It’s warm and sunny Sunday morning in the month of February. Karthik loved the month of February. Pune, his loving city somehow blossomed in February and kept him in high spirits through the day.
But he was much happier today. Just, last week he received his appointment letter with his dream software company as a Project Manager. but today was also one of the most important days for him – it was Kakaji’s birthday. All the family was going to get together and have fun on the auspicious day of Vasant Panchmi.
Kakaji was very dear to Karthik. After his parents passed away in a horrific car accident when he was just 9. Kakaji’s love, warmth and care helped him not just understand the tragedy but helped come to terms with the vacant space in his life as he grew older.
Indebtness is too small a word for Kakaji, thought Karthik gazing at the hillock from his apartment window.
“Baba! Babaaa! Let’s go down and play. Today I want you to show me how to swing higher”, cajoled Gayatri.
“No beta. Aaz Kakaji cha vaadha divas hota (Today is Kakaji’s birthday). All of us need to go visit him, take his blessings and spend time with family at his farmhouse. Now let me go take a shower and get ready.”, said Karthik hugging his little 8 year old.
“NO! I don’t want to go there.”
“What is this, Gayatri? You know Kakaji loves you more than anyone. I’m sure he must have bought something nice for you.”
“Araay baba. Listen, even Aditi and Prashant will be there. You love playing with them. Don’t you?”
“Fine. I don’t want to argue with you. We are going and you are coming with us.”
Karthik gently pushed her aside and quickly walked towards the bedroom to dress up. He certainly didn’t want to be late.
“Rashmi, you really need to talk to Gayatri”, said Karthik buttoning his kurta. “Why does she always have to throw tantrums every time we have plans to visit family?”
“She is your daughter too, Karthik! Why don’t you listen to her.”, said Rashmi almost sounding frustrated.
“What’s there to listen? You know how I feel about Kakaji. Gayatri’s behavior is embarassing.”
“I have tried Karthik. I’ve told you she feels uncomfortable. Why don’t you try listening to her for once?”
“I…let it be. Let’s just get going.”, ignored Karthik realizing he was about to enter a never concluding argument with his wife.
It was indeed a happy gathering as the three drove into the farm. As he parked the car, Karthik looked towards the lush green lawn. A faint smile brushed across his face as he saw a pretty big gathering of all his relatives – laughing, chatting and having a good time.
“We are here. Let’s go”, said Karthik hurriedly.
“I don’t want to go. I want to go to the Mall.”, persisted Gayatri.
“Gayatri, please do not test my patience. We are here and you are coming with us.”
“I will sit in the car. I don’t want to go.”
“Thobbadit Maaren ek! OUT OF THE CAR AT ONCE. And make sure you behave and wish Kakaji on his birthday. Understand?”, hollered Karthik.
Shocked and terrified at the sudden outburst, Gayatri quickly slipped out of the car and hid right behind Rashmi’s sari. As her eyes turned moist, Gayatri held her mom’s hand and walked beside her, shaking. Away from Karthik.
“Aahhhaaa! Look who is here? Now the celebrations can begin.”, rushed Kakaji towards the three. Visibly happy and elated to see them.
Karthik and Rashmi quickly bent and touched his feet as they wished him. Rashmi having witnessed a stressed husband a moment ago, quickly pushed Gayatri forward asking her to do the same.
“Ohhoo! Not you beta. You belong right here.”, Kakaji stopped Gayatri, and picked her up while lending a quick peck on her puffy cheeks.
“Come. Let us cut the cake.”, said Kakaji as all of them walked towards the mandap ignoring Gayatri’s plea to let her off.
Once the cake cutting ceremony was over, the big family slowly settled down under the mandap continuing their small talk. Karthik and Rashmi got busy with the relatives.
Karthik settled down with Ajit, Kakaji’s elder son and his cousin busy talking about the weather, politics and other random stuff. A waiter comes over and handed both of them their piece of Kakaji’s birthday cake.
Karthik casually looked around listening and nodding to Ajit’s analysis of the recent demonetization drive by the government. Knowing the bad start to the day he had with Gayatri wanting to make sure she was behaving herself as expected. His eyes looked around but couldn’t find Gayatri anywhere.
Looks like she’s settled and playing with her cousins, assumed Karthik and turned around and got busy talking to Ajit.
“Yes, I know. In fact, the other day I was talking to my C.A. and he mentioned….”
“Karthik, did you see Gayatri?”, came a mildly worried voice from behind.
Karthik turned around and saw Rashmi.
“I don’t know. Can’t find her. She was around a while ago playing with Aditi.”
“They must’ve wandered off into the house. Where is she going to go? Relax.”, said Karthik in an unconcerned tone.
“Can you please look around and check. She usually won’t just wander off.”, continued Rashmi.
“Bhabhi, calm down. The security won’t let any kids around the gate. There’s no way any kid slips off the farm. She must be right here somewhere.”, joined Ajit.
Rashmi was obviously not very convinced though she tried to show she was while continuing to rapidly look around.
“I know. Karthik, can you please just go and look around. She also needs to eat. Hasn’t had her breakfast today.”
“Fine. Just wait here.” Karthik not knowing how to respond and a bit irritated got up and walked towards the house.
He stepped into the living room. Noticing a few other guests smiled weakly and asked if they saw Gayatri. All of them nodded sideways, looking at each other questioningly.
“Gayatri”, called out Karthik once. Unsure of himself, Karthik thought maybe she’s playing with other kids near the pond in the backyard.
Karthik turned around, took the pebbled walkway towards the pond. He saw Aditi and Prashant with two other kids. He took a few seconds to check if Gayatri was among them.
“Aditi. Beta, did you see Gayatri.”, questioned Karthik softly.
“No Uncle.”, continued Gayatri.
Starting to lose his patience Karthik walked back to the front and again decided to go check in the house. Walking past the guests in the living room, he goes into the Kitchen. Peeps in, “Gayatri….”
Walks further down into the guest room again peeping in, “Gayatri……Gayatri.”, his voice growing louder and exasperated.
Karthik decides to check on the upper floor though not expecting anyone there. Notices the TV room door slightly ajar and walks towards the room. He knocks softly and opens the door to look in.
There she was with Kakaji. A relieved Karthik walked in, “Gayatri, what are you doing here? Ma is looking all over for you.”
Kakaji noticing Karthik smiled at him and turned to Gayatri, “Lo! Here comes Baba. Now will you come with me for lunch?”
Karthik took the sofa chair to the right of Kakaji and Gayatri. “What happened?”, questioned Karthik noticing but ignoring a teary eyed Gayatri staring at her feet.
“Array nothing beta. She said she was thirsty so I brought her in and then I thought maybe we can both sit here and watch TV together. I only get to see cartoons when she is around. Ha, ha, ha….”
Both broke into a laugher. Karthik meanwhile glanced at nearby objects. As if checking to find a glass or bottle of water.
“Come let’s go with Baba.”, said Kakaji.
“But before we go I want my birthday gift. Come here.”, Kakaji took hold of her weak wrist and pulled her closer.
Gayatri trying hard to resist, couldn’t do much. And quickly looked up and locked her eyes with Karthik and back to resisting Kakaji’s playful arm twisting.
“Pleeaasseee….beta. Your sweet little cheeks are Kakaji’s gulab jamun. I’ve been dying to see you all these days.”
“No. I want Ma….”, said a weak and almost in tears Gayatri.
“We are going, beta. But you have to give me my gift first.” Kakaji tightened his grip further and laughing and smiling moved his face closer to her.
Karthik watching and smiling at the innocent fight between his daughter and Kakaji, noticed Gayatri looking at him again. He looked at her, this time their eyes locked and after a couple of seconds losing his smile.
“Kakaji. Let go she is probably tired.”, said a weak sounding Karthik continuing to look at Gayatri.
“Ohho, its nothing. She is just acting pricy with her Kakaji.”, said Kakaji smiling and ignoring Karthik’s advice.
“Kakaji. I think she’s hungry. Let’s all go.”
Karthik got up from his chair. Looked away and back again at Gayatri.
“KAKAJI. LET GO OFF HER………PLEASE.”, shouted Karthik weakly while grabbing her other arm and pulling her up into his lap.
“She is probably not in a good mood. Maybe hasn’t slept well last night. Let’s all go.”, softened Karthik, this time with a much weaker but surer voice and avoiding looking at Kakaji.
“Oh! Ok, Ok. Let’s all go. I’ll just freshen up.”. Kakaji slowly got up and choosing to look the other way he took his walk towards the washroom.
“Sure. We’ll wait outside.” said Karthik quickly walking out of the room and into the adjoijing varandah.
Gayatri was silent. So was Karthik. Both looked at the lush green lawns and not each other. The guests had started with their lunch. Aditi and Prashant running around. Ajit, his wife and Rashmi engaged in what seemed like a fun gossip.
Gayatri looked tired. Her hair ruffled. The pink ribbon loosed stared at the lawns. Wiping her nose with the palm of her right hand she looked at Karthik, as if trying to answer a question she had, herself.
“Thank you Baba!”, spoke Gayatri in a trembling yet assured voice with her eyes fixed on Karthik’s face.
Karthik waited for a few seconds, not sure how to respond looked at Gayatri, their eyes locked again. He gave her a weak smile, a soft peck on her cheek and gently took strands off her hair putting them behind her ear.
And then he looked away, saying to himself, “No my sweetheart. Thank You……You gave birth to your Father today.”
Staring blank into big the lush neem trees surrounding the farm.
Author: Jabal Shah
Accidentally ending up in digital publishing while helping his wife publish her book, he now spends his waking hours learning and blogging ideas on book publishing and marketing strategies, digital tools and web 2.0 to help authors including himself find success with self-publishing.