By the time the girls woke up the next day it was a full house, bursting at the seams. The hitherto spacious two-storeyed house was crammed with uncles, aunts and boys – boys of varying sizes infested each and every nook and corner of the house.
“How many cousins do you have?” Rajani was taken aback. She shrank back in alarm as the roof rumbled and shook alarmingly. “What’s that?”
Shikha rolled her eyes, “That is just the boys having fun. Though why they can’t play outside on the field I don’t understand,” she grumbled. “You know I just have 5 brothers but each of them is accompanied by millions of boys,” she fumed. “Whenever I come, the house is horribly crowded with the village boys. They come before breakfast and leave only at dinnertime. Never a moment of peace,” she sounded just like her mother. “Stay clear of them Rajji.”
Rajani of course had no intentions of crossing their paths. If she could have her way she would have stayed inside their room. But of course that wasn’t possible. Besides the boys had no compunctions about crossing invisible Lakshman rekhas, especially ones that didn’t burst into flames upon being violated.
“Who is this Moti?” the gang leader of the motley group asked Shikha as they barged in uninvited into their sanctuary.
Rajani promptly burst into tears. Shikha went red in the face and stamped her foot. “She is not fat. She is Rajani, my friend from Chandigarh.”
“Moti! Moti Rajani from Chandigarh! Moti Moti.” The boys chanted as they whooped and danced around the girls. “Stop it! Stop it!” screamed Shikha. “Don’t you dare talk that about my friend like that!” she shook her fist at them. But the boys were unimpressed. “Mummy!” Shikha let out an ear-piercing shriek before bursting into tears as an expression of solidarity with her friend.
Kirti came running and shooed away the boys. Their life’s ambition achieved, the boys swaggered out chests puffed up and victory cries on their lips.
“Mamma! Mammmmaaaaaa!” Rajani threw herself on the bed and sobbed heartrendingly. “I want Mamma.”
It was clearly an emergency and all the women folk chipped in for damage control. The boys of the house were rounded up by their ears and made to apologize to Rajani while the rest of the gang were banished to their respective homes.
But Rajani was quite inconsolable. She cried and she cried enough to flood the entire house, if not the village. “I want to go home to Mamma,” was the only thing she said over and over again.
And the worst of it was that Lalit had left for Chandigarh early that morning after meeting his brothers upon their return late last night. Seeing Rajani’s state, Kirti had even tried calling her husband on his mobile – perhaps he wouldn’t mind turning back to pick Rajani up. But then there was no network. So now they were stuck with a hysterical unmanageable weeping little girl and nobody had the slightest clue as to how to proceed next.
Finally Biji left her throne and deigned to huff and puff her way upstairs. She threw everybody out of the room, including a red-eyed red nosed Shikha and boomed, “What nonsense is all this?”
Terrified, Rajani sat up. She noticed that it was just her and Biji in the room. Petrified, Rajani scooted to the other end of the bed and made hasty repairs to her tear ravaged face. “Who do you think you are? Biji thundered, “some Maharani? What did the boys do? Did they hit you?”
Rajani’s lips trembled and tears filled her eyes.
“Did they?” the pigeons on the windowsill scattered as Biji slammed her palm on the side table.
Rajani shivered and trembled as she cowered. “Tell me. I will punish the boys!” Biji declared ominously, “did they or did they not hit you? Speak up girl.” She thrust her face into Rajani’s.
Rajani swallowed and shook her head.
“Hmm.” Biji straightened. “So why are you crying?”
“They…they,” Rajani hiccupped and stammered, “they called me Moti and dan…danced all around me…ee,” she dissolved into fresh tears.
Biji burst into derisive laughter. “Is that all?” She leaned forward to glare at Rajani. “Now look here girl. You are a guest at our place. If there is some major issue we will try our best to sort it for you. And in your place, as a guest, you have to make the best of what you get. Understand?”
Rajani nodded even though she didn’t really get it. When was she going home?
“Enough of this early morning drama.” Biji closed the chapter and ordered, “now come down and eat your breakfast.” She unbent slightly and patted Rajani on the head, “I am sure you are just hungry. Come on now hurry up.” She put a hand on her arm and hauled her out of bed.
Rajani meekly followed Biji downstairs. Actually there was not much scope for her to make an escape for Biji was leaning heavily on her.
A blush of shame enveloped Rajani as she saw the boys eating their breakfast. But they didn’t even spare her a glance. Only Shikha came running. “Rajji!” she gave her a hug, “come let’s eat breakfast.”
Rajani shook her head. “No I don’t want to eat.”
“Why?” Shikha was surprised. “Today there is halwa puri. It’s yummy. Don’t you love it?”
Rajani faltered. Her expression closed. “No.” She crossed her arms.
“What happened dear?” Kirti came up and sat down on her haunches beside her, “are you still upset?”
The love and affection in Kirti’s voice was Rajani’s undoing. Tears rolled down her cheeks. “They called me Moti,” she blubbered and sniffled in Kirti’s arms.
“There, there.” Kirti patted her and hugged her. Rajani sobbed even louder while Biji started scolding Kirti for triggering Rajani again.
Shikha shook Rajani. “But so what? Even Bhai calls you Moti doesn’t he?”
“They also danced and laughed at me.”
“So why don’t you also dance and laugh! What’s so bad about that?” Biji snapped quite out of patience. “And look at Hari, the whole village calls him Kallu on account of his dark skin and look at Golu, poor thing doesn’t have any name other than Golu except may be Motu. Right Golu?”
Busy demolishing a pile of puris, Golu nodded cheerfully. “I am going to be a wrestler when I grow up. So I need to eat.”
“See, he is quite happy with his name. Go on call him Motu if you like.”
Rajani shook her head. “No I wont. It’s bad manners to say such awful things about someone else.” She sniffed superiorly.
“Oho!” Biji stared at Rajani struck. “My, my, chit of a girl and such airs! Don’t you know it’s bad manners to make such a fuss, that too in somebody else’s house?”
Biji smiled in satisfaction as Rajani flushed a deep red.
“Now go and eat. One shouldn’t insult food. Do you know that or has your mother taught you nothing?”
Rajani grudgingly accepted her breakfast plate piled with hot puris and halwa. She delicately picked at her food. But to tell the truth she was starving and the aroma was overpowering – Biji had poked her at the right moment!
Things cooled down a bit after a hearty breakfast – at least Rajani did; the world didn’t seem quite so bleak and hostile. But the boys weren’t so forgiving – all of them had received an earful each and two – a thrashing from their mothers and worse, “Is this how you behave with guests in our home? Wait till your father comes home.”
That was the worst punishment ever – tell to HIM.
The boys fretted over this fate worse than death the whole daylong and ran circles around their mothers pleading to be let off this one last time. The mothers of course, in turn, played hard to get, milking their repentance (while it lasted) for all they were worth – the boys had to scrub the kitchen floor clean, sweep the open courtyard, bring firewood, cut them and stack them up neatly – and generally stay out of mischief.
All this was possible only because Biji had been specially invited to an exclusive ceremony at the Sarpanch’s house where she gone with her two sons. Her return had possibly never been so eagerly awaited. Every other minute or so, the laboring boys (all five were punished) would drop their task to check if Biji was coming or not. To their utter disgust and disappointment, there was no sign of her till after lunch. They contented themselves by shaking their fists and muttering vile curses at the girls who watched them giggling from the safety of the first floor window.
“What the hell is going on?!!!!” Biji was aghast at the sight that met her eyes. Her beloved boys toiling away like girls. How dare they do this to their own sons? “Bahooooo,” she howled and the three daughter-in-laws came running out, hurriedly pulling on their dupattas, “Yes Biji?” the eldest one said meekly.
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