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“Papa, papa! Toly!” She walked, actually crawled, her way to my chest with her tiny legs and soft little palms just as I lay down. Even on the verge of being three years old, Gulu preferred crawling at times. It was her mood and convenience that chose her mode of conveyance.
“Baby, I am tired. And it is late too no? You sleep well tonight, I will tell you a story tomorrow. I Promise. Now sleep. Come on, close your eyes.” I ordered, rather requested, and ran my palm downwards over her face suggesting closing her eyelids.
She grabbed my hand in between and with a shake of head she said, “No!! No!! No papa!! Toly!! Toly!!” Her demand for a bedtime story was always the most innocent fight for her right. It was a fight that she had never lost. Her bedtime babble always slew my tiredness of the day.
She rested her cheek on my chest waiting for me to begin a story.
As I did not start for about half a minute, she looked up to me with raised eyebrows and widened eyes gesturing ‘Papa, I’m waiting for you to start’ I mean, ‘Papa, I’m waiting fol you to taat.’
In dim light, her twinkling eyes shone like a sparkly star on a moonless night. Her pattering eyelids resembled wings of a pretty butterfly. Her chubby cheeks appeared sweeter than the world’s best dessert. Innocence was pouring from her partly opened mouth; a couple of teeth peeked from within.
I hugged her and said “Ok Ok. You win, my drama queen.” She smilingly went back to her comfortable posture; the cheek-pressed one.
I started scanning and scratching my head for a story to narrate. I was, more or less, always out of stock when it came to storytelling as the story supply to my mind was never enough to keep up with Gulu’s demand. The demand had an asterisk on top of it as well; the conditions apply asterisk – The story must not repeat.
I somehow managed to dig out an old story that I had not told her for a long time. She might have forgotten it already, I hoped.
“Hmm… So here is your story my princess.” I said and kissed her head.
I started with modulated voice to generate relevant ambiance.
“There was a jungle; a deep, dense jungle. There lived a lion, the king. He had a pretty lioness wife and two cute cubs.”
“No Papa. Not this one. I know this toly. I want new one. No jungle toly. New toly, papa.” She jumped up to the horse riding position on my tummy. She had longer lasting memory than I presumed.
“Jungle stories are good. There are lions, tigers, deer, elephants, rabbits. You like them no? We saw them in the zoo, remember? This story has them all, sweetie. Now listen to the story. And close your eyes.” I placed my palm on her eyes.
“No papa. New Toly.” She promptly removed my hand which was preventing her eye contact with me. She made me look into her eyes to display the determination she had to make me tow out a new, fresh and juicy story from a parched well.
“Hmm…. Ok.” I bought time.
She waited patiently, and of course cutely, still riding her horse; me.
It was not easy to get off her grasp. As I failed to discover a fresh story idea, a substitute snapped in my mind that, I thought, might work.
Necessity is the mother of all inventions.
“Baby, I tell you stories every night. Right?” I asked.
“Today, shall we play a game? A fun game?” I asked for approval.
‘Game’ – the word pumped her bums and she jumped on my tummy with a broad smile and a set of claps.
“Which game? What is game’s name?” my plan seemed to be working. Her focus defused from ’the new toly’.
“Mmm… It is called…” This was the shortest time I would get in life to come up with a name that would make some sense. “It is called… Cook-A-Story!”
“Cooka toly. Yey! Cooka toly.” she giggled and tapped on my chest. “Let’s play papa.” She had no clue about what the game was; still her enthusiasm was to match winning a gold medal at Olympics in Cook-A-Story.
“Ok. So here is how it works. Listen carefully.” I, very seriously, started to explain the ‘Rules’ of the game, which were being fabricated then and there. “First I say a sentence to start a story. Then you follow with another sentence to take story further. Then I say the next sentence. Then your sentence, Then…”
She interrupted me to inform ‘I got it’. “You, me, you, me” she oscillated her pointed index finger between the two of us three-four times.
“Ok, so shall I start or you will?” I asked as a token of toss for side or service.
She pointed finger to me. By the way, horse riding was still on.
I thought of playing the game fairly, with enough interest. It could be fun. I chose to start with the story that my father used to tell me when I was a little kid; nearly Gulu’s age. There was nothing special about the story actually. It was just the usual prince princess story. It was my favorite story may be because I was told the same story numerous times, or I was told the same story numerous times because it was my favorite story. I never knew which way it was. Surprisingly, I had not told this story to Gulu, till now.
My father did not get to tell stories to his granddaughter; I was sure he would have wished and loved to. Just the day before Gulu was born, my father passed away. Gulu had lost her grandpa a day before being born. It was the day of mixed emotions for all of us. What we lost was not comparable to what we were gifted and vice versa.
A few friends and family suggested that my father had come back to the family as my daughter; I never believed in such superstitions though. My daughter was a new birth, new soul and new life. She would get her grandfather’s blessings and culture through me but the rebirth theory was beyond my belief.
Gulu brought me back from a quick run through the memory lane by jumping on her horseback; my tummy.
“Gulu, sit properly. I am starting the story.”
“So…there was a kingdom where a charming prince used to live. He had a friend, a princess. She was very beautiful; just like you.” I started with the same excitement I used to feel every time I was told this story. “Now your turn, Gulu.”
“Uumm….The plince name was…ummmm….Alyan and plincess name was ummm…. Angel. They had a little puppy, theil fliend; cute cute puppy.” She paused and waited for me to carry on.
I was stunned. I could not blink.
In the story that my father used to tell me, Aryan was the prince and Angel the princess. If this wasn’t enough, they had a puppy too. The puppy was named ‘fluffy’ there.
Rationalizing my astonishment, I asked “Very nice Gulu. You are playing the game very well. What was the name of the puppy?”
She was happy about the appreciation on her first attempt at a new game. She thought for a couple of seconds before naming the puppy.
“Fluffy. Papa, the puppy’s name was fluffy; cute puppy, fluffy!” and she clapped. Even through her stammering pronunciations, fluffy was clearly recognizable.
“Then papa one day an old uncle came to take plincess Angel with him. Old uncle had long black coat and umm…. tall hat. He was not a good uncle. I don’t like that uncle.” She frowned. She spoke at a stretch until she ran out of breath.
She did not realize what she was doing to me. The description exactly matched what I used to hear almost every other night three decades back. She was extremely excited about taking the story ahead; as excited as I was while listening to it, even then and even now.
“Then what happened, Gulu?” I was curious to know where it was going further.
“Papa, your turn no?” she reminded me of the game we were playing.
“Ya ya. My turn.” I made mind to test the authenticity of the happenings. I decided to tweak the story that I knew. “So the bad uncle took Angel with him and flew. And he took her in to a dark cave.” I paused for her to react.
“No No papa.” She promptly responded. I was curious, most than ever, to know what she would say next.
“Yes baby? What?”
“Papa, the bad uncle did not fly, he took Angel with him on his holse to a mountain. Hmm?”
I could not believe the surety with which she was narrating. In Gulu’s grandpa’s story the bad uncle took Angel on a horse and to the mountain too. This was going beyond my threshold of skepticism.
A co-incidence? A co-incidence of this magnitude would shake even the most stubborn disbelief. Gulu and Papa had never met. He never told this story to her, nor did I. How did she know the names of the prince, princess and puppy so precisely? How she even corrected me when I deviated from the story’s plot? Who was telling her all this? Or was she telling me all this? Or was HE?
I had to believe what I had been ignoring for last three years. There was an element of my father in my daughter, certainly there was.
Leaving the story alone, making her way through my thoughts, out of the blue, Gulu kissed on my cheek. I kissed her back.
A grandpa had kissed his granddaughter; I was a mere hauler.
The loop of love completed!