Saturday, May 30, 2020

Doubly blessed

(The readers are informed in advance  not to expect any twist or mystery end. This is a story of the sincere prayers of a devout couple answered)
It was a narrow dusty lane crowded with people, erratically moving cattle, and small vehicles inching their way. It was not much tiresome for the Gujarati couple to wade through this as the distance to Banke Bihari temple was short and the early November weather was pleasant. They let a sigh of relief as they reached the entrance to Radhe Krishna temple.
Urmila told her husband Pankaj Desai,” I am excited to be here at last. I have been dreaming of a visit to this famous temple for many years. I sincerely hope Lord Krishna here known for His beauty and expressive eyes would turn His merciful eyes on us and grant us our long awaited wish.”
“Surely He would, I have no doubt. I am also thrilled like you to be here. The crowd inside the temple seems unmanageable and I wish we get a close darshan,” Pankaj replied.
Once they presented themselves at the entrance, the milling crowd took over pushing them from all sides to present them in front of the deity. It was a great ordeal. But what a mesmerizing experience it was looking at the idol that was at once incredibly charming and indescribable in words. In the few moments they could manage to stand, they prayed devoutly for a child that was denied to them for almost eight years. As she was praying with bent head, a garland that was thrown by the priest fell on her. Overjoyed by this good omen the couple happily came out of the temple.
All the way up to the end of the lane where their car was parked, mendicants were pestering them for alms which they generously gave. As they were walking briskly free of beggars at the end of lane towards the car, they espied an ash smeared old man in ochre robes with flowing beard smiling at them and blessing them with raised hands. As he made no demand and his personality evoked an instant respect, they moved near him and bent down with folded arms.
He blessed the couple with raised hands and remarked with a smile, “I know the object of your visit. It will be fulfilled by Banke Bihari soonest but I can also foresee your getting much earlier a Mahalakshmi.”
Confused about the import of his strange statement and yet happy, they prostrated before him and gave him 500 rupees. He broke into loud laughter and said, “Don’t you see I have renounced all material possessions. I do not need your money. Go home happily and accept the joyous things as they come to you.” he said abruptly standing up and walking away towards the temple to be lost in the crowd. The visage of the saintly man lingered for a long time.
On the second day the couple came to New Delhi station to board the Swarna Jayanthi Rajdhani express to Ahmedabad leaving around 8pm. They had come earlier to the station by 6.30 pm. As they were waiting in the platform for the train to be placed, they heard a commotion behind them with several passengers and onlookers crowded just a few yards behind them. Pankaj went near to know what the furor was about. He found a two year old baby girl crying aloud calling “Ma, ma” and plucking the sari of a young woman lying on a bench. There was no movement from her and it was a pathetic sight to see the crying child. One porter in the crowd came forward and shook her shoulder to wake her up only to find her inert with the head falling on its side. He felt the nostrils and said to no one in particular, ”margaya.” One doctor who happened to be in the crowd examined her eyes and the chest with stethoscope and pronounced her dead. A gloom fell on the assembled people.
The pitiable baby was still trying to wake her mother by clutching at her hand and sari. The baby was very cute and looked from her dress as hailing from a middle class family. The woman about 28 was also well dressed and evidently came to the station to board the train from the box placed beside her. There seemed none else accompanying them.
A railway police inspector rushed to the spot and took stock of the situation. He asked the crowd whether anyone knew her. The box was opened and its contents rummaged to see whether her identity could be established. Only a ticket to Ahmedabad by Rajdhani was available. There was no evidence to reveal her identity and there was strangely no mobile phone too.
Meanwhile Urmila dragging their two boxes came near Pankaj. The baby was wailing seeing the surrounding crowd of men. With motherly instincts surging, Urmila held the baby in her arms against her chest and patted it gently. To the great relief of the depressed crowd, it broke into a smile. Urmila looked at Pankaj with a meaningful smile.
Pankaj Desai told the inspector whom he took a little away,” I am a reasonably well to do businessman from Ahmedabad. Here is my card. We came to Brindavan to pray for a child. I have a humble suggestion to make for your consideration. Till such time someone comes forward to claim the baby legally that she is related to them, let her be with us. I will take care of her as if she is God’s present to us. I am well known in my locality. You can talk to the SHO to check the veracity of my statement. If no one comes forward to claim, I wish to adopt the baby complying with legal requirements. The baby as you can see is already attached to my wife.”
The Inspector gave instructions to have the body removed to a hospital for post mortem and took Pankaj and Urmila with him to the outpost in the station.” Do not worry. I will have it in writing from you. I will talk to SHO of your area now on face time and ask him to identify you. I feel a loving home is better for the baby than a destitute home and you both are wanting one to fill joy in your family. Still I need to take the approval of my boss. If necessary, you may have to cancel the journey and depart after a day or two. We will still try to rush it through before the departure time. Give me copies of your adhaar if you carry with you or from the photos in your mobile. But all these are subject to the condition, the moment someone comes up having a better claim, we may ask you to personally come here to return the child if we decide in his favour. I feel it unlikely though.”
Pankaj looked at his wife Urmila, who told him instantly, “Don’t you remember what the Sant told us and that we should accept whatever comes in our way and she would be a Mahalakshmi?” This clinched the issue.
The energetic inspector managed things so efficiently and quickly, the couple could get into the train with the baby in the nick of its departure.
Predictably Urmila in a few months was expecting a baby, firm in the belief that Banke Bihari had answered their prayers in His infinite mercy. The little girl was aptly named Mahalakshmi. True to her name, she brought with her great prosperity and happiness in the family with Pankaj Desai’s business growing by leaps and bounds. As there were no claimants, Desais legally adopted baby Mahalakshmi in a grand and gala celebration.

Friday, May 22, 2020

True happiness

(This is a story written about 12 years back and not read much. I hope you will like it.)
I have always liked Saturday afternoons with the prospect of a weekend to relax and enjoy with wife and children. I was still at the office waiting for a report from my steno to be sent up that day itself. It was then Raghav, my longtime friend and colleague, entered my room and plunged into the sofa.
“Pacha, I need an hour of your time to discuss some personal matter of utmost importance. Please do not refuse,” he pleaded.”
“Yes, tell me,” I said though I wished to leave office early to take my wife and children to Cream Center for ice cream.
“Please listen carefully as I am in a deep dilemma and need your advice. I do not want to beat around the bush. Shocking as it may be to you, it is real. I have fallen in deep love with Omana who works in the office opposite to ours. The nub of the problem is both of us are married with children from our own marriages,” he was saying when I intervened to say, “My God, how could you be so foolish…”
 He stopped me, “Please do not interrupt. I will answer all your questions after I have finished.”
“Proceed,” I said
“It all started with our meeting casually at the canteen at the mezzanine floor or at the restaurants nearby. Though hesitant initially, we were so mesmerized in each other’s company, we gradually threw caution to winds and got intimate and went frequently on one day outings. She had mentioned once that her husband was a sickly person and that she was not happy with him. I must admit frankly since we fell in love, our lives turned brighter and the days were more exciting than the drab ones we led earlier. Not a day including some Sundays passed without our meeting,” he paused to drink cold water.
 I have not failed to notice that he dressed well these days and his hair groomed at regular intervals. Earlier he paid scant attention to his personal appearance. But these days there was a spring in his walk that I used to wonder why this transformation. I have also seen his desk with files mounting on it while he kept talking endlessly on mobile or leaving the office early. However, I never spoke to him about it, I could now connect the background behind these changes.
“Pacha, I know you would not approve of this but I am madly in love with Omana Not that I dislike my wife Deepa but I love this girl more and cannot shake her from my mind. She is extremely beautiful and graceful in her deportment. You must see her once to understand my predicament. My guilty conscience pricks me no end when I see my trusting Deepa in the nights. Sadly, for her, I am too far in this relationship to retrace.”
“Does your wife know?” I asked.
He said “No, though she keeps asking me why I work late in office almost daily and also attend on Sundays. Poor thing, she doesn’t know. I am really at my wit’s end how to tell her now that I have decided to separate from her. She loves me so much that she cannot realize that I have lost interest in her. This is eating me day and night. I know all the complications it would cause in both families and I do not want you to dissuade me. Can you advise me only on how Omana and I can live together permanently and openly”?
“To me this action of yours is morally abominable and socially reprehensible. Have you considered about the young children and their future? I do not think your wife is working. You and the object of your infatuation will be a laughing stock in your respective social circles. I cannot preclude legal problems too if one of the aggrieved spouses take up the matter apart from the large financial implications. I need time to think about this and have no readymade solution to offer. Do not do anything rash till I revert. I have promised my children to take them out today. Give me some time to think,” I said without concealing my disappointment.
After fun time at bowling alleys with children and dinner with ice cream at Cream Centre, we returned home. That night, I looked at my wife who was sleeping by my side. She had put on weight, had grown a little old and there were strands of grey hair which she did not seek to hide by colouring. There were black rings below her eyes and new wrinkles that I had not noticed few months before. She appeared nevertheless as beautiful and charming as she was when I met her first. She didn’t mind my going out for a binge of beer with my friends or playing bridge at the club on some Saturday nights. She kept herself busy teaching the kids and looking after the house in ever so many ways. Our love for each other was intact and not a whit reduced. We did have our bouts of fun and tiffs too adding spice to our lives.
On Sundays I would get the breakfast from a nearby restaurant making her stay in the bed for longer. Once in a while I would lend a helping hand in making the lunch. She loved pizza with its varied dressings. I never relished them. Whenever we went out for eating, she would always order things that I relished most like lasagna or Chinese noodles. When I press her to have pizza she would decline telling that she had it the day before at her friend’s place. But there would be surprises of unannounced pizza deliveries in the afternoons for her. She never complained or went to another room for sleeping despite my heavy snoring. She put up with my tantrums when I fail to find my car-keys or socks or mobile.
I was no less considerate to her. Having come from a large family, she never knew to cook just the quantity our small family needed. She did not have the heart to pour the excess down the drain immediately. Instead to salve her conscience, she would store the left over in the large fridge for a couple of days before discarding them. I knew my budget on food can be cut by half but I never made a fuss. She had no interest to acquire fine dresses and was satisfied with simple material. I had to take the help of my cousin to buy fine party dresses and surprise her. It was a case of each one trying to make the other feel comfortable and we found love in abundance between us despite the passing years.
Within ten days after Raghav’s confession, I was returning from an official tour when I saw Raghav in the airport. I requested him to accompany me in my car, have a cup of tea at my house and get dropped later at his place.
When we reached my home, my little daughter of six years came running towards me greeting, “Appa, you are back. I am so happy.” I lifted her bodily and smothered her face with smooches before I let her down. I gave her a box of Sandesh of assorted varieties from my bag.
My son of ten years was standing shyly and I went near him and patted him on his back asking him “How are you, young man? Who took the maximum wickets in today’s ODI?” He snuggled by my side happily.
He replied,” Appa I missed your company while watching cricket. You missed Rohit Sharma at his best.” I gave him a sleek pen set to his great joy.
Then it was the turn of my wife. She was standing at a distance as my friend was present. I dragged her towards me and embraced her tightly saying, “Ignore this chap. He doesn’t know how to lead a joyous life”. Even as she was struggling to get out of my cuddle, I planted a couple of kisses on her forehead to her great embarrassment and my friend’s mirth.
My friend asked me “How long were you away on tour?”
I said just one night. I could see he was stunned by the look on his face and the unbelief that a day’s absence could bring such intense and loving greeting.
Later when we were alone sipping tea, I told him” You asked my advice about your problem. I have one to give if you care to follow. Keep away from Omana for a month with no contact whatsoever and spend the time with Deepa and your children as you saw us here today. Give your wife all the love and the children your affection. Have fun and take them out frequently and smother them with small gifts. Just do this for one month. If you still feel at the end of the month, your passion for Omana is unabated, you do what pleases you. But you owe Deepa this much for her trusting nature and loving you since day one.”
He agreed. As I expected, the togetherness with Deepa and the flush of warmth at home did the magic. It was a month later that he told me that he had told Omana that they break off the relationship as he could not leave his wife and children. I was not surprised that within a month, he sought a transfer to another metro and moved with family.
I was happy he recognized that for love to sustain and grow there must be mutual trust and reciprocity- it is not a one-way street.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Lost and found

Govindu was born seven years after Vanaja’s marriage after intense prayers at all famous temples. Venkatesan, her husband, was a trader in hardware and paints. They showered all affection and pampered the boy meeting every wish of his. He was put in good school with all fanfare and was studying in class 7 The boy aged 14 was playful and had no interest in studies. He played truant from classes frequently and was at the bottom of his class and the report card indicated that he was absent for almost forty percent of the working days. Govindu did not show the report card that mentioned about his poor presence and performance to his parents
The alert teacher sent word with a duplicate card through another boy. Venkatesan had high ambitions and set much store by the boy. He was furious when he saw the progress report. More than the poor marks with all of them in single digits, he was worried about the boy’s truancy. He was afraid he may fall into bad company and develop undesirable habits. He hit the boy with a cane repeatedly despite his wife’s screams to stop it. He told her firmly before leaving for the shop not to give the boy any food for the day or allow him to go to play. Vanaja tried to pacify the boy and applied fomentation on the injury. He shouted at her and locked the door of his room.
In the evening around five, when she went to knock the door, she found it open with no trace of Govindu. She searched in vain and called her husband over phone. Despite all efforts the boy could not be traced. Police also was not able to find him. Days passed by with the mother always crying and the father regretting his rash behaviour. The boy had just disappeared. Months and years flew by. Venkatesan lost his interest in his business. They commenced again their pilgrimage to all temples for god’s grace to get back their boy.
They were travelling in the three tier compartment to Mathura and Brindavan in the North. The train had halted at Nagpur station. Vanaja was looking outside the window at the station that was heavily crowded with hawkers shouting to sell their wares. Chaiwallahs and orange sellers kept coming and asking her. She always nursed the fond hope that one day she can see Govindu. But luck was not on her side. The train started moving slowly. She started crying and Venkatesan patted her telling others are watching her.
When she was going towards toilet she saw at the entrance to the compartment, a boy of Govindu’s age looking away from the corridor polishing someone’s shoe He had long hair that almost covered his face and was in very dirty dress. There was also an equally dirty shawl wrapped over him covering the head. It was cold outside the train. As her attention was on the boy, she did not notice a server from the canteen bringing tomato soup. He collided against her and she fell down on the boy. The boy was stunned but recovered soon and lent a helping hand to lift Vanaja.
The moment she saw the boy, she let out a shriek and wailed” Govindu, Govindu, my dear boy, what is this? I am seeing you in such a pathetic state”
Holding the boy in her arms she implored him “Govindu, please come home. I miss you so much. We swear upon god that we will never scold or beat you. If you are not willing to study, it is fine. You may sit with appa and learn the trade. My darling Govindu, please call me amma once.” The boy gave her a surprised look.
 Venkatesan on hearing the commotion ran towards her. He saw the boy and asked him his name in Tamil. When he blinked, he asked him in Hindi his name.
“Ï am Tiwari Saab,” he replied in Hindi. Venkatesan was also struck by the striking similarity with his son and knew Govindu had a big mole on his lobe of the right ear. As the head was covered with shawl, Venkatesan pulled the shawl and the young boy fell down hurting his head. When he started wailing, the co-passengers remonstrated with Venkatesan not to touch the boy or be rough. The boy wailed in fluent Hindi complaining about Venkatesan’s unprovoked attack. Highly embarrassed, he left the boy alone.
Venkatesan told Vanaja,"Look, the boy seems a North Indian  speaking Hindi, not our Govindu," and gently led her towards their seats. Deeply shocked and disappointed, she started crying inconsolably. In a short while, when she looked around, she saw all the co passengers looking at her with sympathy and some even with misty eyes.
Something must have snapped in her when she suddenly  broke into hysterical laughter much to the shock of Venkatesan amid the concerned looks of the other passengers. Venkatesan realized he had now a new and different problem to pray for to god for His grace.
As the train started moving fast, the boy holding the polishing kit on his shoulder on the platform, stood watching the fast receding compartment mumbling to himself  and wiping his eyes, “Sorry Amma, I could feel the warmth of your love and affection for me when you held me for a brief moment. I have now become a wastrel and fallen deep into very bad company involved in all vices. I have become unworthy of your love and can never fit in as your son to bask in your affection. I will try sincerely to wriggle safely out of this dangerous ring to mend my ways and return to you as your good son. Kindly forgive me, I love you."

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Meena's ransom

“I need some money urgently. There is practically no balance in my account,” said Meena.”
“How much? I gave you the usual amount at the beginning of the month,” replied Kesav who was leisurely sipping the morning tea in the balcony with a newspaper on hand.
“15000 rupees. Due to this Covid virus, I have bought more than the usual quantity of groceries and various other items, “said Meena as she placed her cup on the side table.
“For all the extra things you have been buying, you have been using my card. Have you forgotten or what? “he asked in a surprised manner.
“May be, I have not kept track of all these but the fact is my account is having no balance. I need the money urgently,” she replied with some acerbity.
“What for? What is the urgent requirement?” asked Kesav.
“I do not need your money if I am asked to give account as if I am your accountant. When you spend heavily, do I ever ask you any question? “she asked angrily.
“Am I obliged to explain you how I spend my earnings? Funny you make a statement like that,” he said somewhat amused.
 “Enough, I feel I have no dignity in this house after I left my lucrative job in deference to your wishes. Keep your earnings with you. I am going presently to my mother’s place. I may return only late afternoon. You cook something for yourself,” she said as she left in a huff without heeding his plea to sit.
It was past 12 and he was dozing on the sofa after eating the hurriedly made pasta. The TV was on narrating the latest statistics on Covid19. His mobile rang loudly and it was a call from Meena.
“Meena, are you still angry? I hope you had no problem in reaching your amma’s place<” asked Kesav
“Sorry Sir, this is not your wife. I have borrowed her phone for a while. I am sorry to disturb you on an important matter,” said the voice
“Who is speaking? How did you get my wife’s phone? Where is she?” asked Kesav anxiously.
“My name does not matter. Your wife is very much here beside me. Are you Kesav?” asked the voice in a gruff tone.
“I am Kesav. What is it you want? Tell me right away where you are speaking from? How did my wife come there?Can you give the phone to her?” he asked in commanding manner.
“You would not talk to me in this tone if you hear what I wish to say,” said the voice in other end and continued, “ The matter relates to your wife. She is presently safe in my custody. There is a small matter to be settled between us before she is released. It does not brook any delay  if you keep in mind the well being of your good looking wife,”
“Tell me quickly,” urged Kesav.
“Transfer 25000 rupees to your wife’s account this moment.I find it has no money. You must thank your stars that I have not made a large demand. This should be done within 10 minutes. I will release her within five minutes after I get the message of credit in her mobile. Exactly 10 minutes I give you," and added
"One word of warning. Do not try to be smart tracing my whereabouts or thinking of police if you wish her to remain unharmed in any manner. Remember the deadline Do you understand the gravity of the situation?” said the voice as the call was cut.
He transferred the money immediately and sent a message about the remittance. He was filled with remorse for not complying with her request in the morning itself and now having to pay an unknown rascal a huge amount.
In 10 minutes there was a message from Meena,” Do not worry.I am safe and on my way home. Could you eat anything? Shall I bring something?”
Kesav was waiting anxiously at the door and was jubilant when he saw her with a mask on her two wheeler. He hugged her happily as he led her inside living room.
She snuggled closer and said “Thank you for acting quickly to make things safe for me.” There was a smug smile on her face even as she was in his tight embrace  thinking of getting a good gift for her young nephew for his histrionic ability.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Richa’s discovery

Since my childhood, I have been hearing the hoo-has of the people who saw me the first time. I knew God had endowed me with unusual beauty and a perfect figure and I was naturally proud about it. While at my college, I toyed with the idea of becoming a model and had my portfolio made. As my parents expressed their disapproval, I dropped the plan and plunged into my studies to become a lawyer.
We were a small happy family of three with my parents showering all their love on me. Nothing was denied to me and all my whims and wishes were promptly complied with. My heart would swell with pride when they often called me a sensible girl. I was my dad’s favorite and not a day would pass without our exclusive short conversations after the dinner in my study room. He will look for long with satisfaction at the enlarged photo of mine that I had hung over my study table. That incidentally was the best photo from the portfolio I had chosen. I did not hang any other photo in my adjacent bed room.
“Richa, I was mentioning to my lawyer friend, who is the chief partner of the leading law firm, Roshan & Sharma, that you would be completing your Masters in law shortly. Do you want to hear what he said?” said her father one day
“Surely, what did he say?” I asked eagerly.
“He said that you should join his firm and that it would be his responsibility to mentor you till you become a partner of the firm eventually. Poor man, he has no child of his own.,” said my father.
My dad has been keeping indifferent health and had a multi graft bypass. He was always of wanting me settled well in life.
“Stop worrying about me,dad. I hope to do very well in the examinations and would be happy to join them.
Months passed by and I had secured high rank in the university examination. My dad’s delight knew no bounds when I joined his friend’s firm as junior assistant. Life was becoming hectic and often I spent late hours in office preparing briefs for the seniors.
I must share with you one curious thing about the strange behaviour of my dad of late since a couple of months. He retired to bed usually at 11 pm after watching some serial on the TV along with mother. I have been seeing him entering my study room daily at 10.45 pm as if stealthily without making any noise and spend a few minutes there. Since he was doing this without commotion, I did not confront him when he entered daily. I respected his wish for privacy. I wondered what he found interesting on my study table. Neither the law books nor the briefs that I prepared would interest him as he was no lawyer. My curiosity overcame my initial disinclination and peeped one day unobserved when he was there. I saw him sitting crouched on the chair before my table and staring at my photo and mumbling something.
I knew he was worried about his deteriorating health and he saw less of TV these days spending more time resting on recliner. But why was he not meeting me instead of entering my study when I was not there. Was he trying to avoid me for any reason lest I find about his declining health? I decided to confront him the next day.
I had heavy work that day and had to also attend the court. I was in the bed listening to Shreya Ghosal. When I saw the watch, it was 10.42pm and I rushed out to see my dad walking back to his bed room. I tip toed silently behind him and stood unseen at the door to see my mom readying to ask him something. I strained my ears to hear my mom admonishing him, “How many times should I tell you to take care of yourself? At this rate I am afraid you will fall sick seriously sooner than later.”
“I was just spending a few minutes in Richa’s study. What is wrong with that and why do you make a fuss about it?” he replied rather diffidently.
“It only means you are still grieving much over her even after she left us bereaved in an accident three months back. It is not good for you in your frail health or for her. If you wish, I will have the photo fixed tomorrow opposite to our bed,” my mom softly said wiping her tears as she led him up to the cot.
I suddenly felt very lonely and lost.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Quo Vadis

It was hot and sultry with not a trace of breeze. I had just finished my lunch under the shade of a tea shop. Since early morning I have been witnessing the steady stream of migrant workers fleeing from the hosiery city in the wake of lock down and the closure of factories with possible loss of income. They were walking in clusters on the highway towards their native villages in the North. Most of them were young and able bodied with a small percentage of middle aged, women and children carrying bags and assorted bundles. Tired and thirsty they ambled along in the hot sun with much difficulty. With no trains or buses operating, they decided, come what may, to walk the entire distance to reach their safe havens and live among their own people in their familiar village.
I saw a young man sitting on the culvert with his face turned towards the city from where he walked. He had obviously separated from the group that continued its walk towards their distant destination.
“What is your name? Why are you sitting here alone when your people have continued to walk? Is it not good to walk in company than alone?”
“Sibu is my name, Saab. I know but I do not wish to go,” he mumbled
“Why is it then you  walked 30 miles from the city with them? Are you having second thoughts?”
“It was foolish and dishonourable on my part to have joined them in the first place. I have reconsidered and wish to return before the night,” he said as he wiped his sweaty face and limbs with a dirty towel.
“Were you working there? Have you lost the job or what?”
He kept silent but looked into his water bottle that was empty. He looked famished and thirsty.
“Here is a bun and a bottle of water. Help yourself first, “I said.
His eyes widened in surprise and quickly gulped two mouthfuls of water before eating the bun.
“I am sorry I did not answer your question as I am afraid of you in police uniform. You may put me in jail,” he said in a penitent tone.
“Do not be afraid. You have not done any harm to anyone. Tell me why do you want to return when so many have decided to leave?” I asked in soft and comforting manner.
It was then he broke into uncontrollable crying. I patted him and told, “You are a grown up man and it is not becoming of you to cry. Tell me quickly what the problem is? Are you in love with someone there? Be frank.”
“Nothing of that sort. The wretch that I am, I have left behind my aged parents to fend for themselves. My mother suffers from arthritis and she cannot walk without pain and my dad has poor vision and weak with frequent chest pain. I did not want to leave them but there was pressure from others for me to leave and walk along with them. My parents are not in a position to walk.
My father said, “We are old and we cannot walk. I insist that you must go with others as it is safe to walk in company. God willing when train services are restored we would join you or if things become normal you can return here. We can manage for short period and people here are helpful.” Sibu said
“Has the factory stopped working?”
“It is not a big unit but the stock of finished goods is heavy and the goods have not been dispatched as there is no transportation. The machines work very sparsely. The employer is a good person and has provided accommodation. All of us are worried what would happen if this pandemic continues for long. We cannot expect the owner to pay us for long when the factory is not running,” he explained.
“Do you think things are different in your villages? They also face the same threat, lock downs and people are falling sick.” I asked
“Yes I agree things will be equally bad. But, we have the comfort of living among our own people in our own hut. It is not a happy situation but better of the two options,” he spoke sensibly.
“So what is your plan?”
“I wish to return to my parents this night itself and assure them that I am with them through thick and thin. I can get the free food, rations and money the government has promised to give. I am healthy and can move around to do odd jobs to earn. My employer will certainly not turn us out of the accommodation. He may provide us some food too. Even if all of us die, there is the comfort that I have not ditched them,” he said in a determined tone.
“It is a little more than 30 miles and you cannot reach before the night even if you run,” I said with a smile.
“I am too tired for running but will start walking now anyway,” he replied
“No, you cannot leave this place without my permission,” I said in a peremptory tone of a police man.
The young man was appalled and started crying banging his head with his hands.
“Stop this drama, go inside the tea shop and sit down quietly on the bench,” I told him stiffly and added as an afterthought, “Have this packet of biscuits. One bun was not adequate for you.”
It was 5.30pm and the sun was going down. There was a gentle breeze. My duty hours had ended. I kicked my heavy bike and it roared to life as I sat on the seat. Sibu looked at me with horror and disbelief as the bike leapt forward leaving him alone in the desolate place. 
Dazed Sibu started trudging his way towards the hosiery city cursing the quixotic ways of the policeman, first in giving water and food and then leaving him in lurch after making him waste his time on the bench. It was then he heard the sound of motorbike returning and stopping by his side. Sibu’s face brightened with a glimmer of hope.
 I smiled at him and said, “I made you sit deliberately here for some time as a punishment for deserting your parents. I will now take you on my bike to your place as a reward for your decision to turn back. Do not worry, Things will return to normal soon thanks to the steps taken by government. I will take care of you and your parents in the meanwhile, if necessary. Come on, hop on to the pillion.”