Days Crawl By, Years Fly

‘You have been so pampered by dad!’

We had just returned from my birthday celebration at a snug little restaurant, and I was basking in the aftermath of a day well spent. And what better way to do that than sit at the computer desk and be transported to a different world!

My daughter walked into the room with catlike stealth and hurled this accusation at my unsuspecting back!
‘Pampered? Who me, really? Do you really think I am pampered?’ Words got stuck in my mouth as she came to my side and looked accusingly at me.
‘The best part of your birthday is 11.55.when it is about to get over.’ She said amidst uncontrollable giggles, and started the countdown.

 ‘You are showered with gifts, no one talks loudly to you, no one asks you to do any work, and in fact it is I who has to do all the running around on your birthday. I thought slavery was long dead!’
‘Uh huh.’
‘On your birthday, I am like a bonded labourer, labouring and slogging away with my work-ravaged bones.’ She continued the tirade, her tongue firmly wedged in her cheek, while I was left with no option, but to rub my cheeks in embarrassment!
‘By the way, what were you doing at the restaurant today? Openly staring at those couple of drunks! What a social embarrassment you have become, mom!’
‘It was your day today, and after a week or two it will be my day! So start bracing yourself for the great day of a great girl! And mind you, I want an I-pod for my birthday!’
‘Oh huh’ was my reaction.
And then she again went on. ‘Before I forget, let me tell you it was your birthday, and you should have at least dressed up for the occasion, sorry if it hurts you, but you were looking more bedraggled than a shipwrecked cat!’
“Stop uh…uhing, and listen to me .I will not take NO for an answer. ‘
I checked the ‘uh..uh’ that jumped to my lips, before she could jump at me with another reprimand.
‘Yippee! The clock strikes 12. And five minutes more! Your birthday is over! Now the countdown to my birthday begins. Now, start making preparations as a great day starts to break upon you with all its greatness!’
Twelve days still to go for your birthday, sweetheart, I mumbled.
‘What are twelve days? They will vanish in the blink of an eye.’
Yes, days vanish, years vanish and you are left holding on to the slivers of memory. 
To slippery chunks of joy, passed and gone,
Like the disappearing dewdrops on a verdant lawn
Time -warped treasures of an idyllic past
Ah time flies real fast
The sweetness and spice
Of all that was cosy and nice
The sulky tantrums and bulky pouts,
The innumerable fears and a thousand doubts 
The joyous juxtaposition of love and hate.
The scuffle and spat with many a play mate
The uncontrollable belly laughs and chuckles.
The missing school tie and the broken buckles. 
The fringe benefits and the mushroom cut.
The dolls snugly nestled in the doll hut 
Was it merely a weekend of inexplicable fun?
Or a seemingly endless vacation under the indulgent sun.

Well, all those years gone by flashed across my mind in a stumbling, tumbling dash.
Had seventeen long years really flown away in the blink of an eye?
And just fifteen years back, Greatness had just begun to blossom and I was not even aware of it!
Wearing a small little red t-shirt and a pair of jeans, the tiny girl was walking merrily while the myriad birds around serenaded us.
This tiny bird watcher was too involved in the pleasures of her dancing and prancing feet and her new attire, that she hardly noticed the mesmerizingly magical, mysteriously majestic world of the birds.

Strutting around like a peacock, she looked all set to take on the world. But was the world prepared to take her on?
On the telephone wire a kingfisher proud,
With a royal hauteur watched the curious crowd.
The cormorants and the coots
The owls sans their hoots
The merrily flitting honey bees
The serenely peddling ducks and the cackling geese
The oriental darters, the pelicans and tawny eagle lone,
Were her feathered friends in this serene bird zone
The spot billed duck and the Pochard Redcrested 
And the little Robin Red breasted
The Spoonbills and the Painted Storks
Serenaded the nimble footed Goldilocks
Her tiny brows did furrow,
As a parakeet flew into a burrow.

With a tiny bag slung over her shoulder, which carried her water bottle, a couple of biscuit packets, a tiny cushion, which was an indispensable part of her paraphernalia, some crayons and a tiny notebook, the chubby cheeked Goldilocks was enjoying herself thoroughly amidst the birds at the Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur.
She almost appeared to have invisible wings, wings waiting to burst forth, so that she could fly around unencumbered. 
This sliver of cherished memory occupies a snug niche in my cluttered mind.
Others and still others.
‘Mama, I injured myself in school today.’ She said one day, flinging her satchel on the sofa.
‘Really?’ The cry was wrung from the depths of my heart. I sprang from the sofa, dropped the pen and paper from my hands and dashed towards her, my heart almost threatening to leave the confines of my mouth.
‘What happened sweetheart?’ I said hugging the tiny three year old, and taking the tiny hand that she extended towards me.
Here, she said, pointing towards the centre of the hand.
I peered at the tiny hand, turned it this way and that but could not see the injury.
‘Where were you hurt?’
Here, she said, pointing towards another spot on the tiny hand.
The moment I planted a kiss on the invisible injury, her face broke into a sunny smile.
Now the tiny girl with the invisible injury was heading towards her dad, an arm stretched towards him.
Where did you hurt yourself, sugar plum?
Here, a chubby little finger pointed to another invisible injury.
Another kiss was planted on her tiny hand, followed by kisses all over her chubby cheeks and then the tiny girl was scooped up in two solid arms!
The pampering continued unabated, unhampered by my calls to come to the dining table for lunch. 
All these flashes of memory continued to run across the screen of my mind, while I sat disoriented in front of the computer screen.
‘You are not listening, mom’, she said shaking my shoulders.

You are burning! Mom, you have high fever!

‘Well, I felt the fever coming while we were at the restaurant.’
‘It is not coming, it has already come mom. How can you be so casual about it?’ And with these words she pulled me away from the computer table, took me towards the bed, tucked me into the bed, planted two kisses on my forehead and went to the other room to get the medicine box shouting out to her dad.
Dad, mom has very high fever.
In a jiffy, she was back, thrusting a thermometer into my mouth: 103 degrees!
She rummaged in the medicine box, found the tablets that she was looking for, raced towards the kitchen, got a bottle of water, asked me to open my mouth as though I were a toddler, put the tablets into my mouth, gingerly poured the water down my gullet, and stood looking at me . . .  ah so solicitously.
I braced myself for her to hurl her usual wise crack at me, but nothing of that sort was forthcoming.
But in a spontaneous gesture she hurled herself at me with all the power packed in a wisecrack!
‘Mom you are great and I love you!
Greatness was being thrust at me in copious doses by a born-great daughter - my mercurial teenager.
‘What if it is Swine flu?’ She whispered to her dad as he entered the room.
‘We will take her to the doctor tomorrow.’ He said looking gravely at me, the dismissive equanimity with which he treats his own sickness, missing.
Tomorrow is today, I mean it is already the day after, I mumbled.
‘So what! Go to sleep now and I am going to sleep next to you, she said.
Despite my protests, she slept next to me. Well, did not sleep actually, she watched over me, eyes fixed on every grimace of mine, ears tuned in to every need of mine.
Throughout the night I could feel her hand gauging my temperature, while I mumbled incoherently. 
At one stage, I thought I even heard a muted, mirthless laugh, or was it a long sigh of relief? The drops of perspiration were being wiped from my forehead with a loving tenderness.
It was 1 March; her papers of 12 standard CBSE had started.
‘Mom, forget about the I-pod, give me Justin Timberlake for my birthday.’ She was getting ready to go to school, her eyes riveted on the television screen, where Justin Timberlake was singing his heart out.
‘Justin Timberlake!’
‘Chill bro . . . I was just joking.’ She retorted making light of my bewildered expression.
‘Bro ?’ I hastened into the kitchen shrugging my shoulders, my forehead furrowed in concentration.
As I rustled breakfast for her, which, I was sure she wouldn’t eat, I sighed.
Soon this teenage volatility and naiveté, anger and angst, this language confusion will also disappear in the blink of an eye, I thought ruefully.
I shudder to blink these days.
I can hear the footfall of her seventeenth birthday turning the corner.
Is it my hallucination or do I really see a couple of wings sprouting behind my daughter’s back? 

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