The next moment she made a funny sound and spat the entire mouthful of the gooey stuff on my face. I was too stunned to react, but Ankita wasn’t. I don’t know how much she understood the pitiable predicament of a poor Papa but she burst into peals of laughter. I cursed silently and went back to round two. Caesar might have backed off, Napolean would have given up, but how could a die-hard Papa who is also a Virgo, like yours truly, capitulate.
This time Ankita was more benevolent. She took three spoonfuls and just as a look of triumph started suffusing my face it happened. Splat! She had deposited three times the yuck on my face and was grinning and beating her gong with even greater abandon.
“Idiot!” I shouted and hell broke loose. Ankita screamed like she had never screamed before; my mother-in-law, who had chosen this rather delicate moment to pay us a surprise visit, hollered and Madhavi came charging from the kitchen like a bull after an unfortunate matador.
I sat with my head bowed, a picture of remorse.
My mother-in-law declared, under her breath of course, “This is what happens when you marry outside the caste.” Madhavi had the ‘trust you to mess up even the simplest of tasks’ look on her face and my angel Ankita kept glaring at me as if I, not she, had bathed me in muck!
My first chance at redeeming myself in the eyes of my dear family came a full two years later.
“You write satire and poetry don’t you? Then why can’t you tell Ankita stories and put her to sleep,” Madhavi told me one day. To her shifting from satire/poetry to children’s fiction was as simple as moving from the realm of the boiled to the planet of the poached egg.
Anyways, I took her rather broad hint seriously and started thinking up little tales to tell my precious one. I don’t know whether she liked the plot more or my antics, but she lapped up my stories and my confidence grew. Soon it became a tradition which continued even after my son, Aniket, grew up and doubled the size of my audience. The stories liked by my kids found their way to the laptop and from there to the publisher’s desk.
Our daily tryst with tales created indelible memories. Sitting on the bed, on long summer nights, cold winter evenings and rain drenched twilights we used to laugh, jump, sing, dance and sometimes shed a tear or two as we explored the world of magic and mystery, action and adventure, sentiment and values. The tales created a gossamer fabric of trust and togetherness which, I am sure, we shall always cherish.