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The Birthday Party
by Amita Sinha

The phone rang again. Suneel picked up. It was Sheetal again. �Papa you will come on time wont you?� �Yes sweetie, don�t worry. I will be there soon. Go help mom and nani to decorate the drawing room ok.� It was Sheetals 12th birthday party and all her friends were coming. It was 4 p.m. and Vaishali and Aradhana had already arrived. The rest of the gang was supposed to come at 6 p.m. sharp. Sheetal was worried because her papa could be late what with all the work at the office.

Neelima, Sheetal�s mom had invited family friends too. Mrs. Sinha was coming with her granddaughters Arushi and Shambhavi. The Shrivastavas were coming but would be a bit late because they were going to drop their house guests to the airport first. The Mehtas, Mr. and Mrs. Verma and Radha and Sameer were coming too. Then Sheetal�s nani, Mrs. Nigam had already come with her two maids, Shanti and Naina. Both the maids were busy in the kitchen helping the cook Shyam and his wife Mira. Mohan the Gardner was busy arranging flowers in different vases to be put all around.

Sheetal was playing in the garden with her two friends. The bell rang and Bahadur, the chowkidar, opened the door. It was the man from the cake shop. �Oh! Goody! The cake has arrived,� shrieked Aradhana and went inside with the other two to inspect the cake shaped like a clown holding lots of balloons. �Oh! Its super Sheetal,� chorused her friends. �Nani, did you see my cake? It is so nice and yummy,� asked an overexcited Sheetal. �Yes yes dearie I have. It has to be the best because it�s my favourite darling�s birthday cake,� smiled Mrs. Annapoorna Nigam. She loved her granddaughter very much, more so because she couldn�t see much of her other grandchild Vivek who was in America staying with his parents, Sheetal�s mama Ranjit and her mami Priya.

�Naniji come to the kitchen please. See if the samosas are coming out well,� called Naina. �Coming, coming dear,� said Mrs. Nigam. �Ah! The samosas as well as the kachoris smell delicious. How about the gulab jamuns Shanti? Better hurry up. There are still lots left to fry.� �Don�t worry Naniji. They will be ready on time.� �What are you doing Mira? Oh! You are getting the dahi baras ready, good. Where is Shyam? Has he made the club sandwiches and shami kebabs yet?� asked a slightly flustered Neelima. �Go and rest beta. I will see to all the preparations,� smiled Mrs. Nigam, patting her daughter on her shoulder.

The children and Neelima rested for awhile and then started to get ready. Dhanno danced into the house with ironed clothes for the evening. �Naina, take Naniji�s sari. Don�t spoil the pressed folds,� admonished Dhanno. �Where is my bakshish mem saab?� �You will get everything. Come early in the morning and Sheetal herself will give you your new suit.� �Thank you, mem saab,� smiled Dhanno.

Both Sheetal�s friends were getting ready while she had already worn her new frock which her nani had given her. At last the guests arrived and the celebration began. Everyone was served cold drinks first by the three maids while cheery music played in the background. The last of the guests arrived. It was seven but Suneel was still not around. He had called at a quarter past six and told Sheetal he was just about to leave the office. She expected her father latest by twenty to seven because the office was close by and Arjun the driver had gone to pick Suneel up at a quarter to six, just after picking up and dropping the cold drink crates.. Now the clock showed seven fifteen and still no sign of the master of the house. Sheetal felt like crying. Her friends were all playing passing the parcel but she was standing near the window looking out at the lighted driveway.

At seven thirty even Neelima started feeling a bit uneasy. She came and whispered to her mother �ma what do you think could have happened? No one is answering the office phone and the cell is switched off. Where could Suneel have gotten to? Sheetal is about to cry.� �Don�t worry Neelam. He will be here soon.� Just then Suneel�s car turned into the driveway and Sheetal ran outside. �Papa why are you so late? You promised you will be at my party on time.� Suneel got down from the car but he was not alone. A sweet little boy of about five years old got down from the car and smiled at Sheetal. �Papa who is this?� questioned Sheetal. �I will tell you everything sweetheart. Come inside.�

Once inside Neelima and her mom bombarded Suneel with questions about the newcomer. �First of all Sheetal come here and take your special present,� said Suneel sitting on the sofa. Sheetal came to him and he gave her a box wrapped in a golden wrapping paper. Together with the bigger box there was a small box too. The card on the smaller box read �with love to Sheetal didi from Vibhor.� The bigger box contained a lovely wrist watch with a golden band from her father. �Thank you papa. It is a super gift. What�s in this box? She opened the smaller box and found a small box of her favorite lemon cream chocolates. �Thank you Vibhor,� Sheetal smiled shyly at the him. The little boy came and stood next to her slowly groping and finding her hand. He held it tightly looking up at her with a radiant smile. �Papa who is this boy,� asked Sheetal.

Suneel smiled all around and introduced the small boy as Vibhor, his long lost friend�s son. �Do you remember Neelima, I had told you about my college as well as school best friend Kaushal. Well this is his son. Just as I was leaving the office a man came to me with Vibhor and a letter from Kaushal in which he had written that he had had a love marriage and was staying in Pune with his wife Leshma and son Vibhor. Leshma died in a fire a few years back and Kaushal lost al interest in life. He started drinking all day and night and very soon his liver gave out. He died a week back and had written to me before, that after he was dead, Vibhor would be sent to me. He got my address through another common friend, Kishor who had met him accidentally while in Pune for a holiday. Kishor came and fetched the boy from Pune and has sent him to me through his manager. Kaushal wanted me to keep Vibhor with me as an adopted son but I will only do so if you and Sheetal are pally with the idea. Otherwise he can go to boarding school.� There was an uneasy calm all around while people looked at each other with surprised expressions. At last, Neelima spoke �I wouldn�t mind a ready made son but it all depends on Sheetal.� Sheetal whispered to her father, �papa do you think if I let Vibhor stay with us, you will love him more?� �No darling, you are the best. My wonderful gift from God and I love you more than anything in my life, but I think I will love your brother a lot too,� smiled her father. �That is fine papa,� said Sheetal and took her new brother�s hand and marched into the dining room calling, �come on everyone, let�s cut the cake.� There was laughter all around and much eating and drinking. At night, Sheetal put her arms around her father and said, �thank you papa for such a wonderful birthday present. I love you even more for giving me a sweet little brother to care for.�

The stars shone a shade brighter that night and the two children slept a tired but dreamless sleep.

Now Sheetal was twenty one and Vibhor fourteen and they were devoted to each other. Neelima was thrilled by Vibhor�s exam results and Suneel had already started talking to others about how very soon his son Vibhor would be helping him in his business concerns. Shyam and Mira loved to make besan halwa for Vibhor baba who also always made them smile with his ready to be told jokes. Sheetal couldn�t imagine a more loving brother and she always showered him with care, love and special presents.  

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