The Lockdown-Final Part

Reads: 28  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

The last part of a story on the prevailing situation that has impacted our lives and the world in more ways than one. This is a story of an unlikely hero who makes a difference in other people's lives through, courage , resilience and sacrifice.

In a matter of days literally the world as he knew underwent a paradigm shift. It seemed the virus was now spreading and it was spreading at lightning speed. The number of people infected and dying grew in swift progression confounding the leaders and the Governments of the world. In order to fight the virus and reduce its direct impact in terms of human lives and its collateral impact on the economy of the world a new term and concept was introduced. The new term was “ lock down”. With the objective of stemming the progression of the virus it was being decided by the governments of nations to keep as many of its citizens indoors.

As  the day of his departure neared, anxiety, uncertainty and confusion ruled supreme. At one point it was decided that the best course of action would be to cancel his trip back home and stay put  till this pandemic ended. The problem with this proposition was that, for one, no one knew for sure how long it would last and another problem was it would involve many adjustments to be made some of which could be costly and difficult to execute. So it was settled that in spite of the turbulent circumstances he would travel and once he was back home he would take all the necessary precautions.

The KLM flight from Toronto took off on time that Friday evening on March 12th. Because of the pandemic only Sandeep had come to the Airport to see him off.  The atmosphere at the airport was lot different than what he had seen a few months back. Missing were the large crowds and the noise and constant traffic of people on the go. In its place there was  a subdued hum of a fearful anticipation. The airport staff also appeared to be under stress and the normal effusiveness you generally find in them was absent.

Security check done he waited in the lounge waiting for his boarding call. When after about an hour the announcement was made people lined up maintaining a safe distance as was being touted on TV incessantly. His aisle seat was besides a young couple. The wife, Gitanjali was at least six month’s pregnant and was having difficulty sitting down. Varun, her husband informed him that they were travelling to India to be with Gitanjali’s parents who lived in New Delhi.

The take off was uneventful. He recited a “ Rehra” from the holy book of Sikhs –the Guru Granth Sahib. Suddenly he did not know why he felt weary. It seemed all theses months he was away from his own home was beginning to take its toll. “ Hey Wahe Guru please take me home in peace” he silently entreated as he could feel the familiar butterflies in his stomach.

The flight would take about eight hours to reach Amsterdam and from there his connecting flight to Amritsar would take off  after  a lay off of about four hours. He fiddled with the infotainment monitor in front of his seat. At first he  decided he would watch a Hindi movie but after a few minutes he lost interest in the movie he was watching. Same hackneyed theme of boy meets girl, misunderstandings undermine their relationship before at last everything falls conveniently in place. The themes  completely lacked realism or rationality. Then he listened to Gurdas Mann. His songs always moved him.

The tall stewardess came with dinner. He debated whether he should go in for a bottle of wine. His underlying health conditions dictated that he abstain as much as possible, but, then what harm just a small bottle of wine could do? So he requested for a bottle of red wine. The stewardess handed him the bottle and left.

Varun, who was obviously a teetotaller, glanced at him with disdain. Gitanjali squirmed in her seat. So what? It was his life. Did they have any idea how hard his life has been? He opened the bottle and poured the wine gently into the small transparent plastic cup. He sipped it. The warm fluid had a  slight burning sensation but it faded after some time. He was beginning to feel fine.  He felt light and his thoughts went back to those days when his wife was with him.

After some time he began to feel drowsy and slumped down in his seat. Varun who was watching  Star Wars : The rise of the skywalker looked at him from the corner of his eyes with skepticism. Gitanjali  who wasresting her head  on her husband’s shoulder was groaning in her sleep. Gently Varun patted her hand.

The announcement that they would be reaching Amsterdam  in another half hour broke his stupor. Varun  looked at him and said, “ So you had a nice sleep, uncle?”.

“ Oh yeah! I think because of all the weariness of the past few days, I must have been too tired”, he said. There was no point in telling him that he was feeling “ high”  after drinking the wine and the drowsiness was a result of it.

“ it is good we reached Amsterdam. Gitanjali has not been feeling well. She can rest for sometime at the airport at least” , the young man with dark curly hair said.

“ Is she in lot of pain?”, he asked.

“ Yeah, she has severe stomach cramps and her legs are swelling from sitting down for so long”, said the sales manager of a pharmaceutical company.

“ oh I see”, he said. He wanted to say  aloud, “that who in his right senses travels in a situation like this”, but he did not, knowing fully well it would not be appreciated at all.

The big jet was descending fast. The sound almost seemed to pierce his ear drums. Pinky had told him to chew a chewing gum, but he had forgotten to buy any.

With slight thud the plane touched down. The announcements done, people started to get up from their seats and began retrieving their bags from  the overhead storage lofts.

Gitanjali was moaning now. Her pain was becoming intense. Common human decorum and courtesy demanded that he remain with them and he did that . He helped in carrying Varun’s back pack as he held Gitanjali’s arm and supported her.

A young blonde girl was at the walkway. He hesitantly approached her. He had always been conscious of his rudimentary English, and on normal circumstances he would not dare to interact with her but knowing that they would need help given the situation of the pregnant woman he asked if she could find any means of transportation for them to the terminal where they could board their next onward flight to India.

The girls whose name was Erika was as helpful as she was beautiful and called for an airport transit vehicle. The electric vehicle came shortly and picked them up. They thanked her profusely.

When they reached the boarding area it was already filled with other passengers. They were not many. About twenty to thirty. Normally there would be plenty more, however, owing to the prevailing Pandemic,  people had stopped travelling. The governments of nations had also taken upon themselves to promote “ stay at home” orders.

The pandemic had caught governments, scientists, world leaders off guard and no one had any concrete plan to tackle its menace. Every day new revelations  were being made and things were fluid and were changing by the hour if not by the minute.

As he sat down he caught a glimpse of the news that was being broadcast on the CCTV. In it he was surprised to learn that Nations were contemplating to ban entry of foreign  nationals into their respective countries. He thanked his stars that the ban was applicable to non citizens. He was an Indian National and he was going back to his home country and they could not stop him. The same rule would apply to Varun and Gitanjali.

Time would prove how wrong his assumption was.

Gitanjali’s pain had subsided and she was feeling much better. She thanked him for being there for them. He brushed away her thanks, stating he had  done nothing much.

An airport staff came and asked  people sitting there, their nationalities. She said it was to ensure that no passenger got stranded during the course of their journey as most governments were banning entry of foreign nationals into their countries. A few passengers belonging to Canada and US who were travelling to India on an emergency pleaded with the staff to allow them to travel. The staff though sympathetic to their situation could do so much. The rules had been imposed from the top most political echelons of the country. They had no way to circumvent it.

So  a few passengers, heartbroken and thoroughly disappointed, were asked to follow another staff who would make arrangements to fly them back to their home towns. A few among them were vociferous and made their displeasure vocal. It kind of punctured holes in the otherwise quiet and tense atmosphere of the terminal.

Varun looked at him with a grim stare. Obviously he was disturbed at the developments that were taking place and  the top most priority on his mind was to reach India as quickly and safely as possible.

The public address system was crackling and presently the announcement for the departure of their flight was announced. There was a marked and perceptible difference in the demeanour of the passengers. There seemed to be an almost a collective big sigh.

A line for boarding formed and people were asked to keep at least a distance of 2 metres between one another. The stewardess checking the passports and boarding passes wore a mask. She took a long look at Gitanjali and waved her in. The flight was virtually empty. He asked Gitanjlai to lie down across three seats. Varun and he also did like wise.

None of them were in the mind set to watch any entertainment programs and the little console before them remained untouched. There was a cloud of worry hanging over most passengers. A restlessness, an anxiety, a trepidation was a common thread that impacted all. There was only one desire—to reach safely and as fast as possible.

The Captain welcomed them over the public address system. He tried his level best to sound chirpy and zestful but he could not and people could easily detect the nervousness and uneasiness behind his voice..  The weather was good and with other things remaining normal  they were supposed to reach New Delhi within eleven hours.

Maybe because of the mental turmoil or the physical exertion, within almost half an hour all three were dozing off in their seats. It was the soft voice of the stewardess calling  him, “ excuse me”  that made him wake up with a start.

“ Do you like to have dinner?”, she asked.

“ Yes! Yes!” he replied.

“ Chicken or vegetarian” the blonde , attractive woman  asked.

“ Chicken” he replied.  He hesitated a little before he asked, “ can I have whisky?” Immediately he realized that he should have worded it differently, but, like always, whenever a white person spoke to him in English, he became nervous and his speech faltered.

Obviously, she did not mind, or expertly feigned her offence, as she pleasantly replied, “ Of course! Let me get it for you in a couple of minutes”!

Varun and Gitanjali had also woken up by this time and another stewardess was helping them get their dinners. They ordered the vegetarian.

He turned on the infotainment module in front of his seat in order to gain a sense of how long they had travelled and still how much distance they needed to cover. The map of the world  along with the picture of a plane representing their aircraftcame up on the screen. Their plane was over  Pakistan  and travelling at normal speed. He calculated it would be another three to four hours before they reached New Delhi.

 A peculiar kind of mixed feelings arose within him. In a sense he felt good that he was coming back home. Home?  Was it home, really? A house with a single person? In another way  he felt sad to come away from his daughter and his grandchildren.  A terrible feeling of loneliness gripped him. All these months he had people around him. People who took care of him. Sometimes he took care of them. At times he fought with them. There were times they fought with him. Something or other was happening all the time. Now going back to his home he would be alone. And loneliness was a profound pain.

“ We are almost home!”, said Varun with a smile.

“ Yes”, he replied. Then looking at Gitanjali he asked her how she was feeling. She nodded her face radiant with joy at the thought that they were close to home.

It is a peculiar thing. This thought of being close to your roots. No matter where you may be and what social strata you may belong to  the feeling of being near  your homeland is surely bound to cheer you up.

They sat glued to the little console with the picture of the airplane moving. They had started their countdown and their hearts had begun to beat a trifle faster when the announcement came over the PA system it, to say, it  dampened their spirits would not be the right word, it devastated them, left them completely clueless and shattered.

The captain without even making any effort to mask his disappointment, hurt and confusion stated that the air Traffic Control was not giving them permission to land. The Government , it seemed had changed its policy in the last few hours and what this meant was that even Indian citizens travelling from abroad would not be allowed to enter the country now.

A deathly calm descended on the entire plane. People who  even a few minutes back were grinning and looking forward to a wonderful reunion with their loved ones suddenly became sullen and their faces turned ashen. 

For Trilochan the news had deep and very ominous repercussions. He was an insulin dependent diabetic and he was out of it. He did not think much of it because he knew once he got home he wouldbe able to replenish his supplies and he would be good. Who in his wildest would have imagined that a country would be closing its borders to its own citizens?

For how long would he survive without this critical drug?  A similar situation had happened once when a political party had called for a wild cat general strike and he was out of it for a day and he had begun to feel desperately ill. Luckily, the strike had been called off the next day and he could have access to it.

The experience had a left bad scar on his mind and now with this announcement it brought back the same sense of panic and anxiety it had at that time. What would he do? His hands trembled and his legs felt like jelly. Oh Wahe Guru! What kind of test are you putting me through?

So their fight was not being allowed to land. It just could  not circle in the air for unlimited hours though. Its fuel was limited and it could last a few hours at the most. What then?

A  soft groaning sound was coming from somewhere. He turned to see from where it was coming. It was Gitanjali. Eyes closed, teeth clenched she was grimacing in pain.  Varun was holding her hand and with his free hand patted her gently on the forehead. Obviously the news  was not well received and it had led to the young woman going through this painful episode.

The PA system was crackling again. Evidently it was time for another announcement. Every one  waited with bated breath. The Captain came on air again. He tried to keep his tone flat. He said that ATC was not giving them permission to land and they were  being diverted back to the airport they came from.  This was like a bomb shell and the passengers digested the information in stunned silence.

A deathly hush descended over the plane.  It was only broken by the soft, muffled, groans of Gitanjali who  face was covered by fine web of frowns of all sizes.

So they were going back to Amsterdam. That meant another eight to nine hours of flying time. They had already  been flying that long! They had no choice though. It was  a decision made at the highest political level and no one could go against it.

With gritted teeth and clenched fists passengers braced themselves for the long haul.

Trilochan sat down in his seat quietly. His mind  was filled with fear and there was a palpable sense of apprehension in his heart. The thought of being without his insulin gave him the jitters. For a moment he thought of asking the stewardess to make an announcement requesting anyone with spare insulin to share it with him. Then he realized it may not be that good a idea as not all insulin were the same. It might lead to other complications.

The despair and sadness he felt was deep and impactful. And he was not the only one who was feeling low and depressed. Varun was equally upset. He was  looking forward to provide some medical assistance to his pregnant wife.  He was now getting worried. She was in pain for a long time and no doctor had seen her yet.

The flight attendants were upset as well. They were hoping to unwind and relax after a long hectic flight. On the contrary now they were expected to work another full shift without any break.

As this was totally unexpected the airline had run of its stock of food and drink. There were only a few packets of food left. The crew very judiciously decided that these would be distributed to the old, infirm, expecting mothers and children. As Trilocahn was one of the senior most in the plane a packet was given to him.  He did not have the heart to eat it alone so he shared it with Varun, who initially made lame objections, but later, was thankful , as he had started feeling hungry.

The remaining passengers were not that lucky and had to tolerate their thirst and hunger, even though, for some it was beginning to get intolerable.

The lack of food and water , though was not the uppermost thought in the minds of the people. The burning question in their mind was, once they land at Amsterdam, what was going to happen to them? Where will they be housed? Will the airlines give them a hotel? Most airlines provided hotel accommodations provided in  such situations where it was because of lapse on the part of the airlines or it was due to unavoidable travel  delay. In this case it was neither.

Very soon they would find out and the outcome would not be very pleasant one.

Maybe because of the turmoil they were going through or maybe  because the pilots were in a rush to take a break as soon as possible it seemed they covered the distance to Amsterdam quite fast. The Captain came on air and announced that they would be landing in about an hour.

When at last the plane landed, there were no happy faces, but many had a racing heart. Already the airport authorities had arranged for a few personnel to meet and shepherd them to a designated area in the terminal.  One they had settled in, an elderly lady airport official,  stood in front of the group and began to address them.

She spoke in a kind of a drab monotone as if afraid that if she displayed any trace of emotion she would break down and would be unable to continue any further. The summary of what she said was like this: Europe, like most of the world, was in a lock down. All countries of the world were imposing a ban on people entering their borders. And local and provincial governments had in an effort to contain the virus  imposed lock downs whereby all non essential business was closed and shuttered for at least 14 days. Hotels were closed and were not accepting any new guests.

As the lady spoke a sense of doom descended down on the group. There was a pin drop silence. The normally bustling , busy airport was uncharacteristically quiet and the only people that could be seen were this group and a few airport staff.

Trilochan,  felt like he was  being pushed gradually into a dark bottomless abyss. Oh Wahe Guru did you have to test me like this? On top of being without his insulin he was now being forced into spending, God knows how many days and nights in the waiting area of the terminal without food or succour. How would he survive?

Varun and Gitanjali also were thinking along similar lines. Gitanjali was in serious pain. Something was happening to her  and her unborn  baby and instead of being taken care of  by medics, the prospect of spending days and nights in the uncomforting and risky place of  a waiting area of an airport terminal comprised ofa collection of chairs  and sofas was fast turning into a reality.

A smartly dressed young man, a yuppie, became agitated and impatient. He interrupted the lady who with the sudden interruption was shocked and was at her wits end. Obviously she was doing this job not for long and was still a novice and as such was not exposed to rabid disruption like this. She blushed, stuttered and looked around for help, but no assistance was forthcoming from any source.

The man was wanting to know , “ so the airlines is going to wash its hands off the whole thing and let us rot here? Do you have any plans for providing us with accommodations?”. His voice echoed through the empty terminal. Other passengers, emboldened by the breach were joining their voices of dissent.

The lady who was on the verge of tears said candidly, “ Look Sirs! I am sorry ! I am just doing my job! I am telling what I have been told to convey to you!”

The group had by now turned into a herd  who had caught the scent of blood and looking at a soft target was now closing in for the kill. They were advancing menacingly towards the woman who was by now shaking violently with fear.

Trilochan, who had never taken any leadership role in all of his sixty seven years of life  and who was always content to be a docile follower saw something in that old , haggard woman, crying for mercy, that brought out the sleeping soldier in him. Somehow, even though the analogy was weak and far fetched, he saw in the woman the same cry of  the hapless men , women and children who had peacefully gathered to usher in “ Baisakhi” (the new year) at Jalinawalla Bagh, in his home town of Amritsar, more than a century ago and were massacred in cold blood by the British.

The next thing that happened not only surprised Trilochan himself but the other passengers also. Sprinting ahead of the group, forgetting his weariness, his general sluggishness resulting out of Hyperglycemia he came and stood before the hapless woman with his arms outstretched as if barricading her from the onslaught of the disgruntled and agitated crowd.

“ Stop! Please Stop” He shouted.

The crowd stopped in its track, suddenly, taken aback by the interruption.

He knew he could not make his plea in English. His command over the language was  weak. He began to speak in Hindi. The language majority of Indians understood. And  a big chunk  of the group, barring a few, were from India.

He said that what had been decided was no fault of this good woman. She was just doing her duty. This was no time to harass a person just because she was following the rules. While he understood that all of them were feeling frustrated, angry and dejected it was not the time to give vent to their emotions. This was a time of an emergency and if they wanted to come out of it they had to act with rationality, calmness and compassion. Anything else would jeopardise their chances to overcome this extraordinary ordeal.

If everyone  agreed, he continued, he being one of the oldest in the group,  could negotiate with the Airport Manager to allow them some benefits and privileges. He was not promising anything but he would make an appeal. That’s all they could do in such an instance. If they lost their temper and went into a path of confrontation nothing would be achieved.

After making his spiel, he stood aside and let the crowd decide for itself. The old woman looked at him with gratitude.

It was Varun who galvanized the crowd into accepting Trilochan’s proposal.

“ He makes perfect sense” he continued in English.  “ And I believe it will do a lot of good if we all repose our trust in his faith and wisdom.  We need a spokesperson for our group who will showcase our problems and difficulties and try to work with the authorities so that we can close this unhappy chapter in our lives as quickly as possible. My wife and I support Mr Singh to represent our demands.

Most passengers, tired, weary and starving were all too happy  at the prospect that someone would  take up the cudgels on their behalf and nodded their consent. The remaining few who had not made up their minds or were sitting on the fence grudgingly agreed to the proposal.

Winning the mandate and trust of the group, Trilochan, sprang into action.

“ The first thing we have to do is to make a list of all us here. Can anyone help me prepare this list?”, Trilochan asked.

“ I can do that”, a young Indian woman volunteered. She was dressed in a pair of jeans and a black T shirt .

“ What I want you to do  daughter is write the name of each passenger and their special needs and medical conditions. You can start with me dear.” Trilochan said.

The girl nodded and took out his phone to capture the information.

“ Name Trilochan Singh Age 67 years , Resident of Punjab, Amritsar, Diabetic,Insulin Dependent. Special need: Needs Insulin urgently, ran out of supply. Now you may continue with the others.” He said.

The girl moved over to the next person and within about half an hour she had the completed list and handed it over to Trilochan.

He glanced through the list and stated grimly, “ it seems we have a few very pressing issues here. Friends I would need your suggestion and input on how to tackle them, please”.

The group had by now all settled down and every one was sitting and as space was not an issue as there were more chairs than people some old women and children were slumped over two or more seats. The initial panic, resentment, anger, had to a great degree subsided, and now thanks to this humble turbaned man from Amritsar they felt that soon something would be done to help them come out of this uncomfortable predicament.

A few teenage boys and girls, oblivious of the dire circumstances  that older folks were in were engrossed in their games on their phones and sometimes you could hear their snorts , grunts and muffled cries of excitement depending on the outcome of their accomplishments in the cyber world.

If an uninvolved and a rank stranger would look at the gathering he would have been surprised at the sight. Here a lone, frail and weak old Sikh gentleman was standing in front of  the diverse group of men, women and children, speaking in a low  but energetic tone, trying to tackle the crisis they were in. In that group there  were yuppies , middle aged corporate executives, men with PHDs, homemakers and students, and they  all were listening to him. Sometimes solutions to problems come from the unexpected sources. Who would have thought that a retired mechanic without an MBA or any fancy degree would come to the forefront and lead them?

The reason the yuppies and corporate executives listened to him was because he was making lot of sense.

“ Think of it like we are shipwrecked on an  un-inhabited island. What is the first thing we do?”, the septuagenarian  man asked.  He looked around the crowd.

A young yuppie with an American accent said, “ we light  a fire! So that people from far can see the smoke and  it would act as a signal for help!”

“ Exactly” said the  Sardar who was feeling dizzy  as he had already missed his Insulin dosage before dinner. He had an overpowering desire to sit down and immerse himself into a sofa and rest, however, he knew, he could not, not now, when people were looking up to him.

Silently in his mind he recited an “ ardas”, a sikh holy prayer.

“ What we have to do is create a Video, highlighting our situation so that our Indian Government and other governments of the world know what we are going through. Can anyone here who is good at technology create  a video like this”, he appealed.

There was silence at first and then  several voices erupted. One was of a young software engineer,Satya who worked with Google and was  on his way to meet his parents in Chennai when this incident happened. The other was , Vilas, a fifteen year old school student, one of the avid gamers in the group. It was decided that Satya would be the main person who would create the video and Vilas would help him.

While this discussion was going on, an attractive young woman, Nilima, volunteered to create the content of the video. She was a news editor with  Cnn in Atlanta and was now going to meet her ailing parents in Varanasi.

“ We are making great progress. Am so proud of you all”, Trilochan said, feeling a bit light headed and was barely able to stand. He had to hold on to a chair to keep himself steady.

Varun came quickly to his aid and asked a young boy, sitting at the front, to please allow, “ Daddu” ( grandfather) to sit. The boy graciously left his seat and a grateful Trilochan took his seat.

Varun, took permission from  the elderly man to add a few of his own thoughts which he felt could be beneficial to all. The old man nodded his consent.

Varun, said, “ friends , the very first thing we have to do is make arrangements for food. We have to put in our request to the Airport Manager at the earliest. What I am going to do is go around and take down all your food requirements. Now let’s be practical. We know that we are not going to get any delicacies. So do not ask for any exotic stuff. Just keep your requests to basic stuff like bread, roti, rice,vegetables and meat only”.

For neat fifteen minutes went from one person to the other noting down their food requests and when finally everything was done gave it to Trilochan.

In the meanwhile the group assigned to do the video messaging was busy in its task. Nilima had written the content and was now facing the group while Satya was filming her on his  i phone 10.

Nilimas voice was clear and strong as she read out her message, “ this video is an appeal to the Government of India and all people who may be watching this video. We are a group of  thirty five people who all are legitimate Indian Citizens who are working , studying or travelling abroad and are now either returning back home or coming to meet our loved ones.  The Government, I understand, with a view  to contain the virus, has decided to stop the entry of foreign nationals from entering the country but my question is simple why stop your own citizens? It is like a parent asking a son not to come into the house! If  India  says no to its own people where shall we go?

Sir, please, remember, we have in our midst a pregnant lady who is in terrible pain and if she does not get timely medical attention it may be too late to save her or the  child.”

Satya turned and video taped Gitanjali who tried to maintain a brave face for the camera but it proved to be quite a difficult task. Her eyes betrayed her pain and discomfort.

“ We also have with us a seventy year old diabetic who has run out of his insulin and is almost on the verge of collapse. As you know for  an insulin dependent diabetic it could be a matter of life and death. In addition we have here about four infants whose formula supply will barely last another few days. What will parents do once the supplies run out? We also have two heart patients, with one having  pace maker. Both of them are complaining of unease and general feeling of being unwell.

Looking into the above, once again, we earnestly seek your intervention right now! Time is running out, if anything happens to anyone here we would not like the world community to point a finger at our motherland for forsaking its citizens during these tempestuous times. Thank you,  SIR!”

Everyone applauded once her speech was done.

 Trilochan got up and asked for volunteers to come with him when he went to submit their memorandum to the airport manager.

Varun, along with three other persons, offered to come with him. So the group made its way to the office of the airport manager. The assistant of the officer , a stern looking middle aged woman, asked them to wait. After about fifteen minutes she  ushered them into  a professionally decorated  office with a large wooden desk behind which was seated a man in his fifties with silver receding hair.  The man smiled and nodded but did not extend his hand as this was the age of the corona virus and no one indulged in the age old tradition of shaking hands any longer.

He asked then about their welfare and asked how he could be of help. Varun gave him the list of the group and said they were in serious problem as they had elderly people who were sick and had run out of medicines. He indicated towards Trilochan and told him, “ here this gentleman is a insulin dependant patient and his insulin has run out.  Without it he is at a huge risk. Who will be responsible if he gets an heart attack?”

The airport manager in his late fifties who himself was a diabetic looked at the elderly Sikh with compassion. Though he did not inject insulin himself he knew people who did so. He remembered hearing from them how critical it was for them. He was thinking how he could help.

Varun , next, highlighted the situation of his wife, Gitanjali. He said his wife was five months pregnant and was having pains and cramps that was slowly becoming unbearable. Without proper and timely medical attention it might be too late to save the baby and it could be fatal for her too.

Stefan Kilpatrick,  who had been managing this airport for more than 5 years had never before encountered a situation like this. He had had his share of unruly passengers, and also there was this time when he had nabbed a  would be hijacker. Those were challenging situations, no doubt, but the stakes involved in then were not that high as they were in the present situation. These were real people and if anything happened to any of them the publicity it would attract would damage the reputation of the airport for a long time, if not, permanently.

He looked at the list given by the young man of the persons with medical conditions. Besides the Diabetic and the pregnant woman there were heart patients, a  man with Chronns disease, a lady with Parkinsons, and a old man with debilitating COPD.  He was weighing his options, not that he had many. He knew hospitals were out of bounds and no medical professional would risk his life to check on these sick people.

He knew , however, that doctors could not and should never ignore, the call of their conscience. No doctor would let go of the opportunity to make a difference between life and death. He knew that if he just sent in an appeal it would not have the desired effect of call to action, instead, if he added the pictures of these suffering people it would make the milk of human kindness flow.

Without wasting time he confided his plan to Varun and Trilochan, who saw merit , in what he was planning to do and helped him to get the photographs of the ailing people and add then in his electronic appeal.

He said he did not whether this gamble would work or not but it i was a chance worth taking. Both Trilochan and Varun agreed and made their way to the waiting area where the other passengers were assembled.

As soon as they arrived they were met with grave problem. All restaurants at the airport fearing that their employees might contract the virus had decided to down their shutters and now the hope of scrambling any kind of food had vanished into thin air. In the meantime the kids I the group who so long were engrossed in their computer games and had forgotten about hunger were now famished and were crying for some kind of food. The mothers of these, as  can be understood, were getting emotional seeing their kids go hungry and were almost on the verge of breaking down.

Trilochan was reminded of the gruesome days of the partition when they were crossing over from Pakistan. His family had to go without food and water for days and he knew how painful it could be. He knew he had to do something.

He told Varun that he had to use the restroom and asked him to go ahead. Varun initially would not let him go alone but after he had assured him that he would be ok and if there was something he needed he would give him a call, he agreed and went away. Having got rid of Varun he began scouting the restaurants. He prayed and hoped that at least if he could find at least one open he would do whatever it took to convince them to give them some food at least so that the hunger pangs of the kids would be satisfied.

The airport looked like a ghost town. Barring a few airport employees, there was no one else. It was eerily quiet. Being without insulin and proper food he was not feeling well. He felt weak and he felt dizzy. But he knew he did not have the luxury to sit down and rest. Not now, when the children were crying out for a morsel of food.

He came to the lane which housed the many eating places and restaurants.  All of them were closed. The shutters were down and he could see no one. He was returning back,  a dejected and sad man, when he heard one of the shutters of a restaurant open and a young lady come out with a bag on her shoulder. Obviously she had finished her shift and was going back home.

He made a mad dash towards her as fast as his old rusty legs would allow. It was a  muslim girl as was evident from her hijab. She was startled to see him, at first, then seeing, that he was a frail old man  and obviously not in the pink of health, she relaxed.

“ Daughter, please, I need your help”,  he said, bending down and folding his hands.

Nasrina,  was embarrassed, and at the same time felt sorry for the old man.

“ Sir, please tell me how I can help you?”, she asked.

Trilochan  quickly and as concisely as he could  narrated the chain of  events that brought them here. Then he told them about the kids that were starving.

“ Do you think you could arrange for some milk and some food for them, please?”, he implored.

Nasrina hesitated, not knowing how to respond. Officially they had closed for the day and she could not make any transactions that day. So if she tried selling anything to this old man  it would be  against restaurant principles. But at the same time she could not let this gentleman go empty handed, especially, after what he had told about the starving children. She had two young children at home, Arif and Bilal and she knew how cranky they became when they were hungry.

She asked Trilochan to wait, as she called Faroukh, the Iraqi Immigrant owner of the restaurant. Twenty years ago he had run away from his native Iraq and after wandering through many countries was granted asylum by Netherlands. Starting small with just one little café in the airport  he had a meteoric rise and today was  the owner of a chain of restaurants with 25 restaurants all over the continent.

Though, a shrewd businessman and a hard task master he was known to have a kind heart. People said that he was involved with many charitable and generous deeds, but he believed in not boasting about them publicly. He reportedly told one of his friends, “ when do you a good deed, do not broadcast it as then it no longer remains a noble action”.

When Faroukh came on the line, Nasrina, informed him about the problem she was faced with and asked him for his help in resolving it. It was a good thing that she used the word “ help” and not used the word “ advice”. Sometimes words make a huge difference, especially, if you have a temperamental boss like her.

Faroukh after listening to what she had to say asked her to call him back via video call. She was surprised because he generally never liked the idea of video calls and even during their organizational meetings he would not join through the Zoom meeting tool. He definitely had something in mind.

As advised by her boss she made the video call after a few minutes. After they had exchanged greetings he asked her to hand over the phone to Trilochan.

When Trilochan came on line he told him  that he had nothing to worry. All food whatever he needed not just for the children but for everybody else would be provided to him.

Trilochan burst into tears and said he could not never repay his kindness. Then a bit tentatively he asked, how much it would cost him, because he did not know whether his credit card had sufficient balance to pay for everything.

Faroukh told him he did not have to pay a single penny. This was completely on the house. He also informed him that he would  tell Nasrina not to charge him anything. “ Only condition” he added matter of factly, “ never stop doing the good you are doing anytime soon”. He delivered instructions to the girl and hung up.

Trilocahn was flabbergasted. He just could not believe what had happened. It once again reposed faith in the human kind, which, of late, owing to all the developments he read, about tales of deception , trickery and ruthlessness had been shaken.

Nasrina took him inside and asked him to select the food items he wanted. She told him as the cook had already left she could get for him only the prepared food. He asked what she thought would be the best thing to do in the light of the extraordinary circumstances they were in.

She said the most appropriate thing to do would be to get as much sandwiches as possible. She had around 15 sandwiches which she could give him. For the kids she had four bags of milk and cookies which she could get them ready. She knew it was not much and would not be enough. Trilochan interjected and said he was grateful for whatever she was providing because without this they would have all starved as everything else was closed and there was no other way to get anything to eat.

“ You do not know what you and your owner have done!. None of us can ever repay the debt that we owe you”, he said sincerely.

After about  twenty minutes, Nasriin and Trilochan carried the food  in a small trolley and made their way to the stranded group. On seeing them with trolley of food the people were at a loss to understand if what they were seeing was true! They had all given up hope of finding succor and had mentally resigned to the fact that they had to spend the night without any food. Whatever food and provisions they were carrying had long been exhausted.

The  group was full of praise and gratitude towards Trilochan or what he had done. The women thanked him with tears in their eyes. The joy of the kids  knew no bounds as they realized that the fire of hunger that was raging in their stomachs would subside now. He acknowledge their thanks gracefully and with humility.

The quantity of food, was, however, not sufficient and everyone knew it  but as is the case ,sometimes, in times of adversity, our sense of sharing and caring are aroused. They decided that the food had to be distributed on a priority basis. The sick, elderly and the young  would have the first priority. Then would come the women and then, at the last, if anything was leftover, it would be distributed among the able bodied men.

As Trilochan was one of the senior people around he was given a sandwich and a drink.  He knew being a diabetic it was critical that he get something to eat, especially, in light of the fact that he had already missed his insulin dose. He cut the sandwich in half with a plastic butter knife  and gave it to a young man who was supervising the distribution of food.

“ I have taken my share. Please give this to someone who needs it more”, he told him.

The handsome young man was surprised and accepted it with gratitude.

After the frugal dinner the group was feeling a bit better. It was a short span of calm before a storm, though, because, Mr. Patvardhan the man with COPD had begun to feel unwell. His wife , Rupali Patvardhan, pushed the panic button when her husband began to hyper ventilate.

Dr. Trisha Jain, who was one of the passengers quickly came to their aid. She checked the Oxygen canister and saw that it was fast depleting. She realized that without additional supply it would be impossible to save the patient.

Her ER room medical training came into play. In an emergency the worst thing you can do is panic. Keep calm. Think. Act. Act fast.

Turning to the group she addressed the group.
“ Who is the fastest  runner here? She asked.

For a moment everyone was stunned, unable to believe what was being asked. Fortunately, Varun understood why the question was being asked.

“ I think it will be one of the teenagers here, for sure”, he said. He asked one of the kids to come up. A  lanky young teen ager called Siddharth came forward.

Dr Jain gave him crisp instructions.

“Siddharth you have to push this wheel chair as fast you can. You have to take this uncle to the Airport Manager’s office which is at the other end of the terminal. An adult has to accompany him. Once there give him this note.” She help up a  folded note. “ He will know what to do. Now go! Take care!”

Siddharth had already positioned himself behind the wheel chair. Naveen, a marketing professional, working with Unilever, joined him.

Within a few second they were on their  way  zipping through the deserted terminal. Mr Patvardhan was still having difficulty breathing, however, he still managed to wave to his wife and the group.

Dr Jain came over to Mrs Patvardhan and comforted her.

“ Don’t worry he will  be alright. All airports carry a supply of Oxygen canisters. Once he is on oxygen he will stabilize a bit and then I can given an injection to make him feel even better” The young attractive doctor said.

People were trying all kinds of ways to retire for the night. Some were content with just sitting on the chair and shutting their eyes, while others , tried to put their feet up on the opposite seat and then there was the people who  did not think much about sleeping on the floor.

Trilochan was one of them. He spread a sheet and laid down on it. The stress of the situation combined with the fact that he was out of his insulin made him feel dizzy and disoriented a bit. He was dozing off when he heard the sharp cry of pain.

It came from one of the women in the group. Immediately he knew who it was and sprang up . The intensity of the cries was increasing. He quickly moved towards the source of the cries.

Gitanjali was lying on the floor and crying. There was water all over. Varun was with her trying to console her.  A few of the women were besides her and giving suggestions.

Nothing was helping though. Gitanjali was writhing  in pain. Obviously something serious had happened to her.  Dr Trisha Jain came rushing. She checked her pulse and blood pressure. Gitanjali’s water had broken . That was the reason there was so much fluid there. The baby could come any moment now. It was imperative that she be out under proper medical care right away.

Dr Trisha Jain, knew that she did not have much time. In view of the prevailing pandemic  it would be impossible to access a hospital. Also by the time medical help arrived it may be too late. She decided the best thing would be to deliver the baby here and now.

She had some basic medical tools in her emergency medical kit which she carried with her always. Her late mother would always ask her  to travel with it. “ I know it may seem like an unnecessary burden to carry with you! But still do carry it with you! You never know one day it may save the life a person and you will remember me”.

She smiled a rueful smile. It was meant for her mother. Ma I am going to do something I have never done before. Deliver a baby. Wish me luck. In her internship she had seen and assisted in delivering babies but as her specialization was in orthopaedics she never had to do it first hand.

Never mind though. There is a first time in everything. And today she had to do it. Otherwise two lives could be lost.

Without wasting time he gathered the women around him who would help her in this difficult and noble task.  Another group of women were advised to hold bed sheets or any kind of cloth they had with them so as to create a ring of privacy around as she helped usher in a brand new newcomer to the world.

They were involved in a tug of war. A tug of war with adversity and death. Many a times it happened that night that they thought they had lost both the mother and the baby. Many a times they let out a gasp of horror, as the baby would not come out easily while the mother bled profusely. Almost about two hours later when Dr Jain was able to pull the bay out and cut the umbilical cord the ladies let out  a cheer and baby girl a long drawn cry.

 The word spread quickly. People congratulated each other. In this dark and difficult times they had something to be happy about. The elderly women in the group took upon themselves to take care of the mother and daughter. Varun, the proud and much relieved father, was beaming with jot. Men gathered around to congratulate him. He thanked and accepted all the best wishes with grace and a wide smile.

The persons in the group who were responsible for conveying messages to the outside world about their predicament felt it would be prudent to broadcast this event. They arranged for a video shoot. Pradnya , the copy writer, who worked with a leading advertising agency, video taped the proud mother and father and and interviewed the reactions of the other folks.

Everyone wanted to know the name of the baby. Varun, the cultured and well bred gentleman that he was came to Trilochan and said, “ Sir you are  our father figure here. The privilege of naming the baby should be yours”.  Everyone admired the refined and genteel etiquette of the young man and requested Triliochan to do the honours.

The old Sikh was touched and moved beyond words. Tears gathered at the corner of his eyes. He thanked every one and is if  he had been thinking of a name all along, almost instantly, he said, her name is Khushi”. All cheered and some in the group also whistled.

Khushi. It meant Happiness in the Hindi language. What an appropriate name. Indeed, after her arrival, a wave of joy  passed  through them and they had forgotten their formidable problems and challenges.

Trilochan was planning to retire for the night and before that wanted to touch base with the group about the latest development after their meeting with the Airport Manager and their on line appeals to the governments of India and the international community.

He sought  out Varun and Nilima to get their input. It was Nilima who spoke first. She said that the video was well received and already many news channels had aired it during their news cast and it had garnered positive response. People were calling the TV stations wanting to know their current status and how they could help.

Varun added that the airport manger had spoken with the local authorities here and was hopeful he could arrange for provisions and medicines by tomorrow.  

Trilochan  nodded. He was not feeling that well. It had been almost 36 hours that he had his last insulin dose. He did not want to let them know of his discomfiture and alarm them. He quietly moved over to a vacant sofa and was on the verge of sitting down when his head span and he lost his balance and fell face forward on to the hard floor.

He cut his lips and his nose was badly bruised and blood spattered everywhere. Varun came running and held him.

“Uncle! Uncle Are you allright? Someone get Dr. Jain here right away”., he cried. He quickly picked him up and cradled him in his arms, and wiped the blood with his hands from the old man’s face. Dhruv , a teenager came forward and handed him a bottle of water. Varun made the Diabetic patient take little sips from it.

The old man was fast losing consciousness. Varun knew it was critical that he do not allow him to slip into slumber. He quickly made the septuagenarian sit up and slowly began gently massaging his forehead.

Trilochan slowly opened his eyes. His gaze did not have focus though and had a dazed look. Varun softly spoke with him.

“ Everything is gonna be alright, Uncle! You need to hang on for just a little bit longer!” He said.

“What’s going on here?” enquired a concerned female voice.

Looking up Varun saw it was Dr. Jain. He quickly told her what had happened. For a second a flicker of concern flitted across  her face.  She quickly opened her medical bag and brought out a glucose monitoring meter. She expertly pricked his finger and read his glucose level. It was in the danger zone. She thought for a moment. She delved into her bag and brought out an insulin vial. It was a fast acting one. She pushed it in. For a moment Trilochan opened his eyes for a moment and closed it again.

Varun asked tentatively, “ Do you think he will be OK?”.

“ I hope so”, said the lady doctor. “ it has been a long time since he had his last dose of insulin and as such the sugar levels have started to go haywire. I have given him a fast acting insulin. The only one that I had and it should bring it down”, she added.

In the meantime there was the sound of applause coming from the far end on the waiting area. Both Varun and Dr Jain looked at each other. After having ensured that Trilochan was comfortable they both made a bee line towards the point from where , now, there were a couple of voices speaking excitedly.

When they reached the place they found that Vandana Chawla who was the lady who worked with an ad agency and who had wrote the  wordings and also formatted the various slides of their appeal in a joyful mood and telling people around her that she had received messages from the Prime Minsiter’s office and as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they would be allowed to continue with their journey and they will not be barred from entering India.

Sometimes good news travels fast and before long everyone was aware of the positive development. There was a palpable sense of relief all around. Smiles which had all but been wiped from their faces was staging a comeback with a vengeance.

The sound of celebrations also reached Trilocahn and he slowly opened his eyes and sat up. The Fast acting insulin was taking effect. He was feeling much better. He got up and made his way to the epi centre of all the commotion.

Seeing him, Varun and Dr Jain were overjoyed.

“ Things” he exhorted, “ are definitely going the right way. Here the head of our little family here, Mr. Trilochan Singh is feeling way better and we would like to hear from him. Come uncle, say a few words”

Trilochan came and stood before the small but eager group.

“ For all of us here the past few hours have been extremely difficult and traumatising. We were challenged all fronts. In the end though we overcame all odds and emerged victorious. The reason we were successful is simple: we worked selflessly thinking of the common goal and benefit of all. This is a learning we should remember all through our lives. Because of this dreaded Virus we have learnt cooperation, brotherhood and what is most important, the essence of being human” He stopped.

There was loud applause.

The Public Address system of the airport crackled as it announced that their flight was ready for departure.

As Trilochan walked with others to boarding line, he saw, strangely, his wife, Pammi waving from far. Tears clouded his vision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: December 10, 2020

© Copyright 2021 suj. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:

More Literary Fiction Short Stories

Other Content by suj

Short Story / Romance

Short Story / Romance

Short Story / Romance