Doraiswamy asked his son Raghu for the fourth time when was Independence day.
” Appa, it is tomorrow. I have told you three times already. You are forgetting. Why do you want to know?” asked his son with some irritability.
Doraiswamy wanted to keep the purpose a surprise and said, “Just wished to know. No specific reason.”
Raghu looked at him quizzically and went to his room to get ready for office. “Sumathi, appa looks tired. Take care of him,” he said before leaving. He was worried that his dad was forgetful more and more of late and repeated the same questions
It was around 11 am when Sumathi came to her father-in-law and said,” Appa, my friend rang up to say her mother fell down in bathroom and broke her hip bone. She is admitted in the nearby hospital. I will see her and return within an hour or so. please do not go out. I will be back very soon.”
“Do not worry. Take your own time. There is no hurry,” the old man replied.
After she left, he took the small paper from his pocket to see it and added something in what was obviously a list. He wore a shirt and felt the pocket for the keys before he left for the shopping complex in the locality.
The first shop was to the bakery where he ordered a big eggless truffle cake and gave instructions on what is to be written on it, He also added to the order a dozen each of chocolate, snickers and vanilla cupcakes, paper plates, balloons, happy birthday banner to be hung on the hall, a crate of assorted soft drinks coke, sprite, mango and pineapple for delivery next day at 8am.He also asked for delivery of flower bouquet from the adjacent shop. Satisfied he took the paper to check he had not left out any. He rushed back to order paper tumblers and some festoons. He bought some small kachoris and jangris from a Rajasthani sweet shop.
He quietly returned home within an hour and hid the edibles from the Rajasthani shop inside his almirah. He found some urchins playing in the colony compound and asked them to come to his place at 10.30 am along with other children for the birthday party
He kept it a secret from his wife every year as he was always wont to spring a surprise on her. They were loving couple with each doting on the other. Their bond grew closer after his retirement. Each would feign sleep waiting for the other to sleep and often break into smile when they opened their eyes together. He drew a good pension and his son and daughter-in-law were affectionate. What more would one want, they would often say and be grateful to God for His grace. Sadly, she fell sick frequently for the last two years but the bond and affection only grew stronger than before.
The next day around 7 am Raghu and Sumathi well-dressed came to Doraiswamy and said, “Appa, there is independence day function arranged in our park. We will be back by 9.30 am. Take care,” before they left.
Promptly around 8 am, the bakery shop and the flower shop delivered the things ordered for. He asked two of the colony’s security men to help him in tying festoons, balloons and banner in his spacious bedroom. After they left, he arranged the cake and the other edibles on a table. He surveyed the scene and smiled happily at keeping things a total secret.
Raghu and Sumathi returned at 10.15 am. The whole home was fragrant with smell of sandalwood from joss sticks. Raghu looking confused looked at his father wearing a smug smile. Meanwhile Sumathi who had gone inside shouted, “Raghu, come to appa’s room and see for yourself what he has done.”
He rushed in to see his mom’s photograph on the table with a bouquet placed in the front. The room was decorated with banner, balloons and festoons.
“Appa, what is all this? Are you in your senses?” he asked in a sad tone.
“Raghu, don’t you remember it is your mother’s birthday today and she likes to be surprised and pampered. I have been doing it for years since you were born and you are asking as if it is something new to you.” He replied
As Raghu’s eyes became moist seeing the pitiable figure before him, he heard the loud knocks at the door. He saw a dozen beaming young boys and girls excitedly entering looking for their uncle. Doraiswamy came rushing to welcome them to his room. The children were puzzled to find no birthday person save a photograph on a table.
Doraiswamy asked the youngest child to light the candle and others to sing “Happy birthday to you” The children dutifully followed by loud clapping and laughter.
Raghu went near his father and put his arm around him and softly said with tears flowing from his eyes,” Appa, amma died a more than a year ago. You are living in a world of hallucination. Come out of it for your own good.’ Sumathi too came near the old man and held his hands with concern.
Doraiswamy did not seem to hear them but said with a gusto, “The children are waiting. Let us distribute the cakes, sweets and other snacks” He turned to them.” and said,” Enjoy to your hearts’ content. Grandma will be very happy.”
After the children left, he was reclining morose on his easy chair with a muddled look. Raghu was caressing him gently with concern, when his dad asked him, “Did you say, your mom passed away a year back. You never told me,” and then started weeping inconsolably.
"The best thing to hold onto in life is each other."