Rani got off from the bus and hurried towards her home. There were no auto or any rickshaw in sight today. So she would have to walk about 20 minutes to reach home. She increased her pace. She was not used to wearing sarees. She held her sari with an hand so that it did not tangle with her legs. Her shoulders felt sore.
But she did not complain.
Along with her laptop, there was the Diwali gift in her laptop bag ! She smiled to herself.
This was Rani's first job and it was the first time she had received any gift from the office ! She felt so good !
The excitement had started two days back when she received the email from HR that today will be an "Ethnic Day" and the employees should come in ethnic attire. There will be prizes for the best dressed male and female. That night, she whispered to Shekhar "Which sari should I wear ? The red one with Golden motifs or the peacock Blue silk sari with green pallu which Rinky Mausi had given as the wedding gift ? "
"Uh ... " Shekhar mumbled. "Arre , you look good in any sari !" He turned towards her, put his arm over her stomach and kissed her. "Now go to sleep. I have an important meeting tomorrow and have to reach office early".
Within 5 minutes, Shekhar was fast asleep.
Rani and Shekhar got married about a year and a half back. It was an arranged marriage. Before they tied the knot, Rani had told Shekhar that she would like to continue working. She was a compute Engineer and had got placed in an IT firm . Shekhar and his parents did not object.
Rani's friend Anju was indignant when she heard this .
"You took permission for working ?? Shoudn't that be your own right and decision ? "
Anju was a rebel. But yes, Rani too felt that she should be independent to take her own decision. But that is not how arranged marriages work .. The females still have a long way to go . Rani knew that Shekhar and her in-laws actually want her to work. They know that the money will come into their household. And nowadays, it is really impossible to maintain a decent standard of living on a single income. On top of that, the uncertainty of private company jobs loomed large on everybody's mind.
As usual, Rani had got up in the morning at 5.30 am an prepared tea for everybody. She prepared lemon water for her father-in-law . At 6 am, she took two cups of tea and the glass of lemon water , knocked on the door and heard her mother in law's voice. After serving them, she quickly poured two cups of tea and went inside her bedroom to wake up Shekhar. He was still fast asleep.
"Get up ! You said you had to leave early. I too need about 15 minutes more time to tie the sari " Rani was really excited.
She decided on the Red and Gold sari. It was more manageable than the heavy Peacock blue one. It will be easier to travel in the bus in the red one. She had first decided to take a cab to work, but thinking about the expense , she dismissed the idea.
After finishing her tea, she rushed into the kitchen. The maid was late today. So she started cutting the vegetables. After her marriage, her mother-in-law had made it clear about the responsibilities. Everyday i the morning, Rani prepared the breakfast - usually sandwich or paratha or poha . She prepared the vegetable which Shekhar and Rani packed for tiffin and her in-laws had for lunch. Extra things like Dal or salad and Roti or rice , Shekhar's mother prepared when they had lunch.
The maid usually helped Rani by cutting vegetables , washing utensils etc. But today, she was late. Rani grimaced. Twice a month, this maid took unplanned leaves.
"God ! Let it not be today ! " She whispered to herself and almost cut her fingers while cutting the potatoes She had rarely ventured into the kitchen before marriage and her mother-in-law sometimes passed snide remarks about her inexperience and mistakes.
Somehow she had managed to save about 7 minutes and draped the sari. She put kohl in her deep , big eyes. Put a small red bindi on her forehead. She rummaged through her trinkets and found a small red jhumka. After contemplating whether to wear it or not, she decided against it. It would be too "dressy" and with all the people in the bus and jostling and standing, she would feel really uncomfortable.
The office looked festive. There was a huge Rangoli in front of the reception. The cubicles were decorated with strips of coloured ribbons of different colour. Tiny stringed lights were lighted on the conference room doors.
"Happy Diwali Rani ! You look gorgeous and ... different !" Alok , her team mate quipped. Rani blushed.
Shekhar had also given her an appreciative look. "Hey ! Be careful ! Don't let any male come near you !" Rani had shoved him lovingly.
The females were in sarees or salwar suits and the males were in Sherwani , dressy Kurta etc.
Whole day passed away just like that and Rani could hardly work on her piece of code. She knew that she would have to stay back late day after tomorrow to compete her task. She made a face.
"The day after Diwali ... uff ... why could they not get two days off ? It would have been a long weekend. The people at onsite ... they never miss their Christmas, whereas we have to slog it out even on Diwali ... "
These trains of thought could have made her gloomy , but then suddenly the HR team came to her cubicle and handed over the Diwali Gift . It was a small box, wrapped in a shiny cover.
"Happy Diwali !" Shruti, the HR associate smiled.
Her team mate Pooja and many others had already opened the gift wrap. It was box of dry fruits. Pistachios, Cashew nuts, raisins and a few Cadbury chocolates.
Rani did not open her box. She wanted to gift it to Shekhar. It was their first diwali together. She wanted Shekhar to open it. As Rani was keeping it carefully in her laptop bag, suddenly there was a lot of commotion towards the conference room.
"Rani ... come quickly ! The best dressed male and female will be announced"
Rani's heart missed a beat.
Will she , will she not ?
The conference room was choc a block.
Damini, the HR manager was standing on the raised platform with a piece of paper in her hand.
"Come on Damini ! Break the suspense ! Announce !"
Damini looked arround her , her eyes bright and a big smile on er lovely face.
"Ok ! Ladies and gentlemen ! Here we go ... " Damini said. The crowd cheered.
"Well, the best dressed male prize goes to ... Abhishek !! " Abhishek almost jumped and went on the stage to get his prize. Loud clapping !!
"Now for the best dressed female ..."
Rani's heart thudded. "God , God , God ! please ....!"
"The judges were in a real fix on this one because there was a tie" Damini announced. There was silence on the floor. "After a lot of debate, the judges came to the conclusion.... Had it not been for her jhumkas, Rani would have won this prize. The prize goes to ... Preeti ...."
Thunderous round of applause greeted Preeti. Rani's eyes smarted and tears made her vision a bit hazy.
"Bad luck , Rani " the person beside her said. "Next time do not forget the jhumkas ..." he said.
Rani tried to smile.
It was almost 8.30 when she finally reached home. Shekhar's mother had started arranging a few diyas for the Choti Diwali. Shekhar was also back.
As she entered the drawing room, she saw four huge packets of dry fruits kept on the centre table. Shekhar was sipping tea.
"Oh ! You are so late ! Mom prepared tea for me "
"Rani ... come and arrange the diya's please ..." Her mother-in-law bellowed.
"Finish you work and come soon to the bedroom... It is Diwali tomorrow , a holiday ... we can get up late ...."
Rani went inside the kitchen to pour herself some tea, but the kettle was empty. Rani suddenly felt very tired. She loathed the idea of preparing tea just for herself.
"And see , these dry fruit packets. The big one I got from my office. This one was given by my client. And the other two were gifts from my subordinate .."
Rani went inside her bedroom and removed her sari and changed into a plain salwar kameej. She cleansed her face. removed her kohl.
She looked at the mirror.
"Who am I ? What am I ?" She asked herself. Rani slowly opened her laptop bag and took out her Diwali gift.
She put the gift on top of the four packets.
Shekhar was watching TV. He glanced at her.
"What is that ? Dry fruits ? Gift from office ? Such a small packet ? " he laughed. Her father in law looked up from the newspaper , looked at the packet and gave an amused look.
"Anyways, don't worry ! The packets which I have got will see us thru for at least 3 months " Shekhar said.
Was her excitement about the "Ethnic day" at office, her decking up in a sari so inconsequential to Shekhar ? Will he ask her about it before going to sleep ? Or was her contribution and importance just like thesmall diwali gift ?
Rani went inside the kitchen and started warming up the food for dinner and arranging the plates on the dining table.
Tomorrow is Diwali. It is a holiday for both Rani and Shekhar.
Shekhar will get up late.
But Rani's day will start at 6 am.
She will prepare tea and lemon water for Shekhar's parents.