Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his friend Sasisekharan were casually chit-chatting over a cup of tea in a small hotel opposite the bank where they were employed. Suddenly Sasi got a phone call and he got worried and turned panicky. The tea they had ordered was not even completed, before then a phone call came and disturbed him. Sasi told Jinnah that his cousin just now called him and said that she was in hospital. In his hurry and horrified mind, did not bother to ask why and what of things. He ignored his tea and immediately stood up and told Jinnah “I am going … just now … to see this girl who is now in hospital.” Jinnah put his hand on his shoulders and asked him to calm down. “You are already upset. Don’t go alone. It is not safe to drive. I am also coming with you.”
Jinnah asked him to be ready with his vehicle by which time, he would go to the bank get permission for both self and Sasi, to go out on urgent personal work. He also got sufficient cash withdrawn from his account. A foresighted action, in case of need… Sasi was waiting outside with the vehicle. He was waiting impatiently. As soon as Jinnah came, they both drove towards Rayapettah Government hospital. Needless to say, Jinnah was the driver. He did not allow Sasi, though the vehicle belonged to him. In about thirty minutes they were at the hospital. Straight they rushed to the Receptionist and asked for Vimala, the newly admitted patient. The receptionist could not get anybody by that name. Instead, she asked for more details like…. Full name, disease, age, address and who accompanied the patient and so on. Unfortunately, Sasi did not have answers for many of her questions. He on the contrary got irritated. Just then, Jinnah pointed out to a young lady looking somewhat similar to Sasi, coming towards them. Yes. Undoubtedly, she was Vimala, walking coolly and steadily towards the Pharmacy counter which is on the other side of Reception counter.
She spotted Sasi arguing with the Receptionist. She came to them and told them that she would meet them immediately after getting the medicines listed in the prescription and deliver them to the doctor. Jinnah immediately took the scrip from her and proceeded towards Pharmacy and left her with Sasi so that she could explain and clarify his doubts. Sasi could not contain himself as to why she phoned and said she was in hospital. He got wild and was about to pour out his anger. Then he controlled himself. Then it dawned on him that after all, it was his own folly in misinterpreting her statement. She did not say she was the patient. She came to hospital to admit her father who was a COVID patient. Inside the hospital, there were lot of restrictions on both on patients and those accompanying them. Social distancing and masking were not mere hearsay. PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) cover was also equally essential. It was included in her list as an essential item.
Jinnah came back with medicines and PPE. Both Sasi and Jinnah wanted to go with her and see uncle. She took the medical kit but stopped them coming with her. “You will not be allowed. He is in ICU. Entry is highly restricted there. Beware. COVID is highly contagious. I phoned you because Amma also is not well and I have to go home and see her. I will inform the Doctor about you folks, so that I can leave and see Amma.” Vimala’s father, an old man in his late sixties was a patient with comorbidities. Sasi had heard a lot about such patients and had his own doubts about their survival. The crux of problem shifted from Vimala to her father. He sincerely prayed for his recovery. Jinnah told Sasi, “Be happy. He is lucky. He got admitted and got a bed in the hospital and is on ICU care unit. But let me warn you as a precaution. Right now, keep looking for oxygen cylinders, which are in short supply in town.” Just then the doctor called him on his mobile phone and asked him to get oxygen. He retorted “What about your hospital stock?” Jinnah pulled him out and interrupted the talking. “This is not the time for picking up arguments. Keep doing what has been told.” They both set out for procuring oxygen.
Sasi expressed his honest feelings and also conveyed his concern for Vimala. “If anything goes wrong, she simply cannot accept it. Oh! God. Please help her and for her sake, keep her father hale and hearty. Let him get well soon. I do not know how aunty is doing now. Did she not say, mother is also not doing well? Hope this is only a passing cloud in her family and things will be all right in a few days’ time.”
“Okay. Call her. Find out how is her mother.” Sasi did that. He called Vimala on phone. Initially there was no response from her. Later on, after sometime, she called Sasi and informed that mother too was serious and she was coming to the hospital for admitting her mother. Sasi immediately told her that the doctor already told him that the Rayapettah hospital was too full and hence might not admit new cases, howsoever serious the patient might be. He advised her not to rush to the same hospital where her father was. Jinnah meanwhile searched for hospitals which might admit and give bed to the patient. Luckily, he found Venkateshwara Hospital which was just on the way to Rayapettah Hospital. So Vimala took her mother there. Jinnah also told Sasi. ”You better go and help your sister, while I go with this oxygen cylinder to Rayapettah Hospital.” Sasi took the vehicle and went away. Jinnah took an autorickshaw and fled to Rayapettah Hospital.
Sasi helped Vimala in getting her mother admitted. He had credit card and sufficient cash to take care of initial arrangements. Vimala’s mother was not with comorbidity. Vimala was very much exhausted. Both Sasi and Vimala went to a nearby restaurant for getting some quick bites. While they were waiting for their orders, he rang up Jinnah and asked him about uncle. “Pretty serious only. Doctors don’t say anything. I smell something going terribly wrong here. I am worried. I pray that your apprehensions should not come true. As soon as you are done there, you please come over here.“ The phone was put on loud speaker mode with mike on.
Vimala already hungry and exhausted was simply devastated by the conversation. “Appa!” She cried aloud. Sasi also was disturbed by the telephonic conversation. He took time for Vimala to subside. He then advised her to be with her mother. “Just remember one thing. Don’t tell Auntie anything about uncle. Let us hope that things will improve. More than anything else, you have to take care of yourself. You have been in close association with your parents, both suffering from Covid with different degrees of pain and botheration. Have you been vaccinated? Oh! No. How can you be? Vaccination for your age group is yet to start. Be careful. That’s all I can say now.”
Vimala felt dizzy. Right from morning she was running around without proper food or rest. She was now down with fever. Sasi could see her eyes sunken and face turning dull. It was certain that she was running high temperature. In that situation, he could not leave her alone. He took her to the same hospital and asked for some tablets as quick remedies. Instead, they insisted on getting COVID test being done on her. It was not a mere out-patient treatment for her. She also had to be admitted. Sasi stood wondering. Morning father got admitted for COVID. Later Vimala brought mother for admission for COVID. Now Vimala herself got admitted for whatever name you might fix for it. At this stage who could take care of whom? There his friend Jinnah from Rayapettah Hospital was saying that things were pretty serious with father. All in a single day and too happening in a single family! How crude the reality was! How helpless he was, when things go wrong! He was caught in a dilemma. Should he stay here and take care of the two ladies or rush to Rayapettah Hospital and look after his uncle who was more serious. Who knows counting his last? His lingering mind was pondering over consequences of moving from one place to another --- this hospital to that hospital. He finally decided to stay back at wherever he was. He felt that his inner conscience was right. His impulsive decision of sticking to one place was far better. At least Jinnah was there with his uncle and if he chose to go there, then nobody would be at this hospital. For any emergency requirements like medicines for Vimala or Auntie, or worst come worst, oxygen cylinder for any of the ladies, or they needed to put on ventilators? Even though Vimala was not pronounced as COVID patient, the symptoms were high that she would be one. All three lived in same house and nobody was quarantined.
He rang up Jinnah and told him that he was not available. His presence was needed here in this hospital. He explained everything to him. Jinnah abruptly cut the phone and went inside leaving Sasi wondering on the on-going call. What went wrong and where? The doctors attending on uncle expressed their condolences and as a matter of fact added that with this case, they had already crossed one hundred within the last fortnight. Jinnah was deeply hurt. One staff nurse called him and said that it would be nicer for him to get the bed vacated as cases were pouring in and pressure was mounting for beds. Jinnah himself had witnessed it there. Auntie could not be brought to this hospital only for that reason.
Jinnah rang up Sasi but did not convey. He id not want the news to be told to Vimala or her mother as it might have adverse effect on them. But Sasi had to be informed. He sent SMS and advised to call back without the knowledge of the two ladies. Sasi came out and phoned Jinnah and learnt about the sad news of his uncle’s passing away. Jinnah on the contrary was in a delicate predicament of what to do next. “Sasi, please come and take over this and relieve me. If the body goes to morgue, it is very difficult to get it back. I cannot leave this hospital without telling them about clearance of the body. They had already asked me to arrange for vacating the bed and get rid of the body. Shall we swap our positions? You be here and I will be there.”
“No No Jinnah. You please-please book slots at Besant Nagar or Krishnaampettai crematorium and take the body there. There is no point in taking the body home now. There is no body there.”
“Are you mad? You are all Hindus and I am not. You have high and elaborate rituals connected with the final departure of the dead body. Who will do it and who is going to arrange for it? Please tell me one thing. Don’t you have to inform all close relatives of the dead man? What about daughter and wife? Don’t they need to be told about the man who was so vital in their life?”
“All that you say is very correct. But that is so, only under normal circumstances. Now we are in extraordinary situation. There is no room for discussion and decision. We are acting on impulses. Just now this hospital told me that auntie is no more. They also told me to clear the bed at the earliest. There seems to be a long queue here also. Think of my position now. I am going mad. All I feel now is let uncle and auntie be cremated together in the same crematorium. Vimala is also said to be critical. Do we need to worry about the dead or living? And you are asking … what about the rituals to be followed? Is it so important?”
Jinnah was highly confused. He never expected such a turn of events. He at the beginning of the day, just offered on his own to accompany his friend and that was all. But looking at the present moment, it looked as though he was pushed into it deeply by the iron hand of Fate. While he was contemplating on these matters, an old friend from Bangalore said that he just now returned from a burning ghat after performing rituals as per Hindu system for a high-profile lady Savithriyamma, a well-known History Professor of a reputed college. He narrated, “She being a Covid case had nobody to attend on her and I had no option than to be her temporary son for completing these rituals, so that her departed soul attains the lotus feet of her Favourite God. I am a staunch Muslim boy and continue to be the same. But my conscience did not allow me to see her being treated as a non-descript nobody. Having bade goodbye to that lady in her religious style, I feel I am very much relieved and feel very much satisfied.” Jinnah immediately replied him. “Thank you, Yousuf. I am also in a similar situation. Now I Know what I should do. You guided me. I was in a dilemma. Now I am cleared of my doubts. Thank You Bhai.”
Jinnah took the strong decision of following Yousuf way. He already got time slots at Besant Nagar crematorium for two bodies. He got information that some Hindu organisation was there by the side of the crematorium exclusively for performing rituals connected with last minute rituals to dead people. He contacted them and advised them about his coming there with bodies of both husband and wife dying on same day. Neither the lady was a widow nor the man was a widower.
Jinnah felt pity for Vimala on the fact that though she was alive, could not do anything – nor even see her parents. She was isolated. At least Sasi, their nephew, also was not performing the Hindu rituals. Sasi came and laid the dead body of aunty and went back to see Vimala. He was worried that his absence from being away from her should not lead to bringing one more dead body to crematorium. Jinnah as a fellow human being chose to rise above all barriers throwing away restrictions of castes and religion. He told himself “Follow your conscience. That is the best religion.”
The priests conducting the rituals had told him that they absolutely no problem with Jinnah as long as he followed the rituals in principles and spirit. He simply told them, “Take me as their son…. Treat me as their adopted son. I abide by your rules, rituals, systems and traditions. I am Jinnah by birth. But I am Jagdeesh for your pooja. I am of strong opinion that … No religion is superior to Humanity or Human Values.”
He said, “Let us hail humanity – the great Manushya Dharmam, common to all religions. The priests also repeated “Manushya Dharmam is for Shanti. Om Shanti Shanti.”