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I know you will find it hard to believe, but once I was the reason the L&M left home on his birthday of all days. Don’t look so shocked. When I say ‘he left home’ I don’t mean ‘he left home’, if you know what I mean. Not in a huff or anything, rather that he went out because…. Oh well, this is no way to tell a story. So let me start at the beginning where all good stories – or essays, as the case may be – should start, except when told by yours truly. Anyways….

This happened three decades and more ago. It was only the second birthday of the L&M after our wedding and I decided to surprise him with a special dinner cooked at home. It was going to involve flowers, candles, the works. The surprise part of it was actually easy. At the time the L&M was the adjutant of his army unit and everyone knows the adjutant of any army unit is a harried and perpetually busy man who has no time for home or family. An adjutant goes to the office earlier than most and gets home the very last. The L&M was no different. But this also meant that he would get home only closer to dinner time which would work perfectly for me.

D-day dawned. The ingredients had all been assembled with the help of the orderly. The L&M came home for lunch and afterwards took a cat nap as was his habit. When he woke up half an hour later I gave him his tea. The normal routine involved him changing into sports gear of white shorts, tee and canvas shoes while still sipping his tea. Uncharacteristically enough, that day he lingered over his tea like a man who had all the time in the world.

I walked to the kitchen, took some of the things out of the fridge and left them to thaw. When I returned, the L&M was sprawled on the settee, playing with our son. Eh? What was happening? I was beginning to get nervous. I wanted him gone from home as early as possible so I could get down to preparating dinner. After all I was still new at this business of cooking and felt I needed all the time I could get to make it work. Besides, I had to factor in time for the baby too who could make demands on my time as per his whim. Besides what if something went wrong with one of the dishes? I’d need to come up with some alternative.

In short, time was of essence. So I had no choice but ask the question:

“Aren’t you going out for ‘games’ today?”

He didn’t hear me the first time, involved as he was with making our son laugh and so I had to repeat my question.

He looked up then and replied,. “No, I have taken the evening off today to be at home.”

I was dismayed. There went my plans of a ‘surprise’! Something must have shown on my face because he was immediately alert and curious too. ‘What is it?’ he wanted to know. I sighed inwardly. He wouldn’t rest until he had prised it out of me. Anyway I had no good excuses ready up my sleeve. Sheepishly I confessed about the plans for a surprise dinner.

The poor guy felt sorry for having spoiled my efforts for his birthday, and on the spur decided to go out for a while with our baby son. I don’t know where they went, but it wasn’t for long. When they got back though, dad and son spent the time together in the living room, never once disturbing me.

After all these years, I don’t remember what I had cooked on the special day, but whatever it was, it had been a success. The only problem was when I switched off the lights and fan and lighted the candles. Immediately the room turned into an oven in the harsh North Indian summer and we started perspiring freely. So the candles were given the go-bye and we resumed our dinner beneath the glaring tubelight with the celling fan on at full speed.

Many birthdays have since come and gone and I have managed to surprise the L&M to my heart’s content with a creative choices of gifts, dinners, et all since that first time. Now though is a different story. With him retired and in the house all the time, there are no more chances for surprises. Birthdays now mean a dinner ordered from some place nice and a movie on Netflix. So that’s what we did yesterday.

© Shail Mohan 2021