“Babaaaa!!!” their squeals echoed in the passage as I sneaked in.
“You two aren’t to bed?” I was startled, obviously.
“Sir, I have been trying to make them sleep, but they were adamant to wait for you.” Sarika, the caretaker of my kids, chipped in, clearing her case.
I smiled and nodded, a gesturing that I understood. And why would I not? Sarika was perfect at her job. She looked after my lifelines as her own. She has patiently dealt with all their tantrums and withstood all their pranks.
Sarika, age 30, divorced… that is what her resume spoke loudly, overshadowing her Diploma in Child Psychology. Her husband abandoned him as she would not be able to carry on his lineage. But she had been stark honest in her submissions. And I had immediately hired her for this job.
But at times I do think that her supposed curse (God forgive me), became a boon for us. As if she was destined for us. That is what they call fate. Well, I have also started believing in it of late.
“Sarika, call it a day. I’ll handle them.” I said.
She nodded and left after the usual greetings.
And here I was, looking inquiringly at the twosome.
“Baba, you got late today,” Aasma spoke, fluttering her eyelids, so like her mother.
“Yes, there was an emergency,” I replied, regretfully.
“But, you promised us a story…” It was Aakash’s turn to complain.
“I know dear, but I couldn’t help it,” I stated as a matter of fact.
“What was the emergency?” Aasma asked.
“Oh, there was a mommy with a tummy full with a baby. And she fell from the stairs. So Baba had to ensure that both the baby and the mommy are fine.” I had never hidden the intrinsic details of a gynaecologist’s job from my kids. They knew about my profession and the work I am supposed to do.
“So, Are they?” Aakash was curious.
“Yes, they are and would be more than ok in a few days.”
I sensed a wave of relief pass through them and I was instantly rewarded by a tug on my legs, an indication for me to crouch and hug them in return.
So after this brief moment of comfort, I looked at the twins growing up slowly and steadily. While Aasma claimed her mother’s beauty, Aakash ’s features remained close to his father, but possessing their mother’s heart. A thing I would always be grateful for.
“So, what’s the plan?” I asked, mischievously.
They brimmed up with joy so infectious, I could almost feel it.
“A story… A story…” they spoke unanimously, jumping and giggling.
“Okay, go and make a comfortable set up. I’ll change and come.
The scene I witnessed next was all madness and cheer, and it made me feel the joy within.
It’s been seven years and the twosome had done a more than an excellent job.
A difficult decision back then but the trust in those eyes gave me all the courage and then everything fit into place as if it always had been like that.
After a quick shower and a change into my comfort wear, I stepped into their room.
I saw them sitting on the bed with their comforter and I too snuggled with them.
“I’ll tell you a story of a brave prince…”I had just begun when, “No Baba, not this one…” Aasma spoke as she cast a glance at Aakash.
“We want to hear the story of Maa and you. How did you meet?” Aakash spoke, tongue in teeth.
“But I have told this story so many times…”
“Yes, but we don’t want fairy tales. We would rather like to hear some real stories and yours is the best one.”
When she would grow up, I would advise her to be an advocate, as I went tongue-tied with her argument.
And so I began narrating the story of how I met their mother. A story I am made to repeat every fortnight. And now I remember verbatim.
“So it happened that day, as I was standing in the queue at the airport to check in for my flight details. I had just finished my medical conference in Delhi and was to come back here. Your mother was just behind me in the queue. It was a very long queue. There were so many people ahead that it was getting tired standing there. I was feeling very hungry and I remembered I had one caramel chocolate in my pocket. So I picked it up and was about to grab a big bite when I turned around and saw her eyeing my chocolate greedily. Well, it was like as if she would eat it with her eyes. I became very possessive about my chocolate and held it tight in my fist. Then I turned around, my back to her and was about to take that coveted bite when again I saw her standing beside me, her eyes again on my chocolate.”
The kids giggled at my description and it made storytelling all the more enjoyable.
“So, I packed it back and hid it in my pocket. I don’t like sharing my chocolate. I thought, let me get over with this check-in and deposit my luggage, and then I’ll eat this. So I waited and waited for my turn, completely and very conveniently ignoring the one standing behind vying for my chocolate. My turn came and I thanked God. I quickly deposited my luggage and picked up my ticket. Now I would be able to eat my chocolate in peace. I was very happy. But no sooner did I sit, I saw her again. She followed me for that chocolate and I didn’t want to share it.”
I could see their eyelids getting heavy. So I just rushed through the story.
“Then I got up and looked for some corner where I could hide and enjoy my delicacy. But your mother, I tell you, was quicker than me. She found me there as well. It seemed I had no other option than to share it. So I took it out and very carefully divided it into two parts. I handed her one and she took it without any hesitation. The exercise of hiding and chasing had made us very hungry and we gobbled up our respective share. And then she laughed…”
Next, I heard was soft snoring sounds, a hint-it would do for this time.
I looked at the two clinging forms, as my mind was ready for time travel, some seven years back.
I was at the New Delhi Airport, waiting to board the flight to California. She was standing two places before me when she felt a little dizzy and collapsed. Instinctively, I rushed to her help. Her physique clearly indicated pregnancy. She was in her seventh month. So it was nothing but fatigue and stress for the dizzy spell. By this time, the officer on duty had arrived and deemed her unfit to travel. I saw her plead in desperation. The visible sadness on her face in this situation made me step in. It was after my assurance that she was allowed on the flight. So I was to look after her and be available on board in case of an emergency. This was, in fact, the beginning of our acquaintance.
In the plane, I arranged for adjacent seats. The takeoff escalated her spirits as well. I remember the chirpiness and the enthusiasm with which she narrated her story. She was an eager conversationalist.
Her name- Neelu.
This was her first flight ever. She was going to California to stay with her husband. An NRI bride… well I did get sceptical but she was quick to dispel them. They had got married some eight months back, when Manjeet, her husband had returned to their village in Punjab. For him, it was love at first sight. And she also started falling for him after a few meetings. Soon their love story became a hot topic in the village. ‘Manu & Neelu’ the lovebirds, like Heer Ranjha. He had to return after his leave from work was over but he promised to call her soon over there.
He had kept his promise and send her the visa and tickets. And here she was flying across seven seas to meet him. Her joy was almost tangible as the distance to the final destination kept on shrinking. I too relaxed a bit as I saw her spirits soar.
The plane arrived at the California Airport. I thought that would mark the end of our acquaintance. But she wanted to trespass on my courtesy a little longer. She requested to drop her at her husband’s address. At first, I thought I would arrange a cab but somehow her pregnancy made me a little more responsible for her. I took her to the mentioned address. One in such a case would have expected it to be fake, as I also did… but it was not for Manjeet was there but not expecting her.
I noticed the shocked look on his face, something which Neelu in all her excitement had missed. It pains me to even remember the next scene. What would have happened if I would not have been there?
He was rude to her… an understatement. He was barbarous, almost pushing her. He refused to acknowledge their marriage, her pregnancy. A moment before the bubbly girl was all tears and pleadings. But they were falling on deaf ears.
I took charge of the situation and calmed her down, suddenly feeling responsible for her. Next, I took her to the Indian Embassy to register a complaint. Luckily she had carried her registered Marriage certificate from India. I had hopes that she would get her rightful due.
The Indian Embassy took charge of the situation. Within the next few days, Manjeet was called there to present his case.
I thought he would deny their marriage but he did not. He agreed that they got married. A little relieved, we were… Next, he was asked to arrange for her wife and her livelihood. He asked for a couple of days time. He was granted the same. During this time, the Indian Embassy agreed to provide for Neelu’s stay in California. I thought the events of the day would make her sad, but she was not.
“He acknowledges our marriage.” She spoke enthusiastically. But she couldn’t explain his previous behaviour.
I didn’t have the courage to break her hopes this time again, by telling her that lying is a serious offence than fraud. How I wished to be wrong this time again. I left her physical form there in the Embassy but her thoughts, her chatter filled my thoughts. I hoped for a happy ending here.
It was two days later when Neelu called me in a hurry. Apparently, the Embassy had called for a sudden hearing. She was a little nervous and wanted me there.
Once there, I learnt that Manjeet had refused to accept the babies as his own. Neelu was expecting twins. He put forth the argument that though he had married her, he left a few days after their marriage. It could be the case that he had not fathered them.
A paternity test to verify his claims was called upon for which I accompanied Neelu to the Hospital. She was silent throughout the ride. No queries, no response, not a single word from her. As if Manjeet had sucked out life from this chirpy girl.
The trauma of the situation finally taking a toll on her and she went into premature labour. Had I not been there with her, things would have gone complicated. The next minutes I was on my heels and relaxed only when she delivered two premature but very beautiful kids. They were immediately rushed to the nursery.
I proceeded to her quiet form.
I broke the news of a boy and a girl… no reaction…
She just looked deep into my eyes and closed hers forever.
The paternity test confirmed Manjeet as the father but he spoke of his inability to take the kids along. He could not provide for them. He suggested putting them in a foster home for adoption or deporting them. It brought my blood to boil.
“Why?” I just asked, when I requested for a private audience with him.
“I was on a holiday and she was just an amusement. I never thought she would manage to come over here, but her uncle and aunt were eager to get rid of her once they came to know about her pregnancy.” He spoke blatantly.
Something prevented me from killing that jerk there and then. He was not interested in his kids. He was more than happy to repudiate all his claims on them.
But I just could not let go of them. A decision made there and then.
I applied for their custody and after a few legal proceedings were awarded the same.
And that is how I became their baba.
My Aasma and Aakash.
A little movement from Aasma jerked me to present.
“Baba, missing Maa.” She spoke with her sleep filled eyes.
Before I could respond, she placed my hand close to my heart and asked me to close my eyes. “Did you see her?”
How could I ever explain that I see her every day, alive in their every smile, every breath, their pure hearts, their innocent talks?
I know what I have told them is half lie, half-truth but I could not gather enough courage to tell them that they were unwanted in their father’s life.
But I know a day would come when they would be grown up enough to understand when I might tell them the truth and declare…
“Hey kids, that is how I met your mother…” and then I met you.
Aakash, who was also a little awake by this time, asked: “What would Maa want to eat next?”
I failed to understand.
“Because the last time you had chocolate chip cookies, before that a brownie and it was a burger before that.”
Laughter erupted in the room as they elaborated the list.
And I knew a day would come when I would be freed of these Half lies.