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Yellow Strawberries — Part 2

March 28, 2024 | By

The rollercoaster ride with the kids continues. Along with an open window to their topsy-turvy world, the kids also provide a peek into the life and choices of their doting Dad.

Continued from Part -1 of the Short Story by Prosenjit Purkait

Yellow Strawberries Part-2 Short Story

Chapter 4 – The Music

“So, Jhilik? Who loves you more – Mom or Dad?” asked Tanya once me and Riya had left the room.

“They both love me in their own way,” replied Jhilik. “For example, Mamma buys me new clothes and gifts. She pampers me a lot. Papa is very strict, but he teaches me many new things.”

“Such as?” Tanya pressed on, evidently enjoying every nugget of information that was being shared.

“Such as, the difference between good and evil. How to take a stand and stick to it. Papa says taking a stand is more important than being correct all the time. Nobody can be correct all the time. We all make mistakes. But that should not stop us from taking a decision.”

“Hmm … What else?” Tanya egged her on.

“He also says that success is measured by character, not money. He will consider me successful only if I develop a good character. I might become rich and famous one day, but I cannot claim to be successful unless I have character, ethics, and principles.”

Jhilik stopped abruptly as if to check the reaction to her comments in the eyes of the guests. Equally suddenly, she added as an act of introspection, “He says I am a chatterbox. I am not talkative, am I?”

“Yes!” the kids yelled in unison. But Liz flashed a comforting smile and replied, “No, certainly not. But you are great at conversation, though.”

At this juncture, I entered the room with Riya. She sat down in front of the TV with the other kids. I decided it was time to brighten up the mood in the room.

“How about some music?” I asked the guests. Even before they could reply, all the kids shouted excitedly, “Yes!” Except Jhilik, who stood like a statue with hands crossed, showing no sign of emotion or excitement.

“I don’t mind,” said Michael. The other guests nodded in approval.

“Leonard Cohen? What do you say?” I asked them again, expecting another nod this time too.

“No!” Jhilik responded sternly with her arms still crossed. She looked irritated at my choice, as did the other kids.

“He can’t sing. He is so boring,” scoffed Jhilik again. “We want to listen to Taylor Swift.”

“Let the guests decide that,” I glared at her annoyingly. The very thought of the one-and-only Leonard Cohen being compared to someone like Taylor Swift was enough to drive me over the edge.

“Actually, I like them both,” Liz intervened politely. “I wouldn’t mind listening to both of them.”

“Awesome! Alexa, play Leonard Cohen’s greatest hits,” I sat down on the couch while Jhilik kept standing, looking as upset as ever.

The living room came alive with the deep, rich baritone of Leonard Cohen’s voice emanating from Alexa’s speakers. The first song was the evergreen Hallelujah. Cohen’s gravelly old voice echoed across the walls of the room, transporting the adults to another world while the children appeared forlorn and dejected.

“He was the greatest songwriter of the 20th century,” I stated enthusiastically. Michael seconded my opinion, “Along with Bob Dylan.”

Just as the next song Everybody Knows was about to begin, my wife walked in from the kitchen and asked me to lend her a helping hand in setting up the dinner table. I excused myself and left the room as the song started playing –

Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich

“Everybody knows you can’t sing. Everybody knows that you are an old fool,” blurted out Jhilik as soon as I was out of the room. She then yelled, “Alexa, stop!”

The song stopped playing abruptly. And Jhilik continued with her tirade, sarcasm dripping from her voice.

“Everybody knows that we have lost. Everybody knows we are going to die. It’s so depressing. Music should cheer you up, not make you sad.”

“Well … you know,” Liz replied with a chuckle, “Sometimes good music can make you sad too. But you are too young to understand that. Why don’t we listen to Taylor Swift instead?”

“Yippee!” Jhilik screamed in delight. “Papa is so old school. Who listens to Leonard Cohen these days?”

Chapter 5 – The Tour

Half an hour later, I re-entered the living room after setting up the dining table. And though I was a bit annoyed at the Taylor Swift song playing on the speakers, I decided to ignore it. I had other ideas.

“Let me give you a tour of the house,” I told the guests. They immediately nodded in acceptance.

“Allow me to do it, please, on your behalf,” Jhilik intervened. “You help Mamma with dinner preparations.”

“Fine with me,” I readily accepted her proposal. “Make sure you bring them straight to the dining room once the tour is over.”

I left the room with Riya and Zorro in tow. And Jhilik opened the big cupboard in the drawing room to reveal some of my most precious possessions.

“Do you know what that is? That’s a gramophone,” she pointed at the shining metal device sitting on the top shelf of the cupboard.

“It’s a phonograph,” said Liz. “That’s the term we use in America. Wow! It looks gorgeous!”

“It’s so ancient. It belonged to Papa’s grandfather – my great-grandfather,” Jhilik continued in a tone laced with amusement and fascination. “Can you believe people used to listen to music on this thing?”

“Yes, I have played it in my childhood,” replied Liz. “My grandparents had a similar device. Does it still play?”

“Yes. Papa has kept every vintage thing in this house in working condition. And there are so many of these. I will show you all. This thing is probably 100 years old. Fascinating, isn’t it?”

“For you, perhaps,” Liz said in a sombre tone. “Not for us. We have seen it and played it before. There’s nothing quite like it.”

“Huh! You must be as old school as Papa is,” Jhilik smiled with childlike exuberance. “This thing should be kept in a museum. And this one too.”

She was now holding a 1970s model transistor radio which she picked up from the lower shelf. “It’s called a radio. Papa calls it the All India Radio.”

“These items may seem amusing to you, but people of my and your Dad’s generation actually grew up with these devices,” Liz tried to explain. “I am happy to see your Dad values these things a lot.”

“Values them?” Jhilik raised her eyebrows. “He practically worships them. Wipes and shines them every Sunday. He says these are not mere objects. These are memories. Funny, isn’t it?”

“What else?” Liz couldn’t agree with the 10-year-old, but found it futile to explain to her the sentimental value of family heirlooms.

“Let’s go to Papa’s study. There are more vintage items there,” she made a hand gesture to her friends to follow her. And she led them all – the children and the adults – to the place I refer to as ‘my den’.

“Don’t mind the clutter,” Jhilik pointed at the stacks of paper and files on the writing desk. “There is a method in this madness. Unfortunately, only Papa knows what it is.” She laughed heartily.

Sitting at a corner on top of a wooden table was the item that she found to be the most fascinating of all. A 1970s model black landline telephone with a rotary dial.

“This is a telephone!” she exclaimed in astonishment. “Can you believe it?” The other kids appeared equally captivated by the size and shape of the vintage device, and gathered round it to touch, feel and satisfy their curiosity.

“There is no screen, no keypad, no apps!” Jhilik continued with her expressions of incredulity. “Papa’s father – my grandfather – used to call people using this thing. Have you ever used one of these?” She directed her query at Liz and Michael.

“Yes,” both of them replied in unison, which rendered Jhilik speechless for several minutes. She had always believed her Papa to be a relic of the past. It now dawned on her that there were more people like him.

“This one is Papa’s favourite,” she opened the drawer of the writing desk and took out a fountain pen. She opened the cap and held it upright for everyone to see.

“It’s a Parker pen from 1953,” she announced to the onlookers. “It has a 18 carat gold nib. This belonged to Papa’s grandfather.”

“1953!” one of the kids asked in disbelief.

“Yes. Can you imagine? Papa was not even born at that time. You need to pour liquid ink into this pen. Papa still uses it, says it brings him closer to his grandpa,” she displayed the ink bottle kept inside the drawer.

“This pen has been in our family for 4 generations. Amazing, isn’t it?” she asked the group expecting an affirmative reply.

“Which pen do you use?” asked Michael.

“I hardly use any. I write on my iPad and laptop. Using a pen is so old-school.”

Kasumi walked away from the group towards a large shelf full of DVDs. She stood motionless for a few seconds before asking, “What are these?”

“Oh! That’s Papa’s movie collection,” Jhilik went running to join her. “Papa has a huge collection of movies, more than 3000.” Then, as an afterthought, she added, “3128.”

“Wow! Really?” the rest of the group walked over to the shelf. “That’s a lot!”

“Yes, it’s mostly Indie films,” said Jhilik.

“Excuse me, what?” asked Tanya.

“Indie films. Art films,” replied Jhilik. “Arty-farty stuff. All of these. I did the cataloging for these.”

“Have you, now?” Liz seemed awestruck.

“Yes. These used to lie scattered all over the room earlier. 2 years back, I began to sort out the mess, and archived these under individual filmmakers. Now, you have separate sections for Bergman, Antonioni, Fellini, Kubrick, Godard, Cassavetes etc. Looks neat, doesn’t it?” she beamed with pride.

“Sure does,” said Liz in genuine admiration.

“Have you watched any of these movies?” asked Kasumi.

“Are you crazy? Nobody watches these except Papa. These are arty rubbish. Me and Mamma watch Bollywood films.”

“Who is this?” asked Ted pointing at a photo of a man hanging on the adjacent wall.

“That’s Papa’s favourite filmmaker – Andrei Tarkovsky,” replied Jhilik. “He was Russian. Papa calls him the greatest of all time. I once tried to watch one of his films with Papa. Fell asleep within half an hour – it was so boring.”

“Russian, you said?” Michael looked surprised. “Not sure if I have heard of him.”

“He was born in Soviet Russia. Made only 7 films in his life. All of them were masterpieces. Papa says he was peerless – whatever that means,” Jhilik relished the opportunity to show off her acquired knowledge.

“Peerless means beyond comparison,” Tanya tried to explain to her. “Someone who is above everybody else.”

“That would be me,” was Jhilik’s immediate response. “I am like no other kid. Isn’t that right, Kasumi?”

Chapter 6 – The Dinner

The guests and the kids followed Jhilik to the dining room upon completion of the tour of the apartment. The day was coming to an end, and the dinner was meant to be the event of the day.

I had already prepared the table and laid out the cutlery, while my wife had prepared a sumptuous feast – a full 8-course meal. I invited everyone to take their respective seats. One seat, however, remained vacant – the one at the head of the table.

“Who is going to sit there?” asked Liz pointing at the vacant seat. Her curiosity was piqued by an empty plate and cutlery kept there, while me and my wife sat at the opposite end of the table.

“That’s Grandma’s seat,” answered Jhilik on my behalf. “She is no more with us. But Papa says she remains the head of the family and will always have a seat at the head of the table.”

Liz and Michael exchanged glances – the kind we exchange when he hear of an alien custom or ritual – but said nothing. And baby Riya grabbed the plate of dessert first to everyone’s surprise.

“Ok, rules first,” Jhilik suddenly sprang up on her feet and announced. “We have to follow certain rules while dining. Rule number 1, you cannot waste food. You have to eat all the food you have on your plate. No wastage.”

“Not for guests,” I hurriedly intervened. Jhilik has a knack for speaking out of turn irrespective of consequences.

“Why not?” her sharp retort was quick and expected.

“Because house rules are for family members, not for guests. Good hosts do not impose their rules on visitors,” I tried to convince my daughter as well as reassure the guests.

“Ok, fine,” she continued without arguing. “Rule number 2, you are allowed to start with any course you want, including dessert. It’s about choice. Freedom of choice is more important than eating food in the right order.”

“Correct,” I supported her this time, since these table rules were originally framed by my mother many decades ago. I grew up following them, and now my daughters are expected to carry them forward.

“Great! So, Riya can start with Blueberry cheesecake and end with strawberries and ice cream?” asked Jhilik.

“Yes, she can,” I nodded in agreement, “as long as our guests are ok with it. We have to seek their approval too. This dinner is being hosted in their honour.”

“Of course! Please go ahead,” Liz and Michael responded in tandem. “But, if she starts with dessert, will she eat anything else?”

“Unfortunately not,” I replied. “Both my daughters have very odd eating habits. The eldest munches on popcorn and pistachio all day, and the youngest is only interested in pastries, ice cream and strawberries.”

“I love strawberries,” Riya spoke suddenly, realising probably that she was the topic of discussion, a popped a juicy red strawberry in her mouth.

“What’s the 3rd rule?” asked Tanya.

“The 3rd rule is that Zorro eats first,” replied Jhilik and promptly took Zorro out of the dining room. Zorro’s diet consists of raw meat only, and that could not be served to him in the presence of guests. Especially since Tanya was a vegetarian.

“Your house rules are as special as your house and your daughters,” quipped Michael. “Visiting you has been a mind-blowing experience.”

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the dinner. There was hardly any leftover food, much less wastage. Of particular interest to the Americans were the three different types of potato dishes that formed part of the main course.

“I have tasted Indian food many times before, but never had the humble potato cooked in so many different ways,” Liz was profuse in her praise. “In my country, you can cook the potato in either of 2 ways – boil it, or fry it. But what you have done is nothing short of remarkable.”

“Thank you,” said my wife humbly. “These are mostly traditional methods of cooking passed down through generations over centuries.”

Chapter 7 – The Conclusion

Post dinner, everyone assembled in the living room for a chat. While it was time for the guests to leave, the kids demanded to watch a movie.

“What would you like to watch?” I asked. And then offered them my first choice. “Cartoons?”

“No!” they yelled in protest. Only Riya raised her tiny hand in support of my choice.

“Ok, how about Grave Of The Fireflies?” I asked. “It’s an excellent movie.”

“What is it about?” the kids looked unsure. Except Jhilik and Kasumi, they had watched it before.

Grave Of The Fireflies is a Japanese animated film,” stated Kasumi. “It was released in 1988 and tells the story of 2 kids – a brother and his sister – during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.”

“It’s an extremely sad film,” added Jhilik. “So, the answer is no. We want to watch a fun film.”

“Fine,” I obliged wholeheartedly. And then picked up the Blu-Ray of the one film that always works. “How about Groundhog Day?”

“Yeeaay!” the children screamed in ecstasy. I turned towards Liz and Michael and said, “Bill Murray would be so proud!”

“True,” seconded Liz. “It’s an evergreen movie. Its appeal hasn’t diminished one bit in all these years.”

“How many of you have watched Groundhog Day more than once?” I asked the kids. “Raise your hands.”

All of them did. Except Riya, she was busy doodling something in her drawing book.

“How many have watched it more than twice?” Again, all of them raised their hands.

“More than 5 times?” This time, 2 of them brought down their hands. The others kept them raised.

“And yet, you all want to watch it again?” I was pleasantly surprised.

The movie started playing. Jhilik and her friends sat glued to the TV, looking mesmerised and hypnotised. Riya kept herself busy drawing and colouring. She walked over to show me her masterpiece once she was done.

“It’s beautiful,” I replied with pride and adoration. “Show it to our guests.”

Riya toddled over and held her drawing in front of the adults. “It’s so pretty!” exclaimed Liz. “Who are they?”

“Papa, Mamma, sister, me, Zorro …” replied Riya shyly. “… and strawberries.”

“Why are they all yellow in colour?” asked Tanya playfully.

“Yellow is her favourite colour,” replied my wife. “She paints everything and everyone she loves in yellow. Including strawberries.”

(Concluded)

 

Yellow Strawberries Part-2 Short Story (the end)

Did you read Part-1? Click the link below:

Yellow Strawberries — Part 1

 

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Prosenjit Purkait is a 22-year veteran of International Trade residing in Delhi and an amateur author. Now self-employed, he devotes considerable time to his first love — writing fiction. His passions include cinema, literature and book reviews.
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2 thoughts on “Yellow Strawberries — Part 2

  • Vivian

    That is one delightful story. Of course, the kid doesn’t get Cohen yet – I like her reasoning though – music should cheer you up. Looking forward to more stories from the author.

  • Prosenjit Purkait

    The kid does not despise Leonard Cohen just because she fails to understand his music or his message. She considers her father to be a relic of the past, and therefore, everything he is associated with is perceived to be ancient and redundant by her. The gramophone, the old landline telephone with a rotary dial, the Parker pen made in 1953 are, just like Cohen and her father, relics of the past.

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