“A father holds his daughter’s hand for a short while, but he holds her heart forever.” – Unknown
“Again, Papa, again!”
“Sumi, enough beta. I’ve already read the book to you thrice. It’s 10:30 – go to sleep.”
“Last time, Papa, pleeeeease… just one more time. I promise.”
Sumi’s big brown eyes pleaded with invincible intent as she stared directly into Prakash’s loving gaze. They lay in her bed for the nightly ritual of a bedtime story, the five-year-old’s head resting on her father’s strong left arm and her body nestled cosily into the arch that his body created as he enveloped his lanky limbs around his precocious and precious child. Those eyes innocent, playful yet defiant melted Prakash’s heart, as always. The child had a way with him and she knew it.
Prakash put down the book he had held, over her head , with his right hand, his arm tired from holding it up. He had read this story countless times before, every word, every pause, every verse forming an unforgettable alliance with the core of his body.
“Ok. Last time. You have to sleep after this.”
He yawned and taking in a deep breath began in his inimitable throaty voice…
“One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue Fish
Black fish, Blue fish, Old fish, New fish….”
The fluid prose and lyrical nature of Dr. Seuss’s book only made it easy for Prakash to render the narration effortlessly from memory, albeit half asleep. Towards the end of the lengthy narration, Prakash started to pause intermittently as his mind drifted in and out of sleep. Exhaustion from a hard day’s work caught up with him and his voice faltered.
“Papa, papa, papa … you forgot a verse, my favorite one. Papa, Papa… wake up. You didn’t finish the story!“ Sumi tugged her dad’s ear, a gesture that was bound to annoy him she knew but also wake him up.
“Huh?” Groggy, and in a state of bewilderment Prakash muttered
“My favorite verse – papa- the ish wish dish one.”
Continuing to tug his ear Sumi continued,
“Who am I? My name is Ish
On my hand I have a dish.
I have this dish to help me wish.
When I wish to make a wish
I wave my hand with a big swish swish.
Then I say, “I wish for fish!”
And I get fish right on my dish.
So…If you wish to make a wish,
you may swish for fish with my Ish wish dish”
Papa, papa … you need to finish it. Wake up.”
Who am I? My name is Ish….”
Prakash turtled his way to the end of the poem. “Done. Now sleep beta Puh-lease”
Unfortunately for him, the little munchkin didn’t look any sleepier than she had prior to the 4 sessions of storytelling. Meanwhile, Prakash could barely keep himself awake.
“Papa, papa – you know why it is my favorite verse?”
“Tomorrow, beta… tomorrow we can talk. So ja abhi.”
His words fell on deaf ears.
“Because I like to imagine I’m an ish and I can make anything happen in the world with a swish. Which is your favorite verse Papa?”
As the room reverberated with Prakash’s snores, Sumi fiercely fought sleep and happily wandered into the rich land of imagination conjured up in her mind by the delightful images in the Dr. Seuss book.
30 years later
It was around 3:00 am in New York when Sumi’s phone rang. Years of being a gynecologist had trained her mind to be alert at the slightest instance. She reached for her phone hoping it was a patient in labor, and not a patient in distress. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw her older brother’s no. flash across the screen. Why was he calling her at this time? Was everything ok in India?
“Hello. Hello, Sumi, Papa had a fall. We’ve just admitted him to the hospital.”
“What? Is he hurt ?What happened? How bad is it?”
“He fractured his hip when he fell but he also bumped his head on the floor so lost consciousness. I don’t want you to worry. Doctors say he is critical but the chances of him getting back on his feet are high. So, don’t worry. He will be ok. I’m here and will take care of him. “
“I want to see him a Ravi, I’ll take the first flight out tomorrow.”
As she boarded the flight, all Sumi could think of was the last conversation she had had with Prakash two days ago. “Papa, I’m busy. I’ll call you tomorrow. It’s a crazy time for us doctors with the pandemic and everything going on. You don’t have to call me twice a day to check. I’m doing well, being careful and taking all precautions.”
“I know beta. Bas, man ko tassali hoti hai when I hear your voice. Teek hai, badme wakth mile toh call karna.”
And Sumi never did. Guilt gripped her heart as she let the tears flow freely. Papa had called her last night and she had not picked up. She had figured she would on her day off. If only she had known, what was to unfold, she would have dropped everything to take that call.
‘Sorry Papa, please be ok. I promise never again will I not pick up. I’m so sorry Papa. Please be ok.’
Sumi looked up at the stewardess.
“Ma’am- your dinner. Would you like fish or chicken for the main course.”
“No, thank you. I’ll pass.”
Sumi went back to her ruminations. To those memories of her childhood days when she had spent so many moments with Papa. Their bond as firm as the hold the calyx sepals had on a blossoming rose. She had also been Daddy’s girl as Ravi had been Mama’s boy. Of late though, Sumi was too warped in her own world. Papa had become an afterthought after she had fulfilled the ever pressing demands of her children and her job. How could she have let that happen? How selfish she has been!
As the aroma of fish wafted from the trays of the passengers in her aisle, thoughts of her favorite book resurfaced and brought her momentary solace. “One fish, Two fish” she began to recite the poem in her mind. Oh- how she had pestered Papa to narrate that over and over again. When she reached the verse of the Ish Wish Fish Dish – she smiled. She let the magic of those words revive the child in her and lead her to the land of imagination where she was the Ish with the dish who this time wished not just for a fish, but for Papa to be well with a swish.
2 days later …
Sumi sat beside Prakash in the hospital room thankful for his prognosis of a complete recovery. She held his hand as she fervently apologized to him for not taking his calls of late. She spoke of the fear that had clasped her being at the thought of not being able to see him again.
In the only way a Dad could, Prakash tenderly caressed her head.
“You know something beta. I had this strange vision when I was unconscious. There was a bright light that surrounded me. I was just wondering where I was when I heard your voice calling out to me. And funnily of all the things you could say to me, you recited the One Fish, Two Fish poem but when you reached your favorite verse, it was different, You said I wish for Papa to be well. Suddenly, the light vanished and when I opened my eyes Ravi and Mom let me know you were arriving soon. Funny, nah?”
Sumi smiled. Dr. Seuss did indeed weave magic with his words. He had brought her Papa back to her. There was immense power in a child’s imagination.
Author’s Note: This story was written to the word prompt ‘Fish’ in the FB group Did You Write Today?