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It was evening, the shadows were lengthening slowly and the little girl waited anxiously for her father to get home. When he got home, the girl’s mother could see how tired he was after putting in a full day’s work at the office.
“Could you not wait until tomorrow?” Mother asked the little girl.
“No. I have been waiting a long, long time,” answered the little girl, with that peculiar exaggeration which is a natural quality of being five years old and unable to quantify time.
She did let her dad have a cup of tea first, although she hopped up and down next to him for the entire five minutes that it took him to sip it.
Finally, they were ready. He settled down on a broad stool on the balcony and she settled down next to him.
They had about a half hour of daylight left. He opened the thin book with colourful pictures which she had been carrying around with her, ever since she had returned from school that day. He opened the first page and started to read the story of The Musicians of Bremen. The picture of the four animals, which had climbed on top of each other to form a pyramid, to give the best performance of their lives was an intriguing one and so was the story. Soon, they were immersed in the realm of the Brothers Grimm – a tale of the animals, lost in a world of improbable happenings, comical turns, magical twists and happy endings. He read out the story in English slowly, his voice modulated to change with each character, and then stopping and translating the narrative into their native tongue and patiently explaining the difficult English phrases.
The story was read out in about twenty minutes, and at the end, they had a smile on their faces, the girl still lost in the magic of the tale and her father pleased that the telling of a simple tale could give such pleasure. It was a beautiful, poignant moment in her life, although she did not know it then.
The story I have just narrated is my own. I was that little girl who waited for her father to come home and tell her a story. My mother was not fluent in English, so I could expect to be read out a story from an English story book only occasionally. So the excitement of a story read aloud in English, made all the more memorable by my father’s spirited telling made it a very precious memory. Putting aside his exhaustion, he would indulge me with a smile; making my pleasure his own, my happiness his relaxation for that day and finding a vestige of patience to deal with my obvious eagerness to have a slice of magic cut by her own special magician.
There are days when I still wake up in the morning remembering those moments with a clarity which belies the length of time (over forty years) that has elapsed. Recently, in a book shop, I picked up a book by Shankar titled, Life With Grandfather in a book-shop. As I leafed through the pages, and admired the illustrations, I clearly remembered “reading” each story in the book with my father. What fun we had had!!
Perhaps, the fact that I lost my father three years ago has added a new dimension to my memories of him. I am not really sure. But, I know that whenever I recollect the story-telling, I have a lump in my throat and a smile on my lips. That childhood avidity of listening to a story read aloud, is now the mature pleasure of reading a good book and I have my father to thank for it.
But I also have my father to thank for another lesson learnt.
I am a parent now and have been for the past nineteen years and counting. I have a pretty good idea of the myriad joys and occasional despair, ample satisfactions and perplexing frustrations, terrible anxieties and baffling challenges of parenting.
I have learnt that, no matter how tired I am at the end of a day’s work, my child comes foremost in my priorities. The time spent with him forms some of the most cherished memories of my life as a parent.
We all have moments like these, when our child insists on some small whim or indulgence. It may be merely to bowl an over or two, while he/she swings the cricket bat or push the swing in the park, maybe even listen to a detailed complaint about the neighbourhood bully or as happened in my own case, to be read to. At that point of time, the day and its’ stresses might have taken their toll, leaving us cranky, preoccupied and irate.
But what is lost, perhaps forever, is that moment of togetherness with a child, the bonding over an activity, shared confidence or imaginary adventure.
We live in an age where “involved “parents are the norm, not the exception. Parents consciously enrol their children for activities which will shape their personality. The child is class-hopping and enjoying more activities than any of us could have dreamed of in our own day. But in the midst of all this, maybe, if we could give our child the most precious gift – our own time, we will never regret it.
First published at Rivokids
Hi. I am an anaesthetist by profession living and working in Mumbai.
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