By the time I reached the train station, she was gone. I knew I was terribly late and she wouldn’t have waited for me but even then I looked around. Many unfamiliar faces stared at me. I was surprised as I always assumed, people only knew actors and cricketers in India. So, some of them read too. I couldn’t help let out my cynical smile despite the despairing situation.
I knew I had failed her. I proved to be a self-indulgent dad busy in his own life.
When Neeta and I parted ways, Paridhi, my Pari, was just five years old. Neeta had no particular liking for children. So, when I demanded Pari’s custody, she didn’t protest.
I always thought I would be the best father. For some time, I was. I kept my writing projects aside and Pari was my top priority. It was a pure delight to watch her grow. She was a brat right from the beginning with temper tantrums. Only, I knew how to get her out of that mood.
Soon, I realised, it was difficult raising a demanding daughter and doing justice to my passion. Being a celebrity novelist meant being there where I would be seen and heard. Many a time I needed to shut myself from the outside world and write. This was not happening. Time had come to send her away.
Paridhi never wanted to go to a boarding school. It wasn’t her choice but I didn’t let her choose here. She was sent to the best boarding school and I was assured that she would have a lot of fun there. She did not utter a single word when I dropped her outside her hostel. I kept on standing near the gate waiting for her to give me that last look but she didn’t.
I came back with a heavy heart. I felt sorry for her and for some time guilt wouldn’t let me sleep. I missed her presence, her naughty pranks, her laughter, her intelligent observations. She and I had so much in common.
I didn’t know when work took over the position I kept reserved for my daughter. Pari’s stays during the summer break or Christmas holidays could never be a homecoming for her. She received only one thing from me. Promises and lots of promises. I always thought I would make it up for her one day but I didn’t.
Pari passed out from school and went to Paris to pursue Arts. I was so proud of her but by now we were like two distant relatives. She hardly told me her secrets. Whenever I felt lonely, I would go to her room just to look for something I had lost. My soul friend. She and I were so much alike. Her room was always kept so neatly unlike the youngsters of her age. Each year had seen the distance growing between us. She was lonelier. I would hardly see her hanging out with her friends or chatting on the phone. Sometimes I would catch her writing something on a piece of paper.
I was curious but knew I had lost the right to ask and I was afraid she wouldn’t tell me.
Our communication had become a bare minimum all these years. She came back from Paris and opened her Art studio in Mumbai. She had saved her own money. My beautiful Pari refused her father’s help.
Two days back she came home. For more privacy, I had shifted to remote hills. My new novel needed all my time.
she had turned Twenty eight last month. I always wondered if she had any boyfriend or live-in partner but she wouldn’t tell and I wouldn’t ask.
She came alone. I was elated to see her but she seemed so aloof. After the polite, usual conversation, I promised to catch up with her at dinner. She, as usual just nodded.
At the dinner table, I found quite a few envelopes stacked neatly on my table mat and a huge parcel kept wrapped on my chair. Pari was nowhere in sight. I picked up the envelopes. They were numbered from One to twenty-one.
It did not take me long to realise that for each year since we parted, there was one envelope. With trembling hands, I opened the first one. It had a single sheet of paper. In bold red letters, only three words were written, “I hate you.” I shuddered involuntarily and the envelope slid from my hand. I opened the second one anticipating the sequel to the first but I was surprised. It was a beautiful picture painted by a child depicting a father hugging her daughter. Below was written, ” My best buddy.” Slowly I opened all the envelopes. All of them had upgraded versions of her paintings portraying her and me. Every year she had grown bigger and I older. Each of the letters contained beautiful messages from her. I didn’t know for how long I had been sitting there, tears streaming from my eyes.
How could I miss all this? How couldn’t I notice my own little Pari’s love and yearning for attention from her only best friend? It was I all the way, who was her buddy, her companion but I was so blind.
I don’t remember when I got up from the chair to go to her room. I wanted to tell her how much I cared and how sorry I was to have abandoned her. Just then, my eyes fell on that large wrapped thing. I tore it open and it all restarted.
I looked outside the window. It was dark but I could hear the raindrops falling against the windowpane. I looked back inside and my eyes found it. My Pari’s masterpiece staring back at me through those sweetest smiles that only a father and daughter can share. The most delightful moment captured in that painting which spoke of our affection.
I hadn’t realised it was past midnight. I went towards her room but there were no lights. I hesitated. I didn’t want to disturb her sleep. I went back to my room, eagerly waiting for the morning.
I must have slept because when I woke up it was already eight o’clock. I rushed to Pari’s room. Her room was looking as neat as it was before she arrived. I called out her name. No response. Just then I saw a strip of paper kept neatly on the pillow. Again three words written in bold red, ” Happy Father’s Day!”
I knew she had gone but I wanted to rush after her. I did not want to let go of any chance to get her back.
I came back home disappointed but I knew I stood a chance to set things right. It was my turn to express my love for her. I packed my things. I knew where to find her…