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“I’m afraid Deva this isn’t working out,” Arnav softened his words with a smile. “I think you should read it a couple of times and then I’ll give you some questions, which you can answer and,” He nodded his emphatically, “that will give you an idea about your strengths and weakness, not by this…this verbal Q&A session.”
“But I always….” Deva protested.
“Daddy come and help me!” having set up the craft material to her satisfaction, Chotti demanded her share of his attention.
“Okay!” Arnav raised his hands in surrender. “Here’s the deal.” He looked at his phone, “the order will be here in 30 minutes. Deva you read your chapter thoroughly while I sit with Angel and help her out,” Chotti glowed while Deva glowered. “And then we’ll take a goodie break and I’ll make a few questions,” quelling a ready-to-protest-Devansh with a look, “simple multiple choice questions,” Devansh subsided, “which you can do after the break.”
“What about me?” Chotti was unwilling to be left out post-break.
“You can finish up your project,” Arnav coughed, “on your own.”
“That’s not fair Daddy.” Chotti protested. “What will you do while we are slaving away?” For once Devansh was in complete agreement with his pest of a sister.
“Excuse me?” A crack of laughter escaped Arnav.
“You heard me Daddy.” Chotti crossed her arms and waited.
Arnav rolled his eyes. “Oh come on! You can decide that during the break while I am slaving away making questions.” He tapped his watch. “Come on! 30 minutes, not a minute less, even if the order arrives,” he warned. “The ice cream cake can melt for all I care.”
The next half-hour flew by as Arnav joined his daughter on the floor after having sought her permission to change his suit. She graciously agreed. “Take a washroom break as well.” She extended his parole.
She grinned cheekily at him before bending over her chart paper.
During the dessert break, ASR labored over the SS chapter, racking his reluctant brains trying to come up with decent questions. While he was otherwise preoccupied, the siblings were in complete harmony, slurping and planning an activity for ASR that would suitably match and more than make up for their slave away time. Arnav couldnt help but feel a twinge of trepidation – all the khusur-phusur not to mention the wicked glances that Chotti sent his way along with Deva’s animated inputs didnt bode too well for his future. Hey Devi Maiyya raksha karna! The thought inadvertently slipped out from his heart.
“Okay break over.” Arnav packed away the decimated cake and other stuff. “Back to work. And no talking,” he warned Chotti, “He’s taking a test. And Angel, you have to give the finishing touches to your project…”
“And we decided that you will also have to do something for us.” Chotti laid down their condition.
“What?” Arnav was seriously regretting his offer. Nothing short of madness!
“Meaning?” Arnav was taken aback.
“Meaning surprise us. Entertain us.” She waved her hand at the stuff littered on the floor – streamers, sparklers, balloons, colored sheets, glue and what not, “Make something for us. Something we will enjoy.” She threw him a challenge exchanging a look with her partner-in-crime who wore a smug look admixed with superior glee and pity for his beleaguered Dad.
“Well? Go on. What are you waiting for?” Chotti prodded before snickering behind her hand.
“I’m waiting for you guys to begin slaving.” Feeling on safer grounds, ASR remarked.
Chastened, they bent over their respective tasks, shooting curious looks once in a while to Arnav as he stared at the available raw material and tried to come up with something creative and enjoyable – something that he would love doing. When had he done that last? He couldn’t recollect anything apart from getting a rise out of Khushi that is. And now with his kids. He sighed feeling guilty about all the years he had missed spending with them. No wonder Devansh viewed him with suspicion as if he was some alien. He shook his head. He too had been overprotective of his mother and his Di.
A smile creased his face. He swiftly gathered the things he needed and stuffed them in the oversized pockets of his cargo pants before Chotti’s sharp eyes caught him.
“Okay guys.” He held his palm over this hand to indicate time out. “Carry on with your work while I go into the other room and do something creative worthy of you. And mind you no cheating.” He warned strictly. “I’ll finish…finish my project and come out and check your progress and only then allow you to check it out. Otherwise it’s back to the books.” He looked at Devansh. “Got it?”
Devansh nodded. He had already gone back to his test.
“But Daddy, why do you have to go to another room?” She whined. “Why can’t you do it here?”
“You’ll know when you see.” He said mysteriously.
“Oooh! Tell me now! Please, please Daddy please. Dad….”
“Shush!” Arnav hushed her. “Devansh is giving a test. Remember if he doesn’t do well then even you can’t see what’s in there.”
But Arnav shook his finger at her and had walked off.
“Da,” Chotti muttered softly, “I hope you know all the questions.”
“Of course I know all the questions!” He waved the sheet of paper and tapped it with his pen. “They are all written here. Buddhoo.” He scoffed.
“Fine! Be that way!” Chotti stuck out her tongue. “When it’s time I’ll tell Daddy…”
“Before you say anything I will tell him that you are disturbing me!” Deva shot back. “Daaad!”
“Shush!!!!” Chotti clapped a hand over his mouth. He glared at her and pushed away her hand. He opened his mouth to call out again.
“Please! Please!” Chotti begged.
“Not like that. Hold your ears and do sit ups. Say sorry ten times.”
Chotti had none of Khushi’s hesitation or sense of humiliation. After all Da was right. She was disturbing him and she had no shame in owning up to it or paying for it, while Devansh watched with an unholy gleam in his eye.
“What’s happening here?” One afternoon with the kids and his sixth sense had kicked in. They were silent. Too silent.
Deva bent his head assiduously over his worksheet while Chotti made some elaborate leg extensions swinging her arms up and down. “Angel?” Arnav was hard put to keep the grin off his face.
“Nothing Daddy,” Chotti swore airily, “I was just trying out some dance steps for my dance class next week, 4, 3,2 and 1, 2, 3,” she panted and she switched positions. Arnav’s eyes strayed to Devansh – a tactical blunder as he was watching his Dad’s face with keen interest. Arnav’s expression slipped and instantly a wide grin split Devansh’s face. Arnav turned on his heels and went back to his slavery, all but laughing aloud.
Dad wasn’t so bad after all, Devansh admitted to himself with a warm glow in his heart.
“Wasn’t I clever?” Chotti gloated. “Daddy didn’t get to know anything!”
“Oh didn’t he?” Deva grinned to himself. “Will you please let me work?” He sighed.
Chotti slunk away.
*** to be continued ***
Click here for the final Part VI