The working hours of the unit were from morning seven-thirty to one-thirty. Jayaprakash used to reach home always late as he had to tally the account before leaving the office. On that day, even after two-thirty, he was not back home. Riya was the one more concerned about his late arrival as in the near past so much of delay had never occurred. She remembered the arrival of someone from the Command Headquarters to the station, as said by Mrs. Khanna. If so, there would be a stag beer session in the officer’s mess with all officers of the station to treat that person, she doubted. She asked Saroja, “did he say anything of stag beer party in the officer’s mess?”
Vinay was quick to reply. “Didn’t you hear what Khanna aunty had told that someone had come from Command Headquarters. Probably all officers would have gone to the mess for working lunch.”
Saroja looked at him and blamed herself. “Yes, you are right. Why I did not think on that line?”
“Sign of getting aged.” Vinay chuckled with a taunt.
Giving a fierce look with mock anger, she said. “Both of you go and wash hands and sit for lunch. You were working setting up the house right from the morning and must be tired and hungry. Don’t wait for him with an empty stomach.”
Riya did not show interest to sit for food before the arrival of her daddy. She dragged Saroja outside and showed the garden she gave a facelift with brick border lining.” Running her hand over the bunch of rose flowers, she said. “I will ask daddy to buy a packet of red-oxide. I will paint these pots and brick linings.”
“Why you want to spend time on these menial works? We will ask the gardener to do.”
Riya had no answer to satisfy her. “I like to do some work than watching TV, unlike Vinay.”
Vinay who was standing at a distance did not like her comment and he muttered something which she could not hear.
Saroja showed no interest in the garden beautification plans Riya chattered about and moved inside in hurry followed by Vinay. Showing her unpleasantness, Riya ran behind them and said, “none of you have a sense of beauty. Unless you are little aesthetic with love for nature, you will not be able to appreciate any creation of God on this soil.” She expressed her unhappiness over truncating her enthusiasm.
“Why don’t you phone him up to find out the cause of the delay?” Vinay suggested Saroja, holding a mobile phone towards her.
Taking the mobile, she kept that on the table and said, “I will not. He might get annoyed if he is in a meeting.”
“Just ask him to find out if they are in the mess for working lunch.” Vinay insisted.
She took the mobile and kept thinking. She turned to Riya and said. “You may ring him up. He will not get annoyed with you.”
Riya took that as a compliment and made a call. The mobile on the other end was ringing but was not responded to. She tried again, the result was the same. “I think, he is busy with those people from Command. That is why he is not even attending to the call.”
All sat around the dining table waiting for Jayaprakash imaging of various circumstances of his not returning home, yet. Vinay switched on the TV. Grabbing the remote, Riya was quick to switch that off asking him to behave.
It was at three o’clock, the sound of the motorbike fell into their ears. Riya was the first to run to open the door. She found her daddy sitting on the stopped motorbike without removing the helmet. She ran to him wondering what could be the reason for his peculiar behaviour and tried to pull out the helmet. “Aren’t you well daddy?” She exhibited her concern and tried to help him get down by grabbing his hand.
Saroja hurried to the kitchen to keep the lunch on the table.
Vinay saw their father being helped by Riya to get down and ran to assist her. “What happened?” He showed concern with anxiety.
“I am perfectly normal. Nothing to worry.” Jayaprakash removed the helmet and smiled looking at his children and got down from the bike and put that on the stand.
Jayaprakash was looking drained out and his tired look was quite unexpected. The cheerful sportsman who had won fifty kilometers walk for three consecutive years with sound body and health was looking worn out. With all weariness, he tried to exhibit a pleasant face to smoothen the anxiety of children who were looking worried. “I am perfectly alright. Due to overwork, I got drained out. My stomach is empty.” Looking at both, he inquired with anxiety. “Didn’t you have lunch?”
“No. We are waiting for you.” Riya said.
Jayaprakash tried to compose himself and brought a smile with difficulty and moved inside holding their hands. He removed the belt and gave it to Riya. Looking at the dining table with different dishes he hurried to the bathroom and washed hands and sat for lunch.
Saroja was quick to serve him rice and sambar on the main plate. In the side plate varieties of curries were filled.
“Why so many items?”
With mock anger, Saroja asked, “have you forgotten that today is their birthday?”
Jayaprakash realized his folly and smiled scratching the back of his head. “Did you visit the temple?”
“After you went to the office, we all went to the temple and paid for special pooja.” Saroja smiled. “And you forgot to buy and bring cake you had promised before going to the office.” She indirectly blamed her husband for being casual on home affairs.
Realizing the mistake, he said with a guilty feeling, “after food I will go out and buy.”
After food, they all sat and enjoyed kheer and watched a special TV show.
The doorbell rang.
Vinay ran and opened the front door.
Wishing him happy birthday, Squadron Leader Khanna entered the room with a packet. Seeing everyone in the sitting room holding the cup, he straight went near Riya and wished her. Sitting on the sofa, he opened the packet and took out one presentation pilot pen set and gave it to Riya. Another packet of the same gift he gave to Vinay. He was contented observing vehement happiness over the faces of the birthday children.
“Thank you, uncle.” Both said in the chorus.
Saroja hurried to the kitchen and brought a cup of kheer on a tray and held towards Khanna.
Showing great satisfaction, he picked up the cup and looked at it and said. “I like your south Indian kheer very much. Many times I had asked my wife to learn the preparation of this special sweet pudding. As per her, she knows the recipe and preparation, but will not prepare as I have little sugar complaint.” He smiled. He looked at Saroja. “This sugar complaint, I mean diabetes, is a wretched disease. You are restrained from taking anything sweet. If you do not observe the laid down rules as dictated by the doctors, you will be a victim of neuropathy, retinopathy and so many other complications. I am really scared of those high-sounding ailments.
“These days, the majority of people above thirty, thirty-five have either sugar, BP, or cholesterol. Our food habits are to be blamed. Adulterated food items, poisoned fresh vegetables, and a polluted atmosphere are the culprits. Along with longevity, slavery to ailments has tremendously increased. Earlier days, the ailments were not of this magnitude. These days every other person is suffering from various health issues making the pharmaceutical companies get richer.” Saroja said without hiding her humility.
Khanna heard her and nodded in agreement. “You are a hundred percent correct.” He paused. “I hail from a village in Punjab. There, the case is different. They cultivate their field and eat food items which have no pesticide poisoning and people by and large remain healthy.”
“Another is the very high-frequency radiation. Our atmosphere is filled with different types of radio waves with frequencies ranging from low to ultra-high. The reverberations caused by these waves on our metabolism is sure to cause a great impact on our health.” Saroja said.
Khanna and the children kept listening to her with attention. “You are right. The longevity is a curse. The sufferings have increased tremendously with that.”
Everyone observed the masquerading unhappiness over the face of Jayaprakash though he was sitting and pretending to listen to his wife’s intellectual talks. Though he was exposing his support to his wife with a smile, Khanna knew that was pretentious.
“I was told that children have planned a party with their friends,” Khanna said.
Jayaprakash looked up suddenly and made a face. “Oh, I have to buy cakes for that.”
Khanna smiled and said, “Ok. We will go out and buy.”
“Not required. I will buy and come before their scheduled program.”
“That is at six, daddy. Not to bother. I will go out and bring it.” Vinay said.
“No,” Khanna said. “We will just go out and buy.”
Jayaprakash was in a fix and agreed to Khanna’s suggestion with a grunt.
“Then let’s go.” Khanna got up and pulled Jayaprakash. “Get up. We will just go for a drive.”
“If so I also will come.” Vinay expressed his desire.
“You stay back,” Khanna said. “We will do that. You make the necessary decoration work to give a feel of a birthday party.” He asked Vinay. “Have you got enough balloons and color ribbons?”
Jayaprakash went inside and changed his uniform to a civil dress and picked up the helmet.
Looking at the helmet in hand, Khanna smiled. “As per air force rules, the helmet is not required to be worn while driving four-wheelers. That is only required for two-wheelers.”
Jayaprakash could understand what he meant by that. “Sir, we will go on my bike. Why take the car to just go out of the gate to buy a cake?”
“Not required?” Khanna grunted. “Give a chance to my car to run a few kilometers. I know a bakery which sells very good cakes. We will buy it from there. “Khanna said with a grin.