Editor: Read Chapter XXIV here.
Rajesh, his mother, uncle and aunt landed outside Anjali’s doorstep at the appointed hour. As Rajesh rang the bell, his uncle said, ‘I would hate to live in a rabbit-hole like this. I wonder how they can even breathe!’
Rajesh frowned, but when the door was opened by Anjali’s mother whom he recognised immediately, he was smiling again.
‘Did you have trouble finding the place?’
‘A bit, yes. Our driver knew Panampalli Nagar, he’s been here before, but once we got to Panampalli Nagar, it took us a while to find your building,’ Rajesh’s mother informed Anjali’s mother, earning her a nudge from Rajesh.
The drawing room was furnished with light modern furniture and yellow curtains which gave it an airy touch and made the room seem bigger than it was. The contrast with his uncle’s old bungalow in Thiruvananthapuram, with its heavy furniture, green curtains and musty rooms, couldn’t have been greater. Uncle’s house is a bit rabbit-warren, not this flat, Rajesh planned to tell his mother when they got home.
Anjali’s father appeared, as did her younger brother who was in his mid-twenties.
‘Where’s Anjali?’ Rajesh’s mother demanded. ‘We’re dying to see her. I’ve always wanted a daughter.’
‘She’s coming in a minute.’
‘Ajay!’ Anjali’s father looked at his son in an enquiring manner. Anjali’s brother promptly disappeared upstairs, only to appear after a few seconds and say, ‘she’s coming down soon.’
‘Must be putting on her makeup! Girls these days are so different, aren’t they?’ Rajesh’s uncle adopted a serious, patronising air and Anjali’s parents responded with polite smiles.
‘Ajay, ask her to hurry up,’ Anjali’s mother prodded her son into action.
‘Let her take her time,’ her father countered.
Rajesh’s uncle opened his mouth to say something and then changed his mind. He then said, ‘We belong to a very traditional family. We hold all our traditions very dear to us.’
‘We too have a very reputed family line. However, we have moved with the times.’
‘We take pride in not having changed with the times! Considering the fact that Rajesh is an IPS officer, we could have got him a much better alliance, but I decided to respect his decision, though I don’t like the idea of children deciding important matters like this.’
Anjali’s parents gaped at Rajesh’s uncle as if he had landed from outer space.
‘When Rajesh told me that he was in love with Anjali, his classmate at ITN, I nearly slapped him!’ Rajesh’s uncle laughed heartily at his own joke, which wasn’t really a joke, while Anjali’s parents looked as if they could slap him. However, Rajesh’s uncle did not notice anything amiss.
‘We are here solely because Rajesh told me that he is in love with your daughter. We do not want to get in the way of their future happiness,’ Rajesh’s mother told her son’s future in-laws as if she was making a great diplomatic gesture for her son’s sake, which she was, according to her at least.
‘I fully agree,’ Anjali’s mother quickly chimed in, without taking offence.
‘I don’t mind if Rajesh marries a girl who is the same age as he is, or is darker than him. I just want him,’ Rajesh’s glare made his mother stop short but she completed nevertheless. ‘to be happy.’
‘You have two children, don’t you?’ Anjali’s father quickly asked Rajesh’s uncle.
‘Yes. My son is doing his engineering. He is in his third year. My daughter is doing medicine. She is in her first year.’ There was pride in Rajesh’s uncle’s voice, as he spoke, as much pride in how his children were turning out to be exactly how he wanted them to be, as in the children themselves.
‘Medicine and engineering. A perfect combination!’
‘What do you do?’ Rajesh’s uncle demanded of Ajay.
‘I am with the State Bank of Travancore.’
‘He got in just after he finished his B.Com,’ Anjali’s father added.
‘Did you do an M.Com after that?’
‘What’s the point?’ Ajay asked nonplussed. Rajesh’s uncle didn’t seem to be very impressed.
At that very moment, Anjali made an appearance, clad in a beautiful yellow saree and some simple jewellery. Rajesh’s face brightened up.
‘Anjali! Come here. Let me take a good look at you.’ Anjali obeyed her future mother-in-law’s command and allowed herself to be held by her hands and examined closely, eye-ball to eye-ball. Rajesh’s uncle did not look at Anjali for more than a few seconds, as behoved a person in his position.
‘Beautiful girl!’ Rajesh’s mother declared and turned to give her son a happy smile. ‘She doesn’t look twenty-eight,’ she added. ‘Even though I don’t have a daughter, I know how much pressure you two would be feeling on account of your daughter. You need to get Ajay married as well, don’t you?’ Anjali’s parents smiled as politely as they could.
‘Go on, sit down.’ Anjali gratefully slipped away from Rajesh’s mother’s clutches and sat as far away as she could.
‘When do you want to have the wedding?’ Rajesh’s uncle asked.
‘Whenever. We don’t have any issue with dates. I guess it has to be on a date when both of them have leave.’
‘What leave? Won’t Anjali quit her job before the wedding?’ Rajesh’s uncle turned his head this way and that.
‘She is hoping to get a transfer to Mumbai. Her firm has an office in New Bombay.’
‘But, but…’ Rajesh’s mother started to interject, but her brother cut her off.
‘Generally, I don’t like the idea of women working, especially after they get married. But these days one can’t expect a girl to study engineering or medicine and not work, right? My own daughter, she was very good at studies. When she said she wanted to be a doctor, could I say no? Once she qualifies as a doctor, will she stay at home and not work? No, she will want to work, she will want to do an MD, what good is a medical degree without an MD? Then after her MD, she will continue working and one can’t say no to any of that. I can’t say I am happy, but I do not have an argument to make a girl study well and not work after that.’ Rajesh’s uncle did not expect a response to his statement and no one said a word until Rajesh said, ‘Anjali enjoys working.’
Rajesh’s uncle gave Anjali an indulgent smile but said nothing.
‘Of course, I may get re-transferred to a remote district in Maharashtra, in which case…’
‘Will you be posted to that horrible place Anjali told us about?’ Anjali’s mother asked Rajesh fearfully.
‘Gadchiroli?’ Rajesh laughed. ‘It was a beautiful place, but no, I don’t expect to be posted there again. But you never know.’
Anjali’s mother disappeared into the kitchen and came back to announce, ‘Tea is ready. Shall we move to the dining room?’
Anjali’s father parted the curtains to reveal a table laden with homemade sweets, delicacies purchased from a nearby bakery and cups of tea.
‘We never buy anything from the bakery. I insist on cooking everything we consume at home.’ Rajesh’s mother’s declaration earned her looks of disdain from Anjali’s parents.
‘Can Anjali cook?’ Rajesh’s uncle demanded of the family at large.
‘A little,’ Anjali’s father conceded, just as her mother added, ‘she cooks very well. I’ve taught her everything she needs to know.’ Rajesh’s uncle gave Anjali’s mother a nod of approval.
‘In Maharashtra, it’s so easy to hire a cook. It’s not like Kerala where you have so much trouble hiring domestic workers. At Gadchiroli, I had a cook provided by the government, who came with the bungalow I lived in,’ Rajesh said.
Rajesh’s uncle shot daggers at him and his mother pursed her lips to convey her disapproval.
Rajesh then made matters worse by saying, ‘Why don’t you people have your tea? I need to talk to Anjali.’ He proceeded to walk out of the room, followed by Anjali. As they walked out, they heard Anjali’s father say, ‘We hope Rajesh’s father will be there for the wedding. I hope you people are in touch with him. Do you know where he is?’
Rajesh and Anjali strained to hear the response from Rajesh’s mother or his uncle, but there was only silence.
Featured Image (Cover): Nisha Joseph
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