“Yeh ladki bhi na… look at this room!”
She shook her head, stepping inside her daughter’s room, to find her clothes scattered all over the bed and floor outside the closet. This had become a routine everyday for years, since she started to dress herself. She still couldn’t fathom why she was so indecisive every morning deciding what to wear.
She often wondered if it would be better if she picked out her clothes and left them out for her. At least that way she wouldn’t have to see or clean up the mess.
She smiled as she picked up a pink dress from the bed, which she recently bought for her. As she gazed in the mirror putting the dress against her, it dawned upon her how big her little girl was becoming.
Where did the time go?
Almost eighteen years…
She whispered her daughter’s name, and smiled.
Her little rose was going to turn into a young woman in a matter of a month. She glanced at the calendar on the wall positioned next to the mirror, and circled the date with her finger.
The day she received the most precious gift of her life, her baby girl. Her only child, that had become her world where nothing else mattered.
Being a stay at home mother, gave her the opportunity to smother her daughter but at the same time she became the disciplinarian, compared to her husband who doted on their daughter.
Gulaab undoubtedly was daddy’s little girl, and had the man wrapped around her fingers. At times she felt jealous of their relationship, and how close the two were. But seeing him with their daughter made her heart swell with the amount of love he had for her.
“Khushi! Khus… here you are. I have been looking all over for you. What the… What happened in here?”
He slowly walked inside his daughter’s room, and shook his head. He watched his wife’s reflection through the full length mirror as she stood there holding a dress in her hand.
There was tenderness in her gaze, as a small smile crept up at the corner of her mouth.
He smiled, walking up behind her, putting his hand on her shoulder. She turned around, slipping out of her reverie.
“Tum theek ho?”
She shook her head, squeezing the dress in her hand. He wrapped his arms around her, sighing as she buried her face in his chest.
“What happened? Did you and Gulaab argue about something?”
“Arnav, can you believe our baby is going to be a young woman? And soon she will be leaving for college. What am I going to do without her? Who will I yell at about this mess she creates every morning? Look at this room… do you know, lately, I secretly enjoy coming here to clean it after she leaves for school. It makes me feel like she still needs me… but you better not tell her…”
He chuckled, pulling away, and took the dress from her hand.
“I don’t get you sometimes with her. You are always on her case about cleaning, and now…” He paused, looking at the sadness in her eyes. “… Forget it. Your secret is safe with me. After all, it will be just the two of us. So, I need to stay on your good side, since we are stuck together.”
He gazed into her eyes, the sadness gone, and now they gleamed up at him. The golden speckles within her hazel orbs shimmered, which still captivated him after being married for twenty five years.
“That’s right, you are stuck with me for life. So, today you can help me clean up your daughter’s room.”
He looked at her incredulously, muttering ‘unbelievable’ under his breath, looking at her raised eyebrow, with her hands on her waist.
Khushi walked over to the closet, taking out the hangers and handed them to Arnav along with the clean clothes scattered on the floor.
“What the… the things I do for you both!”
Twenty minutes later, after placing the hangered clothes in the closet, Arnav took a final look around his daughter’s room, while Khushi rushed downstairs to get his breakfast ready.
The bright colored walls, simplistic furniture, along with a wall of bookcases filled with books- reflected his daughter’s personality. His Gulaab was different from girls her age.
Being a professor at University of Illinois for over twenty years, he was around young adults with different personalities. So to see her grow up to be a well mannered, grounded, mature, smart young woman, made him proud for the way they had raised her. It wasn’t hard, she made parenting easy, though his wife would think differently.
He ran his fingers on her Harry Potter collection, and smiled. She was a true Potterhead, and still continued to be. He recalled when she first started to read the series nonstop. She was fully absorbed in the wizarding world in Hogwarts, devouring them nonstop during the weekend.
But she had always loved reading books ever since she learned how to read. His wife always teased him, that she was a bookworm like him. They often would read the same books, discussing them in length, debating their differences.
With her love of reading, she had quite an imagination, making up her own tales as a child. But that stopped as she got older.
He really missed listening to the stories she would dream up.
Khushi hurried out of the kitchen, while Arnav looked up from his laptop, watching their daughter excitedly run towards them, waving her phone in her hand.
“Oh my God, you won’t believe who I just got an email from?”
They both raised their eyebrow, waiting for her to continue, but she leaped into her mother’s arms and started to scream. Arnav placed his laptop on the sofa and stood up, placing his hand on her shoulder. She pulled away from her mother, and leaped into his arms.
“Are you going to tell us what has you so excited? I mean we are used to you constantly hugging us, but your Appa and I would like to know what has made our daughter so happy.”
She pulled away from her father’s arms, giving the phone to him with a wide smile.
Khushi walked over to him, looking down at her phone. Both of them smiled, looking at each other, then at Gulaab. As she stood there nodding feverishly with a shimmering glint in her eyes, unable to contain her excitement.
“Can you believe it? I got accepted to Princeton University! YAY!”
“Congratulations Beta! This is such a big accomplishment. Khushi, our daughter got accepted…”
Overwhelmed with happiness for her daughter Khushi nodded. She took a deep breath, trying to hold back tears, which brimmed her eyes. She gazed fondly at her daughter, taking her back into her arms, kissing the top of her head.
Arnav shook his head, holding back his own emotions, feeling the weight on his heart, as he watched his two favorite women at this momentous milestone for their daughter.
“I am so proud of you my baby. But now, you will leave your Amma all alone.”
“Uff Amma, I am not leaving tomorrow, there is still so much time left. Oh wait… I have to tell Di! Oh my God, now I will be so close to her. This just gets better and better!”
“Pagal…” Khushi shook her head, watching her daughter run off, then quickly climbing the stairs.
“That she is, like her mother… you can stop glaring at me. It’s true you know. I guess it’s official now, our daughter is off to Princeton in the fall.”
“At least she will be closer to your brother’s family, and her Di. It makes me feel better that they will be there for her, with us being far away. Though I don’t know if she is ready to go off on her own.”
He pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her waist, leaning his forehead against hers.
“Our Gulaab will be fine. It’s time we let her go to mark her place in the world.”
“Arrey… what is this, again? Look at this room! Gulaab, when are you going to grow up? I really don’t think you are ready to go live on your own at Princeton. Why are you sitting in front of your laptop, when your lunch is ready downstairs? And, you have to go to work at the library in an hour.”
Gulaab rolled her eyes in annoyance hearing the same thing day in and day out. She smirked thinking, her mother should record herself and play it when she comes into her room. Then she wouldn’t have to waste her energy talking.
She stayed focused, continuing typing away on her laptop. She hoped, by ignoring her mother, she would leave but that was not going to happen today.
“Gulaab Singh Raizada! Get up and go eat, now! After you are done eating, come back and clean this mess before you go to work. Did you hear me?”
“Okay, stop yelling. I am going…”
She sighed heavily, getting off the bed, then walking out of the room with her phone.
Why did her mother always treat her like she was an irresponsible child?
Irritated at not being able to finish her writing, yes Gulaab had a secret that her parents did not know about, she loved writing. It was her escape to get away from her hectic student life.
Bringing home straight A’s, taking college courses while in high school, being part of a debate team that traveled around the country participating in competitions and to top it off she worked. It wasn’t her dream job, but it was a way for her to make some money so she didn’t have to rely on her parents.
With all this going on, why is it a big deal if her room was a mess?
She turned on her phone, getting ready to vent her frustration by group chatting with her two sisters, her Princess and Di.
Di: Hello to you too!
Princess: What happened?
Gulaab: Oops Hi my Princesses!
Gulaab: Can you believe Amma is on my back about my room?
Gulaab: That too while I was in the middle of writing my update…
Princess: Lambi saans andar lo … better?
Di: Wait… did you say you were writing? What part are you up to?
Gulaab: Uff I have to eat lunch… Do I have to?
Princess: Umm yes …
Di: What kind of question is that? Of course you have to eat… go eat!
Gulaab: But I don’t feel like it
Princess: Accha what’s for lunch?
Gulaab: Tortillas with avocado and salsa. I love avocados. I guess I will eat 🙁
Di: Okay so tell us what’s next for Resistance
Gulaab: Damn now this is cold… hold on while I heat it up
Di: Hurry up
Di: Where are you? It’s been more than five minutes
Princess: Gulaab! Where are you?
Di: Yo Gulaab!
Princess: Where on earth has she disappeared?
Di: She probably burnt her lunch. Maybe Amma is yelling at her… LOL
Gulaab: Sorry. Uff, I burnt my lunch 🙁
Princess: That’s exactly what Di said you’d probably done!
Di: Can we get back at point here? How far did you get with your writing?
Gulaab: I will text later, Amma just came down. Wait… why is she smiling? Ajeeb
“Khushi, why are you bringing the laptop to bed? It’s getting late and I have an early start tomorrow. What’s that smile for?”
Arnav put his glasses on the side table, and got inside the bed, pulling the comforter over him.
“After I tell you what I discovered today, I can guarantee you will take this laptop from me.”
She moved closer to him, sitting up and leaned on the headboard, opening the laptop.
“Today when Gulaab was downstairs eating her lunch, I found something on her laptop.”
“What?! That’s invasion of her privacy, do you know what will happen if she finds out. This is on you, I am not taking any of the blame.”
“Uff, just hear me out first. I was cleaning her room like always, after I sent her down to eat. There was an alert on her Macbook, so I was going to close the lid when I noticed she had two windows open side by side. One was a Google doc, and the other was a blog with the same story… our Gulaab has written a masterpiece set in 1942 called Resistance. Arnav, you should read her writing, it’s brilliant and so mature for her age. After she went off to work I read it in its entirety up to where she has written and now I am so curious to know what is going to happen. By the way, that was the reason I asked for you to pick up pizza. I was busy reading.”
She chuckled, handing him the laptop, gesturing him to read. His eyes widened in shock, looking at the blog. He felt her leaning her head on his shoulder waiting for him to begin reading.
He caressed the words that appeared on the screen, as he stared at the screen in front of him.
This couldn’t be true. His daughter would have told him, if she was writing.
“But Khushi, how do you know she has written this? Meaning it could be someone else, and she was reading it.”
“No, I am sure this is her. After she came upstairs, I peeked in and watched her from outside. She had the same windows open, and was aggressively typing away. Please just read it, this is her work. You are going to love it!”
He smiled, then turned to get his glasses, putting them on, he settled back to see what magic his daughter had dreamed up.
The next few hours, he read the story out loud with Khushi hearing the tale again, being transported into a different era. Both of them left in awe at the historic setting, the storyline, and above all the writing.
Seeing how significant each character was in the story, the different relationships being portrayed but most of all the emotions that leapt out at you as you read each word, left them both speechless.
How can someone her age understand the depths of relationships?
Their daughter talked about being a doctor, and that is what she was going to pursue in college, but was that what she really wanted…
“Khushi… what do we do now with this? She has always been imaginative, since she was very little. How did we not see this? If this is something she wants, we need to support her, right?”
He closed the laptop and took off his glasses, putting them to the side. He turned to his wife, who was looking up at him eagerly.
“Of course we should support whatever her dreams are. But it’s not going to be easy. You know how she is… she always wants to be the best at what she does. Will she be able to handle rejection? That is if that happens.”
He nodded in understanding.
“First, I think we need to talk to her about this. Let’s see what she says…”
“Arnav, I just thought of something. You know your colleague at the university we met at the holiday party? The one that recently had her book published?”
“Rachel? Yes, but that was an academic book, which is a different genre from what Gulaab has written. I don’t know, Khushi.”
She looked up at him, pleading with her eyes for their daughter.
“But it won’t hurt to try, will it? Before we talk to Gulaab, I want to see how viable her options are if this is the route she wants to choose for her future. I refuse to have her go after something, that will cause her heartache if it’s not feasible. Please…”
He pulled her closer to him, wrapping his arm around her shoulder.
“Okay, I will talk to her… for our daughter, our Gulaab.”
Few weeks later
Arnav and Khushi quietly walked into their daughter’s room, to find her fast asleep. Even as Khushi opened her curtains letting in the natural sunlight in the room, Gulaab didn’t budge. They both smiled at each other, before they started to tickle her, thinking that will get her out of bed.
“Please let me sleep a few more minutes, please.” She whined pulling the comforter over her head.
“It looks like my cookie monster forgot what today is?”
“Beta, look your Appa and I are all ready, we have been waiting now for an hour. Chalo, wake up sleepy head.”
She stirred getting comfortable, falling back to sleep, but Arnav and Khushi smirked mischievously looking down at her, knowing exactly what to do to get her out of the bed.
Khushi gestured towards the comforter, and he pulled it off, then lying down next to her. Both of them ignoring her whining, and started to sing loudly.
“Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear Gulaab,
Happy Birthday to you!”
Gulaab smiled, opening her eyes, as her parents both leaned closer, and placed a kiss on her cheeks.
“Thank you Appa!”
She turned left to kiss and hug her father, then turned to her right for her mother.
“Thank you Amma!”
“Aww my baby… we love you, beta!” Khushi engulfed her daughter into her arms, holding on coming close to tears. “Okay, now go get ready. Your Appa and I have been waiting so we can have your favorite breakfast, Poha and Paratha.”
“I can’t believe you made both for me today. I love you so so so much Amma. ”
She kissed her mother, before jumping off the bed, grabbing her towel then dashed out of her room.
“Like mother, like daughter… mention food, and all of sudden she wakes up. Now come on let’s get ready for her surprise downstairs.”
She gasped, as Arnav grinned making his way out of the room. But then she smiled… there was no denying that they shared the love for food equally.
Thirty minutes later, Gulaab’s eyes widened as she froze at the end of the staircase. She looked around the living room, which was fully decorated with balloons, lots of them, streamers and birthday banners everywhere.
She tilted her head, and took a deep breath, feeling her heart warm up at the sight of her parents. Both of them wearing a birthday hat, making noises with a party blower. A party celebration with just the three of them.
It had been ten years since her house had been decorated this way. Ten years since she even had a party. On her eighth birthday, she requested her parents, going forward she no longer wanted a birthday party or presents. She wanted the money to be donated to a childrens charity. Gulaab always felt there were kids less fortunate than her, so it was fair she shared. Being an only child, she was blessed with two parents who loved her and gave her all the necessities needed in life- what more did she need.
Her father took her hand, bringing her into the living room while her mother lit the diya in the aarti ki thali.
Khushi looked fondly at her daughter, as she did her aarti, praying for her daughter’s long life and happiness.
After she put a small tilak on Gulaab’s forehead, she took her parent’s blessing and quietly hugged them unable to voice anything.
“Khushi, either Gulaab is not feeling well since she hasn’t said one word or she doesn’t like the decorations.”
They both laughed, looking at her pouting, then shook her head.
“Are you kidding? I love it! When did you do this? How did I not hear anything? I can’t believe it…” She said in one breath, gazing between the two.
“There she is back to her normal self. We decorated early in the morning, since you never wake up early until I come up to drag you out of your bed.” Khushi giggled, placing the thali on the table.
“Amma! I love the decorations, it looks so pretty with all the different colors. Oh my God, did you get me a Harry Potter balloon? That is so cool!”
Arnav smiled, since he had specifically told Khushi to get a few Harry Potter balloons. It often amazed him how it didn’t take much to make his daughter happy. She had always been this way, the little gestures is what often made her excited.
“Would you like your present now?” He asked, urging her to sit on the sofa in the middle of them.
“But, I don’t want anything…”
“We know, and don’t worry, we will still donate to the charity of your choosing. But this present, is for all of us to enjoy.” Khushi said, handing her an envelope.
Gulaab opened the card, and read the note out loud with her parents looking on.
Our little rose, Gulaab,
Eighteen years ago you came and filled our life with happiness and love. Lots and lots of love with your beautiful smile, your laughter, your hugs, your kind words, but most of all you. You make us very proud everyday at the young woman you have become today. We hope all your dreams come true.
One of those dreams has been to visit Bali, so this summer we will be going there for our family vacation before you head off to Princeton!
Love you Hamesha,
Appa and Amma
“Really? This is so exciting! I can’t wait… thank you so much. I am so happy that I will be able to discover Bali with you both. This is the best present ever!”
She squealed in excitement, hugging her parents. They pulled away, and Gulaab stared at the note in the card, caressing it with her fingers.
“We have another gift, well it’s sort of a gift…”
Her eyes widened in surprise, hearing her mother’s gentle voice, but then she turned to her father hearing him speak.
“It looks like my cookie monster has been keeping a secret from us…”
Gulaab raised her eyebrow, her heart racing, feeling anxious at what her father might be referring to.
“A few weeks ago, I came across a story in my baby’s room… a story she has written…”
Gulaab closed her eyes, and then looked down on the floor, afraid of what was next. At the moment, she had mixed feelings about them knowing. This was something she wanted to keep to herself.
Will they understand her writing?
But also, there was a slight relief- she didn’t have to lie when she was writing. That was if they let her continue with her writing.
“Gulaab, you don’t need to be afraid. Your Amma, didn’t do it intentionally. She saw your laptop open, and was going to close it, when she saw your blog open. And, its a good thing she did. Otherwise how would we have known what a brilliant writer our daughter is. We both read it in it’s entirety, and loved it.”
“I am anxious to know what happens next, and as your Amma, I demand you tell me…” Khushi smiled down at her daughter.
“Did you really like it? And you are not mad at me for keeping this from you…”
“Beta, we didn’t like it, we loved it.” Khushi leaned over, kissing Gulaab’s forehead, and wrapped her arm around her shoulder.
“Is this what you want to do in the future, write?” He eagerly asked the question that had been in his mind for the past few weeks.
“I don’t think so, I still want to be doctor and help sick children. This is something I do for fun, it helps me relax after all the other things I do. It’s something I enjoy doing…”
“Maybe you can do both, if that is what you want.” Khushi said, looking over at Arnav.
“I am not sure if you have given any thought at publishing, but I spoke with one of my colleagues who has agreed to work with you, if that is something you want. She recently published a book, so can give you the insight you need and connect you with the publishing house she works with…”
Gulaab started at her father with her mouth wide open, stunned at what she was hearing.
What her parents didn’t know was this was not her first piece of writing. She had written quite a bit of stories in the past few years. But Resistance was close to her, and her best work thus far.
Was she dreaming?
Her father curved his lip in a smile, looking at her expression which was changing by the second as it dawned on her this was actually happening.
“Appa… is this for real? I don’t know what to say… I mean I have always dreamt of having something published. This truly would be amazing experience!”
“Gulaab, before you get excited, I want you to go into this with an open mind. You need to understand, it’s not going to be easy… meaning, they could reject it but you won’t know unless you try. And it’s not going to happen overnight, this will take a time.”
“Beta, this means you can’t get down on yourself, if it doesn’t work. No sulking or getting upset, theek hai?”
“Yes, I understand. If it happens that will be great, and if it doesn’t then it’s fine.”
“Good girl! For now we will think positively, and see where this takes my daughter. And, if things work out… I am getting the first autographed copy.” Arnav said, glancing up towards Khushi.
“All I want to know is what happens next…”
Laughter filled the room, along with hope that all of Gulaab’s dreams will come true one day.
Almost a year ago, I met one of the sweetest person I have come across virtually which I never thought was possible. Especially since I am guarded about who I allow in my life, but there was something special about her that made me open up and we bonded instantly. And I am so glad I did, now I can’t imagine my life without my Choti. Who has become more than a friend… she is my sister in every sense of the word.
Choti my love, my little sister… on your birthday, I wish you all the happiness in the world and hope all of you dreams come true. And know, your Di will be with you every step of the way.
Happy Birthday to an amazing young woman that truly makes this world a better place! The future is brighter with you in it.
Love you Hamesha,