The Lockdown

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

This is a story about an Unlikely Hero---a frail old man who is thrown into a difficult and traumatic situation because of the CORONA VIRUS and how he deals with it.

The Lock down

Part I

(Getting Ready for the Trip to the West)

 

As Trilochon boarded the jet, on the morning of March 10th, 2020,  at Toronto’s largest airport, The Pearson International Airport, to return to his hometown, Amritsar, in the state of Punjab, India, he never had any inkling that it would be a trip that would test his survival skills, resilience, resourcefulness and  it would remain etched in his mind forever.

He had come to this North American City, the fourth largest in the continent, to visit his daughter, Kirandeep, aka Pinky, at her request in the month of October who lived with her husband, Sandeep,a truck driver,daughter, Simran, aged 6, and son, Jasraj, aged 10 in the city of Mississauga in the province of Ontario. This was the first time he was visiting his daughter, after his wife of 35 years, Mandeep, succumbed to Cancer about 7 years ago. Heartbroken and lonely, his daughter’s request to visit her and the grandchildren was tempting and seemed to be a good idea.

The preparation for the trip  was long as it was meticulous. He conscientiously went to different malls and consulted his older brother, Sukhdeep, who had seven grandchildren of his own, and bought gifts for his daughter and his family. He had not been to the malls for a long time because after Mandeep, was diagnosed with the deadly disease, the only places he frequented were hospitals and doctors’ chambers. As he did not have much idea about of cost of things, he ended up paying much more and his brother chided him for that.

Pinky also asked him to get numerous, “ punjabi suits”, stitched from Jarnail uncle’s store. Jarnail Singh Gill was a renowned tailor in the city of Amritsar. Both, young girls and mature women, alike, claimed he was one of the best in the trade. So one hot and humid morning armed with the measurements Pinky had given over the phone, he went over to meet the veteran dress maker.

The old businessman  was kind of a family friend and their relationship went back a long way. He was pleased to see him after a long time and as was the culture there, he ordered tea, “samosas” and “pakoris”. He brushed aside his protests about being diabetic and having hypertension, saying that, “ it is the mind and heart that matters! If you are happy, satisfied and have full faith in the “ Waheguru” ( God) you will be alright” ! He saw the truth in his statement and enjoyed the snacks thoroughly.

When he handed over the measurements and told him who it was for, Jarnail or “Happy” as he was known to  his friends was surprised. He remembered  her as a teenager and reminisced those times when she would come with her mother and always pick up a fight regarding the type of “ salwar” she wanted for herself. While her mother insisted on the suits being conservative and not too tight she always wanted them stitched so that it would accentuate her curvaceous figure. He would stand at a distance and enjoy the spat between mother and daughter! Later, he would, try to broker peace between the two by following the middle path, “ not too tight or too loose either”!

“ How time flies” the pot bellied Sikh said. He nodded and agreed. Nothing was more true than this.

The  dresses ready, presents bought, his luggage packed he was all ready for the trip. On the calendar with Guru Nanaks’ picture, stuck  on a wall in his kitchen, he began to cross out the days as they passed. He counted the days remaining. It was thirteen more days. Thinking of the trip he had butterflies in his stomach. He had been on a plane long before. When he was in college his dad  had had a heart attack. He had gone to Delhi to attend a friend’s wedding and he had to rush back home. His mother paid for his ticket to fly back home. That was the only time he had been on a plane. That too it was a small one, not the big ones that flew internationally. He was worried about going to the bathroom on the airplane. As he was a diabetic he had an over active bladder and that meant he had to relieve himself every thirty minutes. What if other passengers did not take kindly to this? It was a long journey. Almost 23 hours with the halts. He suffered from hypertension, too. What if his  blood pressure shot up the way it did when Mandeep and he had gone for a trip to Mumbai and were returning home. All of a sudden his nose  had started to bleed profusely and no matter what Mandeep and he did it would not stop. So at the next station they went to the Station Master, who called for a doctor immediately. The doctor after examining him told  that his blood pressure had gone up so high that it had ruptured one of the blood vessels. “ It is a good thing otherwise you would have had a stroke” the middle-aged physician with glasses told him. What if it went up  like that on the plane? What would he do?

The next morning when Pinky called, at nine’o clock sharp as was her habit he confided his fears to her. She listened to him patiently, while in the background he could hear the buzz of  the TV belting out the local news. After he had finished, Pinky said, “ nothing is going to happen to you Dad, every year people of your age and your medical conditions come in thousands and they all do fine! Stop worrying! I will be buying health insurance as it is, so, if God forbid, something happens----nothing will happen---I am positive---but if it does you are completely protected!”,  said the banker who worked with one the big five  banks that have a stranglehold on the Canadian economy.

Satisfied with what was said, he hung up and walked like he did everyday up to the framed photograph of Mandeep which occupied a place of pride on the top shelf of a cupboard. He stood before it and took along look. It was taken about  a decade back at the Golden temple. He remembered the day as if it was just the other day. It was summer and as the schools were closed for the holidays, the kids, Pinky  and her younger brother, Anudeep, aka Lucky went to visit his parents at Ludhiana. That afternoon, he recalled, Mandeep wore a purple “ salwar kameez” and as she climbed up the stairs of the terrace to hang the wet, washed clothes  she looked tempting. He had followed her and as she picked up a payjama from the bucket and leaned forward with both her arms outstretched to put it on the clothes line, he embraced her from behind. She was, at first shocked, then she blushed and squirmed with delight! He had kissed her and then all of  sudden he had the impulse to take her out. So they decided they would go to the Golden Temple. It had been a long time since they had visited Sikhism’s most sacred shrine. The visit, would be killing two birds with one stone. It would serve the purpose of fulfilling their religious obligations and at the same time it would satisfy their desire to enjoy a fun filled afternoon in each other’s company. After the kids were born they seldom had any time of their own and everything was dictated by  the desire to do the thing that would bring the most joy to the children. This was nothing unique with them, in fact, all parents, the world over followed the same principle.

The outing was a grand success. They paid obeisance to the Almighty , had Prasad at the “ langar”, took  a quick dip in the holy waters of the temple and when they were on their way out, he had, taken out his prized possession, his  Yashica camera, and asked Mandeep to stand before the main entrance of the temple. She hesitated a little, a bit bashful, then she agreed. He tried many angles and  many poses. At last, he found the perfect combination: Mandeep would look into the camera, her “ dupataa” covering half her head and in the background the spire of the golden temple would be silhouetted against the blue azure sky.

He smiled a sad little smile and gently patted the picture as if trying to comfort her. Like always, he reflected on how his life would be if she had not passed away. One thing, he was certain, he would have been much happier. The first few years after her demise  it was pure hell. He could neither  eat or sleep properly and the only thoughts were of her. It began to have  a devastating impact on his health and mental stability.

 One day, Pinky, came to the house to pick up her school leaving graduation certificates and mark  sheets as they were required for her application process to immigrate to Canada. She panicked and grew hysterical looking at his pale and emaciated face. She could not believe that he had lost almost more than thirty pounds. She would not listen to his protests and forcibly took him with her. That day he was grateful to God for giving a daughter like her.

That break, he reflected now, actually saved him. Being under the constant care  and attention of his daughter’s family he regained a sense of normalcy and though the spectre of grief was still there, it  had moved to the background and did not take the centre stage of his life.

His cell phone rang and broke his reverie and  brought him back to reality. It was the pharmacy asking him to pick up his six month’s supply of medicines which he had requested for his forthcoming trip to Toronto. Next, he remembered, he had to meet his brother before he left. It would be a courtesy visit. He consulted the calendar and decided, as his departure was slated  on a Friday , he would go and visit him on Wednesday of that week.

 His brother lived  near the notorious Jallianwala Bagh.  Every time he went by the memorial park, it seemed to him that he could hear the gun shots and the cries of men, women and children as they were  being brutally massacred by the reigning British army. He knew it was only his imagination because it happened so many years ago, on April 13, 1919, when the acting Brigadier-General, Reginald Dyer, ordered troops to fire into a crowd of unarmed Indian civilians. The Jallianwalla Bagh is a public garden walled on all sides, with only five narrow entrances. Dyer blocked the main exits, and the troops continued to fire into the fleeing civilians until their ammunition was almost exhausted.

Sukhdeep, his older brother, though four years senior to him, looked younger  than him and was generally in good health. He was happy to see him, gave him a bear hug and commented on his frail, emaciated appearance, “ what’s wrong Vicki ( his pet name) are you not taking care of yourself these days? Why, you look so thin---as if you have not been eating for days!”

“ No, Veerji ( Older brother) I am fine. You know sometimes living alone you are not able to do things. But I am fine. Don’t worry. Why! You look fine though! Seems my Bhabi ( older brother’s wife is taking good care of you!

“ Yeah ! That she does! I can’t complain, why, here she comes”. Antarpreet, his brother’s wife was a sturdy woman of about fifty who was known for her culinary skills and her no nonsense attitude.

She gave him a broad smile and welcomed him with traditional Sikh greeting which involves bringing your palms together near your heart and saying, “ Sat sri akal Veerji! How have you been?”

“ Sat sri akal Bhabi ji”, he replied, with folded hands. “ I am fine, how are you guys keeping?” he asked.

“ With Waheguru’s infinite blessings, we are OK! Nothing to complaint”, said the lady who was a mother to three girls and had seven grandchildren.

After a round of tea and Britannia thin Arrowroot biscuits, dinner was served. Bhabi was an incredible cook and she had made all his favourite dishes, “ Mattar Paneer”, “ Dal Makkhani”, “ saag” along with  Bajra Rotis. After a long time he had such a sumptuous meal and profusely thanked his brother and bhabi for the wonderful evening.

At around 11 O’ Clock  he took leave from the elderly couple. As his brother hugged him his eyes welled. He touched his brother’s feet as a  mark of respect. “ Be safe Veerji. Have a wonderful trip . Call us once you reach” said his Bhabi. He nodded his head and said ,” Yes”.

At last the day of the trip arrived. He woke up with a pounding headache. He attributed it to his nerves. He resolved to recite the five “nitnem banis”  with utmost devotion  and  also eat light . He did not want to have the uncomfortable feeling of bloating and discomfortduring the long flight. Pinky called to enquire if everything was fine and that he was all set. He said yes. She  assured him not to worry. Everything would be fine. He observed that he too hoped that things went without a hitch.

He consulted his checklist. It was a pretty long one, however, he noticed that he had checked off most of it, only a few were left. One of those that was left, was  to ensure had his US dollars with him. He had asked a friend’s son, who worked with a travel agent, to arrange that for him. Pinky had told him to keep at least $ 300 US with him. Jatinder, he friend’s son, had been able to arrange about $ 250. He thought that was adequate and decided not to call him. Another unchecked item was to inform his neighbour, Mr and Mrs Bhalla, a retired Chartered Accountant, about his trip. He had told them about his journey a few months back. He did not think that they would remember that conversation. He took out his Samsung phone, found the  number and called.

It was Mr. Bhalla who picked up. After exchanging greeting and enquiring about each other’s well being he informed the corpulent accountant who suffered from high cholesterol and hypertension that today he was leaving for Canada to meet his daughter. Ramakant Bhalla sounded surprised and said that he was not aware of it , but, he said he was glad for him and wished him a safe journey and hung up.

  A sense of  apprehension was building. He knew he had this tendency. Maybe because of his hypertension. He was not sure though. He knew there was only one way to control it. Meditation. He went and sat on the large king bed which was gifted by his father-in law, Sukhjeet Singh, as a wedding present. The large bed made of  finest Burmah Teak was a prized and a dear possession ofMandeep and she spared no effort to keep it in mint condition. She dusted and wiped it twice daily and would not allow him to sit with his tea, lest it slipped from his hand and damage the bed.

So, it was here on the bed that he sat quietly and began reciting the Anand Sahib. He did not know  for how long he recited the holy scripture, because, when it was about five o clock he  found himself coming out of a deep and peaceful slumber. Quickly he got up, showered, recited  Jaap sahib and then dressed.  As advised by his daughter he wore a cotton khaki  trouser which was complemented by a plaid cotton shirt and a light sweater. He  slipped on a comfortable cloth sneakers on his feet. He checked the time . It was going on to  be 6. He had asked the Ravinder who ran a rental car agency to come at 7. The driver came at around 6.50 and knocked on the door. He was a young boy about twenty five with dark flashing eyes. He asked him to wait. He would be there within fifteen minutes. Again a nervous feeling was beginning toform inside. He sternly chided it to subside. No . Not now.  He had important things to check before he stepped out for his long journey to the west.

He consulted his check list. Now was the time for the finishing touches. He turned off the TV. He took out the line connecting the antenna. He checked all the windows  and doors to ensure that they were all properly shuttered and locked. He examined his travelling pouch carefully. Satisfied that his passport, tickets and money were there he zipped it up and hung it around his waist. Pinky had advised him to get it. This way, he would have everything close to him so that when it was time for  the security check he would not have to panic.

He brought out his VIP suitcase. He had bought from one of the best shops In Amritsar. He had told the salesperson about his trip and he had suggested this suitcase. It was bit more expensive than what he would like to pay but he was sold by the salesperson’s sales pitchwherein he mentioned that  it was not only about carrying things it was about conveying a subtle message to other travellers about his class. He was going to his daughter’s place and her prestige depended to a great extent by the way he carried himself.

He wheeled the suitcase and kept it near the front door. Next he took his backpack. Pinky had suggested that  for his “carry on” baggage  he get a backpack because that way his hands would be free and would help him a great deal with his  mobility. Next, he slowly went up to the framed picture of Guru Nanak and stood before it with folded hands and recited an “ ardaas.” Lastly, standing before the smiling picture of  Mandeep he smiled and waved at her. I am going to visit your daughter Honey. If you had not decided to go away so soon, today, you would be travelling with me dear. No worries though. You must be seeing everything from up there.

END OF PART I ( to be continued-----)

 

 


Submitted: October 16, 2020

© Copyright 2020 suj. All rights reserved.

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