December 6, 2020

Pyaar

(c) J. Singh, 2020

As a child, she had always been quiet and shy. Unlike the other kids who always wanted to play with each other and readily make new friends, she would prefer to spend time with only her Mom or Dad. Even in the playground, she always wanted Mom and Dad nearby as she climbed on the play structures or slid down the slides.

Meena Kaur was slim and pretty, with delicate features and long, black hair. She attracted attention everywhere she went, with people giving her big smiles and compliments. She felt uncomfortable with so much focus on her, and would grasp her Dad’s hand tightly and hide behind him, peeking out at the smiling stranger with a mixture of curiosity and distrust.

Much to the dismay of her parents, her shyness did not diminish as she grew up. At kids birthday parties, she preferred to play by herself rather than with any of the other kids. Meena’s father, Giandeep, was concerned about her, and would talk with her, asking her how she felt in these situations. Her mother, Basant Kaur, was also worried.

“Why doesn’t she make many friends?” she wondered out loud to Giandeep. “She is almost four now, she should be venturing out on her own and making new friendships and playing with other kids. It seems like all she wants is for us to play with her.”

“Don’t worry,” Giandeep reassured his wife in his calm way, “She may be hesitating a bit, maybe she just needs to feel a little more secure.”

In the summer, they would visit the neighborhood park where all the kids would congregate and play, running in the grass, climbing the play structures, and sliding down the slides. Meena grabbed her fathers hand as usual and pulled him towards the see-saw. She climbed on one end of it and looked around.

“Do you want to play with some of the other kids?” Giandeep asked her gently.

She remained quiet for a moment, surveying the landscape with all the kids playing and laughing. Then she shook her head. She would play by herself, as always.

Giandeep sighed, then squatted down beside Meena.

“Meena,” he said, “can I ask you a question?”

She looked at him with her big eyes and nodded.

“Why don’t you want to play with anyone else?”

She didn’t respond, just kept staring at him without blinking.

He continued, “I can see Shreya over there on the monkey bars. You know her, we went to her house last week for her birthday party, remember? Also there’s Madhvi, oh and Jennifer, and there’s Rob.”

These were all kids that Meena had met before. Giandeep was trying to point out to her that the park was not full of strangers, that these were familiar faces that she didn’t need to feel anxious about.

Meena didn’t respond, she just kept staring at Giandeep.

He sighed, and was about to give up. Just then, she blurted out, “I don’t want to, I don’t like it.”

“Why?” he probed, “It’s not fun?”

“It is fun,” she admitted.

“Then how come you don’t like it?” He decided to mimic a funny voice, “Hey, did any of the other kids behave badly?”

Now she seemed to open up, and spoke more freely. “No, but I saw that girl with the nail polish, she was pushing Rahul, you know that boy? And he fell down and he had a big ouch!”

“Oh, that’s not very nice,” said Giandeep, still employing the cartoon voice, “Did she say sorry?”

Meena nodded, “Um, yah,” she said, “and she helped to pick him up and she asked him if he was okay.”

“Are you scared that you might get hurt?”

Meena nodded.

“Well, you know, when you are playing, especially with other kids, sometimes you might fall down or you might get a little scratch here or there. It’s a small ouch, but it won’t be a biiiig ouch.”

Meena thought about what he was saying.

“So, if I get an ouch, will you put some medicine on it, and a band-aid?”

“Of course,” Giandeep said, “and it will feel better soon.”

This seemed to satisfy Meena. She climbed off the see-saw and stood staring at the kids in the playground.

Shreya noticed her, jumped off the monkey bars and came running.

“Meena! Meena! Want to play?”

Meena looked at her Dad with eyes full of trepidation. Giandeep smiled warmly and nodded.

“Go ahead,” he said reassuringly, “I’ll be right here.”

The girls ran off together, holding hands.

When Basant came out to the park, she was surprised to see Meena playing with Shreya.

“How did you manage that?” she asked with a huge smile.

“She’s afraid of getting hurt,” he replied, watching Meena play.

Later that night, as he was tucking her into bed, he asked Meena what she thought of her day.

“Was it fun? Or not fun?” he queried.

“It was fun,” she said, pulling the bed covers up to her chin.

“You were not scared?”

“I was,” she nodded, “so that feeling was not so great.”

“I watched you the whole time, and you did great!”

She smiled up at him.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, Meena?”

“Will I ever be not-scared?”

“Yes of course.”

“But when?”

“I tell you what, you know when we always say thank you to Vahegurooji for everything, the food we eat, our toys, our friends, everything?”

“Yea.”

“Well, there is something else that Vahegurooji also gives us, and that is courage.”

“What’s courage?”

“It’s what we get when we feel scared about something, but we do it anyway. Just like you did today, when you went to play with Shreya. You were feeling scared, but you still did it. You were courageous.”

Meena thought for a moment, digesting this new information. Then she asked, “How do we get courage from Vahegurooji?”

“You can get it like this. Repeat after me.”

“Okay.”

Deh Shiva Bar Mohe Eh-Hey.”

She repeated the words as best as she could approximate. Being the first time she had ever heard them, it took several attempts to get the right enunciation. Giandeep gently helped her along the way. He continued line by line.

Shubh Karman Te Kabhoon Na Taroon.”

He spent a few minutes explaining each line to her in simple words and using examples that she could understand. He dwelt on this line, giving her several examples and explaining to her that if she was determined, she could accomplish anything.

Nischey Kar Apni Jeet Karoon.”

When they had finished, her eyelids were heavy with sleep and she was yawning.

“Remember these lines we said,” he told her, “whenever you feel afraid. If you remember them, I promise you that you won’t be scared anymore. You will feel strong, and Vahegurooji will give you courage to face anything, any situation that may come in life.”

“Okay Daddy,” she said, already half asleep, “I will remember, I promise.”

He smiled and kissed her forehead.

“Goodnight Meena, I love you.”

As the years passed, Meena eventually came out of her shell and became comfortable playing with other kids. So much so, in fact, that she became adept at forging lasting and deep friendships. She also emerged as a leader among her peer group. Other children often looked to her for guidance and as an example of model behavior. Soon, she began taking on more formal roles like class president.

There were many moments, though, when she would feel afraid and run and hide in the closet. Then Giandeep would have to go and find her, hiding among the clothes, and calmly sit down and talk with her about what was going on. She would eventually tell him, and he would understand what it was that was bothering her. And together they would recite the lines he had taught her, and then she would feel better, and give him a confident nod that she was ready to go out and face the world again.

It happened the day before her final exams and she felt too overwhelmed by the stress of it all. And again when she had to adjust to the chaotic life of a freshman in college. When she discovered that some of the girls she had thought of as dear friends were really spreading vicious rumors about her, she was devastated and wouldn’t talk with anyone about it. Sitting alone in her dormitory room with only her tears for company, she recalled the words that her father had taught her. In between her sobs, she recited the lines, again and again, and she felt the familiar warm glow building up inside her. It was always there to give her the strength she needed, just like her Dad had promised.

She graduated with honors, and as she entered a new phase of her life, new challenges came with it. Now she was working as an attorney, and the days were often long and stressful. She spent many hours engaged in preparing the cases and the courtroom. It took a lot of energy. She faced challenges in the workplace — being the only female and the only minority in the prestigious law firm where she worked. The cases she took on where difficult and strenuous. But she was able to handle these challenges with grace and determination. She remembered her fathers words.

As time passed, Meena and her parents were getting ready for the next phase of her life. Soon, she was going to get married. The groom was from a city about two hours away. But just as the wedding preparations were getting started, tragedy struck.

Meena got the urgent call that her father had been involved in a motor vehicle accident. She immediately rushed to the hospital. In the hallway outside his room, her mother tearfully informed her that he was in a coma. The doctors said that he might be able to hear her, but they were really not sure.

Meena entered the eerily quiet hospital room slowly. The lights were dimmed, and there was a pale blue glow around the floor and bed where Giandeep lay. The only sound was the beeping of one of the many monitors that surrounded Giandeep’s bed. He lay motionless on his back, with tubes coming out of his mouth and attached to his arms. His face was bruised and swollen, as if he had been in a terrible fight. One eye was black and blue. Bandages had been wrapped on his right arm and hand. The rest of his body was covered by a sheet.

Meena walked slowly to his side, tears silently streaming down her face. She reached for his hand and gently held it. He lay there, unaware and unresponsive.

Moments from her childhood flashed through her mind. When she had been a shy little girl on the playground, and he had sat next to her, giving her positive encouragement. When she had been running and had fallen down, and he had picked her up. When she had been hurt and upset and hidden in the closet, and he had come looking for her, and then sat in the closet with her until she felt better. He had always been there for her. He had been her rock, her source of strength, someone she could always depend on. She had always felt safe when her Dad was there. And now, he was in trouble. He was in desperate trouble.

The enormity of the situation bore down on her heavily. She sobbed quietly, unaware of what to do or how to help. She felt helpless and hopeless. How could she help him, when there was nothing even the doctors could do. She felt like wailing, unable to contain the frustration and anguish that was welling up inside her. She wanted to run and hide. She didn’t think she was strong enough to face this.

But she was not a child anymore. Now, she was a grown-up. And her father, who had been there for her entire life, was the one who needed her now. She realized this. And with this realization came understanding and wisdom.

She took a slow, deep breath. Her composure steadied, her eyes gazed upon her fathers face with a deep love and determination. He had been her rock, now it was her turn to be his hope.

She leaned down and kissed his forehead tenderly, still holding on to his hand. Then she whispered in his ear, “Deh Shiva Bar Mohe Eh-Hey, Shubh Karman Te Kabhoon Na Taroon, Na Daroon Arr Seo Jab Jaye Laroon, Nischey Kar Apni Jeet Karoon. Nischey Kar Apni Jeet Karoon. Nischey Kar Apni Jeet Karoon.”

It was very quiet in the room. No sound except the soft beeping of the monitors. Time stood still as Meena watched her father intently.

And then, without warning, she felt one of his fingers move. Then, a very slight squeeze. She could barely feel it, but it was unmistakable. He had heard her! Through tears of gratitude and joy, she said, “Daddy? You can hear me!”

It took several more weeks for Giandeep to recover enough to be able to sit up in bed and have a conversation, and many more months of physical therapy rehabilitation, but he was eventually able to walk and return to his normal life. And through it all, Basant and Meena were by his side.

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