Monthly Archives: September 2020

The Gift

This story was written to the word prompt – Awake. A big thanks to Did You Write Today for the nudge and opportunity to create and write a story each week.

                 The Gift. 

“Twenty years we’ve been married, Amit! Twenty years! And you are still clueless about what I would like for my birthday. So pathetic!“ 

“Don’t start again Shalu…please… I’ve told you many times I cannot read your mind! Why can’t you just tell me what you want?”

“I have! I do… you are so daft ya! I am constantly dropping hints, You  just don’t pay attention. Where is the element of romance, of fun, of surprise if I spell out exactly what I want? And, if that is the case I might as well go buy my own gift.  If you cared enough to listen, you wouldn’t have to struggle. “

“I’m not daft! Your clues are cryptic! Last year you said you would love to gaze at the stars on a clear night!”

“So you bought me a telescope! What I wanted was to go for a long drive with you and gaze at the stars with you by my side. Where is the time between the kids, my job, your mom and Rocky to peer into a telescope?

And that time when I said  I want to spend more time reading…..you know I admire Michelle Obama and I even discussed that I’d read rave reviews of her book- why was it so difficult to put two and two together and buy me a copy of ‘Becoming’? Instead, you bought me a reading light?”

“Hey! In my defense you get plenty of books from the library. You always complain that you can’t read in bed because I can’t sleep with the light on. That’s why I got you a reading light – and such a cool one at that- that way you could continue to read even after I sleep. I still think it’s a good gift – useful and long lasting.”

“Not everything is about practicality Amit, especially the little moments in life. They need to be spontaneous. It’s not about it being expensive or grand.. I’m not expecting diamonds from you. I just want you to care enough to know the small things that bring me joy.”

Tears well up in my eyes. 

“Hey…hey.. hey… I’m sorry. Don’t cry. I care.. I really do. I love you Shalu, and you know that. I would do anything for you.”

“You know, I’m secretly glad that we are still in lockdown. Five years ago I ended up planning my own 40th surprise party or else it would have been a disaster. You had asked  Aruna to organize it! I don’t even like Aruna! It’s a good thing Neeta found out and told me about it so I could take over.”

“ I thought Aruna was one of your best friends! She was so insistent on taking charge. I didn’t know how to say no.”

“See, that’s what I mean. Taruna is one of my best friends, not Aruna. You don’t listen.”

“ I do. You have so many friends, you are part of so many WhatsApp groups, and on top of that you women have so many levels of friendship. I don’t understand it. Anyways, what’s over is over. I’ll be more attentive I promise. Cheer up dudette! 

What can I do to make your day special tomorrow?”

“I’ll make it easy for you. Nothing cryptic here. I need a break from the kitchen Amit. I’m exhausted. Between Nandhu’s gluten allergies and Shruthi turning vegan and Amma’s no onion, no garlic, no spice diet  I’m fed up just trying to figure out what to cook each day. Can you take over one day without me having to make any decisions about what to feed whom. I just want to lounge in bed, read and not worry about cooking and cleaning.”

“Done. Go to bed, Shalu and when you wake up tomorrow I promise the most lavish spread will be ready. “

So saying, Amit gently kissed me on my forehead. “Good night, Jaan”*

The next morning when I  awoke, my family rushed into the bedroom to give me a hug, Sounds of “Happy Birthday” filled the air. The kids held my hand and led me to the dining room. It was indeed the most lavish spread I  had ever laid her eyes on. There was pongal and chutney for me, idli for Amma, vegan pancakes for Shruthi, paneer 65 for Nandhu, a bowl of fruit salad, and a jar of green smoothie for all.”

“How did I do, Jaan? “ Amit whispered in my ear. “Happy?”

This time, tears of happiness rolled down my cheeks as I nodded vigorously. 

“ And this is just the beginning, aage, aage dekho hota hai kya!” he announced. *

Suddenly, I  felt a tug on my gown. I turned to see if it was little Nandhu pulling me but there was nobody. 

 It was strange but I was so overjoyed with what was in front of me that I did not pay much heed to it. 

“Come, sit and let us serve you,” Amit said as the family took their places around the table. 

I  couldn’t wait to dig into all the delish food. 

“Here, try some steaming  Pongal and chutney first, Shalu”

I was just about to eat the first spoonful when  I felt the tug again. I brushed it off, probably it was Rocky begging for table food.  I didn’t want to indulge him. But the tugs got stronger and stronger until I felt like i was being shaken. 

“Shalu, Shalu… are you awake? Emergency Shalu… wake up. Rocky ate a whole bunch of grapes. I have to take him to ER.”

I opened my eyes with a jolt but was still groggy, and I was desperate to go back to the world I was abruptly snatched from. “What happened, Amit?”

“Nandhu was setting the table for you and she kept the bowl of grapes on the floor while changing the tablecloth and before she knew it, Rocky had gobbled it up. Don’t worry, I’m on it and will take him to the vet right away but could you call the clinic and let them know I’m on the way? 

Amma’s gone for a walk. The rice and dal for the Pongal are in the cooker. All you have to do is give Tadka* in ghee. ( As if I didn’t know). The girls said they would eat cereal so no need to make anything for them. 

Just order lunch and once I’m back, I’ll take care of dinner I promise. 

And, Happy Birthday, Jaan.”

By now, I was wide awake. 

* Aage Aage Dekho Hota Hai Kya – just wait and watch what’s unfolding ahead.
* Tadka – seasoning

*Jaan – love of my life.

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The Leo-nine Life.

I curl up in my favorite spot, a low ledge by the bay window in the living room of bungalow no. 57, a two storied house in a suburb of Mumbai. Beams of the mid day sun stream in; they pattern my luscious fur into streaks of sparkling white and gold. Mom sits by me, a book in one hand and strokes my back with the other, much tenderness in every stroke as I lazily watch the busyness outside, Ah! This is the life.

I am Leo – a three-year-old Shih-Tzu and currently the reigning king of the Singh household. Mama, Papa, Dadu and Samar adore me. I spend most my time like Sunita bai says, lounging around the house doing nothing.

Sunita bai, the new maid,  is envious of my royalty status. “Kya jindagi hai Baba! Jevon karne ka, potty karne ka, sone ka… mast!” She swabs the floor, pauses to look at me. “Ekdum maharajah hai”

Jevan! Food? That’s all I understand from her ramble…. the rest is jargon. I perk up, sniff the air around. All I smell is the scent of the liquid Sunita bai lathers the floors with. Disappointed, I let out a low whine and plop down. 

“Kitna samajtha hai, dekho? Khane ke liye kuch bhi Karega!” she shrieks. 

Khana! Food? – I sit up eagerly, only to be let down once more. 

Mom and Sunita bai share a laugh. I moan softly to express my displeasure. 

It’s not funny you know, it’s not nice to tempt me with empty promises of my first love, food, and not follow through. Sunita bai revels in  such mockery. 

She’s a little tricky to predict – this Sunita Bai. She’s constantly chiding me yet I sense that she means well. Why is it hard for her to be straight with her feelings? That’s why humans get into trouble with each other. 

Mom is different though. Her every heart beat, every feeling, every thought I understand. For instance, even though she has a book in her hand, one with a bright cover, I know her mind is far far away. With the people she loves whom she cannot meet in a new world where everyone covers their face with a cloth. She talks to them often on that instrument that  rings and chimes and buzzes. (Everything my humans lay their hands on beeps these days! )

I snuggle up closer to mom, nudge her with my paw and roll over slightly for a belly rub. It works. Mom puts the book down, stops thinking and rubs my belly. Asking for a belly rub never fails to bring her back to the present moment. Why do humans worry so much?

When Mama first brought me home as a wee pup, I was quite the rascal – always up to some mischief. Dad and Dadu weren’t pleased. Samar was a toddler then and maybe they fretted that I would harm him. Also, it didn’t help that chewing their shoes was my favorite thing to do. They were my humans and their footwear was so abundant with the fragrance  of their essence. It was hard to resist. 

Dad took a while to warm up to me, He is stern, a man of few words. That, I love about him. Too many words are what make a human’s life complex. If only they were like us…Bark, Growl, Howl …that’s it. 

Initially, Dad barely played with me. He watched me from afar, a little unsure if I was the right addition to the family. 

But Mom always knew that I was the best companion her son could ask for. And from the minute Samar held me, we were two hearts beating as one. An inseparable duo. 

Samar was much taller than me but hadn’t walked yet. He would just sit wherever mom put him down and observe the happenings around. Yet, as he watched me frolic and roll, fumble and stumble my way through the huge house he slowly began to move. At first to keep pace and eventually to keep me company. That is when Dad was charmed. Now Dad is the one who makes sure I’ve had my boiled egg every day and that my water bowl is clean and full. 

Dadu came around quickly though. Every evening when he watched TV, I would perch on top of the couch behind him and lick his round bald head. Tickled, he would shout, “Bas, Bas, bas” and laugh out loud. Laughter is the best antidote to loneliness.

Dadu and I share a little secret too. I am the only one who knows he has a stash of yummy biscuits in his room. I promptly follow him after lunch and dinner, so he can give me those treats. I don’t have to beg or do tricks for him. I just sit in front of him and stare longingly at the food he has in his hand and he parts with it. He has always been the easiest one to please. These days I accompany him on his daily rounds to pluck flowers. His hands are shaky so I grip the little basket for him in my mouth. He always rewards me with a treat after. Dadus are the best. Sometimes, I sit by feet and slurp my gratitude for him.

From where I lie, the world is upside down, so  I tilt my head backwards and let it hang over the ledge to scrutinize Sunita Bai’s next move. Soon, she will be done with swabbing the floor and dump the bucket of water. She will have to step  into the bathroom- that airy space with a huge bowl of water that makes a fun sound every time someone presses the shiny handle. I wait eagerly with the hope that she will leave the door slightly ajar so I can run in…

“Who’s my best boy? Leo is my best boy!” Mom continues to indulge me. 

Best Boy – that is in my vocabulary. 

But wait, something’s not right! I sense a sudden strange movement. It carries an air of threat. Oh no! Sunita bai!! She has to be warned. I shove mom’s hand aside, jump up, rush past Sunita bai, spilling her bucket of water in the process and bark incessantly outside the bathroom door. 

Dad, Mom, Dadu and Samar rush to my side. 

“What happened Leo?” Mom runs her hand up and down my back trying to calm me down. I am relentless in my barking. I cannot rest when danger is lurking around. Samar holds me tight as Dad slowly creaks the door open. There in the corner lies a creature, coiled smugly with its head raised. He does not belong here. 

Sunita bai, as is her habit, shrieks. “Devaaaaa!!!” I sniff the fear in her heart. 

Dad quickly shuts the door, bolts it and runs outside. Maybe he has gone to fetch Dutta, the guard. Dadu holds my collar and tries to lure me away from the door with a treat but I refuse to budge. Mom carries Samar who is crying, he’s upset seeing me distressed but how can I stop?

Soon, Dad returns home with Dutta and another man. They carry sticks and a huge sack. The man wastes no time to swoop the creature by its tail, swiftly hold the sides of its head and shove into the sack. 

Now I can relax. My humans are safe, I go back to my favorite spot by the window. 

For the first time, Sunita bai comes to me and holds me tight. She kisses my head. Tears stream down her cheeks “Devacha den aahe tu pillu…Devacha den” 

( Devacha den – God’s gift. Pillu – young one)

She has a big slice of apple in her hand which I lap up. 

I am Leo – a three-year-old Shih-Tzu and most days I just sit around the house doing nothing.

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