Pallavi stared at the empty plate which was placed before her on the dinner table. She picked up the spoon and made tinkling sounds, rhythmically. The aroma of steaming hot sambar from the kitchen was making her stomach rumble with excessive hydrochloric acid. Minutes later, idlis were brought by her father Sudheep. Harini, her mom, brought the sambar straight away from the gas stove. Flashing a hungry look, Pallavi helped herself to three idlis and a cup of sambar. It was her habit to dip a piece of idli into the sambar until it gets coated on all the sides. She loved to have it like that.
As she was dipping her first piece, she remembered about what she had to confess to her parents. Abandoning the piece of idli, she looked up and faced them. They were enjoying their meal with a smile pasted on their faces. There was a sense of satisfaction on her mom’s face and a sense of achievement on her dad’s face. They were proud that they had successfully brought up their 17 year old daughter who would be turning 18 two days later. But they were unaware of the unfortunate event that was to occur.
“Ma, Pa, I know the truth,” said Pallavi, bluntly. There was no amount of emotion in her voice. It was just a plain confession. She knew the truth and she had to let her parents know that she knew the truth.
“What truth?” It was her father who reacted quickly.
“The truth which you have been hiding for a long time.”
“What truth?” Her mom copyrighted her dad’s sentence.
“I hope that there is only one truth which you have hidden. Or are there many?”
“We are your parents. We might have many things which should not be said to children. So we would have hidden them,” her mom’s words flew like a dragon spitting out fire from its mouth.
“But this should have been known to me. It is about me which you have hidden. How could you tell that I should not know about that? I am turning 18 the day after tomorrow and I am no more a child.”
Their worst fears were coming true. Their daughter was questioning them. Though they knew what she had found out, they were no less ashamed. There were too many unanswered questions swarming through their mind.
“I know about my birth. I am not your daughter. I am someone else’s. How could you hide this from me for these many years?”
Sudheep and Harini held grim faces. They could not face their daughter at the cost of a discovery that was never meant to be discovered.
Pallavi continued, “Are you wondering how I came to know about it? It was Ma’s diary which narrated the entire story to me.”
Harini’s face contorted with agony. She mentally scolded herself for carelessly placing her personal diary on the window sill while cleaning the room. Her attitude of not placing things back at their place had paid her well in the form of a stunning revelation by Pallavi. Sudheep glared at Harini for her carelessness.
“We were planning to tell you….” began Sudheep.
“Please don’t bluff Pa. You would have never told me even if I would have been in death bed as a sixty year old. Did you think that you could hide this from me forever?”
Sudheep and Harini were rendered speechless. They were contemplating what to tell next.
“I need to know my father’s residing place,” demanded Pallavi.
“Yeah, your father is with you. He is right opposite to you,” said Harini, hoping that her daughter would change the topic.
Pallavi smirked at her mom’s atrocious ways of deviating from a topic and treating her like a five year old.
“I mean my biological father. Does that make sense to you? I know that my biological mother passed away and my lonely single dad gave me away to you. Now could you please help me meet my real father?”
Sudheep could hear his cardiac organ tear into pieces. He had never imagined that one day his beloved daughter would be asking for her real father while ignoring his presence in her life. Harini couldn’t stop the tears that were flowing from her eyes. She could not digest the fact that Pallavi had discovered everything due to a petty mistake committed by her.
The next few minutes were nostalgic reminisces of Pallavi’s birth. The entire house echoed with the sob story of a girl separated from her biological father.
“Major Aravind Narayanan. Ooty.” Pallavi repeated to herself.
She sat in front of her desktop computer and started the machine. The friendly user interface of Windows 98 welcomed her. The desktop background read, “Happy New Year 2000!!!”. It was an image containing fireworks which she had received via e-mail. Smiling to herself, she opened the dial up connection dialog box and connected to Internet. She opened the Internet Explorer and typed on the address bar www.google.com. The Google Search page appeared. Pallavi typed, “Major Aravind Narayanan”. The search results threw up. She scrolled through the results. But to her disappointment, none of the results directed to the Major Aravind Narayanan she was searching for.
Arvind Swamy??? Why the hell should I search for that actor? I am searching for my dad. Pallavi was completely disgusted and she cursed Google for being such a poor search engine. She even tried Yahoo Search. But the results were even worse than Google.
Fed up, she shut down her computer and sighed at her reflection on the mirror. Her foster father had mentioned only the name and place of her biological father. Even though she prodded on for more, he feigned ignorance. Her foster mom too didn’t know anything about her Army father-Major Aravind Narayanan.
She sprung from her bed and dashed for the landline telephone as if a thunderbolt had struck her. She called her close friend Amritha and relayed the news to her. She then called a few other friends too and asked them to enquire about Major Aravind Narayanan. By the end of the day, she received nothing. Nobody knew about such a person.
I have to take a decision now. Either I must go to Ooty and find my father or I must merely ignore his existence and live my own life. Though Pallavi was desperate to meet her real father, she didn’t have any clues to find him other than his name and place. Finally, she made up her mind to travel to Ooty.
Within the next three hours, she had the train tickets in her hand. She was leaving to Ooty on the very night in Nilgiris Express. She knew that her journey was going to be a difficult one. But her sudden splurge of love for her real father made her blind to everything else. Sudheep and Harini tried to stop her. They narrated happy incidents from their life to make her realize that she can live with them only. They warned her about the nuances of travelling alone to Ooty. They frightened her by telling stories of wild animals on prowl in Mudumalai Sanctuary. But she was unperturbed. Her sole aim was to find her real father and live with him for the rest of her life. She didn’t realize the love of her foster parents which she had been receiving right from her childhood. Finding her biological father was the best gift that she could give to herself on her birthday.
“Sorry, we don’t know about him,” said the manager of Gem Park hotel in Ooty. Pallavi had checked in one hour ago. Since then she had been inquiring each and every hotel staff about Major Aravind Narayanan. But nobody could give her any information about him. She even asked some tourists. But it was in vain.
After refreshing herself, she set out for a walk on the Sheddon road. The Botanical Gardens was only two kilometres away. She walked for three minutes before she came to a stop at a tea shop. She entered and enquired the shopkeeper. He blinked at her. Then he shook his head and went back to his chores.
No use! She thought and walked away. She then noticed a few residential houses. She had a faint hope that any one of the houses would be her biological father’s. She knocked on one and met an old woman.
“Yes child, what do you want?” The old woman asked in her quivering voice.
“I am Pallavi from Chennai. I have come in search of a person called Major Aravind Narayanan. Do you know about him?”
The old woman squinted her eyes and then ushered Pallavi inside. Though she was reluctant to go inside a stranger’s house, she trusted the old woman as her instincts told her to. The woman offered her a glass of water. But she refused.
“Can you repeat the name child?”
“Major Aravind Narayanan. Does that name ring a bell to you?”
“Yeah, I think I have heard about him. He was an Army General in Delhi. As his hometown is Ooty, he used to frequently visit this place. He owns a house too. An isolated one in the Woodcock road. But he never spoke with anyone. He didn’t have any friends over here. He used to shut himself up in his house. I don’t even know whether he stays there anymore.”
“Wowww!!! Thank you paati. I didn’t expect that you could reveal about him. By the way, does anyone else know about him?”
“No. Nobody knows anything about him. They only know his residential house. Nothing else.”
“Thank you sooooo much paati. Can you get me some water please?” Pallavi smiled.
So Woodcock road it is, thought Pallavi and stopped an auto rickshaw that was passing by. As soon as she said that she wanted to be dropped in Woodcock road, the auto driver gave her a horrified look.
“What happened anna? Why are you looking like that?”
“Nothing ma, nobody has travelled to Woodcock road in my rickshaw. That’s why I looked shocked. There is only one house situated on the road. People say that an Army General lives in that house. But I have seen him only a few times in the past. That too about seven years ago. Recently I did not see him.”
“Oh my god! Anna, I am going to that house only. Please drop me there!”
The rickshaw ride was a bumpy one. Pallavi felt nauseated.
Once I meet my dad, the nausea would surely fly away. She thought to herself happily. After 10 minutes, the rickshaw driver stopped at a beautifully built house. Pallavi alighted from the rickshaw and paid the driver. She opened the large gate of the house and walked on the gravel that leads to the main door. She rang the doorbell and impatiently waited for the man who had given birth to her.
The door creaked open slowly. On the other side, a heftily built 45 year old man stared hard into Pallavi’s face. He was muscular and well shaved. But he had a forlorn look in his eyes. A painful longing was clearly written all over his face. He took in a moment to register the girl standing before him. She was brownish and had doe-shaped eyes. Her hair was curly, with a few curls standing out behind her ears. She had soft tender lips which were curved into a beautiful smile.
“Yes?” The man asked her.
“Dad,” she replied, with tears forming in her eyes.
“Pallavi???” His eyes bulged out. And the next moment, he shed tears. He had never imagined that he would meet his long lost daughter one day. He knew she was in Chennai but he didn’t expect that she would come in search of him. He was too shocked beyond words. He couldn’t even recognize his own daughter. She had all the traits of her mom. It was like seeing his dead wife Latha coming back to life. He called her inside and closed the door behind them. There was a moment of silence as the father and daughter came to terms with each other’s presence.
“How are you my baby?” That was the first question which Major Aravind Narayanan asked her.
“I am great Pa. How are you?” Her voice was shaky as she spoke with him.
“I am fine. How did you find out about me?”
“My mom Harini carelessly left her personal diary on the window sill and I read everything about my birth. But when I asked my dad Sudheep to reveal information about you, he told me that he knew only your name and place.”
“That’s true. When I gave you to the adoption centre, I urged the authorities to keep my identity confidential to the parents who would adopt you. But they said that they would reveal my name and place. And nothing else about me. So I agreed. I don’t even know who adopted you. But I prayed God that my daughter should be in safe hands. And I am indeed surprised to see you grown up so well. Hale and hearty.”
“Why Pa? Why did you give me to the adoption centre? Why didn’t you make an effort to know who adopted me? Why didn’t you check on me whether I was taken care or not? Did you hate me so much?”
Another bout of tears came flooding from Major Aravind Narayanan’s eyes. He could not answer his daughter’s questions. But he was answerable to her.
“I had a job at the army dear. If your mom had been alive, I wouldn’t have given you the adoption centre. But being a single dad I couldn’t take care of you. I was compelled to leave you in some other hands.”
“Now I have come back Pa. I want to live the rest of my life with you. I am going to stay here forever.”
Major Aravind Narayanan was terrified to hear those words. “That cannot happen Pallavi! You have to go back to Sudheep and Harini. Didn’t they take care of you well?”
“Pa! They were the best parents according to me. But when I discovered about my birth, I made up my mind to live with my real father. I want to feel the love of my biological father. Even though my dad Sudheep takes care of me well, he is still my foster father. Nobody can replace you Pa. Tell me, don’t you love me? Don’t you wish to live with me?”
“Yeah, I love you Pallavi. You don’t know the pain which I went through when I gave you the adoption centre. You are my dearest. But you cannot live with me. You have to go back to them. Do you understand?”
“But Pa, I am a grown up now. I can live with you and take care of myself. I am not the small baby whom you gave away.”
“No Pallavi, that’s not possible. You cannot give up on those who brought you up. You are answerable to them. Maybe you can live with me for a week. But not more than that!”
“Why so Pa?” Pallavi asked teary-eyed.
“Because I have a job in Delhi. I have just come for my vacation. I cannot take you there. It’s a dangerous place.”
Pallavi took a moment to digest the sentences that her dad spoke. She had colorful dreams of living a happy life with her real father. But all her hopes were shattered.
“Okay Pa, I agree. But let me feel your love at least for a week.”
The next week was a completely dream-come-true week for the father-daughter duo. Pallavi learnt a lot from her father. She learnt about his way of life and the wars he had been through. He narrated her stories of his struggles with the enemies in the India-Pakistan border. He taught her to cook different recipes. They went for long walks in the evening all around Ooty. Her dad always took her through roads that were devoid of people. When she asked about his queer choices, he replied that he wished for serenity always and that’s why he had never mingled with anyone. They watched the stars together. They danced to songs on the TV and they sang together. They enjoyed the rain together. They planted saplings together and watered them each day. They read books and narrated stories to each other. They were like the best father and daughter in the world.
Pallavi experienced a happiness that she had never experienced before. Her inner peace was restored by the freedom which her dad gave her. Sudheep Pa had never been like this with me. He was more concerned about his work. He never behaved like a friend with me, she thought. But soon the harsh reality hit her. Even her biological father was immersed in his work. That’s why he had given her to the adoption centre in the first place. But he had compromised for all that he had lost by spending a week with her.
Finally, when the day arrived for Pallavi to go back, Major Aravind Narayanan was at a loss for words. Pallavi felt a lump in her throat as she waved a final goodbye to her father. She never told that she would come back. Something held her back from hugging her father. She knew that they didn’t have a life together. Hugging him and crying would increase her hopes of staying back with him. So she threw him a flying kiss and traveled to the railway station.
Two months later…
“I need articles on wars that took place in India-Pakistan border during 1994-1995,” shouted Pallavi to her friend Amritha.
“Please don’t yell!” The librarian warned her.
“Sorry ma’am, but she is in the next rack. That’s why.” Saying so she moved away to meet her friend at the other side. Amritha was rummaging through old newspapers for articles on Indian wars.
“Why do you need these articles?” She questioned Pallavi.
“I have an assignment on the topic ‘Wars in India-Pakistan border’. I know it’s a difficult one. But the library can help us.” Her thoughts wandered back to her father Major Aravind Narayanan who had narrated stories of the wars.
She pulled up some newspapers and skimmed through them for articles. A particular headline caught her off guard. She stared hard at it and then she began sweating heavily. Her breathing became irregular and she clutched Amritha’s shoulder for support. Her pulse rate was going alarmingly high.
“Pallavi!!! What happened? Hey, you are struggling.”
“Water…I..I need some wa..water..” The words choked from her mouth. Amritha got a glass of water and gave it to Pallavi. After gulping it down, she returned back to normalcy. But the initial shock hadn’t faded away from her face.
“What happened Pallavi?”
She shoved the newspaper into Amritha’s hands and pointed to the headlines.
Major Aravind Narayanan shot dead. Army cantonment blown up by terrorists.
Pallavi pointed to the photo and said, “He is my biological dad whom I met two months ago.”
Amritha’s eyes bulged out. She looked at the date and it showed ‘June 24, 1993’. Her heart skipped a beat as she recollected the stories that Pallavi told her after visiting her dad in Ooty. She threw the newspaper away and hugged Pallavi who was shaking by then.
“I..I..met him…” She began crying.
And then it dawned upon her. That’s why dad never took me through roads that had people. That’s why the locals told that they had never seen him. That’s why dad never held my hand. And that’s why I never felt the urge to hug him and cry.
She picked up the newspaper and kissed his photo. Then she took the small departing note that her dad’s soul had placed in her bag.
I know you were coming in search of me. That’s why I was there at my home. Love you forever Pallavi.
From your dad. :-)