Ten-year-old Preeti looked at the computer screen. She had received an email from the editor of the site Natkhat informing her that her story had been accepted for publication. The editor wanted to create Preeti’s home page and had sent her a questionnaire asking her to list out her favourite things.

The very first question was – who is your favourite person?

“Mr. Rajeev Kumar, my papa,” she typed out on the keyboard without any hesitation.

The Beast
The Beast [Illustrations by Anup Singh]

She looked at her father who was busy reading a newspaper. Yes, there was no doubt – he was her favourite person. Tall, fair, with a not very thick moustache, a sharp nose and bright, intense eyes which crinkled up when he smiled – he looked much younger than his age and, to Preeti, he was as handsome as her current favourite, Indian film star Hrithik Roshan.

Though Preeti was very fond of her mother she found her papa a lot more fun to be with. He told her stories, took her out for jogging in the morning, and even played table tennis with her. He had a great sense of humour and was always pulling some one’s leg, making Preeti laugh.

But there was one quality of his that she didn’t like. He had a vicious temper. He didn’t lose it frequently, but when he did it was terrible. His eyes would become two narrow points breathing fire, his nostrils would flare, face would turn red and ears would go scarlet. He would start breathing rapidly, as if he had run a mile, and his hands would start shaking. Anger made him a completely different person.

Preeti had read a story called Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, in which a decent doctor at certain times suddenly gets transformed into a violent, monster-like man. Well, during his fits of temper her father, too, transformed from a sweet and adorable person to a fearsome… She didn’t want to use the word even to herself, but she knew it was the truth – monster.

This was the only time when she felt terribly uncomfortable with him. Otherwise her papa’s company was truly the best.

One evening Preeti and her papa were watching TV.

“Papa.”

“Yes, sweetheart.”

“Is Nayak uncle a bad man?”

Sarath Nayak was her father’s colleague.

“No, of course not. Why do you ask?”

“That day you were saying that drinking is very bad. And in Seth Uncle’s party I saw Nayak uncle drinking.”

“Oh that!” he laughed, throwing his head back and pulling her close. Switching off the TV, he explained what he had meant. “Yes, I personally believe drinking is harmful for health.

But more important, many people, without realising, often drink a little too much. And when this happens they lose control over themselves. In that state they are no better than the beasts of the jungle. I would never like to reach that stage. And that is why I don’t touch alcohol, he said.”

“Papa, Nayak uncle is your best friend. Why don’t you ask him to stop drinking.”

“Listen Preeti, I consider alcohol to be bad, but that is my personal belief. He does not agree with me. I have told him a couple of times but he has always laughed it away. Doesn’t matter really – to drink or not to drink is a personal choice. I do not allow that to come between me and Sarath.”

A couple of months later Preeti’s father decided to take her to the club for a swim. It was Preeti’s first day in the pool and she was very excited about it.

They were a few kilometres from the club when, suddenly, a dog darted across the road. To avoid hitting it, Rajeev swerved his car a little to the left.

As he did so a jeep coming from behind at full speed overtook the Maruti from the wrong side, its fender scraping the car on the side. The car shook with the impact. The driver of the jeep raced ahead at breakneck speed without so much as a glance.

Preeti looked at her Papa. His face was livid and his eyes were blazing.

“You scoundrel, you…” he screamed using words she had only heard her servant’s children utter. He pressed his foot on the accelerator and the car shot ahead. Preeti gripped the door handle so tightly that her knuckles turned white.

A minute or two later they had reached the unmanned traffic lights. The signal had turned red and the jeep was standing. Rajeev drove right next to it and jumped out of the car. Preeti watched in horror as he yanked the driver out of the jeep and smashed his fist into the young man’s face.

As the driver fell against the jeep two other men, the same age as the driver, got down and attacked Rajeev. Preeti screamed and fainted.

When Preeti opened her eyes she found herself in her room. Her mother was sitting beside her. Her eyes were red. Her papa was sitting next to her. There was a band aid strip on his forehead and bruises on his cheeks and chin.

Later, she came to know that the brawl had turned really ugly. Though a crowd had gathered, no one had bothered or dared to interfere. Luckily, their neighbour, Inder Singh, who had happened to pass by, managed to get Rajeev and Preeti safely home with the timely help of a policeman.

The next day was a Sunday. Rajeev was sitting in the lawn reading the morning newspaper. Preeti sat down on the stool beside him.

“Papa?”

“Yes, darling,” he looked up.

“Papa, that day you you told me that people who get drunk often lose control.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“And you also said that when one loses control, one becomes a beast.”

“Yes, Prieeti.”

“But Papa, yesterday on the road, you also lost contol. Then…then were you also….” she stopped and looked at him.

Rajeev’s face turned red and she thought he would shout at her. He stared at his daughter for a long time, and then pulled her onto his lap, giving her a tight hug.

“Yes, my child. I did behave like a beast. Anger does bring out the animal in me. I probably knew it all along but I think, little one, it is you who have made me realise it.”

“Papa when you get angry I feel terribly scared. I start shivering with fear. Last night I couldn’t sleep. I had a nightmare that you had killed the driver of the jeep and…and…” Preeti started crying.

“Come on, sweetheart I’ll try…no I will not try, I will simply do it – I will control my temper. And if you ever find me getting angry, show me a mirror. Or, if there is no mirror, ask me to look into your eyes and I will stop.”

“Why?”

“I will see myself turning into a beast, that’s why. I’ll imagine horns coming out of my head and a tail emerging from my backside,” Rajeev said and laughed.

Preeti, too, burst out laughing as she planted a kiss on her papa’s handsome face.

That evening Preeti was in her room reading an Enid Blyton when Rajeev walked in.

He was carrying a bouquet and a card.

“Come Preeti, we are going to Himayatnagar.”

“Why papa?”

“Irfan, the driver of the jeep, lives there. During our scuffle I broke his jaw and his arm. Both the bouquet and get well card, are for him.”

“Papa, that is very sweet of you and I am sure Irfan will feel very happy and forget his anger,” Preeti said jumping up and giving her father a bear hug.