Dad & Daughter

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chapter -1-

Being second Saturday, both Riya and Vinay were free of school and studies. After breakfast, both got busy with the installation of their television set in the sitting room. Vinay installed the TV dish antenna pointing to the direction of satellite transmission and drew the co-axial cable with connector and fixed to the TV input socket. Riya was more interested to make their TV operational before their father Jayaprakash, called by friends JP, reached home on cessation of the unit working hours; at one-thirty.

After whitewashing and painting recently allotted service quarters inside the air force camp, their shifting from a rented house in the civil area was completed only on the previous day. As both were experienced in frequent house shifting either due transfers or change of quarters, they knew what were all to be done on priorities. After helping mother Saroja in setting up the kitchen and bedrooms only they got engrossed in setting up the drawing-room with curios and decoration articles.

Though their father Jayaprakash had been serving the air force for the last twenty-five years, he became a commissioned officer only three years back. During the airman days, he never bothered to gather many household articles, and their total assets were much less compared to any of his contemporaries. His commitment to sending money homemade him remain dormant on amassing elaborate household articles and taught wife and children not to compare other officers on their standard of living. Realizing the realities, they preferred to adjust with his way of thought and remained happy with whatever shortcomings and deficiencies they had. They were taught by Jayaprakash the importance of acquiring higher education by which only anyone could conquer career peaks on earth – position, money, and fame. Those teachings were always lingering in their minds and they tried to remain first in their class, right from their younger days.

Both were Central School students and the frequent transfers hardly did much harm to their studies and they being twins remained in the same class throughout. After coming on posting to New Delhi from Kanpur six months back, they were admitted to JNU Central School. Due to the non-availability of seats in the same class, they had to be satisfied with different divisions.

At ten, there was a call bell and Riya opened the front door to receive Mrs. Khanna standing outside. Her husband Squadron Leader Khanna was the Senior Accounts Officer of the unit under whom Flying Officer Jayaprakash worked as the Accounts Officer.

Being the junior, the responsibility of cash holding and all transactions were left to Jayaprakash. For him, the task assigned was of ease, as he had ample years of experience of working in various accounts sections under different senior officers – as airman and officers. At earlier station also, he was given the responsibility of cash holding and payments which he liked most as that position commanded respect from other officers. Though the responsibility was high, his sincerity with total commitment was appreciated by his seniors. Be sincere to the assigned work with total involvement without giving chance to be pointed out by others, was his principle. As a lovable loyal servant of the air force, he was liked by both his juniors and seniors. The commitment was developed from the inborn fear for getting pointed out by others branding him as inefficient. Being a brahmin from South India, he remained a vegetarian throughout life, which was liked and followed by both his children – daughter Riya and son Vinay.

Mrs. Khanna expressed surprise seeing Riya at home and inquired, “no school today?”

With much respect, Riya said, “Being second Saturday no classes today aunty.”

Cutting sorry figure, Mrs. Khanna entered the house hiding her ignorance, “My children are too small and their schooling will commence only next year. Their kinder garden school observes the holiday on all Saturdays.” She giggled and looked at the efforts of Vinay. “Your mummy must be busy in the kitchen.” She moved towards the kitchen and saw Saroja cleaning the vessels at the sink. Sympathetically she inquired, “why do you struggle like this? Haven’t you got a maidservant to do these works?”

Saroja pinned a smile on her face and wiped hands on the cloth hanging on the door and welcomed Mrs. Khanna. “The maid staying in our servant quarters is willing to do all jobs. But, I don’t permit her to enter my kitchen. The kitchen is my department. I asked her to do sweeping, swabbing, and all other work including a kitchen garden, except entering the kitchen.” With slight hatred, she said, “I did not find her clean enough for kitchen work.” She paused. “Otherwise also, I generally avoid their entry to the kitchen.”

Both moved towards the sofa and made themselves comfortable.

“Here, at Delhi, the servant’s room attached to quarters is a blessing for defense officers. There will be many to occupy and work free, both household work and gardening.” Frowning she continued. “Outside, the rent one has to pay for similar accommodation is enormous -- beyond anyone’s imagination.” She chuckled. “These luxuries can only be dreamed of by us defense officers. Outside the camp, I have heard that the civilian officers having servant quarters, rent that out for huge amount.” Her words carried the pride of being the wife of a defense officer. “But, inside the camp, defense officers will never do that. If anyone is caught doing so, he will have to face the music.”

Riya went near Mrs. Khanna and asked, “aunty, would you like to have coffee or tea?”

Casting a smile came her reply, “Actually, I had my breakfast just now. But my temptation to taste your filter coffee is irresistible.” She grunted. “I will have your favorite filter coffee.” She turned to Sujatha. “Will Riya make?”

“She will. She can manage the entire house herself. During the last summer vacation, she went for a cookery course and is an expert in Chinese preparations.” Saroja smiled.

“But, you are all vegetarian, isn’t so?” She frowned.

“Yes, there are many veg preparations in Chinese.” She smiled. “Her culinary skill is worth praising.”

Mrs. Khanna grunted. “I will wait for an occasion to assess that.” She looked at Riya and said. “You must teach me also. I know a few dishes but haven’t done any courses. If you have notes issued by the institute, that may be given.”

“Sure aunty.”

Riya hurried to take a trophy from the showcase and placed on the central table and looked at Mrs. Khanna. “I became first in the quiz competition held in our school.”

Mrs. Khanna grunted and sent an appreciative glance at her and chuckled. “You are an allrounder!”

Without waiting for further appreciative words, Riya hurried to the kitchen.

Vinay connected the power to the TV and switched on. With remote, he made the set to become alive and changed channels.

Mrs. Khanna made appreciative comments on the capabilities of Vinay and wondered when her children would be of that standard. “I will have to wait for years to get such assistance from my children.”

“They are too small aunty.” Vinay consoled her. “Once they will be of our age, they would be more capable than we are.” He chuckled and smiled.

Mrs. Khanna grunted. “They will be like their dad. Will never do any job at home. Watching TV is his only job.”

When Riya came with coffee in a tray, Mrs. Khanna was quick to grab and taste the filter coffee and appreciated her, “very nice.” She smiled. “I got ready to go to our house construction site to assess the progress. I haven’t visited the site for a few days. Once, the work is completed, there is no point in crying over wrong works by them, other than reworking which will involve further expenses. After getting ready when I contacted Khanna, he expressed his inability to take me to the site as someone had come to his office from Command Headquarters. As he is the Senior Accounts Officer, he has to be with that person.” She sipped coffee and turned her head towards the TV and said, “if one gets the habit of getting glued to this, that person will become an idiot. That’s why this box got that name ‘idiot box.’ This will make others idiot.”

Saroja smiled. “How about house construction? Is it about to be over?”

Mrs. Khanna turned towards her. “See, Khanna had bought this land at Faridabad a few years back. Since then he had been planning to make a house and now only that is getting into reality. Making a house is a cumbersome affair. Getting permission from various civil authorities and getting a loan! We are lucky to get the housing loan from the bank at a comparatively low interest. They give only 80% of the total expenditure and the remaining amount is to be found out by us.”

“When will the house be completed?” Saroja was curious to hear.

Mrs. Khanna smiled. “It is nearing completion. We are worried as we have already completed three years at this station and the next posting can be expected at any moment. Before the posting is received, we have to complete and give that on rent. As the distance to Faridabad where we are making the house is not far from Delhi even our air force officers would like to take that on rent. From air force station Thuglakabad few officers stay in that area. We prefer to give on rent to defense officers. They will look after the house well as their own and would vacate after three years.”

Saroja smiled. “You are right. In our previous station, we were staying outside in a rented house for almost two years. That house was very good with all facilities nearby. Later, when we got one quarter allotted inside the camp, children were reluctant to move out leaving their friends in that locality. So, we continued to stay there till received the next posting orders. I like camp life. The ladies club and proximity to the officer’s mess are lovable.” She chuckled. “Both have their advantages and disadvantages.”

Mrs. Khanna nodded. “You are right.” She paused. “He is keen to complete the work and hand over to someone on rent. It seems one officer has already approached him to find out the availability of that on rent. That person is willing to pay anything within the permissible rent fixed, as per the service norms.”

“I will advise you, people, to move in and be the first occupant of your own house,” Saroja suggested.

Mrs. Khanna laughed. “No. I am not interested. Throughout my life, I had been staying in service quarters and will continue to do so. My daddy was an air force pilot and right from my childhood I had been seeing only service quarters. I am happy with the camp environment and ambiance. The mess facilities and mingling with the only educated crowd is thrilling to me.” She chuckled.

Mrs. Khanna watched a Hindi reality show on TV and sat mute with wild laughter with children. Realizing that the guest was engaged in watching the TV program, Saroja moved to the kitchen to attend to her daily chores.

After a while, Saroja came to the sitting room with a tray containing a cup of kheer and served to the guest. Before lifting the cup, Mrs. Khanna raised her brows and inquired about the specialty of the day for preparing the sweet dishes.

With vehement humility and happiness, she announced, “today is the birthday of both Riya and Vinay.”

With broad smile, Mrs. Khanna turned to the children and wished them, “many, many happy returns of the day.”

The children humbly said in chorus, “thank you, aunty.”

Vinay looked at Saroja and expressed surprise. “I did not know about your plan of making kheer.”

Saroja remained silent looking at him and smiled.

After taking a scoop of kheer, Mrs. Khanna tasted and showered praises for excellence. Looking at children she said, “how about the birthday boy and girl? Aren’t you giving them kheer to give me company?”

“They will take along with their daddy.” Saroja smiled.

Keeping the empty cup on the central table Mrs. Khanna looked at both children and shot a query. “I know you are twins, but who is the eldest?”

“I am the eldest.” Riya was quick to respond.

Vinay looked at Mrs. Khanna and said, “she has that superiority complex and often behaves like my commanding officer.”

Riya laughed hearing the complaint of her sibling.

“Now you both will be…?”

“Seventeen,” Saroja said. “Both are in twelfth.”

Mrs. Khanna noticed high contentment on Saroja’s face. “After twelfth, what are their plans?”

“I want to become an IAS officer. “Riya said with pride.

“I will become an air force officer,” Vinay said smartly.

“Both are good at studies,” Saroja added complimenting her children.

A tinge of jealousy appeared on the face of Mrs. Khanna. “You will be the happiest and luckiest parents.” After a pause, she asked. “Aren’t you celebrating?”

Saroja smiled. “They have called a few of their friends.”

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