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Amit was home after two weeks.
A fortnight this time, a month last time….I have been doing this for over eight years he thought wryly. But today, he had a surprise for his family - I can't wait to see their faces once I give them my news! He smiled to himself as he waited for his family to join him on the terrace after dinner.
“There are some changes happening at the work place," he started as soon as they were all together. "I won’t bore you with the technical stuff, but, I will be doing most of my work online now,” he said.
Three blank faces looked at him, and then at each other.
Six-year old Nysa was the first to recover.
“Yay! Daddy will be home at night! Daddy can read me bedtime stories! Will you get me to sleep Daddy? And oh, will you walk me to the bus stop too?!”
“That's some news! And about time too…” said Natasha, eyes shining, her sweet smile in place, just the way Amit had imagined it.
“Cool” said Arav, with a strained smile directed at his Dad.
In his room, Arav, stood at the balcony looking out at the tennis and basketball courts below their apartment.
He remembered he was five or six when they had come to live here. The place was far from Dad’s office and his own school, but Mom drove him to school and back; and Dad said he would manage, because what was really important was that Arav would have a lot of place to play here. No one was expecting Nysa then. Of course, when she had eventually forced her way into their world soon after, she had made it sweeter, cuter, and funnier!
It had been fun, Arav thought, when he was younger and played outdoors with his Dad. They were buddies - his Dad and he. They would play cricket, baseball, catch, badminton – it was ‘their thing.’ But as Arav grew older, his Dad got busier; and they found less and less time to play together.
About the same time, Arav also found himself more interested in books and music. He loved to read about far-off places and wonder what it must really be like for his Dad to travel to all those places so far away. Gradually, sports took a backseat, his book-collection began to increase, he began to enjoy star-gazing; and he discovered, he liked to play the guitar!
Sometimes, when he thought about it, he felt Dad didn't really know him anymore - as if, in the past few years, he had moved on, but somehow, Dad hadn't. Arav was short for his age, and not very well-built; and definitely not interested in sports anymore. But every time Dad went on a trip, he would get Arav some sports gear – boxing gloves, a skateboard, baseball mitt – the list was endless. And his friends all thought Arav’s Dad was super cool to get him stuff all the time.
He sighed. As if all this wasn’t enough, he was really worked up because of the news Dad had shared with them today.
On the one hand, Arav was happy that his Dad won’t be travelling anymore. He would get a lot of time to spend with Dad like before, he thought. But then, what would they do? Dad was a great athlete. He loved outdoor sports. Would he be okay with Arav’s new found interests? Maybe, he could show Dad his new collection of books on Space? Or maybe he could play Dad’s favourite song on his guitar! But, would Dad think less of him, now that Arav liked books and not sports?
Long after the kids had gone to sleep, Natasha was finishing up in kitchen. Amit had looked very happy tonight, she remembered. No surprise there - the man is happy to be home at last, she thought. God knows the children miss him! And I don't even want to think of all those nights I have been spending by myself on the big monster bed!
She could hear the TV on in the den and when she walked in, she was surprised to see Amit staring at it, deep in thought - not actually watching anything.
“Missing me?” she asked, touching his shoulder softly to get his attention.
“Huh!” he said distractedly.
Something is bothering him, she thought. But before she could ask him about it,
“Arav wasn’t very happy with my news tonight,” he said quietly.
“Oh come on, of course he was happy. You are his Dad, “his buddy,” remember?”
“He wasn’t thrilled about the basketball I got him either. I don’t understand – he used to love stuff I used to get him all the time!”
“Amit, he is thirteen. He is growing up. He has enough on his mind without worrying about your news right now. Plus, his interests are changing. He loves to read now, you know; and believe me, he knows a lot thanks to his books! And oh, he plays the guitar like a pro, did you know that?! To tell you the truth Amit, I actually like this change in him. It’s much better than running around high on testosterone, causing trouble...”
“Are you kidding Natasha?" Amit cut her mid-sentence. "Arav needs physical activity! Why don’t you encourage him to play more outdoors? He can read and play the guitar all he wants, but he is thirteen sweetheart, he needs to build his physique!” he was adamant.
Amit came from a strict background where everyone was expected to follow orders. He also came from a family of athletes. No wonder, he had definite ideas about the paths he expected his children to follow in life, just like his own father had.
But Natasha knew her son was different. He lived in his head. He was creative. He was good at painting, he played the guitar and oh, how he loved to read! She knew her son was happier not being an athlete.
She had always let the kids have what made them happy. She didn’t spoil them, no. But she let them pursue their interests and their hobbies; and so far, with Amit’s frequent travel, this had been much easier. But now, things were about to change. This glaring disconnect she saw now between her son’s interests and her husband’s ideals, troubled her.
A few days later, Amit came home early from work one day. Natasha was to drop Nysa at a birthday party around that time. As he let himself in the house with his key, he could hear soft music coming from upstairs. Although Amit was not a big fan of music – that was more Natasha’s interest – he did enjoy a good tune now and then. What he heard now, was soft and soothing; and he loved the way it sounded in the early evening sunshine that was streaming through the windows.
He thought maybe Natasha had let Nysa go to the party with someone else, and was home.
But when he came upstairs to check, he was surprised to see Arav there, playing his guitar on the terrace! He was playing the cords deftly, like a pro, as Natasha’s words reminded him. He saw his son’s face in the soft evening light - his eyes were closed and his face was serene - happy….
His son was actually happy, he realised with a jolt!
And just like that, a memory came to him out of nowhere – It was the day Arav was born. After a tense hour spent outside the operation room where Natasha was having a C-section, Amit saw the nurse come out with his first-born! He had marvelled at how happy he had been to see the little chubby bundle the nurse was holding out to him. He remembered having tears in his eyes then, and remembered the vow he had made to his just-born son – I will do whatever it takes to see you happy all your life –
And he mouthed the words now, with moist eyes, as he saw his teenage son playing the guitar…