“There is a proposal for your marriage.” Rachana’s father said at dinner.
Rachana looked up from her plate. Sunil went on eating hungrily beside her. He always ate with the same voracious appetite no matter what the time of the day was. Rachana’s mother dropped another chapatti on his plate.
“Some more vegetables?” she asked. Sunil shook his head.
“Marriage?” Rachana was taken aback. She was not prepared for this.
“The boy is of a good family. He is educated, works in a government office. His family owns land and property, and he does not have any sister.”
“What has that got to do with it?”
“Quite a lot. A sister is a burden; you have to marry her off.” Sunil spoke up.
“Really? I can’t wait for you to marry me off.” Rachana was surprised. “Where had you been all evening, by the way?”
“I had something to attend to.”
“The only thing you should attend to is your exams. They are barely a month away.”
Sunil picked up his glass of water and emptied it. Then he pushed his chair back and stood up to leave.
“You will not understand.”
“Is that all? You barely ate anything.” Their mother protested.
“I am full, Ma.” Sunil left.
“Well? What do you think about it? You are 24 already. I think this is the right age for you to be married. It will be too late after this.”
“I need some time. Let me think.” Rachana too left the table. She suddenly felt full and could barely look at the food.
“Rachana! You have left food on your plate.” Her mother called.
“It was all those pakoras, Ma. I am not very hungry.”
Back in her room, Rachana sat down on her bed, her legs drawn up under her, and leaned on the headboard, looking up at the ceiling. She suddenly felt very lonely. She wished she had somebody, a friend, whom she could talk to.
Was she ready for marriage?
“Rachana! Wait for me.” Nandita was calling from behind. Rachana stopped on her way to the office. She was running late and didn’t want to linger, but she did not want to be rude to Nandita either.
“Ooof! I am late.” Nandita was breathless, her face flushed.
“So am I. We have to hurry.”
Rachana and Nandita walked towards the elevator briskly.
“What is it?” Nandita asked. They were waiting for the elevator.
“You seem pre-occupied.”
“I am late.”
“So am I. But you seem worried. Is something the matter?”
Rachana hesitated. Nandita was nice, but she was not a friend, not really. They saw each other only while arriving at the office. Moreover, Rachana was not used to confiding.
“Come on! Out with it.”
The elevator arrived and they got into it. There was not much scope for talk as other people were present as well.
Rachana went to her cubicle and put down her purse. She was thirsty, but this was not the time to go looking for the water fountain. She sat down and put her PC on.
“Good morning.” Rachana looked back. Sudesh Singh, a junior executive was standing at her shoulder. Rachana smiled.
“Good morning, Sir.”
“Not ‘Sir,’ please, Rachana. I told you before.”
Rachana smiled politely, but didn’t reply. It was common knowledge that Sudesh had a soft spot for Rachana, but she was determined not to let that get too far. Now she turned in her chair and received the bunch of papers that Sudesh handed out to her.
“Thank you. Can I get them by lunchtime?”
“Yes, of course.” Sudesh moved away. Rachana logged on and started to work. She was aware of Sudesh’s interest in her. She was even attracted to him herself, but was determined not to let any personal feeling get in the way of her career. This was just the start. She knew she would go far. “But what about what Papa said? AM I really too old to get married and have a family?” she suddenly thought. Rachana wanted to do well in her career, but she wanted to have a husband and children as well. “Why can’t I have both? Lots of women do.”
It was lunch time. Usually, junior employees would gather in the common room and eat. There was a canteen, but Rachana seldom got food from there. She preferred to bring her own lunch; it saved money. Today, she was not feeling hungry. The thought of the paratha and achaar suddenly did not seem appetizing. “Maybe I shall try the canteen today.”
Canteen was noisy and full of people having their midday meal. Rachana carried her tray from the counter but all the tables seemed to be occupied. She stood in the middle of the hall, looking for a place to sit down, and feeling a little foolish.
“Maybe this was a mistake.” She thought to herself. Then she heard him.
Sudesh was standing at her shoulder, again, a tray in his hands. “Looking for a place to eat?”
Rachana nodded. “I had no idea this would be so crowded.”
Sudesh laughed. “Come on.”
Rachana followed him through a door which was at the back of the hall. It was a dining room, where executives and management staff had their meal. Sudesh went to an empty able and put his tray down. He looked at Rachana and smiled, gesturing her to sit down. Rachana did not smile back.
“I really cannot, Sir.”
“Well, this is the management dining room. And I would rather be with my colleagues.”
Sudesh’s smile faded. “You do not want to have lunch with me?”
“Not here. It will give rise to gossip. Both ends. I – thank you for your kindness, but I really cannot. I – I am sorry.”
Rachana said quietly and turned and went out. Outside , she looked for a place in vain. Then someone waving caught her eye. Nandita. Rachana smiled and went to her.
“Hi again.” Nandita shouted above the din. She gestured with her hand for Rachana to sit down beside her on the long bench. Rachana sat down and put her tray on the table with a sigh of relief.
“What brings you here?”
“Wanted a change.” Rachana shouted back, both laughing. They ate in comfortable silence for some time, then Nandita set back the food with a sigh of disgust.
“This is awful. I can’t have it any more.”
“Why not? The food is good.” Rachana tucked in some more puri and vegetables into her mouth.
“That is because it is a first time for you. Want some tea?”
“Um, do we have the time?”
Nandita looked at her watch. “We have ten minutes left. Come on.”
“Outside. We can have tea at the fountain.”
“Ok.” Rachana put back her tray and both went back to the lobby where the tea and coffee machine was. They both took a foam cup of hot black tea and sipped.
“Ahh. This is good. Now tell me.” Nandita said.
“Tell you what?” Rachana was blowing into the tea in an effort to cool it down a bit.
“What is it that is making you abandon your usual lunch and have the adventure in the canteen. By the way, Sudesh and you were noticed by many.”
“It was not my fault. He is my senior and –“
“Yes, yes, we all know that. But that is not what is bothering you. You were out of sorts this morning too.”
Rachana took a cautious sip of the very hot tea looking thoughtful.
“Well?” Nandita raised a brow.
Rachana made a decision. “You are right. There is something. But I cannot talk to you now. Maybe after work?”
“Ok. See you then.”
Lunch was over. Rachana sighed and went back to work. But she felt a lot lighter, now that she had got somebody she could confide in.