His siblings called him an ‘emotional fool’.
His friends considered him a ‘strange character’.
His parents had given up on him long ago. The ‘Black Sheep’!
To him, the library was the toy shop. He was excited to enter it, and never wanted to leave it – like a child, in the toy-shop! He could spend hours in the library – browsing through the epitomes to yellow journals; at times reading – cover to cover, often just skimming. He moved with the writer; laughed at times; and shed few silent tears. But reading – he continued.
He did not care about anything – except reading.
He felt the power of the words – the words gave him the wings, the words soothed and suffocated him. He found the laughter and the tears on the same page; and he was astounded by the yetis on Himalayan ranges and ETs on Mars. And wept with joy when the sailors or warriors returned home safe and sound!
Few reads made him think, and speculate as to implications on his own life. One of the books about letters from the mother to her children made him sit up. In this book, the poor mother, instead of giving a gift, wrote love drenched letter to each birthday child. It did not matter whether the reasons were economic or esoteric – the idea appealed to and remained with him.
“One day, one day – when I am old enough – and have children of my own, I shall write to them such loving letters. Each letter will express my feelings; and hopefully, the child will relish receiving this gift, as much as I in giving. One day, one day!”
And the day came few decades later. A family of his own, and the bright children, who were apples of the parents eyes. And just before the twelfth birthday, he wrote a short but powerful letter to his eldest child. An unequivocal expression of love; coupled with pinch of sound advise on entering the ‘teen-age’ life. And rounded with recollection of good times that the child brought into their lives.
Disappointment, if any, on receipt of letter instead of ‘gift’ was well-hidden; and the child expressed the delight – “You made my day, thank you very much dad!”
This continued for the other child – and then onwards each year for both of them. There was no set formula for the letter, no rules as to which topics to be included or excluded – everything went in, and the contents of the heart poured out! The reaction from the child varied – and one day:
“I loved your letter – and I shall cherish it forever. It brought tears but the ending was hilarious!”
This was the culmination of his happiness. He had reached the place he wanted to… Make his children laugh and cry.
And he doubled his efforts – now including various occasions (besides birthdays) to the personal letters. Festive occasions, Christmas and New Year (combined) and sometimes ‘Just no-occasion” letter or two. He cared not for publishing or readers and readership / followership. His family was his audience; and he continued to bask in their adulations.
Then the problems hit him – hard and fast – one after another; taking almost his life and breath away. He winced with physical and mental anguish; and he couldn’t be positive in his thinking – much less in writing.
“What should I write for my child’s birthday? I have no positive thoughts. All I see is black; and I don’t want to write about it.”
A piece of paper containing his signature at the bottom right corner was received with equal enthusiasm.
“Dad, thanks for the cheque – it’s one of the first coming from you!”
And it hurt –Hurt – unlike white blinding flashes in the brain. Wincing – not because of stabs of pains in the abdomen, he gulped.
“All my efforts for NIL?” He speculated.
For subsequent birthday, he made a valiant effort, and jotted down few original and profound thoughts, mixed with right amount of humour and advise. He signed off “Dad” at the bottom right side of the letter; “Dad” and not his name – like he had done on the cheque folio.
“Brilliant, I love it; and I will always cherish / treasure it!”
He got the much anticipated input. But he felt the roar a bit tepid.
He skipped the Christmas and the New Year. And waited for the outcry.
“What? No special letter for me? How come? What’s happening?”
There was none. Nor on the first missed birthday in a dozen years.
Firing up his old laptop, he re-read the first letter written to the child on twelfth birthday. And he laughed; and he cried.
He cared no more.