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Yellow Strawberries — Part 3: The Outdoors

May 11, 2024 | By

The Doting Dad recounts another episode in the lives of his daughters. This time, the action takes place outdoors — in a mall, on a picnic, during a long drive.

Yellow Strawberries is a candid and sweet anthology of short stories about doting parents and their two little daughters in today’s tech-driven age.


Yellow Strawberries Part 3 short story

“Papa, this is child labour. I will not do it. No!” replied my 5-year-old daughter Riya when asked to clean up the mess she left on the table at the Costa Coffee outlet in South Delhi’s DLF Promenade Mall.

I quite enjoy these weekend outings with my daughters; look forward to them, in fact. Nothing leaves me more exhausted than the daily grind of work and occupation, and nothing helps relieve the stress faster than a day out with my daughters Jhilik and Riya.

Much has changed in India in the last three decades, but none more than the way we hang out ‘now’ as compared to the ‘old days’. In the pre-Pepsi, pre-McDonald’s, pre-Domino’s era I grew up in, a day out with family simply meant either a visit to the local circus, or watching a magic show, or going on the most traditional and cost-effective excursion of all – a picnic.

Alas, the travelling circus exists no more. And the glory of the great magic shows of the past has been replaced by dozens of videos posted on YouTube and Tiktok by amateur aspiring copycats. But the most defining transition of all has to be the replacement of the picnic by another outdoor activity – the rudimentary weekend trip to the neighbourhood shopping mall.

Yes, it’s true. We don’t go on picnics anymore, certainly not in Delhi; partly due to rising air pollution and high daytime temperatures over the last two decades, and partly because our children – born and raised in air-conditioned homes, cars and schools – loathe the idea of spending half a day out in the open without the comfort of an air-conditioner running on full blast.

As a result, the traditional picnic has been replaced by the weekly visit to Costa Coffee or Starbucks, Mom’s homemade cookies and pickles have been ousted by Pizza Hut and Dunkin’ Donuts, and the samosas and parathas have been forced out of our weekend ‘must-have’ list by Burger King and Subway. Even India Gate – the Mecca of all picnic goers in Delhi till a decade ago – does not allow picnics on its hallowed grounds anymore.

But I digress. I have a new concern keeping me awake at night these days. It’s called Disinformation, and my youngest daughter seems to be the latest victim of this malady. Ironically, it’s my eldest who seems to be responsible for it.

Chapter 1 – Child Labour

“What do you mean by ‘child labour’?” I asked Riya with a hint of irritation in my voice. A certain sense of dismay also crept in – how could a 5-year-old learn the term ‘child labour’ and assume to know its meaning?

“Child labour is bad,” Riya replied without taking her eyes off the table, which was now covered in spilled milkshake and cake crumbs, torn sugar sachets and lines drawn in ketchup. Paper napkins torn in pieces lay scattered all over the table top, along with paper straws and inverted paper cups covered in mustard sauce and brown sugar.

“Yes, I know child labour is bad,” I tried to reason with her. “But cleaning up your own mess is not child labour. Tidying up the table after you have finished eating is the right thing to do. It’s not child labour.”

“It’s not?” Riya stared at me with her big bright eyes in disbelief.

“No, it isn’t. Who told you otherwise, your sister?” I asked her to confirm my suspicion.

But Riya was smart enough to avoid giving an answer. She quickly lowered her gaze and pretended to gather all the trash on the table top in a corner in an effort to clean it up. It was not in her nature to snitch on her elder sister, though her silence conveyed it all.

“Listen sweetheart,” I grabbed her tiny palms in order to get her undivided attention, “polishing your shoe yourself is not child labour. Picking up your own trash is not child labour. Tidying up your room and toys is not child labour. It’s true that you are a child, but you are not doing any child labour at home. Is that clear?”

Riya nodded her head silently and I heaved a sigh of relief. I also could not help but notice the family sitting right next to our table stealing glances at us and trying to hide what seemed to be an irritating smirk. Evidently, they had overheard our conversation and were amusing themselves.

Just then, my wife and my eldest appeared on the scene. Apparently, they had gone on a shopping spree inside the mall, and judging by the number of shopping bags they were carrying, I could guess it was a very rewarding romp indeed.

“We are not doing any child labour,” Riya blurted out upon seeing her 10-year-old sister. “Cleaning up is not child labour,” she repeated my lines.

The cat was out of the bag. I glared at Jhilik and barked, “Why are you instigating your sister? Misleading her into believing that we are making her do child labour?”

Jhilik shot a quick glance at Riya and tried to hold back a conceited smile. She feigned ignorance and asked innocently, “What did I do? I was not even here.”

“You know very well what you have done,” I replied sternly. “You refuse to imbibe discipline and order in your own behaviour, and now you are trying to corrupt your baby sister.”

“I am a child, and so is she,” Jhilik shot back with her usual exuberance. “Any work done by a child is child labour. Technically.”

Chapter 2 – Ice-cream Uncle

On our way out of DLF Promenade Mall, we bumped into my childhood friend Anindita. She was about to indulge in her own shopping spree all by herself, but I managed to persuade her to accompany us back home for lunch.

Anindita doesn’t have kids of her own, so she dotes on my daughters, who fondly address her as “Annie Aunty”. She is a regular at my place, and one request from Jhilik and Riya was enough to help change her mind.

“I will ride with Annie Aunty in her car,” demanded Jhilik.

“Fine with me,” I readily accepted, “as long as you keep your hands off her phone.”

“Why? What would she be doing with my phone?” Anindita was curious.

“You don’t want to know,” I replied bluntly. “Of late, Jhilik has developed a nasty urge to hack into our phones. It gives her a thrill to break into a phone without asking for the password.”

“Is that so?” Anindita rolled her eyes while Jhilik stood speechless with a deep frown on her forehead – a visible sign of her being upset at my indiscretion.

I led the way in my car with my wife and Riya as company. Jhilik hopped in with her “Annie Aunty” in her car and followed us.

“Don’t listen to a word he says,” Jhilik opened her mouth a few minutes into the ride. “It’s not hacking if you are careless with your passwords.”

“What is it then?” Anindita asked gleefully.

“Papa uses the same password for all his devices,” quipped Jhilik unapologetically. “He is too lazy to create separate passwords for each of his accounts. He uses the same password everywhere. Is it my fault that I can access all his devices easily? All it takes is common sense, not hacking skills.”

“Does he?” Anindita chuckled in glee, evidently enjoying every nugget of information coming from the 10-year-old’s mouth.

“Yes, he is careless. And he blames me for his own stupidity. What’s the point of having a password if he is using it everywhere? It’s like having one common key for all your locks. You get the key, and you get to open them all.”

“Is that so?” Anindita seemed mighty impressed. “You are certainly not as dumb as he thinks you are.”

“Maybe he is not as smart as he thinks he is,” came Jhilik’s sharp retort. “You must be aware of that since you have known him since childhood.”

“Your Papa was the smartest guy in our class. But he is book-smart, and you are street-smart. A sign of the times, I guess,” sighed Anindita.

“Book or street, you are not smart enough if you can’t hide your passwords,” Jhilik declared without any doubt or hesitation.

“What do you need his passwords for?” enquired Anindita.

“Just for fun,” replied Jhilik with a straight face. “And for buying ice-cream.”

“Ice-cream! Why do you need his passwords to buy ice-cream? Just ask your Mom or Papa,” said Anindita.

“Oh! You don’t know anything, do you?” Jhilik scoffed. “They allow me only one ice-cream a week. Is that enough for a 10-year-old?”

“I think so. How many does a 10-year-old need?” Anindita sounded puzzled.

“Let’s see. Nutty Buddy on Mondays, Mint Choco Chip on Tuesdays, Butter Pecan on Wednesdays, Cookies n’ Cream on Thursdays, Cotton Candy on Fridays, Amazon Raisin on Saturdays, and Peppermint Bark on Sundays. That’s all.”

“My god! Isn’t that a bit too many?” Anindita exclaimed in bewilderment.

“No!” replied Jhilik emphatically. “Do you know how many ice cream flavours are there in the whole world? Thousands. I named only seven.”

“And where do you buy these from?”

“From a big shop near our place. The owner is very nice. I call him ‘ice cream uncle’. He home-delivers them to me,” replied Jhilik smugly.

“And your parents don’t know about this?” Anindita couldn’t believe her ears.

“No. Only Riya knows about it, and she gets a fair share of the ice cream. Also, she doesn’t snitch, which is why I trust her,” Jhilik confessed unabashedly. “Ice cream uncle makes the delivery every afternoon, when me and Riya have returned from school and Papa is away at work.”

“And your Mom? She must have noticed it,” a perplexed Anindita wondered out loud.

“No. How will she? Mamma goes for a bath every afternoon after picking us up from school and dropping us home. That’s when I give a missed call from her phone to ‘ice cream uncle’. Then I delete it from the call history. Mamma usually takes 20 to 30 minutes to finish her bath – enough time for the ice cream to get delivered at our doorstep.”

“And then?”

“And then me and Riya finish it off in 10 minutes,” smiled Jhilik. “I keep the empty ice cream tubs in my school bag and throw them in the trash bin at school the next day.”

Anindita shook her head in disbelief. She was aware of the level of Jhilik’s street smartness, but what she heard just now was beyond her wildest imagination.

“So, you pay by cash?” She picked up her thoughts and asked after a while.

“Uff! Annie Aunty, you are so stupid!” Jhilik replied in mock annoyance. “How am I supposed to pay by cash? I can’t steal, can I? So, I pay online.”

“How?” Anindita’s curiosity was growing by the minute.

“Simple. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I pay online using Papa’s phone when he goes for a shower early morning. On the remaining days, I pay from Mamma’s phone. The trick lies in keeping the payment amounts small so they don’t notice. Always delete the OTP messages from their phones, and never use the same phone on successive days. It has all been working smoothly so far.”

Chapter 3 – The Code

“What you are doing is not right. I hope you know that. It is stealing in a different form,” Anindita tried to drill some morals into Jhilik while keeping her eye on the road.

“Hmm … not as per my code,” Jhilik responded dismissively. “And as per Papa’s code, everything I do is wrong.”

“Really! What is Papa’s code?”

“You don’t know? Papa has lived his entire life by a code. He calls it ‘The Code’. He learnt it from Grandma, she used to follow it strictly.”

“Ah, yes! I have heard about it. It’s his own set of morals and principles, isn’t it?” Anindita tried to recollect fondly.

“Yes. Morals, values, ethics, and a lot more. It’s pretty heavy stuff,” frowned Jhilik. “He has been brainwashing me for years. Now, he is doing the same to Riya.”

“It’s called upbringing, not brainwashing,” Anindita tried to correct Jhilik’s perspective. But Jhilik carried on with her rant, oblivious of the fact that morality is a matter of objectivity and not of opinion.

“For example, Papa insisted that Mamma should continue using her maiden name even after marriage because Grandma had taught him that it was the right thing to do. Grandma believed that the custom of a married woman adopting her husband’s surname is demeaning and insulting – as if she becomes her husband’s property after marriage. Papa grew up with the notion that this custom was unethical and instead forced Mamma to continue using her maiden name.”

“Well … your Grandma was certainly a trailblazer way back in the 1960s and 1970s,” replied Anindita with admiration. “She was a feminist even before feminism came to India. She had radical ideals and thoughts. She was a role model for many women of that era.”

“That might have been so, but forcing Mamma to follow her ideals cannot be justified,” Jhilik fumed. “Grandma might have been right, but Mamma comes from a conservative background. She was brought up to believe that adopting her husband’s last name after marriage was a mark of honour and respect. Denying that right to her because of an ancient code that Grandma wrote 50 years ago is cruel.”

Anindita did not respond. Jhilik’s argument seemed to carry enough logic to compel her to think and keep listening.

“Mamma was very hurt. She has not forgiven Papa till date. She was never given the choice to decide for herself,” Jhilik continued, voicing her aggravation and discontent. “Just because something sounds right does not mean it should be imposed upon others. Freedom of choice is more important than sticking to morals.”

“So, that is your code? Free Will above everything else?” Anindita finally got the message.

“Yes. You are free to do what you think is right, and I am free to do what I think is right,” concluded Jhilik. “What’s the point of following principles and ethics in life unless you do not have the freedom to choose them?”

Chapter 4 – The Picnic (at last!)

“How about we go on a picnic today instead of having lunch at home?” I proposed enthusiastically as soon as we reached home with Anindita in tow. “It’s been ages since we have been to a picnic. Nehru Park, what do you say?”

Click to read all episodes of Yellow Strawberries

Yellow Strawberries – sweet stories of Gen Alpha and doting parents

“Sounds splendid,” Anindita supported wholeheartedly. But there was no such sign of excitement from the kids. Riya kept quiet, and Jhilik sounded sceptical.

“Picnic is okay as long as it’s not outdoors,” she said. “It’s too hot, too dusty, and there are mosquitoes outside.”

“The whole point of going on a picnic is to spend a day in the outdoors,” I scoffed at her reluctance. “Heat, dust, and mosquitoes are an integral part of life in Delhi. Get used to them.”

So, off we went – three excited adults and two reluctant kids – on our long-awaited voyage to the serene landscape of Nehru Park. The ladies got a picnic basket ready in less than an hour – a remarkable feat in itself – before we all left in my car.

Luckily, Riya came alive as soon as we hit the road. Every time we came across a curve on the road, she pointed her little finger and yelled, “Mamma, B-E-N-D, bend!” She did this at least 10 times.

“She is learning new words in school,” my wife smiled indulgently. “New words like ‘bend’.”

“I am feeling hungry,” interjected Jhilik. “Can I have a sandwich now?”

“You ate at the mall less than three hours ago,” my wife could not hide her anguish. “Wait till we reach our picnic spot.”

“You know I have a high metabolism,” Jhilik shot back at her mother. “I feel hungry every three hours. Papa says I have a horse’s appetite.”

She then proceeded to pick up a sandwich from the picnic basket and took a large bite.

“A horse does not eat every three hours,” I could not resist the temptation to counter her claim. “A horse eats a lot in one go, not at short intervals.”

“That’s because a horse does not get to taste such yummy sandwiches,” said Jhilik with her mouth full. “This is simply yummy!”

It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached. I did not expect to find a crowd there, and there wasn’t any. Having a picnic on a hot April afternoon was far from a perfect decision. Worse, Jhilik’s predictions came true. There was too much dust and too many mosquitoes around.

“Feels just like the old days, doesn’t it?” I asked the ladies. “Feels just like my school days.”

“A man who lives in the past does not live at all,” Jhilik remarked tauntingly.

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory,” I countered Jhilik.

“Nostalgia is a seductive liar,” Jhilik responded by quoting George Wildman.

“Life is short, but the memories we create are forever,” I countered again, though I was not sure who said these lines.

“Enough, you two!” my wife admonished us mildly. “Stop boring us with your stupid quotes. Let’s have our sandwiches before they turn cold and soggy.”

The food was yummy, the experience felt awesome, and I, at least, made a lot of memories.

Chapter 5 – The Shrine

On our way back, my wife insisted on taking a detour to visit the Sai Baba Temple on Lodhi Road. She never missed an opportunity to go there, and today was no exception.

I accompanied her to the temple while Anindita stayed back in the car with the kids. She could not hold back her surprise when she saw me entering the temple.

“Your Papa is an atheist,” Anindita said to Jhilik. “Are you aware of it?”

“Yes, I know. We all know,” Jhilik replied matter-of-factly. “He doesn’t believe in God, nor do I.”

“And yet he went inside the temple!” Anindita sounded perplexed. “I have never seen him enter a temple before.”

“I have,” quipped Jhilik, “many times. But only when he is with Mamma. He never visits alone.”

“Is that so?” Anindita was curious.

“Yes. That’s the only good thing to have come out of Papa’s code. His family is his God. He will do anything for his family. Even visit a place of worship. Serving his family is like serving God, he says.”

“So, what does that tell you?” asked Anindita.

“That Papa’s code is not all that bad?” Jhilik replied with a question that she felt would be the correct answer.

“No,” replied Anindita. “It tells you that even an atheist needs to believe in a power higher than himself. Since it’s not God, it has to be his family. His home is his shrine, and his family is his God. I hope that you — a self-confessed atheist — keep that in mind when you grow up.”

—- Concluded —-

Yellow Strawberries Anthology of Short Stories

 Click here to read all episodes of Yellow Strawberries

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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.
All Posts of Prosenjit Purkait

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<div class=at-above-post addthis_tool data-url=></div>A part of us is aging, the body; however another part is still young, the mind. Learning wonderful new things is an ongoing and a never ending process.  The satisfaction that comes along with lifelong learning is immense.<!-- AddThis Advanced Settings above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings generic via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><div class=at-below-post addthis_tool data-url=></div><!-- AddThis Share Buttons generic via filter on get_the_excerpt -->
A part of us is aging, the body; however another part is still young, the mind. Learning wonderful new things is an ongoing and a never ending process. The satisfaction that comes along with lifelong learning is immense.