mrs Sinha was too much – a good soul no doubt but too funny.
“Stop, stop Shikhs stop, I can’t take anymore,” begged Rajani rolling about on the bed clutching her stomach. She gasped for breath.
Shikha relented. She grinned triumphantly. “Mom was also laughing. She didn’t want to show it, but she was.”
Rajani got up from the bed and straightened her dress, “I better go home. Mamma will scold me otherwise. Bye.” She skipped away.
Yet the next instant she was back.
“What happened Rajji?”
“Sinha Aunty is at our home,” she managed to whisper before collapsing on the diwan. After a while she sat up. “She…she was saying ‘bhabhiji I made such lovely pakoras. First, I bought besan from the market…” she simply couldn’t continue.
Shikha was disappointed, “Oh how I wish I could have been there!” She cursed her luck.
“Enough girls. Now drop it.” Kirti said sternly. “Rajani you better go home. Your mother called.”
“Aunty, please let me stay till Sinha Aunty goes away, otherwise Mamma will surely give me a thrashing.”
“What thrashing will Nisha give?” Kirti sniffed as she vanished into the kitchen, “more likely that she will join Rajani in giggling. Like mother like daughter.”
“I am so bored Mamma. Shikha has also gone away for the weekend to her Mama’s place. Mamma, why don’t we ever go to anybody’s place?”
“Go and study Rajani. I thought you wanted to become a doctor. Go and study.”
“But Mamma I have already done my homework and everything. There’s nothing to do.” It was Saturday. Abhi was at coaching and her father was out on some work.
Nisha sighed. “Go and clean out your cupboard. It’s such a mess.”
Obediently Rajani went off to her mother’s bidding, albeit reluctantly. She returned shortly. “It’s done. Mamma,” she tugged at her mother’s kurta, “can’t we go for a movie? There’s no TV at home either.”
“Nahi beta. Now go and tidy up your study table. Make separate piles for your schoolbooks and storybooks. The whole house is littered with storybooks. I will sell them off to the kabadi wala, if I see a single book…”
Rajani ran off. She was busy was sometime and then luckily she found some old books she hadn’t read in a while, so she settled down to read them again.
But first things first.
“I am hungry. Can I have something to eat?”
“Lunch is almost ready. Shall I make rotis for you?”
Rajani shook her head. “Something else.” She poked a hole in the woodwork. “Something interesting.”
Nisha shook her head ruefully. “Here, take this.” She gave her a bowl of watermelon.
“Yumm.” Her eyes sparkled. “Are they chilled?”
“Yes.” Nisha nodded. “Now don’t throw the pips here and there.”
But Rajani had disappeared with her loot.
Peace reigned for some time as Rajani perused a tattered copy of the Mahabharata will nibbling the juicy chilled fruit.
“Mamma.” Rajani was back at the kitchen doorway.
“Hmm?” Nisha was busy stirring a pot.
“Why did Kunti put Karna in the water?”
Nisha’s hand stilled. She turned around. “Well, it happened many many years ago,” she said, trying to buy time. “Probably because she wasn’t married at that time.”
“I thought you couldn’t have a baby if you weren’t married? Didn’t Yamraj return Satyavan’s life because he had granted Savitri the boon of bearing one hundred sons? And Satyavan was already dead?”
“Yes, yes, that’s true,” Nisha said feeling a bit frazzled.
“So then how could Kunti have a baby without being married?”
“Oho Rajani, can’t you see I am busy? Go and see if the clothes have dried. Bring them in even if they are half-dry.”
“But Mamma tell me first…”
“Rajani…” Nisha said in a warning tone.
Rajani subsided. “Okay fine. Let Papa come, I will ask him. I can also ask Bhai…”
“Rajani first bring in the wash. It may rain any minute. Then we will talk ok?”
Rajani tripped off.
Nisha rolled her eyes. She would have to come up with something and soon.
“Well, it happens that one cannot have babies without being married but sometimes,” Nisha chose her words with care, “sometimes, under special circumstances, it is possible to have a baby without being married.” She sent up a silent prayer – hey Bhagwan please let her not question further.
Rajani stood silently as she digested that piece of information. She played with her plait as the wheels churned and whirred.
“Mamma.” She came to an important conclusion. “I will also have a baby without getting married. But I will keep the baby. Okay?”
“What! Are you crazy?”
Rajani was bewildered. “Why? Babies are so adorable. I want a baby, but I don’t want to get married and go away from home. I will have a baby and stay at home. It will be such fun right Mamma?”
“Please Rajani, don’t talk nonsense. It is the society’s norm to first get married and then have a baby. So give up this brilliant idea of yours. And,” she shook her finger warningly at Rajani, “no need to discuss this with anyone, not your father or your brother. Understood?”
Taken aback by her mother’s stern expression, Rajani nodded her head with alacrity – without really understanding.
She went away – dissatisfied, confused and worried.
There was another bigger storm brewing. Unwilling to risk annoying her mother again, she chewed over it by herself. But the problem just got bigger and bigger until she was in tears.
“Come for lunch Rani.” Her mother came into the room. She stopped in surprise. “What happened? Not the baby thing?” she asked with foreboding.
Rajani wiped her face and shook her head dolefully. “Mamma, what if Papa gets married again?”
“What?” Nisha looked at her blankly – where had that come from?
“Pandu had two wives, so what if Papa has another wife and other babies.” She was sobbing piteously now.
“Oho Rani beta, you shouldn’t believe all that you read. That is just a story isn’t it?”
“But didn’t you say it happened many many years ago?”
“Y…yes, but then because he shouldn’t have married again, he died didn’t he? That’s why people don’t have more than one wife.” Nisha comforted her crossing her fingers hoping against hope that she wasn’t opening another Pandora’s box.
Rajani sniffed thoughtfully. “But it’s okay for a woman to have more than one husband? Draupadi had five husbands.” She frowned. “Arjuna had many wives, he didn’t die. Even Sri Krishna, Bheema…
Defeated, Nisha sighed. “No beta, the rules of society have changed drastically since the times of Mahabharata. We have to behave according to the rules of the society that are prevalent now and not something that was acceptable thousands of years ago. According to the law, one man can have only one wife and one woman can have only one husband. Understand?”
Relieved, Rajani nodded her head. “So if anyone has more than one husband or wife, they will be put in jail?”
“Is it also against the law to have a child without marrying?”
“But then how do children know whether somebody is married or not?”
“Oho Rajani. You ask so many questions. God decides who can have a baby and who cannot. Ok? Now come on and have lunch. Saara din patar patar patar. Naak main dum kar rakhkha hai is ladki ne.”
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