"Appa... Why don't you drive the car fast like Boni uncle or Ambrose uncle does?"
Five year old Diya was getting impatient on the co-driver's seat to get home and play with her new little puppy that we had picked up from the beach. We were on our way home after a tiring day of office-school bunk. The five year old had seashells in her left hand that she had picked, and with her right hand she was stroking the head of the little white puppy asleep in her lap. I smiled at her and replied,
"Driving fast is not really good, vavé... You could lose control if you do and hurt yourself and others too, you know"
"I'm calling him Pippu", she said as if replying. Hopping from one subject to another in blinding swiftness is one thing you will learn once you are promoted to being a father.
"What was that, dear?" My focus was suddenly averted to the green signal and the two bikers on either sides of my car.
"Appa... The puppy... I am going to call him Pippu" she screamed.
I laughed and said, "Oh... Okay, my sweet angel. I will call him Pippu too"
"No! You have to call him Lion. Only me and Aadi gets to call him Pippu. Grown-ups name their dogs grown-up names and you and Amma will call him Lion."
I laughed again.
"Alright me and Amma will call him Lion. And how are you sure that you are going to get a little Aadi? What if one fine day Amma is going to give you a little sister? A little Diya?"
"That is okay too, Appa... But I asked Santa last Christmas for little Aadi and I am sure angels are going to bring him from the world of fairies to us, like you said"
Diya had once asked me during a family get together from where is her little brother going to come. That sent a series of guffaws around, adding to her puzzled expression which made our guffaws turn into loud laughter. She stood there with her hands on her hips with a determined look on her little sweet face, not moving an inch until I had to make up a story about babies being born in a fairy land and being brought into our possession by angels. Another day she wanted to know why her Amma's belly was swelling up and my wife had to tell her that it was because she was storing gifts to present it to the expected baby. A world war started immediately and I ended up taking her to the toy shop and cutting short my bank balance by a considerably good amount. Since I have brought this up, I would also like to share this too. She had given away each of those new toys we bought that day to the kids of an orphanage where we went to celebrate her fifth birthday.
"Aadi's little feet will be pink and I will kiss them every morning and I will let him play with my gold fish and Pippu and these 'seasells' also", Diya exclaimed suddenly.
"Good girl, my sweet vavé... and those are 'seashells'. Not 'seasells' "
"No dear... It's Seashells"
"Alright", I said with a smile and gave up.
Today, getting ready for school I could see how reluctant she was on this gloomy Monday morning and stopped tying my shoe laces for a moment and looked at her. My beautiful little angel looking even more cute in her school uniform, however boring it is. I still remember the single drop of tear that ran down my right cheek and the widest smile I ever smiled the very first time I had my eyes on her- our little bundle of joy. We had names ready for our kids eleven years back- if it was a girl, it was Diya and our boy would be Aadi.
Five years of being in love, two years of our struggles to get married, all the hardships after we finally managed to tie the knot at the court... Everything seemed worth as I held her in my arms for the first time.
She was sitting silent on the car seat while I was driving her to the school, clutching her little pink school bag and looking outside at the shops and trees and lamp posts running backwards. I had reached the junction where I needed to take a left turn to her school. I waited a moment. Decidedly, then took the car forward, crossed the junction and drove forward. Diya looked at me with wide open eyes full of surprise, wondering why Appa was not taking the usual left turn into the road that leads to her school building. A faint smile grew wider on her face as she asked,
"Appa... Are you not taking me to school today?"
I said, smiling as I did, "Guess what, my angel... It's a surprise!"
Thankfully the seatbelt was on her, or she would have sprung up high on the seat as she screamed in happiness. We both laughed and talked all the way as I drove to Diya's favourite ice cream parlour. I had phoned up office in the meanwhile and reported my leave for the day. Ice creams, a movie, a visit to the children's park and the beach in the evening- Diya was floating on the clouds. My wife had called before lunchtime and I had let her know what we were up to. I could literally see her smile through the call and felt all the love when she blew me a kiss. I still am not sure how she is going to respond when she sees the puppy, though.
"Amma! Amma! See how cute Pippu is!", Diya was screaming at the top of her voice as I parked the car, my wife watching with a fake grim expression.
"So that's what you get when you take a day-off and enjoy yourselves!", she said.
True. Both me and my little girl looked like hillbillies now. Diya's uniform streaked with the marks of strawberry and chocolate ice cream, her tiny shoes covered with the sand from the beach and a dirty little puppy in her hand, and me not very different too.
"Grandma! Grandma! Look at little Pippu...", Diya ran inside as my wife gave me a twist on my ear. We walked inside the house, smiling.
A day well spent.