“Acha, very happy to see you again,” Mythili exclaimed when she saw her father as she answered the doorbell. It had been more than 6 months since she last saw him.
Her happiness quickly made way for petulance as she saw her father’s soiled shirt. “Why don’t you wear some of the nice shirts I had given last year? You always seem to wear only this one. Look at it, it’s dirty, the white color has faded and you look terrible wearing it,” she complained.
“Ha ha ha, it’s okay dear. You know I only wear this type. This is what I’m. Stop fussing about it.” Rama Panikker admonished.
“But still, look at you,” she pleaded. Her father just smiled.
Mythili realized that each time her father had come to visit the family – she, her husband and her two boys – he had on the same shirt – soiled, the white color drained and in a pathetic condition. She had felt sorry for him as he had to work really hard to bring up a large family. He was still the simple man of 30 years back, even though the situation had improved quite a bit. Mythili decided to do something about the shirt this time.
The family had an early but hearty lunch during which Rama Panikker had shared the happenings at the village.
“You know Keerthana, the daughter of the temple priest?” her father asked. “Oh yes, I know her,” Mythili answered.
“Ah, she eloped with a fellow student from her college last month. The priest and his wife were terribly agitated at this and it took a lot of effort to console them,” her father narrated.
“Oh God, did she come back? Or is she still not contacting her parents?” Mythili enquired.
“No, there is no information about her after the news of the elopement.” her father responded.
“The pawnbroker Kumaran has shut down his shop and gone to the Middle East,” her father continued.
Mythili’s husband Mayur looked up on hearing this piece of news. “The last time we saw him, he said his son was going to the Middle East. Is he joining his son or did he go of his own?” he asked.
“Yes, he is joining his son. Apparently, the son had earned some money and wanted Kumaran to join him. It’s unlikely they will return anytime soon,” Mythili’s father quipped.
Mayur smiled, nodded his head in understanding and went back to his lunch.
Rama Panikker asked about his grandchildrens’ school, happenings in the city and about the new home that Mythili and Mayur were planning to purchase later that summer.
The lunch done, Mythili’s father decided that he wanted to sleep for a while before he headed back home. Mythili agreed to wake him up at 3.30.
A while after he had gone to bed and was sound asleep, Mythili, Mayur and her two boys put a plan into action.
At 3.30 in the afternoon, Mythili woke her father up. “Acha, it’s 3.30,” she said.
Rama Panikker stirred, rubbed his eyes, stifled a yawn and said, “Okay, dear. Get me some tea. Soon after, I will be leaving. It’s a long journey back home.”
“Yes, Acha. By the time you get fresh, I will get tea for you.” Mythili promised.
He washed his face, arranged his bag and then looked for his shirt. It was then that he realized that the shirt wasn’t where he had placed it before his nap. He searched elsewhere in the room with no luck. It was missing.
“Mythili, where is my shirt?” he was suddenly agitated. He was a man or order and detested chaos.
“Please have your tea, Acha. I will search for your shirt. You must have misplaced it somewhere,” Mythili volunteered.
Rama Panikker stepped out and walked to the dining room where tea and snacks had been laid. As her father sipped the piping hot tea and partook the delicious snacks, Mythili and her two boys put another plan into action.
By the time Rama Panikker had finished his tea and snacks, Mythili was by his side again. “Your shirt is on the hanger in your room, Acha,” she said.
“Huh? But it…….it was not there when I looked,” her father was bewildered. He was sure his eyes did not play any tricks on him. It was true that he was getting older, but he trusted his eyes more than any other sense. He quickly went to the room where he had his nap and was astonished to find a white shirt, as good as new, in the hanger.
“This is not my shirt, Mythili,” he called out aloud.
“It is Acha. Just look at the inside of the collar. The label is the same. Your favorite,” Mythili tried to convince her father.
Not one to be easily fooled, her father took the shirt from the hanger and started inspecting it. “But….But….this can’t be mine. I had worn a different one when I came in the morning,” he insisted.
“There are none of your shirts here. So this has to be yours,” Mythili was trying hard to suppress a giggle.
“But how did it become whiter? Besides, the stains have vanished.” With each inspection, her father refused to believe that the shirt was his.
Seeing the confusion on her father’s face, Mythili decided to spill the beans. Her two boys started giggling.
“Acha, when you were asleep, I took the shirt which you had draped in the hanger, washed it thoroughly, laid it out in the hot sun to dry and put it back when you were having tea.”
“What?” Mythili’s father could not believe what he was hearing.
“Look at how better it is now. The dust is gone, the stains are gone. You’ll look more presentable.” Mythili made her point.
Rama Panikker could not believe that his dearest shirt had undergone a makeover. Though he was mildly upset at the state of his shirt, he was happy for his daughter and grandchildren. They indeed loved him.
He smiled finally and put on the shirt. Mythili was exceedingly happy to see her father wear the clean shirt. He looked at the mirror, grinned, took his bag and prepared to leave.
“I had better get going. It’s already 4:00 and I’m late because of the confusion with the shirt. I have to rush,” he was suddenly aware of the time.
“Mayur will drive you to the bus station. You will reach there faster and will get your usual 4:25 bus to the village,” Mythili said.
This was another surprise for him. His son-in-law had never dropped him off at the bus station, not even once.
The sound of the horn woke everyone up from their little reverie. Rama Panikker hugged his daughter and his grandchildren and stepped into the car. “Shall we go?” a smiling Mayur asked.
“Yes, son. Let’s go.”
The car soon started and Mythili’s father waved goodbye to his closest family. Mythili watched with teary eyes while her boys smiled at each other, quite happy at having been part of a prank but with good intentions.
Achan – father
This story is largely inspired from a true incident. However, the names of the characters are not real, they are imaginary.