Dad & Daughter

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-13-

Riya reached the school and ran to join the assembly, as she was slightly late, with fear of getting scold from the class teacher. She saw her friend Maya standing ahead of her. She was surprised to see all those on the stage were sporting a black ribbon on their chest. And, many were on the stage which was quite unusual.

The principal came in front of the mike and scanned through all at the assembly. Everyone on the ground could guess, he was going to make some important announcements. They knew, otherwise he would not have appeared on the stage. All eyes and ears were pointed to him with anxiety.

After a deep sigh, he said in a mellowed tone. “As some of you might be knowing, our beloved teacher Parvathy was suffering from cancer for a few months. She had been under treatment from efficient and prominent doctors in Delhi and she had recovered almost, but the almighty has called her back early in the morning.” He paused and looked around as if to read the faces of students. He saw few were stunned by the news. “As a mark of respect to the departed beloved teacher, we all will observe two-minute silence praying for her to rest in peace. After that, we will observe today as a holiday.”

Students started slowly dispersing to their homes after exchanging their sadness on the loss of one of the most loved and affectionate teachers.

Riya opened her bag and took out the pen drive and walked towards Maya.

After taking the pen drive from her friend, Maya said. “Today being a holiday, why don’t you come and hand over this directly to my father?”

Riya did not feel like disregarding her suggestion and looked for Vinay and moved towards him along with Maya.

“Maya is asking me to go with her and give this to her father. Shall I go? Or why don’t you come with me? We both will go and meet Gupta uncle.”

“You go. As you know, I am running temperature. If daddy comes to know of my moving around in the city, he is sure to scold both of us.” Thinking, he asked Maya, “wouldn’t your father be in the court?”

“No. Today is Saturday. He will be at home.” Maya said.

Vinay had nothing to think further. “You go. I will tell mummy and daddy when he comes back from the office.” When she turned to go with Maya, he said, “come back soon. Don’t linger around and get too late. You know daddy. He will lose his temper if you get late.”

Riya smiled and nodded. Before daddy gets back from the office, I will be back home.”

***

Maya’s mother treated Riya with fruit juice and cake. She sat by her side and chatted about the studies and the teachers. After some time, Maya got up and walked to the home office of Khanna to seek permission to take Riya to him.

Maya stood at the door and saw Gupta busy with a client. Though he observed Maya at the door, he remained busy. Maya knew she would not be entertained and when turned to go, the junior advocate sitting there raised his brows to enquire of the purpose of her visit. Maya shrugged shoulders and walked back to the sitting room and joined Riya.

After one hour, the junior advocate came to the sitting room. “Now sir is free. You can go and meet him.”

Both Maya and Riya walked into Gupta’s office and gave the pen drive.

Inserting the pen drive to the laptop, Gupta heard the full conversation and kept the headset down on the table. “There is no scope for a court-martial. This is a crime committed by your father, but since this is only an advance payment, I feel, this would be viewed lightly and would be disposed of with administrative action. How the matter is viewed by higher-ups, where minor crimes are not tolerated, is based on them.” Leaving the pen drive in the table drawer, he said, “I will do whatever is required if the need arises.” When they got up, he said. “I didn’t ask you.” Looking at the uniform they were in, he showed surprise. “Why no school today?” He raised his brows. “Skulked? You should not have done.” Said in an admonishing tone.

“No uncle. Today the school is on a holiday as one of our teachers died of cancer.”

He shook the head. “Ok. Send her back only after lunch.” He said looking at Maya.

“Excuse me, uncle. I will have to get back home.” Riya said.

“How are you going to?”

“By bus, uncle.”

Gupta looked outside. “Where is Rohit? He said he is going now. He is from that side. I will ask him to drop you in front of the Air Force Station. Let me ask him.”

Rohit, his junior, who was waiting outside went in. “Yes sir.”

“If you are planning to return home, you may give her a lift. She is the daughter of an air force officer.”

Rohit looked at Riya and said. “My pleasure sir. I know she is Maya’s friend.”

“How do you know?” Gupta asked with a little surprise.

“From the way, they were talking.” He smiled with a little shy. “I am ready. I was just waiting for your clearance.”

Gupta gestured Riya to avail of the offer.

With hesitation, Riya looked at Maya and Gupta. “No uncle, I will be comfortable in the bus than going with an unknown.”

Gupta chuckled. “I agree with you. Traveling with anyone is risky. Especially for beautiful girls like you.” He looked at Rohit. “But in this case, there is nothing to think of. He is a nice boy. He is well known to me.” He turned to Riya. “He will leave you at your place.”

“No uncle. That will be a problem for him. I will go by bus.”

Rohit looked confused and said. “No problem for me. I travel on that route only. I will not mind stopping my car in front of the Air Force Station.” He smiled looking at Riya.

Riya showed reluctance. With knitted brows, she glanced towards Maya.

Maya smiled. “He is like my brother. If he is directly going home without any diversions, that is good for you. You can avoid the troubles of standing in the queue and boarding a DTC bus which usually is always jam-packed.”

“Let her decide.” Gupta threw the ball in her court.

When everyone vouched for the safety, she did not feel like thinking even for a fraction of second and showed her willingness by nod with a chuckle.

Waving her hand, Riya walked behind Rohit towards the car parked outside. She pulled the rear door handle and moved in. She saw Rohit looking at her showing his displeasure on her desire for chauffeur driven comfort. However, she did not change her decision to occupy the rear seat.

As the car moved, he asked. “You are in the same class as Maya?”

“Yes.” She said.

“What is your father?”

“He is an air force officer. Flying Officer Jayaprakash.”

“What is the problem? Why did you come to meet Gupta sir?”

She didn’t know what to say. She knew, he being Gupta’s junior, he is sure to know the whole. But she preferred to keep quiet.

Rohit could guess her intention of hiding. He kept driving humming an old Hindi movie song and frequently turning head back to look at her beautiful face. “You are like an angel. Quite beautiful.” He soliloquized. “Had you been sitting along with me on the front, I could have avoided the strain of looking back on this heavily crowded route.” He whispered.

She heard that and smiled. “Did you ask me, something uncle?”

“What? Am I looking that old to be called uncle?”

She felt like laughing aloud. “In our Air Force crowd, every one slightly elder is addressed as an uncle.”

He smiled. “That way, ok. I am only twenty-eight. Not that old to be called so.”

She joined him in that humorous moment with a broad smile.

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