“Happy Birthday”

“Oh God, that was his favorite joke” said Avni sipping the warm masala chai. The evening chats were a regular but today was a special day that called for masala chai as an add on.

Ansh was enjoying chilled cold coffee with extra ice, that prompted their mom to speak up. “Ansh, I know it is summers, but do you really need that much ice? I don’t want to be explaining such things to a 23 years old grown man.” “Oh, please ma, it is called cold coffee for a reason” explained Ansh.

It was Avni who prompted both back to the conversation when she asked, “What was his favorite song? I just cannot remember it for some reason.”

Hum tum ek kamre mein band hon…” sang their mom.

“Well, I don’t know if that makes dad creepy or romantic?” asked Ansh.

“Romantic” screamed both Avni and mom together. Avni was still checking something on her phone when their mom spoke, raising her hand sipping on her masala chai. “Please we are not talking about his favorite food, song or his jokes today. It will be slightly different.” “Avni leave that phone” yelled their Mom. “Just a minute mom, I have to re-schedule my therapist appointment for next week since I am traveling for work” explained Avni.

And so their mom continued, “We all are going to share our personal most secretive moment that we have had with him. I want to know that one thing out of many that you guys only shared with him and not with me. And in return, I will share something as well.”

Mom had just managed to shut both Avni and Ansh up within seconds. Something that usually required her to raise her voice audible enough for the neighbors.

It was Avni who broke the long silence. “I have something that holds a very special place in my memories of Dad.” Getting comfortable in her cozy big chair, she started to talk like she was narrating a story. Ansh almost smiled thinking of their childhood, snuggled up together telling each other stories. Avni was always the storyteller and he was the listener. “It was nothing big or dramatic but just a simple walk one evening. I had just finished reading this book tilted Tell me your Dreams by Sidney Sheldon. It was my first Sidney Sheldon book, so it hit me pretty bad. It was a bit too much for me to even talk about with ma. I was only 13. I think dad must have noticed something on my face because he invited me for a walk in the park near our house. And just like that dad and I were alone talking, enjoying the soft breezy evening. I don’t remember exactly how I ended up talking about the book I had just read and how disturbing it was for me to understand. I am sure he understood my inhibition to explain the details, because he never asked any questions. He just made me feel so comfortable that I went on and on with how I was feeling.” Anvi took another sip and wiped the stubborn tears. She cleared her throat a little taking another sip and continued with her story, “And then after I had quiet down, he shared this amazing advice with me. In his own words, he explained me the meaning of Namaste.” She gestured by joining her hands together. “And then Dad said, ‘putri, you know the secret meaning of Namaste, right? Yes, it is a polite gesture of greeting people but it is also a smart technique, to keep anyone away. Anyone you don’t want to hug or shake hands with, you simply greet them with Namaste.’ I still think of that day and feel proud. Proud to be his daughter, who in his own funny way taught me one of the biggest lessons.” She continued, “I hold the power to say no and keep anyone I don’t like really, away from me.” “Though I wish I could use Namaste even at office. There are some people I would not like to shake hands with at all, yikes.”

Ansh was listening so intently like always lost in his sisters’ stories, that he blurted out without realizing what he was saying, “I wish he had shared with me that secret meaning of Namaste.” Both Avni and their mom suddenly had overflowing tears in their apologetic eyes. “I am sorry Ansh. I…” their mom tried talking. Ansh smiled looking at her saying, “I’m ok ma. You know I love you all too much. Please do not be sad. I am allowed to express in front of you, am I not?” “Of course, beta. That is the least I can do. You know I am always here any time you want to talk or say anything. I am here, I truly am” replied their mom. “Great, then you have to stop crying and tell us your favorite story of dad” Ansh said. “No, I will go last, first you” clarified their mom.

Ansh sighed and took a sip of his very chilled cold coffee and then smiled looking up at the ceiling fan. He was happy finally, after a long time. Weekly therapy sessions had done wonders for him far beyond anyone’s understanding. He was doing well at work, in fact more than well, he was truly happy. And thinking back right now of all the wonderful memories, he could remember all the Diwali celebrations, and how the house was always filled with friends and family and how happy they all really were.  And then he spoke, “I think for me the most precious moment that I hold very dearly is when we watched Khosla ka Ghosla or any of Juhi Chawla (his favorite actor) movies on that tiny television in his bedroom. All those afternoons spent together laughing and eating takeout from Jyoti ka dhaba, are all my mine. I can’t explain the feeling, but just his presence, his childlike laugh, our eyes tearing up from laughing and then sharing jokes. Even the crappy ones, it made me realize dad had a very cool sense of humor. Every time I miss him, I just want to watch those movies all over again and laugh hoping I can hear his voice one more time.” Ansh was crying uncontrollably but no one could do anything to comfort him.

Avni broke the sounds of his cries, “I know that feeling Ansh. I so understand that feeling. Every time I think of that walk with him, I can hardly remember the details, but I clearly remember how I felt in that moment with him. That was what he did, always. He could make any moment a special memory just like that.” “Are you ok?” she asked smiling at Ansh. “I’m fine, I need more ice though” he said smiling at their mom.

“Your turn mom” announced Anvi.

Mrs. Kavita sighed and started to talk, “Well, this was long time ago. Before I had you both, I had another baby. I was only a few weeks into the pregnancy when suddenly one day I lost our baby. I was obviously devastated. I remember being my worst that day and all I could think of was my own father. I had lost him when I was only 8 years old, but I still remembered that day clearly. And suddenly I felt lonely and lost like I had not in years. It was so strange that all I wanted in that moment was my own dad. Nothing was helping me calm down.” Both Ansh and Avni were watching their mom listening intently.

“Your dad rushed back home to be with me. I remember him coming into the room and immediately asking everyone to leave us alone. It was quite a bold thing to do. You both won’t understand. It was a different time back then and with the whole family sitting around me, I did feel claustrophobic. So he definitely understood what I needed in that moment. He just sat their next to me without uttering a word, holding my hand. And then we both cried. We cried our hearts out. And not once he stopped me from crying or screaming or anything. We stayed like that for hours and even when night fell, we both had nothing to say. And then out of nowhere he started singing. Old movie songs, all my favorites.” Kavita now wiped her eyes smiling. “And that was it. We sang all night, one random song to another, holding on to each other.”

“Did you guys sing his favorite one?” Ansh asked. Their mom replied laughing, “I’m sure we did, Ansh.”

All three of them were crying but with smiles on their faces. Celebrating dad’s birthday together had become a tradition for them that they always celebrated together no matter what. Sitting in 3 different cities, they took a bite of the three different cakes singing, “happy birthday, Dad.”

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