Dad & Daughter

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-4-

Much before six o’clock, the time of assembly given to their friends, both Riya and Vinay made all arrangements in the sitting room for the function. Color balloons intermingled with small color blinking bulbs sneaking through multi-colored ribbon papers were a feast to the eyes of everyone.

As expected, the majority of their invitees being children of defense personnel, born and bought up with strict discipline and punctuality, marked their presence much before time and commented and appreciated their efforts in displaying artistic talents on decoration work. Many friends of Riya had come earlier to assist in her efforts to make the event more beautiful and colorful.

As time passed, Riya started showing uneasiness as Jayaprakash had not come back and decided to make a call on the mother’s mobile. She moved to the kitchen and sought the mother’s permission to use her mobile.

“Why are you restless? He will come now.” Mother made a face.

“Where has he gone to buy cakes? It looks as though he has gone to Connaught Place.” She showed mock anger.

Saroja smiled. “Could have. He might have gone to buy gifts for you both.” She chuckled.

Riya became more enthusiastic. “What gift? Will he buy mobiles for us?” She whined.

Making a face, Saroja said firmly. “Don’t dream of that. He is of the strong opinion that the school children should never use mobiles. First of all, it causes harm to the brain. Second, the children will get spoiled by visiting unwanted sites. Their dexterity in studies will fade and will develop insurmountable addition to that. He has seen a few children sitting always with their mobile chatting with others and wasting time. He doesn’t like that. He wants to see you study and come up in life and then he will buy any mobile of your choice.”

With mock anger, Riya said, “then, he doesn’t need to buy. We could buy from our earnings.” Grabbing the mobile from her, she made a call to Jayaprakash.

“Hello,” Jayaprakash responded. “We will be back within a few minutes. You engage your friends with your program of music and dance you had planned. He took me to Connaught Place to buy the cake. On the way back, we had to visit one of Khanna sir’s friend, and barged into that house.” He paused. “And also, I have bought a surprise gift for both of you.”

“Is it?” Riya became jubilant. Whiningly she said, “I know that wouldn’t be my long outstanding demand.”

“You will see when I reach home.”

Handing over the mobile to Saroja, she said angrily. “What a time for Khanna uncle to take his lackey to a friend’s house? Nonsense!” She hammered on the kitchen table and said, “They knew that the party is planned and we have called many of our friends. Then, why they did that?” Making a face she said with mock anger. “Then, he says that he had bought some surprise gifts for us. For what? Could be few eatables to serve the invitees.” She hurried to the sitting room and joined the crowd.

“You bring cakes for cutting.” One of Vinay’s friends shouted.

Vinay looked at Riya and said, “it is on the way. A special cake is ordered and will reach any time.”

Riya smiled observing the smartness of Vinay and winked.

Jayaprakash tried to be more cheerful than while he left and entered the house accompanied by Khanna. Both were holding a packet each. As they entered, both could not avoid gaping their mouths wondering over the handworks of children to transform the sitting room into a place of mesmerizing glamour. The sitting room looked more spacious with all furniture taken out to the dining hall and the central place was made vacant for their games and entertainment which the children were keeping a secret. The blinking multicolored lamps camouflaged with different colors of ribbon papers gave a different ambiance and mood to the children gathered there.

The eyes of all children fell on the much-awaited and Riya ran towards them with moroseness for making them wait for so long. When she tried to grab the packet from her dad, he hesitated to say, “be patient.”

Khanna placed the plastic cover on the table gently and opened carefully to take out two cakes and laid them neatly on the table looking at both children of the day. He placed two candles on top of the cakes with figures carved on it to indicate their age. Inviting Jayaprakash and Saroja to the table, he withdrew to one side.

Both Riya and Vinay, with dad and mother respectively by their side, lighted the candle and cut the cakes simultaneously while a few of their friends kept recording the event on their mobiles. All kept shouting happy birthday to both. The whole ceremony with the sharing of cakes was with reverberating music.

Jayaprakash smiled forgetting all mental disturbances he was subjected to and looked at Khanna with high contentment. The joyous moments one could hardly afford to forget!

Riya and Vinay kept looking at the packet Jayaprakash had brought and kept at a distance without disclosing the content. Riya had half mind to pick that up to bury her anxiety but decided to control the inquisitiveness calming herself, with self-advice, to wait. Her mind was busy wondering what could be the content of the packet -- would the gift be a watch? “No, that can’t be. On the last birthday, both were presented with watches.” She was quick to rule out. “Could be pen set?” She decided to be happy with that conclusion. “But for what? Khanna-uncle has already given that. That will be something else. Daddy will not be foolish to again present pen sets.” She concluded.

The children had arranged a few games and they got engaged with that. Both Jayaprakash and Khanna were asked to be judges to announce the winners and give away the prizes then and there itself.

After the game’s session, the entertainment ensued and most of the children gathered there exhibited their talents – songs, mimicry, and jokes.

At seven, few children expressed their desire to go back their homes before getting dark.

As the children were about to peel off, Jayaprakash hurried to pick up the packet he had been keeping away from the children and handed over to Riya and Vinay.

Without any sign of excitement, they kept that along with the gifts received from their friends.

Jayaprakash was not happy and looked at Khanna with a chuckle.

Khanna could read his mind and asked both Riya and Vinay to open and see what dad had bought for them.

Riya took out her gift packet and opened slowly looking at her friends wondering what that could be. When she saw the mobile phone inside, with a gapped mouth in surprise she ran and clung to her dad and kissed. All those who were ready to move out came to examine the phone and showered praises for the wonderful gift.

Vinay opened the packet given to him and saw a similar one in a different color. He also expressed his vehement happiness and ran to Jayaprakash and hugged him.

Both were extremely happy with the gift which they never expected as Jayaprakash was always discouraging them using mobiles highlighting its bad sides and health hazards.

After seeing off all invitees including Khanna, both children put back the sitting room to its original shape by bringing all furniture back to its position. They brought all gift packets and kept on the center table. They asked dad and mother to come and sit with them as they were to open the packets.

“You write down what each one of your friends has given, because on their birthday you may have to give a gift of almost equal or higher value,” Saroja advised both.

Riya preferred to write down in her diary as she was scared otherwise the memory might put them to disgrace.

They opened the packets one by one and wrote down the content in the diary.

The majority of the gifts were books – general knowledge and novels.

One valuable gift Riya received was a small idol of Lord Krishna standing with a flute from her friend, Maya, her classmate. Immediately she opened the showcase glass and kept inside making a place for that. Riya being a Lord Krishna lover, she adored and thanked Maya in absentia.

When the children left for their rooms with the collection of gifts and Saroja moved to the kitchen, Jayaprakash opened the bottle and prepared a drink. Quite unusual of him to sit alone and drink, when Riya observed that, she was inquisitive to find out the reason for the liquor palate. The bottles were kept at home only to treat the guests if any preferred to have a drink. “I never have seen you sitting alone and drinking, earlier. What happened today?”

Jayaprakash had a quick answer. “Your birthday. Is this not sufficient reason to celebrate?”

Riya made a face and left him alone to enjoy the evening.

Sitting alone, Jayaprakash started thinking of the great mistake he was forced to commit by his senior, Khanna. “Imbecility! What else?” He blamed himself for being a lackey to the senior. “Had I refused to obey him, I would not have been pushed to this shit now.” He felt like yelling pronouncing his lack of mental strength. Gulping the whole glass, he sneezed. “I am a fool to fall prey to humility shown by others for personal benefits.”

He poured liquor again and drank mixing water. Unable to control the emotions, he grunted and murmured. “If the problems are not solved as he had promised, I will be court-martialled and thrown out of service. Then?” He looked up and saw Riya standing behind him with a lugubrious face.

Pinning an artificial smile with a chuckle, Jayaprakash turned backward. “Oh, you were standing behind. I was trying to recollect certain dialogue from a recent English movie.”

Riya maintained seriousness on her face and said, “I know you are undergoing certain mental agony.” She moved towards him and sat by his side. “What is irking you, daddy? Please let us know.”

He chuckled. “What? What are you asking? What is there to irk me? Oh, nothing.”

“You are lying daddy. I can make out from your face.”

“What is there to lie?”

“Unless you are undergoing some mental turmoil, I am sure you will not sit alone and drink. I have not seen in my whole life you drinking alone. There has to be some botheration wrecking your peace of mind. I heard you mumble about getting court-martialled. I am scared, daddy. Please share your mind with me.”

When he lifted the glass to finish off the content, she grabbed and disallowed saying, “I will not permit you to drink anymore. You already had enough and your words are losing clarity. No more, daddy.”

Looking at her apologetically, he chuckled and wiped his face with the hand. Heaving a sigh, he said, “I am 44 and have put in 26 years of service. During my service so far, I haven’t committed any offense and my service record is clean. Considering my sincerity and hard work, I was rewarded by the air force with the commission and I am a class one officer now. I started my service life as an airman and the air force gave me this position in society with high salary and respect.” He looked at Riya and read her inquisitiveness on the face. “I happened to fall prey to the friendly nature of my senior.”

“Who? Khanna uncle?” Her voice choked.

“Yes.” He nodded. “To meet his immediate financial needs, I did some foul play with public funds.”

“What?” She exploded with a jerk. “What are you talking daddy? How is it possible to play with the public fund when so much of a fool-proof system is in vogue?”

“You are right. It is not possible to take out money without supporting vouchers. But with fabricated vouchers, I took out the money from the bank and gave him.”

“But how is it possible?”

He could appreciate Riya’s concern and sat mute thinking of explaining the whole incomprehensible way. “See, when an officer or airman goes on annual leave, there is a provision to take advance payment for the leave period. You might have noticed me also carrying a good amount while proceeding on leave.”

Riya moved close to him and grunted with a nod.

“You know, Khanna is constructing a house in his plot at Faridabad. He had applied for a loan from HDFC bank and got few installments. The final one was to be paid on completion of certain works and for that, he did not have funds. When he came to me with the proposal to help him out by making leave advances to one officer, I did not know what to do. That officers whom he had contacted had agreed to sign the vouchers for having accepted the amount. I thought it would be safe so long as the signed vouchers are with me.”

“Without actually taking leave?” She interluded.

“Yes.”

“But, unless his applications for leave is approved, how the application for the advance of pay can be entertained?” She expressed her doubt.

Appreciating the quickness of her perception, he could not hold his smile. “You are right. That was fabricated. The application for advance should have been signed confirming the leave details by the Adjutant of the unit which is done after the leave application is signed by the Station Commander. That was not done in this case. Hence, we cannot apportion blame on the Adjutant. The application for leave advance was put directly to the accounts section by the officer, as advised by Khanna sir. On that day, as Khanna sir was on leave, I had to complete the Senior Accounts Officer column of approval for payment action.” He paused with tears rolling down his cheeks. Wiping the eyes, he continued. “As per his words, the adjustment was only for a few days. Once the loan amount is received, he had committed to giving the amount back to the officer and in turn by him to the accounts section saying he has canceled his leave.”

Riya took the time to conceive the whole and felt complicated. She nodded after gaining grasp over the issue. “Khanna uncle has put that uncle also in trouble.” She grunted. Raising brows, she looked at him. “Why at all he was involved? You could have directly handed over the amount to Khanna’s uncle.”

He chuckled. “The cheque has to be issued in the name of officer taking leave advance. As the amount involved was huge, cheque only could be issued.”

“How much was the amount?”

“One lakh.” He frowned. “Nothing would have happened if the matter was left to three of us. But, the matter reached the Command Accounts Officer, who in turn sent an officer to find the veracity of the information. Before sending that person, the Command Accounts Officer had spoken to Khanna sir, as they had worked together somewhere earlier. The matter is yet to reach our Commanding Officer. Once he comes to know, he is sure to order a Court of Inquiry. I know, the Air Force being such an organization which has plugged all methods of misappropriation of funds will never tolerate this sort of imbecility.”

Both sat mute looking bewildered.

With a composed face, Riya moved close to him and held his hand. “Anyway, whatever had happened had happened. It is not easy to get extricated out of that without going through the service procedure. If uncle Khanna could succeed in solving the whole without further repercussions, it is fine. Otherwise, I will ask you to find out methods to get out of this mess. You should not be afraid of garnering wrath of Khanna uncle, but should tell others of the compulsion for doing so.”

Jayaprakash looked at her pleading mercy. “How could I palm off everything onto his shoulders?” He grunted. “Being a responsible officer, I can’t escape from my mistakes. In this case, I will be accused.”

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