"How long will you be poring over that newspaper? Will you come here right away and make your darling daughter eat her food?"
I tossed the paper away and rushed to the scene.
My only daughter Sindu looked frightened. Tears were welling up in her eyes. In front of her was a bowl filled to its brim with Curd Rice.
Sindu is a nice child, quite intelligent for her age. She has just turned eight. She particularly detested Curd Rice. My mother and my wife are orthodox and believe firmly in the "cooling effects" of Curd Rice.
I cleared my throat and picked up the bowl. "Sindu, darling, why don't you take a few mouthful of this Curd Rice? Just for Dad's sake, dear. If you don't, your Mom will shout at me."
I could sense my wife's scowl behind my back.
Sindu softened a bit and wiped her tears with the back of her hands. "OK, Dad. I will eat not just a few mouthfuls, but the whole lot of this. But, you should..." Sindu hesitated. "Dad, if I eat this entire Curd Rice, will you give me whatever I ask for?"
"Oh sure, darling."
I covered the pink soft hand extended by my daughter with mine and clinched the deal.
"Ask Mom also to give a similar promise," my daughter insisted.
My wife slapped her hand on Sindu's muttering "Promise," without any emotion.
Now I became a bit anxious. "Sindu, you shouldn't insist on getting a computer or any such expensive items. Dad does not have that kind of money right now. OK?"
"No, Dad. I do not want anything expensive."
Slowly and painfully, she finished eating the whole quantity.
I was silently angry with my wife and my mother for forcing my child to eat something that she detested.
After the ordeal was through, Sindu came to me with her eyes wide with expectation. All of our attention was on her.
"Dad, I want to have my head shaved off this Sunday," was her demand!
"Atrocious!" shouted my wife, "a girl child having her head shaved off? Impossible!"
"Never in our family!" my mother rasped. "She has been watching too much of television. Our culture is getting totally spoiled with these TV programs!"
"Sindu, why don't you ask for something else? We will be sad seeing you with a clean-shaven head."
"No, Dad. I do not want anything else," Sindu said with finality.
"Please Sindu, why don't you try to understand our feelings?" I tried to plead with her.
"Dad, you saw how difficult it was for me to eat that Curd Rice," Sindu was in tears. "And you promised to grant me whatever I ask for. Now, you are going back on your words. Was it not you who told me the story of King Harishchandra and its moral that we should honor our promises no matter what?"
It was time for me to call the shots. "Our promise must be kept."
"Are you out your mind?" chorused my mother and wife.
"No. If we go back on our promises, she will never learn to honour her own. Sindu, your wish will be fulfilled."
With her head clean-shaven, Sindu had a round-face, and her eyes looked big and beautiful.
On Monday morning, I dropped her at her school. It was a sight to watch my hairless Sindu walking towards her classroom.
She turned around and waved.
I waved back with a smile. Just then, a boy alighted from a car, and shouted, "Sinduja, please wait for me!"
What struck me was the hairless head of that boy. "Maybe that is the 'in' stuff," I thought.
"Sir, your daughter Sinduja is great indeed!"
Without introducing herself, a lady got out of the car, and continued, "That boy who is walking along with your daughter is my son Harish. He is suffering from leukemia."
She paused to muffle her sobs. "Harish could not attend the school for the whole of the last month. He lost all of his hair due to the side effects of the chemotherapy. He refused to come back to school fearing the unintentional but cruel teasing of the schoolmates.
"Sinduja visited him last week and promised him that she would take care of the teasing issue. But I never imagined she would sacrifice her lovely hair for the sake of my son! Sir, you and your wife are blessed to have such a noble soul as your daughter."
I stood transfixed. And then, I wept.
"My little Angel, will you teach me what love is?"