Ranjit slumped into his chair at the Computer Store. He greeted the others with a glum face and immediately began looking out the window after taking off his backpack. Other employees exchanged glances over his uncharacteristic demeanour, trying to see if anyone has any forethought. Everyone went quiet at the same time. Life continued to be busy outside the store as vehicles bustled about, while things went inanimate within. It took a sputtering fart to breathe life back into the establishment, one small boom at a time. But such was everyone’s astonishment at Ranjit’s curious appearance that no one grimaced, laughed, or shot the perpetrator with ocular daggers.
“What’s the matter? Did that hot girlfriend of yours dump you?” asked his uncle. He took away all hints of a sting out from his voice, making it as harmlessly jovial as possible.
“No, we’re good.”
“Why the long face then?” asked Uncle Sam with knitted brows. Ranjit turned to face him.
“Dad’s coming to visit this weekend,” he said. His uncle’s face went sombre in a flash.
“That’s just two days from now. Why’s he coming?”
“What do you mean why? I don’t know! I can’t ask him why he wants to come to visit his son!” said Ranjit. Uncle Sam shrugged in agreement.
“I’ll try and assign you most of the customer visits for today. Hopefully, that’ll distract your mind.”
Ranjit flashed him a wry smile. “Thanks.” His uncle gave him a soft pat, for he knew how tense these visits could get. He was glad that his brother wasn’t coming to visit him.
Ranjit made all the customer visits he could, but his mind proved too stubborn to shift. The mad traffic of New Delhi tried to incite a violent outburst from him, but he zipped through the traffic on his motorbike with cold disregard. The sun gathered up clouds around itself to give him all the shade necessary, but Ranjit’s face couldn’t brighten up. The wind caressed his cheeks softly as he scaled almost the entire city, but it could not make him stretch his lips for a single second. Ananya texted him ‘I’m sorry I’m not in the city this week. Otherwise, I would have been Daddy’s little girl and kept you safe.’ He smiled at his sister’s gesture, but it didn’t linger long on his face for long.
“Why are you getting your panties in a twist?” said Bhavna when he reached home early in the evening.
“You don’t know what he’s like,” sulked Ranjit.
“God damn it, tell me would you?!”
“You know how my face loses colour and all expression when I’m terribly anxious or spellbound?”
“Of course. It’s the one thing I can’t get enough of!” she said, giving him a squeezing peck on the check. Ranjit’s heart spasmed.
“Well, I’m always like that in his presence. Most people are. He is intimidating. Really intimidating. The sort of intimidating that would make the devil himself clear his throat in his presence.”
“Oh come on, don’t be so dramatic!”
“It’s true! Ask anyone in my family! Hell, ask my roommate, for that matter! Even Uncle Sam is jittery in his presence. He understands my plight so well that he had the food stall owner next to the Computer Store pack a few samosas for me,” said Ranjit, pointing to the ones the two of them were sharing.
“That changes things,” said Bhavna. Ranjit took a large bite and nodded. Bhavna watched him take ten minutes to eat each samosa in his paper plate, spacing out and chewing slowly, mechanically. She’d never seen him so distraught.
“I could shoot one of the tyres of the bus he will take tomorrow,” she suggested. Ranjit humoured her with a chuckle, but he knew there was no guarantee even a contract killer could stop his father.
When he saw the bus enter the bus stand, he wondered if he should have taken Bhavna up on her offer.
As he touched his father’s feet he felt a bulky hand pat his head reluctantly. “Was your journey comfortable?”
“It was alright,” said Mr Choudhary. Ranjit looked at his taught face with sunken eyes and thought his father was sleep deprived, but he couldn’t remember him ever look differently.
The short car ride home was longer and less comfortable than the overnight bus journey.
“At least you finally bought a chair,” he said as he entered Ranjit’s apartment. Ranjit thought it better not to tell him Bhavna had lent it to him for today.
“Yeah, I had just moved in when you last visited. Didn’t have much time to buy furniture!”
“Took you a year to buy a chair.”
Ranjit’s go-to action during times of nervousness is a smile, but he skipped past that and went straight to shocked baby-face.
“It’s okay. I’m not here to grill you over your poor choices. Ha, that would take forever!”
Ranjit’s heart went missing and he forgot how to breathe.
“I’m here to apologize,” said his father.
Mr Choudhary passed his bucket hand over his kurta and cleared his throat. “I’ve not visited you for over a year but I do think of you, from time to time. Your mother has always accused me of having a habit of being too hard on you, of only seeing your faults. I told her it’s difficult to see past them, given their mass. But recently, when I think about it, I feel she is somewhat right. You didn’t get the kind of job I would have liked, but you started making a living. Your uncle picked you up and made you stand, but you have been standing since without his support. I’m also led to believe you’ve done quite well working in his store and that your promotions have been warranted and familial relations were not a factor. I’m not completely sure about that, but I’ll go visit Samraat tomorrow to find out. So, coming back to the point, I believe I have never acknowledged you living like a grown man, taking responsibilities and getting by on your own. I apologize for that, and I demand you forgive me.”
Ranjit’s mind replayed his father’s words so that he could parse and digest them.
‘You’ve done quite well.’
‘You living like a grown man.’
‘I demand you to forgive me.’
“This is all a bit hard to take,” said Ranjit, scratching his head.
“Just say you forgive me so we can get it over with.”
“I don’t know. It’s almost like you’re ordering me to forgive you.”
“So what?” asked Mr Choudhary, leaning forward in his chair.
“No, no. It’s just that people are a bit more…*humble* in their apologies.”
“A bit what? Don’t talk into your mouth. Speak up! And what is there to think about? Do you have a problem forgiving your father?”
“Well go on then!”
“What do you want me to do? Like how do I forgive you?” asked Ranjit, twiddling his fingers.
“Just say that you forgive me!” bellowed Mr Choudhary.
“I’m sorry!” said Ranjit, cowering away.
“No, you buffoon. I’m the one apologizing!” he said, standing up and waving his hand. Ranjit fell on his knees and grabbed his father’s legs.
“Oh, right! Yes, I forgive you. I’m sorry. I mean…” he closed his eyes as tightly as he held on to his father’s legs. “Have I forgiven you?”
Mr Choudhary sighed and slumped into his chair. Ranjit felt a heavy hand pat his head. His eyes burst open the next instant when he realized the hand stayed there for a second. His head registered another pat, the softest he had ever registered, but the one he would remember most vividly.
Nah, not all people become their parents, only those who try not to.
‘Papa Kehte hain’ = Daddy says
First posted on Agyani’s Stories