The toboggan rattled down the incline carrying two excited riders screaming with trepidation. Sriju and Gunjan folded their knees towards the end of the slide, and dug in their well-shod heels but their ride keeled and ricocheted them off into the lemongrass clumps.
“That was way more fun than my ride !” Gunjan was glad Sriju felt that way.
Her father had carved out the canoe-like seat with a front handle bar from a piece of wood . When Sriju got her ride from a toy store a week earlier, she had naturally invited Gunjan to share the fun. Gunjan had secretly wished to own one too. She asked her father for it and he had promptly fulfilled her wish as he somehow always managed to.
Giggling breathlessly, they dragged their delightful vehicle up the slope for the next spree .
Gunjan and Sriju were best friends. They attended the same school ; played and studied together and even lived in the same compound. It really didn’t make a difference that Gunjan’s father was Sriju’s family driver.
During the summer break Sriju went to Bhutan with her father, whose work often took him there. Later, when Gunjan heard the stories of her trip, a desire to visit Bhutan took a deep seat in her heart. She insisted , “Baba please take me there during the winter break.” “ It won’t be amusing in the freezing cold.”He tried to reason . But she had to have her way and he worriedly consented.
That winter, there came an opportunity for Gunjan to tag along when her father left for Bhutan on an official errand. She was excited beyond measure to see the places her friend had visited. The routine six hours to Thimpu took longer that day. A thick mist hung over the landscape. Gunjan recalled Sriju describing sparkling rivers, waterfalls , pristine mountains and deep forests. She waited but in vain for the sights to unfold. It was frosty and dark when they arrived at their destination. Gunjan’s day was salvaged by a delicious dinner at a fine eatery. But when her father tucked her into the cozy little bed, she wondered, “This bed is too narrow, where will you sleep Baba?” “Right next door!”He assured light-heartedly.
The sound of a harsh, choking cough rudely interrupted Gunjan’s sleep . She awoke with a start and peered out of the window. Her little heart sank when she saw her father crouched near the jeep, rubbing his hands to keep warm, smoking a beedi . He had given her the only bed the office had allotted him.
Time stood still for Gunjan that night. She slid the window open and the icy darkness bit into her exposed face. Her father’s love and sacrifices became truly manifest . Adulation from unexpected avenues can bring back zest like magic. Through her somber tears she whispered a painfully mature promise to herself . She would one day earn him a life that he deserved.
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