Sushma was grief stricken. It was only third day today. She had to kill some twelve more days of self-imposed quarantine.
Long back her school friend Damayanti had written that she would be visiting India for a conference. Due to paucity of time she would not be in a position to pay a visit to her place. She had requested Sushma to meet her at airport and drop her at the hotel or just escort her and be with her till the hotel, so that the two friends could spend some little time for themselves. That seemed a better idea as both were otherwise busy in their respective life and priorities. The programme planned in this manner suited both of them.
When the itinerary was fixed everything in the world was going on smoothly. But, by the time Damayanti landed in India, things had gone topsy-turvy. Not knowing anything about Covid-19 or the so called, Corona Virus, Sushma had gone to fetch her friend. Airport authorities had insisted on testing each and every passenger coming into India from Corona affected countries and also testing each and every individual with whom they had developed a contact. Irrespective of anyone turning positive for Corona or not, it was insisted that the person had to undergo fourteen days of isolation.
Sushma left Damayanti at the hotel and the hotel staff took care of Damayanti’s isolation, while Sushma was isolated at her residence. That was how she happened to count her days. So far, by now she had crossed only two days and was in her third day of isolation. She was virtually cut off from everybody. Nobody to see her, nobody to come into her room, nor have any contact with her. Mobile phone alone was the only consolation for her. Anything she touched soon became untouchable for others. She felt herself more like a prisoner in a lockup, getting food at prescribed intervals, that too with plenty of precautions for both the giver and taker.
Initially, she felt she was highly cared for and taken care of. But gradually, the idiotic precautions became unpleasant and inconvenient. It was during those isolation days she remembered that she had promised to take her son Prashant, to the industrial exhibition currently running in town. The peculiar feature of the exhibition was that everyday there would be a special programme, like, mimicry, dance, drama, music puppet show, etcetera. Prashant was interested in drama show only. His school teacher was performing in the show. He wanted to impress his teacher by his attendance for the show.
The drama show would be staged on five days from now. But how could she manage to take him? Her isolation period would not be completed by then. Even her husband could not take the boy to the exhibition as he was required to be on constant vigil of his wife as also to attend to her needs.
One day Damayanti telephoned to say that she was struck down at the hotel due to the isolation imposed on her. The conference for which she came, also not to be attended in person. She was asked to attend through video conferencing. A strict no to her mobility. If the conference was to be held only through video, she need not have bothered to come all the way from her place of work – country to country. Both money and time could have been saved. But it appeared that things were destined to happen this way. Or else, how would the two ladies meet and now both were holding themselves in captivity! It was Spring time elsewhere in the world. But alas! For the two of them, it was dark gloomy days, nothing but simply dark gloomy days. Very bad indeed!
The major breaking news was yet to come. Corona was having a free toll all over the world, mainly in the western countries. Lockdown of malls, metros, airports, schools, colleges, all possible public places …. People testing positive, falling sick, death knell bell ringing, toll rising, fear-stricken people causing chaos, police under heavy pressure, hospitals running short of staff and equipment …. Situation getting worse day by day. Every city was more or less a war-torn city.
In India the situation was not so bad. But as a precautionary measure, one day total curfew was imposed all over the country. The exhibition was no exception. The miserable part of the exhibition was, the curfew was followed by twenty-one days’ lockdown period. Throughout the length and breadth of the country the lockdown was imposed. No rails, no buses, no autorickshaws, no cars, nothing on the roads. Only essential goods could be moved to keep the bare minimum lifeline going on. Of course, police patrolling, doctors, nurses camping, sanitisation works were kept going on in full swing.
This resulted in heavy exodus of migrant workers from the city to their home towns. They were the worst affected lot in the society. No work, no food, no roof over their heads. Come what may! They left on foot. Some philanthropists gave them food, some policemen took pity and put them in some camps. It was decided that even migrant workers should not move as they would carry the virus to remote villages.
Soon many public places were converted into temporary rehabilitation camps and migrant workers were made to stay in there. Putting a stop to their movement by keeping them in the camp was okay. But what about other arrangements? Lot of volunteers was needed to attend on activities like, preparation of masks, arranging for first aid kits, hand sanitisation lotions, food preparation on mass scale, distribution to all, supply of drinking water, temporary toilet set-up arrangements, and so on and so forth. First and foremost, the very volunteers had to have sufficient masks, gloves, boots and hoods as they were most vulnerable to contract contagious fever.
An appeal was made to general public for volunteering. A colleague of Sushma’s husband, asked Sushma’s husband to enrol as volunteer. Sushma’s husband Praveen, expressed his inability. He was having his prima facie duty to attend to his wife, Sushma. Their son, Prashant, overheard the telephonic conversation and expressed his strong desire to join the crew of volunteers. Sushma was very much reluctant to send the boy. She did not want to him to be exposed to deadly environment.
When Prashant came to know the venue for camp was the very exhibition ground, his eagerness to be a volunteer increased manifold. He was told that all the stalls were temporarily converted into rehabilitation camps. Praveen’s colleague also on his part, assured to take utmost care of the boy. Praveen sent his son half hearted. That too under the assurance that his son would work only for one day and that the boy’s wellness would be kept informed at frequent intervals. Prashant happily joined the array of volunteers.
Prashant lent his hand in all spheres of work as told by elders. He enjoyed his role as a volunteer, though he was used more as an errand boy than a worker in the real sense of the word. He found that some more boys and girls were also there. They had come with their father or mother. While serving food to some workers in a particular row, he found a person very familiar to him. He immediately handed over his work to the uncle standing by his side and rushed to meet the person he found familiar.
The familiar person was none other than his very teacher who was to perform in a drama show and that day was this very day. The teacher was surprised to see Prashant at the camp and was quite impressed by his noble work. He wanted to pat and appreciate the boy physically, but social distancing prevented from shaking hands or patting on shoulders. The teacher highly applauded his sense of duty at this crucial hour and also praised his parents for inculcating such noble thoughts and good habits in the boy.
Prashant went back to his father’s friend and said,
“Thank you, Uncle, for bringing me to this place and on this day.” He took the phone from the uncle and rang up his mother, “Amma, your promise got fulfilled now. I came to the exhibition and also met my teacher as I wanted. I am very happy.”
Sushma did not understand a bit of what he said. But she could get to sense what he wanted to convey. She did not have to feel disheartened for not keeping up the promise. Her son got what he wanted and that’s all it mattered.