Judgement Day – Chapter 4
Nandita sensed her tension the minute she saw her. Rachana was having a coffee break at the coffee machine when Nandita spotted her. Rachana had not waited for her today like the past few days.
“Hey! I looked for you at the auto-stand. Were you late? Or early?”
“Ok. You are very angry at something. Or someone. Out with it.”
“Why should I tell you anything?”
“Because, if you don’t tell it to somebody, you are going to burst. And right now I am the only one available.”
“Ok. Fair enough. A boy and his parents are coming to ‘see’ me this Sunday. I am absolutely degraded by the concept of that.”
“But, sweetie, that is part of the arrangement in an ‘arranged’ marriage. And you do not go for love match.”
“Even then, there should be some middle way. Am I to be paraded before some strangers as a prize cow?”
“Well, look at it this way. You get to look at the boy and his family as well. He might be feeling the same thing, only worse, because he has to haul himself over to your place so that he can get ‘looked at.’”
Rachana could not help but laugh at this. “You are good for my morale, do you know that?”
“Sure. I am your laugh-a-minute buddy.” Nandita chucked the foam cup in the bin and waved before heading back. Rachana finished her coffee as well.
Sunday saw a flurry of activities. Rachana’s father went to the market to get several sweets and savouries for the potential groom’s party. Her mother was busy giving the front room a fresh look. Rachana had strict instructions to have ample rest, lest she look tired and haggard when the guests arrived. She was not to set foot in the kitchen, have an early lunch and have a siesta before she dressed and prepared to meet them.
“Here. There is bada and laddu. I have also got some nuts and potato chips. Maybe the young guy will not like traditional fare; he might prefer chips.” Rachana’s father was back from the market. Her mother took the shopping bag to the kitchen. Rachana was in her room, trying to read a book, but she could hear every word. She was too tense to concentrate in her book. She wanted the whole thing over with so that she could get back to her normalcy. She wished this was not happening. She was anxious to see the boy.
At last the doorbell rang. Rachana’s father, who had donned a fresh white outfit, went to answer the door. Rachana could hear pleasantries being exchanged.
“Oh, do please come in.” Sounds of shuffling feet. Then, “Oh, no need of that, you can keep your shoes on.”
“It was rather dusty on the road.” Unknown male voice.
“That must be the father.” Rachana thought to herself. Chairs creaking. They all sat down.
“This is too much, really. We cannot possibly eat all these.” Unknown female voice.
“Ah, the potential mother-in-law.”
Then her mother came in the room. Rachana looked up, anxious in spite of herself.
“You have to come now. Remember to keep your head down and speak in a low voice.”
“And speak only when spoken to.”
They went to the front room together, mother and daughter.
Three people were seated , with her father sitting at the far corner of the room.
“Come on, my dear, sit beside me.” The lady invited. Rachana looked at her mother, unsure. She nodded encouragement. Rachana went and sat beside the empty chair beside her. Only then it occurred to her that the chair had been deliberately placed, so that the lady could get a good look at her. Now, she took Rachana’s hand in her own and remarked, “She is beautiful.”
“I am present here, you know.” Rachana thought to herself.
“Don’t you think so, Mukesh ?”
“She is.” A deep male voice said from the depths of the room. Rachana turned and looked towards the voice.
A young man was sitting sprawled on the chair, his legs stretched and crossed at the ankles before him. He was clean shaven, his hair brushing his collar; he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. When Rachana looked at him, he grinned.
“Yes, I like you, I like you very much indeed.”
“Mukesh!” The father of the young man said in a warning voice. Mukesh held up both his hands in a gesture of surrender and slumped back. Rachana turned back to the elderly lady, who smiled at her. The lady asked, “So, Rachana, what do you do besides working in a private IT firm?”
“Um, I –“
“Oh, she can do all and every household chore.” Rachana’s father cut in. “Cooking, washing, cleaning. She looks after the household as well when her mother is away or ill.”
Rachana looked at her father, perplexed. What was going on?
“Do you prefer North Indian or South Indian cuisine? Because, Mukesh prefers to have chicken and fish, you know.”
“Well, I – I do not have any preference, really. I know a few North Indian dishes, but – “
“That will do, darling. We can have lots of rollicking food later.” Mukesh said, looking at Rachana in a strangely lewd way. Rachana was taken aback. She was not used to being leered at; her colleagues at work were like friends and she was comfortable with male company. But this guy made her feel uncomfortable.
“We are over with you. You can go in now.” Mukesh’s mother was saying now.
“So soon? I would like to get to know her a bit better.”
“Later, Mukesh.” His father said from the other end of the room. Taking the cue, Rachana got up and left the room with a sigh of relief.
Back in her room, she could hear voices going on in the other room. After some time, her mother came in.
“Ma? What is it?”
“I do not think this is going to work out, Rachana. The boy is absolutely no good for you.”
Rachana inwardly heaved a sigh of relief. “Ok, whatever you say.”
After a while, sounds of people leaving could be heard. Then Rachana’s father came in.
“I do not think so.” Said her mother.
“Hmm. The boy was too outgoing.”
“Not only that. I think he was trying to be too smart because Rachana intimidated him. He is not used to a girl like her.”
“He works in a government office. He must have seen girls working before, Ma.” Rachana protested.
“Anyway, we have to wait till they get back to us. We can have some time to think about it that way.” Rachana’s father got up. “Os dinner ready?”
“Of course.” Rachana’s mother got up as well. Conversation was over.
“Whew. I am saved.” Rachana thought.