A day in the life of a newspaper!

Last week the way my family reacted, meaning losing it all, when the internet went down for a few hours, made me lament on how utterly dependent on the web we are. Our life is controlled by this mesh from everything such as news, to quenching our sudden curiosities, studies, office, banks, entertainment, and every other activity of daily living.

Well, with everything at our fingertips (literally) now, how did we ever manage when the internet was not so encompassing a decade or two back, and non-existent before that. When the phrase world wide web conjured a completely different sci fi imagery.

My mind goes back to the years I was growing up without the internet.

Let’s start with the news of the day.

There was no system of instant news reporting (like now, sometimes even before it happened!!). There were no random video clicks of important events by a random passer-by who happened to be there with a cell phone poised, like someone filming the first plane hitting the first of the twin towers. (I often wondered as to how that can be a coincidence but more on that later!). Photographs, in black and white, were taken by professional cameramen who positioned themselves in designated areas during an event. News were meant to be written by professional reporters. And yes, newspapers were a vital part of every family.

The person who woke up first in the household had the responsibility of opening the main door and picking up the newspaper. It was a custom of opening the door, bending and scooping it up, and cursorily reading the Headline. Newspapers were not covered in full page advertisements those days in glossy papers, and the topmost headline meant something, and it carried its stately importance throughout the day, oft referred over and over in many conversations.

But the person, picking up the newspaper, daily, was not to open the folded pages, but the custom was to keep it in a designated area marked for the day’s newspaper. No written rule, but usually the person picking up the newspaper, was much below the pecking order which was followed to read the newspapers.

 Ah yes, there was a pecking order.

The highest rung was reserved for the patriarch of the family. He would read the newspaper, page by page, probably sipping the morning cuppa, and while doing so, read out loud some portions to the matriarch of the family, who is too busy preparing lunch bags and getting the kids ready for school, and will not get to the newspaper until noon. But worth getting to hear some of the news in advance.

Once the patriarch leaves for work, the person next in the pecking order gets the chance, and then the next and the next. Each person had their favourite place in the house where to read the newspaper and which page to go to first. The sports page or the international page, the fashion page or just the job advertisement. Once done, one had to carefully fold the newspaper and keep it neatly in the same designated space for the next reader.

I have never seen this pecking order being disturbed much and the newspaper always found itself back to its designated spot after each reader.

If some kids got their grimy hands on the newspaper, disturbing the pecking order, they were certain to be reprimanded and accused of crumbling the paper, staining it or keeping the pages out of order. It was best to wait till we returned from school, by when everyone would have read the paper and it would still be found in the same place. We would then be allowed to leaf through the pages, cut some items out for our scrapbook, or if it is raining outside, furtively, tear a page out to make a paper boat. And then swear loudly, if caught, that the page was not from today’s newspaper.

Because after the newspaper had its glorious day, it would have to be kept away in the store area. That responsibility usually belonged to the last in the pecking order and mostly to the children. And if anyone needed a sheet of paper to either wrap a book, or use it as a layer in a cupboard, or in this case make a paper boat, one needed to take the newspaper which was at the bottom of the pile. And days later, when the shelf in the store would be groaning under the weight of the daily newspapers piling up, scrap dealer would be called to take them away but not after a zealous bargain with the matriarch, on how much it actually weighs. The gains from the sale were used to buy something for the house.

So that was the life of the newspaper of the day and its reverence in our lives.

The only other form of news would be the 9 o’clock news in the radio. Now that was another significant object till it was displaced by the television, few years later. The radio claimed its revered spot during dinner time which also coincided with the nightly news. The responsibility of tuning the radio to get to the desired bandwidth rested on the important shoulders of the patriarch, and then over the years, passed on to the most responsible child, mostly the oldest. There had to be a hush silence as the elders listened to the news. No dinner conversation but listening to the crackling voice doling out the day’s news, the only source of what is happening in the world. Years later, this place was claimed by the television, and dinner was around it, everyone glued to it, and not much paying attention to each other, but to the riveting moving pictures on the screen.

And what do we have now?

Some of us do still take the newspaper. While the bending and scooping is still there, we cannot get to the headlines, as you know, we would have to leaf through several glossy pages, and there is no time in the morning rush for such a luxury. And even if we do get to the headline, isn’t it outdated already? As we have already seen it, heard it, read it, over TV, social media, and the ubiquitous chat channels, oh so many times, already!

The news and the headlines of yesteryears were something our folks ardently relied on and swore by.

Now, we are not sure. Fake and real live side by side and it is for us to decide what to believe.   

Oh what a day!!

All of a sudden, there were shrieks of agony and screams of despair emanating from everywhere. Accusations and angry snarls followed soon. From every room of our house. It seemed that an all out war bugle has been sounded and all means of assault will follow soon.

From one room there were roars of blasphemy and from another one a song which was playing a tad too loudly stopped and a howl so loud filled the air that our furry companion looked alarmed but dismayed that he now has to do better. There were shouts, confusion, ruckus in others, sounds of things being flung and hurled.

The members of the family started to pour out of their rooms, which is where they are found all the time these days, squealing in high pitch of anguish and despair, something about doomsday coming too soon in their lives.

The family was eyeing each other in a hateful accusatory manner and were taking those aggressive stances, which you see in a battlefield, ready to attack each other at the slightest provocation or if they get an idea who is the reason behind their appalling state.

Before you think, we are an ancient clan or savages, that is not true. The reason for this became quite apparent in a minute and it  could be summed up in three simple words

The internet is down.

Pathetically dependent are we on the internet, and if it goes down, the world around us seems to break into tiny pieces of calamity, hopelessness, despair, chaos, and life comes to a complete standstill.

For me, it gave me a sense of peace, when I looked at all my family members, aged 6 to 70, standing around, although ready to pounce on the perpetrator or just anybody.

I have never seen them all together before at one place, at the same time, never even on the dining table together!!

It was a treat to me and I was misty eyed.

I too was, hunched on the kitchen board,  watching a Youtube, learning how to cook an entrée, and was following directions, on how exactly to cut the onion slices.

Yeah you got it, seeing the family together was not what got me misty-eyed but the onions had. But it also meant that now I don’t know, what to do next, and how to get the lunch ready, for the family to continue to be together.

I have to improvise and fast, if I would like them to dine at the table, in a less hostile manner of course, and come have lunch together. I cannot order in. Ooops!! The internet is down, the apps will not work … hmmm…!! If I call the local diner directly, they will be confused and not know what to do, perhaps.

But age old mother’s recipe comes to my rescue and I quickly got the family to help me out.

Sometimes, internet being down, can be counted to bring families together. To actually look at each other and just talk and do family chores together.

In the modern world, it is not love which brings a family together, it is the malfunction of internet which does.

My book is live on Amazon!

My book is live on Amazon!

http://www.amazon.in/dp/B09NYHJW32/ref=cm_sw_r_oth_tai_DSD3GY3MHC4XZM0SBRA4 

It is also available in other countries, both in Kindle and Paperback editions, too. Please do read, and if you like, place your comments on the websites.

Nightmare turned true!

Isha cursed herself as she looked around for shelter from the fierce thunderstorm around her. She should have packed and left too, when all her colleagues decided to shut their laptops and head home before the impending storm. But she was nearing a deadline and she had thought she had time to quickly wrap things up and then leave.

How wrong she was …!!

The thunderstorm was nothing like she had seen before, and definitely not caught outdoors with one, raging wildly. The rain fell hard on her body like pelting stones. She was completely drenched in seconds, her umbrella no match to the wind which snapped its bars.

There was a flash and a ears splitting crack of thunder boomed all around her. It was like the sound of thousand drums which suddenly beat in unison and seemed to crack her heart and bones into pieces. Quite afraid now, she ran and took cover under a large Ficus tree as more lightning streaks appeared in the dark ominous sky and the deafening sounds followed.

Her mother’s word echoed into her ears! Never take shelter under a tree during a thunderstorm.

She looked up at the majestic tree, planted by a wise man several decades back, to provide shelter to the pavement, for resting travellers, to stop and ponder over what next. The tree, however, looked far from majestic now. It was caught in a frenzy trying to defend itself from the thundering storm. Its branches clamouring wildly, and the sounds which emanated where far from the rhyme or rhythm which the wandering travellers would have heard. It was a howl of terror, something which Isha wanted to do too. The madly swaying branches looked like a dervish swooning and flapping his arms and legs wildly in meek submission to the effects of an uncontrolled power.

Isha looked around and could not see any souls around. No birds, no beasts and no humans around. Only that man in a black attire, across the street. She looked towards him and could see the eyes glistening, probably the glasses reflecting light. She seemed to remember seeing him when she had stepped out of office, but had not given much thought.

She contemplated moving away from this tree but the next huge Ficus tree was closeby too. Standing in between the two trees will not be a good idea either. Through the haze of hard pouring rain, she spotted a bus stand few hundred meters away and decided to jog towards that. She was drenched anyway and how wetter can she be.

She carefully started jogging towards it, avoiding puddles which have formed over the pavement covering treacherous holes perhaps. Few cars whizzed past with high beams. But other than the sound of howling winds and crack of thunders, her footsteps was the only evidence of another living soul …

She reached the bus stand, not much cover but she didn’t care. As she started wringing her dress and her hair to rinse the excess water, her eyes fell across the street. She saw the man in the black attire, his eyes still glistening. Has he been stalking her? Did he also run while she was?

A foreboding fear streaked across Isha’s body just like the lightening in the sky.

This man, if he had some sinister motive, could easily bound across the street and get her.

Isha choked with fear.

She looked around wildly for help … but from where, from whom?

She saw the familiar figure of a yellow green cab with unoccupied lights on, and started waving frantically at it. She kept looking fearfully at the dreadful figure across the street, afraid that, he might, seeing his prey can escape can quickly cross the street in two leaps and get her. There was no traffic at all to stop his movement.

Isha, now beyond any sense of wisdom or judgement, started waving and shouting at the cab, knowing that her sound is muted with all the cacophony around.

The cab was moving too slowly. Is it that the driver is unable to see her? Is the car having some technical problem? Then it is of no use. But at least it seemed to be coming her way, albeit slowly, too slowly. At least another human being!

What seemed like ages, the cab finally reached the bus stand and Isha grabbed the rear door and plunged inside, shutting the door hard, and heaving a sigh of relief.

The driver was in a black attire and he turned, with eyes glistening, he asked “Where to, madam?”

Isha’s hand flew over her mouth as she let out a piercing scream …

And sat up in bed …

Oh!!

Are you a tea leaf?

As I sipped my morning cup of tea, in the serene, autumn/winter is coming weather, with my mind far, far away, I was jarred to the present moment, when I tasted a tea leaf.

The immediate action was to remove it, but it also made me think, philosophically. Yes, the ambience helped!! 😊

That same tea leaf, which 10 minutes ago was the most important factor of my tea making process, without which I would not have had my steaming cup, that tea leaf which gives the beautiful color and taste to the cup which has become staple for my mornings, that tea leaf which stimulates me for my day to come, that tea leaf which fetches hefty sums basis where it has been plucked from, is now being rejected and ejected?!

How easy it is for all of us to become a tea leaf? Sadly, very much.

After we have served our purpose, if we do not #reinvent#upskill#reenergize#definethenextpurpose#takeupthenextchallenge, we will all become a tea leaf!

(Oh, by the way, I have found a purpose for the tea leaf, to turn it and its siblings into a compost for my balcony garden!)

I’ve missed you …!

A screeching sound of a car braking suddenly and a burst of yelling with expletives!!

But nothing can stop Puffie as he ran behind Avi. Avi on hearing the screeching and yelling had momentarily looked back but seeing Puffie fine, he had kept running.

Puffie ran as fast as he could to catch up with Avi so that he is not left behind in the football game. If he is late, he will not be included in the game. He loved chasing the ball with Avi and friends. Most of all, he just adored Avi’s company and loved doing what Avi is doing or just hanging around with him.

Yes, Avi was the person he adored the most and looked up to in the world. Well, why not, it is because of him, Puffie is alive today.

****

It was the night when he was following his siblings and Mother, in a storm, he had not seen before in his life and was trying his best to keep pace with his family. Once or twice, his Mother stopped for him to catch up with them, as he struggled with his wobbly legs. But he was so pathetically slow that his Mother did not stop anymore. One of his stronger siblings even growled and kicked him, when Mother was not looking, irritated that because of him they are not able to reach safety sooner. But Puffie, that was not what he was called then though, was trying his best!

He used to be his Mother’s favourite with curly browns and dark eyes, but soon his stronger siblings had dislodged him from that affection, as he could see now. But he was doing his best not to be left behind in this dark stormy night!

And then he just slipped and fell into a ditch. He yelped and howled, first out of fear and then to get the attention of his Mother and siblings, but none could hear him in the din caused by the storm. The more he struggled, the more he kept getting stuck and sank further, until he was too tired and just gave up and just kept sinking …

He was jolted back to consciousness, when he found himself being picked up, out of the ditch and someone carrying him away. The storm seemed to have stopped and it was morning. He was too weak to protest, he just kept clinging for support.

He vaguely remembers what happened next.

The one who was carrying him was a little boy, named Avi. On reaching his home, Puffie remembers a lot of loud noises, while Avi still kept holding him tightly. The warmth which he felt from this, was some sort of a comfort for Puffie.

But it was short-lived and he once again found himself out in the world. But this time not in the ditch but on the grass outside Avi’s house. He was too weak to protest, to hold his head up, he just lay on the grass. The warmth of the sun was as much reassuring as the warmth he felt from Avi, well almost.

Puffie doesn’t remember how long he was outside, but he does remember that he was carried inside again and given warm milk. He finished it off and then again lay back to sleep. He just wanted to sleep for some more time.

What followed, was being christened as Puffie, and becoming a member of this wonderful family. He soon figured that Avi’s Mother can also be his Mother, if he listened to her. And he did, very dutifully. He also figured that Avi’s Father is someone he should keep a distance. Once he wanted to sleep over his boots and hadn’t realized that Avi’s Father’s feet were inside them. The shriek which emanated and the kick he got on his tummy, and the way he flew across the room, were things he had never forgotten.

But Avi’s presence, love and care, made Puffie forget everything from his past and settle down nicely into his new life and family.

He did what Avi did. When Avi studied, Puffie would wait patiently and quietly for him to finish. When he played with his toys, he would play too. The best part was of course when they went out in the lawn and played frisbee or ball. He slept when Avi slept, he woke up with him, he ate when Avi ate and played with him and pretty much his life revolved around Avi.

But there were days when Avi would go off in that yellow bus. Puffie would be heart broken and then follow Mother all around the house much to her chagrin but sometimes she would be in a kind mood and just let him.

Puffie would wait patiently for Avi to come back and get ready to go to the park to play football. Today was another day, when Avi and he had been running towards the park and he narrowly escaped from being run over by a car. He didn’t care. He didn’t die. He was running after Avi, who was getting stronger and stronger and now was able to run faster than him. He did not want to be left out of the football game. He loved chasing the ball just like Avi and his friends.

****

Puffie’s life continued in blissful ignorance that Avi is growing up. They still did things together but sometimes, Avi would throw him out of his room, (Puffie always thought it was his room too, but!!) and have his friends over. Once he had managed to get in and was shocked by the loud sounds coming out and red, blue and all other kinds of light flickering around, and Avi and his friends jumping around madly. He couldn’t stand the sound and what he saw so went to check on Mother.

Time passed and nowadays, Avi doesn’t go to play in the park anymore. Puffie misses that a lot. But still he finds comfort just laying down and waiting for Avi to finish his studies. It seems that that is all he does these days. But Puffie doesn’t mind as long as he is able to look at his most adored person.

Then one day, he found Avi weeping over his pillow. Puffie’s heart broke into pieces. He vowed to take revenge on whoever did this to Avi, but he didn’t know what or on whom. He jumped over Avi and just held him tightly. Just what Avi would do, if something happened to Puffie.

Puffie remembers that day clearly. Avi weeping and then all the family gathering in the dining room. The atmosphere was sombre. Puffie stood by Avi, ready to protect him from any harm. He did not know what or from whom but he was ready to do anything. There were again loud voices and Puffie was shocked to see Avi getting so angry and shouting back at Father. He has never seen Avi behave this way. It frightened him a bit, but it also caused a lot of concern as to what is happening with his Avi.

That night, Avi held Puffie closely and told him that he couldn’t get admitted to the college and course of his choice and thus was going away. Far, far away from Puffie and the rest of his family. Puffie understood some of it but not all, he loved being held by Avi, and just lay there with him.

But then it happened. He saw a lot of frantic activities around the house. When he tried to check out or help, he was mostly pushed away and chided to mind his business. He felt left out of something exciting and so he just went out to the garden to sulk.

That night again Avi held him tightly and told him that he is leaving and going far, far away. This time Puffie sensed that this might be true and felt a surge of sadness and despair. Oh, what will he do without Avi?  Isn’t Avi considering taking him along with him? Surely, he can but why isn’t he? Puffie’s heart sank at what seemed to be ominous days ahead.

And then Avi went away and Puffie was left alone. As far back in his life he could remember, he and Avi were always together. Agreed, last few years, Avi had managed to find time with his friends and didn’t include Puffie as much, but those were okay. He had the morning runs, the evening walks, games at the park some days, the dinner together and swapping stories at night. But all those good old days were gone.

Puffie kept sitting near the door everyday hoping that maybe Avi hasn’t gone far, far away as he claimed but has gone to school and will come back. But days went by and Avi didn’t come home.

Puffie was heartbroken. Now his morning walks were with Father who didn’t play with him and his evening walks were with Mother who would sit on the chair in a park and not let him go anywhere. He missed running around and playing frisbee but nobody to play with. Once he tried to play with a kid who had come to visit them, but realized that he is not as fast and agile as he used to be when he played with Avi. That saddened him. With Avi gone, not only is he lonely, but his strength is leaving him too.

These days he found comfort in laying around a quiet corner of the house. He didn’t bother to check who is coming and going. He just got up for his food and walk and pretty much just slept the whole day.

****

Then after what seemed to be a very long time of gloom and darkness, there were frantic activities around the house again and he sensed that Avi is coming home. This time again he tried to make himself useful and didn’t mind being pushed away. But try as he might, he was not able to do much. So he went and lay beside the door hoping to catch the first glimpse of Avi as soon as he arrived.

And there is Avi!! Puffie suddenly got a new rush of vigour and energy and ran towards Avi and almost toppled him over. Avi laughed as he always did and held him tightly.

Puffie was happy again. Exhausted from his sudden burst of energy and run, but actually euphoric. And just like he always did, he followed Avi around the house. This time he struggled to keep up, but he did not let him out of sight. He was not going to anymore.

That night as he lay beside Avi, he got up and held Avi tightly. Avi held him back.

I have missed you, Avi, Puffie said, as he slipped away towards a patch of sunshine.

Old fashioned mockery

I pressed down at the accelerator with all my might, with the other foot inches away from the brake, should things go out of control.

The engine whirred as if ready to shoot off like a missile into the space!

The car jerked wildly, lurched forward, ready to begin its journey, but seconds later the engine puttered and died down, greeted by cheers and cat calls from the audience.

Nah! Am not a NASCAR driver!

Neither are the audience the sophisticated spectators of a sportscar rally!

It is me and my car, stuck in a rainwater filled pothole, whose depth I had grossly miscalculated by several inches, not that I had any way of knowing.

The spectacle was being witnessed by men who had no business in my affairs but always took out time to enjoy a hapless woman’s plight. They seem always to materialize out of nowhere whenever one such woman is driving and is caught in some traffic or road intricacies.

I am driving in the city, which is known to the world to help organizations to move to the cloud, but somehow in its weird frame of governance, had never been able to maintain the roads before nature’s cloud closed in over it.

The audience, however, is omnipresent and are to be found in other cities as well.

I have been driving for more than a decade, a good, rule following, driver I am.

But if I ever have trouble negotiating a treacherous road, a traffic snarl, parallel parking, invariably I will see such folks stop to enjoy my discomfiture. The smug, the sneer, the mock, all evident from their expressions and gestures.

Why would folks take so much of pleasure at someone else’s, not known to them and never will be, discomfort. What do they get out of it? I often wonder but have never been able to figure out.

Once when I was slow to start off, when the light turned green, there were loud honks from all side, and the traffic police rapped at my window, and told me that women like me hold up traffic! On another occasion when I thought I would be able to cross the intersection when it was amber but couldn’t because a fella in a creaky cycle decided to float up in front of me, I again got a rap on my window and this time was told that women drivers like me always try to jump the light.

On taking a U turn, I perhaps might have taken a wider turn than a sharp one and was told that I lack finesse in handling the car.

I have been squarely blamed for traffic snarls, because evidently, I had not been quick enough to move my car through the narrow space created for a second between a bus and a truck, or wasn’t bold enough to bump out another car and move ahead, or perhaps stopped to give way to another vehicle.

If I happen to have one inside my car as a fellow passenger, I am asked to reduce my speed or flick the indicators miles before it is intended. Earlier in cars with stick, there was this added sermon as to what the correct gear should have been. Thank god, one discourse less!!

And the attention I would draw while trying to park in a narrow lot!

Anyway, back to my hapless plight, not one from the audience did really step in to help me out of the muck filled hole. I stepped out of the car to check the damage to my bumper and how deeply embedded are the wheels. The sight despaired me. The left front wheel was three-fourths into the hole and the right front wheel seemed to be off the ground. There was a pile of stones on the roadside and reversing did not seem possible.

As I stood pondering over my situation and thinking whether I should continue to try the same way, stamping on the engine, audience be damned, I heard a voice from heaven.

Ma’m, please start your engine and we will push your car. That will help you get out of the pothole, but be sure to move right quickly so that the left rear wheel doesn’t fall into the hole.

There were two young boyish adults, with rucksack on their back, on fancy bikes, probably on their way to college or tuition, who decided to help me out.

I nodded.  I had never liked being in centre stage, and I usually blank out in such situations and thus wanted to grab any help forthcoming.

I started my car and prepared to press hard on the engine. I didn’t have to use all my might this time. With the push from two able bodied humans, the car very easily lurched forward. I remembered to turn right quickly to avoid getting into the hole again and was out of the woods. Aaahh!

I looked back to thank the two boys, but they were well on their way!

Well, there is goodness in the world!

In spite of being in situations of mockery, I can perhaps think of many more situations, where I have got help, which perhaps outnumbers or shadows the mockery.

I can remember now of a situation, when I was in a traffic snarl (may be caused it), and someone stepped in, stopped several vehicle and paved way for me to move out.

Once when my car, would not start at a traffic light, I got two of our uniformed representatives, push my car till it did and they did so on their own.  

I have had help in changing the car tyre and so many more ….and I have had so many of those parking lot agents taking over from me to park my car.

Well, I will accept all the sneers and mockery which come along as I navigate through treacherous roads, as long there is goodness in the world!!

Sounds familiar, ladies!!

The changing paradigm of the poke

Done??! I asked, quite bewildered as I had felt nothing.

Yes, it is, and congratulations, Ma’m, for completing this milestone, she said.

I thanked her and breathed a sigh of relief.

A milestone indeed!

I shook my head in disbelief at what a change it has been on how we have moved from utmost horrifying terror to that of reverence.

The world was waiting impatiently for this to happen. This has been the headline for many months now. Sometimes depicted in graphs and charts as to how many have reached their milestones. Then there are pictures of long serpentine queues waiting to reach theirs. And then there are news about how states and counties are fighting for their shares. Everyone, just everyone, or almost everyone, wants to cross their milestone.

Yes, the fear has been transformed. The fear has been replaced by a want. A want to live and survive!

Such a respect for the needle now which for generations had inflicted fear.

I remember as a kid, how the power of the needle was wielded upon us by the elders. It seemed to be applicable to any situation!

Eat your greens, bitter ones, sour ones, any kinds, or else the doctor will give you an injection.

Finish your milk or you will have to be given an injection.

Don’t eat chocolates, you will get caries, and the doctor will have to poke the needle into your gums.

Don’t run amok in the house, amongst the furniture. You will fall and bruise yourself, you will need an injection.

Fever, injection!

Tummy upset, injection!

Don’t want to go to school today, injection it is!

I believe many a generation of kids decided to feel better and go to school than risk the chance of getting an injection.

Visits to the doctors were filled with utmost anxiety. Clinging on to the arms of the chair, tightly, I used to stare in horror, as the doctor would poise his pen, after hearing a version from me and my guardian, as to which body part it is today that is bothering me.

I always felt these doctors enjoyed the suspense of “whether or not”.  I even felt sometimes that I would see a twinkle in their eyes, as they would look at me, and create a mental upheaval, which I felt was totally unhealthy and counterproductive to the purpose of visiting them.

Sometimes, I would get away with just medicines. Oh, the tastes of which are a story for another day.

But the days when those dreaded words were penned …. !!! oh horror! horror!

The walls of the clinic would echo and shake with the howls which emanated from me. And as if in cue, the other babies and kids would join in too!

Dragging me from the doctor’s room to the other room was a task which Hercules would have liked but was left to my guardians, who didn’t. I would cling to the curtains, doors, furniture, anything I could lay my hands on and bawl my head off. I don’t know why even then the doctor would still not change his mind. If I had the strength to yell so much, certainly I didn’t need the needle.

In the other room, stood another man, this time definitely with a glee on his face. The sinister laugh at my plight, the sound of snap as he would put on his gloves, and all the while nodding his head, was beyond tolerance for me.

But I would now be under the strong grips of elders, not one, but several, and had no chance of escaping.

I would whimper on the coldness of the anti-septic rub and give in to the fate to be jabbed by the inevitable needle.

Well, that was not all. The jab also meant an honour roll for me. Reaching home, I would proudly display to my siblings and friends, the now invisible mark on my hand, and let them know that I took it without even an ouch!

Well, this time too, my milestone was an honour roll and I did show the tiny red spot on my arm on reaching home.

I had indeed crossed a milestone, not only to be jabbed once, but twice; nor was I held tightly to get the jabs, I willingly queued up for them.

A milestone it is … a paradigm shift it is indeed!

#I got vaccinated. Did you?

How the world has changed!

Through a pre-schooler’s eyes

Little Hannah was playing on her balcony with her dolls. She had planned an elaborate birthday party and was busy entertaining her kids. While playing the perfect hostess, she was startled to hear squeals of laughter from the balcony next door. Alarmed, she ran inside her apartment. In her haste she didn’t even pick up her kids, her dolls.

Hannah went to her bedroom, and through the curtains, she saw the two little people, about her size, playing in the balcony. She watched them play together, laugh, jump and shove each other. She was relieved that she had rushed inside just in time.

Her mother always shoved her into a room, whenever the doorbell rang. Once or twice, she had peeped, and saw her mother cover her face and stand far away from another person, big person, with a bag, also with face covered. Once she was caught peeping and her mother had shrieked at her for a long time. Hannah didn’t understand much as to why her mother has got so upset but heard the word virus and fever again and again, and the last word was enough to frighten her. She didn’t like getting fevers. Last time, she had to be in bed for many days and she had pains in her head, ears, tummy, and just everywhere.

But she did envy that there were at least two little people in the apartment next door and could play with each other.

She had none but her kids, her dolls, but they cannot run around like her.

Her parents didn’t play with her.

On some days, her parents will be up early and will be rushing about the house, cleaning, cooking and occasionally shouting at her to get up and have breakfast. And suddenly, all this would stop, and they will get into their rooms, and sit and start talking in front of their laptops the whole day.

Hannah knew very well that she has to be extremely quiet then. If she made noise or if she cried out or sang loudly, one of her parents would come out of their rooms and shush her.

On some other days, Hannah would wake up before her parents, and would jump into their beds. Then too, they would ask her not to jump and make so much noise and to let them sleep some more. Those would also be the days, when her parents would call what they said were their parents and would have Hannah talk to them. Hannah would see two people, with white hair and glasses over their eyes, each time, who would be extremely happy to see her and blow kisses, and talk a lot to her. She realized that if she talked to them, they could hear her and respond to her. Not like the television where sometimes she talks to Peppa but she doesn’t reply.

Sometimes, Hannah and her parents would get into their car and drive around. She is not allowed to get outside the car, and sometimes her daddy or her mommy would get out, and then come back often with large packets. Hannah would see people on the streets, shops, and sometimes few little people like her running wildly here and there and she would be confused.

Hannah cannot remember meeting or touching any other people other than her parents. She figured that she has to be afraid of every other people. So, whenever she would hear somebody in the balconies nearby or somebody at the door, she would run to her room and hide and be very, very afraid. She didn’t want to get a fever.

__**__

Tiresome world of a tweener

Jeetu’s day was not going well at all.

His deep sleep had come into an abrupt end with her mother shrieking at him that it is time for school and he had rolled off his bed and was just in time for his morning assembly.

The periods that followed didn’t go well for him.

The first period was geography and he had not submitted his assignment. He lied to Matthew Sir, that his mother was too busy with her office work till late at night, and thus was unable to upload the assignment. But Matthew Sir has decided to send a message to his mother. So, he now was in a dangerous situation and what followed was a serious brain racking of what should he do.

This was the third period and he could barely keep his eyes open. The arithmetic problem which Meenu Ma’m was solving for them was just too complex for him. On top of that Meenu Ma’m has insisted or rather commanded that Jeetu, Ashu and Kanika keep their cameras on. He, thus is not able to put his head down on his table and take a nap, nor is he able to gang up with his friends to plan some mischief.

He missed going to school on such days.

He was just promoted to class 5 when they had moved to online classes only, which was supposed to be a temporary arrangement. He, like all other kids, had liked the novelty of it, and had enjoyed about a month of it. Online or offline, their games, pranks and mischief had continued.

But they are in class 6 now and there is no certainty when they would be back into a class room. Sigh!!

Jeetu started to get into a foul mood.

Few months back, he and his apartment friends had started playing in the park inside their complex. But then a family got infected and their playtime was scratched. So he and everyone else was homebound again.

He was tired of gaming, watching TV, studying online and just everything about them.

He missed the smell of new books, starched school uniforms, new shoes every year. He missed playing with his friends, tackling and shoving them to the ground or sometimes be the victim. And mostly he missed the large playground of his school, where they would just run, and run, and run …

Jeetu, Jeetu!! JEETU ….!!!! Are you listening to what I am saying …!!!

Oh dear! He had indeed fallen asleep!

__**__

Turmoil of an adolescent life

Rozie was at loggerheads with her Mother and clearly losing. All she wanted was to go and have a sleepover at Zari’s. But no, her Mother will not allow!

She stomped off, slammed her door loudly, asked Alexa to play Swiftie’s ”Everything has changed” and plonked herself on her bed face down! She was so angry!!

She was tired of being locked in this stupid apartment with just her Mother all day, every week, so many months and more than a year!

She has not gone out ever … even once, in the past one year.

A month or so earlier, Zari, Ruby, Chetan and Dixie, were ‘gramming about their malling and just showing off. She was not allowed to go with them by her censorious Mother!

She missed going to the mall with her friends, just hanging around with them, having ice creams or soda or burger or whatever, the food wasn’t important but the giggling, talking, bitching and the guffaws were so much fun.

She missed getting her nails done. She had ordered a kit from Amazon and with the help of Youtube had done it at home, it was good, but nothing like the magical effect which Auntie’s Nail Art Studio had done last year.

She was tired of talking or texting her friends always and not being able to see them and go out with them. She envied her sister who had a time of her life while at college, hostel, night life, parties … and when she would come home, she would sleep most of the time and then be restless to go back to college.

She was tired of just being at home and have her classes online for so long and just staring at a bright screen always, her laptop, her phone, her tablet, TV, and nothing else.

She missed her college campus and her brief hostel stint. Before this pandemic drastically changed the world for her.

__**__

A sundered heart of an adult

Giri looked dumbfounded at the wedding invitation that has just popped into his mailbox.

“Kajal weds Anil” it said!

Kajal is getting married!!

Giri was crestfallen.

It was only a few months back… oh wait.. it is more than a year now, that Giri had fallen head over heels over Kajal, who he had met in one of the war rooms that was being held.

Kajal was so impressive, such a good command over her domain, how lucidly she would explain her proposition and would hold everyone’s attention while she took the center stage. Her voice sounded melodious, and she has such perfect, sharp features. Giri had to stop himself from staring at her too much.

After the day long meeting, Giri had plucked up the courage to go and introduce himself. To his surprise, Kajal was very amicable. Later when they had all gone out for dinner that day, Kajal and Giri had sat together and had pretty much just spoken to just each other. Or at least that’s what Giri’s memory said.

He had learnt a lot about Kajal that night though.

Even though the war room had come to an end and there were no reasons for them to be together, they used to bump into each other and then gradually a friendship bloomed and grew deep. There workstations were in different floors but they planned to have their lunch and other breaks together. To Giri it was a romantic relationship progressing well and he was about to suggest to Kajal that they should meet up outside office as well. So why didn’t he?

And then abruptly the lockdown started. Kajal had just about time to fly back to her hometown in Indore. They continued to be in touch with each other through Whatsapp.

Did their Whatsapping slow down? It actually did. From daily good mornings and forwards and some office gossips and some personal chit chats, it changed to just good mornings and forwards and occasional personal chitchats to just forwards sometimes, or occasionally, or rarely and then when did it stop ..!!

Giri had also got busy with a very critical project and his days just blended into one another. He had lost sense of day, date, time season everything. Maybe it was his fault, he didn’t respond to, maybe her messages?

Giri looked at the invitation again. His heart was beating loudly, his ears started ringing, and he started feeling warm. Kajal should have told him about her upcoming nuptial. He thought they were close. Weren’t they really?

He banged his head against his desk and just stayed that way, bowed head, in defeat, a failure of a blooming romance, which will never see the light of the day.

He envied his older brother, who had met and married his office mate. That was possible then, now not!

Online messaging tools cannot keep the hearts from being broken asunder.  

Days of solitude

Bella woke up gasping for breath. She felt as if an elephant is pressing down her chest with its foot.

Nothing like that at all. The night was quiet with just the humming of the ceiling fan. She checked her phone clock. It was 1:12 am. She checked her pulse rate…high. Her Pulse Ox…normal. Temperature…normal.

With a sigh, she turned on her tummy to release the pressure on her chest and prayed for her days of solitude to end, without any adverse incident. It seemed so long…

There were news items here and there about an outbreak in Wuhan, China. So many of us had read it and shrugged our shoulders perhaps. Did we think it is just like the SARS, MERS of the decade earlier, which caused a ripple, but never crossed our threshold. Did we think that what is in the newspaper stays there and doesn’t touch us. At least that is what Bella had felt.

News happens to others. The people in the news are other people, not those she knows, not those she loved and cared about. She sometimes felt sad, sorry or happy for those other people, but those are flitting emotions. What happened to those other people doesn’t happen to her or enter her space.

She had continued with her daily life in 2020 not once foreseeing how her world will stumble and change dramatically.

In hindsight, 2020 passed off as a grey smog in the distance. She was able to see it through her lockdown windows, engulfing the other people but still away from her space.

She was busy with her work at home schedule. She devised many indoor activities, to compete with the innumerable WhatsApp messages, where her friends and connections were showing off their culinary skills, art skills, home décor skills, you name any skills and people somehow possessed them and were the best.  

Then it started surreptitiously encroaching her space, unbeknownst to her. In a very sinister manner, it whiffed away the life of a near and dear one. It had entered her home. It had struck fear and horror in her mind.

So dreadful was the experience, that it left a scar in her mind and she was unable to focus or compete with the ever-growing talent shows by her friends. It took quite a bit of effort to come out of the doomed feeling and get back in the game.

The troubled year was coming to an end and with it there was rising a new year of hope. In simple human minds, the thought was there that perhaps the new year will not be as bad as the last one. With news of vaccines and the number of those other people affected at an all time low, Bella was also feeling cautiously hopeful and optimistic.

She started planning what she would do once she had her two doses of vaccines.

Take one of those long-awaited trips from her bucket list? But first a leisurely afternoon, spent in a hair salon. The lockdown haircuts were suited for indoors and the zoom calls where the large headset hid the hideousness, but if she were to be out and about, masked or not, she needed to take care of her hairdo first. Her list grew and she felt better.

Lost as she was in her daydreams, she failed to notice that the smog has turned into an ominous black. If it could make sounds, it would have made sounds of a distant, rumbling thunder. But she didn’t notice and no one else did either.

What hit now was with so much ferociousness that 2020 paled in significance.

This time it did not come as a whiff. It came with full force and power and engulfed Bella’s space, her mind, her area.

What was supposed to be a random test for elimination had come back positive. Bella looked in shock at the email staring at her. How could that be possible? She had daydreamed, she had made plans, but not really gone out. How could this happen to her?

 Her days of solitude had begun.

She felt nothing physically.

But that piece of email had the power to take control of her mind and her peace.

A slight itch in the throat … is that the beginning of her symptoms?

A tickle in the nose … has the symptoms begun?

Is that a headache coming on? Feeling weakness in the limbs … is that it?

Wasn’t the temperature lesser an hour ago, is it now going to keep increasing?

Is the pulse oximeter showing the correct reading? Is it working properly?

That’s an irritation in the eye, is that normal?

Taste … no change so far!

Smell … she would sniff the perfume, lotion, cream … intact!

Paranoia … definitely set in!!!

Worry, tension, stress and an all encompassing fear engulfed her. She was worried about spreading the infection; she was worried about her symptoms appearing and worsening; she was worried about those who were tending to her care … she felt helpless, hopeless and in the brink of insanity.

She was not alone in her gloom. The phone messages, which were earlier of competition and showoffs, had taken a dreadful turn. They were now filled with mishaps, deaths and cries of help for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders or concentrators, critical drugs or just a wail of despair. The news apps screamed about the ever increasing toll and the ineffectiveness of the government and local civic bodies. They were graphic in their description and in the photos they shared, highlighting the plight which was going on.

For Bella, it was not those other people who were affected now, it was her friends, family and her loved ones. Not a day would pass without the saddest news possible coming in. She was in a stupor, helpless and hopeless, dry eyed but with an aching heart.

She would drift off to sleep at night, thanking the almighty that a day has passed without symptoms for her, but soon would wake up gasping for breath, trying to fight away the pressure she felt in her chest.

Bella was staring at the walls, in her locked room, hung with many pictures she had drawn during the lockdown. She was into her 4th day of solitude and she had 13 more to go. It seemed impossible for her to go on with the state of mind she was in. It was impossible to share her feelings with anyone, as everyone she knew, was going through a crisis, and she was known to be the strong one. She resolved to control her maddening mind. She vowed to get over her pitiful state and return to more focus and positivism.

She recalled all the books she had read about prisoners in solitary confinement. Her affairs were far from that state, but she decided to do what the survivors did.

A routine followed.

Getting up in the morning at 6:30 am.

Ablutions done.

Take temperature, pulse rate, SPO2 and note them down.

Start Yoga, followed by meditation and breathing exercises.

She was never into meditations, but she began to find solace in the 10 minutes she would spend listening to calming music and a voice guiding her to concentrate. The breathing exercises would confirm that she has no respiratory infections.

She would end her sessions by jogging in one place and pacing for 10 more minutes. The pulse ox check would let her know that her lungs are in good shape. The heaviness she feels in her chest is that of anxiety and she has to control it.

Then she would sweep, mop and dust her room and balcony.

Bella took good care of her food intake. Although her total dependence on her family to cook and keep the meal, timely at her doorstep, broke her heart. But she would fight back her tears, assuring herself that it is for the best for everyone around her.

Bella did not skip her office work but continued her daily routine.

It would become overwhelming some days. Comments from co-workers, although shared with good intent, would seem thoughtless, but she rallied on.

She stopped looking at the news much these days, and although the grim messages kept flowing in, she kept up with a fortified attitude not to break down. And she got a ton of help from her family and friends. She had not shared with anyone her situation of despair or a resolve to fight back. But your near and dear ones just know when to be around you. She got messages of love and hope and clung on to them.

Every night, as she dozed off to sleep, she would continue to thank the almighty for another day without symptoms and taking care of her friends and family.

She noticed, pleasantly surprised, that now she is not waking up with the chest pressure. She is sleeping well and undisturbed. Her feeling of overwhelm, doom and despair have lessened. Not gone, they seemed to hover in the horizon, waiting and watching, ready to pounce and strangle her, but she was able to recognize the triggers and stop them on time.

And the days and nights passed, and her 17 days of solitude came to an end.

Bella opened the door and looked with misty eyes at her family, the dining table which she missed taking her meals on, the hallway where she would watch TV, the furniture, the décor, every bit of little things in the house, which she had stopped noticing or had taken for granted. Things she thought of selling off or giving away seemed to be tugging at her heartstrings as if rejoicing in her return.

She regaled at what she so despaired to see for so long and she felt that everyone and everything around her are welcoming her back into their fold.

Disclaimer: This by no means is a prescriptive narrative on what one should do when inflicted by the dreadful contagion. This is an individual’s fight to stay sane during solitude and surrounded by miserable news.

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