"Naa...naa.. Brave girls dont cry! You are my brave girl na?"
She nodded in response while wiping off the tears from her mud-smeared face. Her bright milky-white face was now full of dust, sweat and tears. The tears were leaving a trail on her mud-caked cheeks. Her cheeks were red hot and she was trying hard to control her sobs.
"You are my brave girl na?"
She nodded again. This time more swift and determined nods. Yes, she was a brave girl.
"And brave girls dont cry, hai na...?"
She managed a weak smile while violently nodding her head. Yes, she was a brave girl.
Her knees and elbows were bleeding, and her favourite frock was dirty. She almost recovered from her sobs and was feeling better. He was now telling her stories from his childhood, how he used to fall off from trees and scratch his knees and elbows, and sometimes break his bones. She was lost in his world, giggling at the funny stories, gasping and tsk-ing when he fell and hurt himself. Her pain was something she didnt remember anymore, she was now in his world, climbing trees with him, stealing mangoes and jamuns from the trees, bathing in river outlets, dozing off in the fields while being woken up by the cows or buffaloes grazing besides. She loved listening to his stories. They were her bed time essentials. They transported her to a world free from her mother scolding her, her tuition teacher asking her for the home-work, her school teacher running behind her with a cane stick, her brother snatching her favourite candy from her hand, their neighbour complaining her mom for every little thing she did, the stray dogs on the road chasing her. His stories freed her from everything that she disliked.
Without stopping his chain of stories he cleaned her wound slowly, nonchalantly. The oohs-aahs were involuntary, she wasnt aware of him cleaning her wounds, she was still cheering at him, while he played gilli-danda with the roudy boys of his neighbourhood hitting the gilli as far as possible, and she would clap with glee. Her wounds were her least concern now, infact she had forgotten what happened half an-hour ago. There were so many more interesting things to wonder about, and he had opened the door to her imaginary world.
She could barely recall the last time she slept with her mother. Dada was her most favourite bed-companero. His stories would put her off to sleep, and she would get up cuddled besides him. He definetly was a magician. He magically made her smile and giggle, even after a bad caning from her mother. He helped her with all her homework. And magically he knew all the answers to all her questions! She would ask him the most difficult questions from her text book and he would answer them without even looking at her notebook! His handwriting was so beautiful, unlike her crooked, battered handwriting. He even knew the most difficult things of all, the multiplication tables! He knew them all! Once she asked him 100 100 za... and without even thinking or hesitating with err..errr...er... he simply said 10000. She even sat and multiplied it to check if it was correct, and yes it was! He truly was a magician! He knew everything! And the best part was, he was her favourite best friend, who would also sneak a few aath-anas into her palm every now and then when the kulfi-wallah made rounds of her locality in the evening. Not just that, he would also ensure that her mother didnt see the kulfi stains on her frock. He would run to her hearing her scream even in the middle of the night. And the best part about him was that he never let her alone in dark. He always accompanied her in the dark room, or dark lane, even if it was just a hundred yards away. He could made studies so much fun, and her dictation spellings, multiplication tables, history, geography used to be a cakewalk with him, she often wondered why her tuition teacher and school teacher could not be like dadu. Studying would be so much fun then! She would have loved to study and not hated books in that case.
Their bed-time ritual consisted of him narrating a fairy-tale and she would beg and plead for another story, and this would continue till she dozed off. This meant it took her 5-6 stories each night to doze off. She couldnt help it, his stories were so interesting, dozing off was the last thing she wanted to do after hearing them. There were times when he would doze off in-between a story and she would wake him and hand him the thread where he left the story. She even didnt mind the repeat of stories. She just liked listening to him for hours before dozing off, and it could mean he exaggerating a fairy-tale , narrating the panchatantra stories or simply talking about his childhood. She just loved listening to him. His voice and arms was what she needed to sleep, more than stories. She needed him instead of her mother or father. He was a all-in-one for her. Give her dada, and she doesnt want anything else in this world, not even ice-cream or golas or kulfi or gol-gappa! He was her favourite...anytime, and she would never do anything which upset him, probably that was the sole reason she went to school and did her homework and learnt her lessons on time. He never had scolded her, and she got scared when he got angry, but somehow, even in that anger he always managed to give her a smile followed by a wink, and she'd relax again...getting engrossed in the things she did best...play and run around the house. He'd take her to her dance classes on his Lambretta, and she'd enjoy the ride with him more than her Kathak classes.
"You are growing up so fast!" he'd always tell her, and she'd wonder how could she grow up fast when things around her dont change at all. He must be exaggerating, she often thought to herself. Little did she knew, that time really does fly. That one day, when she will begin to understand that time really does fly, and that she really is growing up quickly, and he's growing old quickly too, and that one day, time will run out. That she will have to race against time. That there will be no more story-telling sessions. That she will have to bid him goodbye so soon. That she will have no more have book reading competitions with him. That she will never again go for an evening walk with him. That he will never buy her a diary milk again. That he will never gift her a pen again. That she'll never again get to sleep with him. That he'll never again wipe off her tears. That he'll never tell her a story again. That he'll never smile and wink at her again.
Little did she know, that he was really a magician, who knew the preciousness and importance of time. Little did she know, that her dada was a magician too !
PS - Its Valentine's Day today... and I have never loved anybody more than him. He was, is, and always will be my valentine, forever ! So here's wishing dada a very happy valentine's day ! I know he's reading it too... so I just want to let him know that I miss him a lot.
PPS - Wishing all of you a happy Valentine's day ! May your love be as eternal as the sky...and as pure as the fire... May your life be filled with love of all sizes and shapes ! And may you have a lovely year ahead !
"Within you, I lose myself. Without you, I feel myself wanting to be lost again."