The Sainik Vihar Senior Citizen Home stood tall in its stately blue and white visage. A grand garden that bloomed with multitudes of flowers was a stark contrast to the road outside the Home. Just outside the Home, on a corner, one could see a pile of garbage. The polluted Delhi air pervaded the surroundings, while a lone cow sprawled in the middle of the road.
The Senior Citizen Home housed a number of elderly residents, all of whom were either defense veterans or families of defense personnel.
Air Commodore Dhillon sat in the garden, on a folding chair sniffing cigar while, three others, all septuagenarians sipped tea. There was Mrs. Batra, a widow whose husband, a retired Brigadier, had passed away five years ago. Then there were Colonel Menon and Mrs. Menon, an old army couple who chose to stay at the Home after retirement.
The morning hour discussion was in full swing.
“Bloody, these politicians are leeches. Again some MLAs turned hostile and are hiding their asses in a hotel. No patriotism left, I tell you. In the 1971 war, when I flew the Gnat…”, Air Commodore Dhillon exclaimed.
“Dhillon, we know the story by heart…Nonsense”, Mrs. Batra cut him short and he glared at her cursing under his breath.
Mrs. Batra was the only one who had the ‘balls’ (as per Colonel Menon) to call out to Dhillon, who had quite an intimidating persona. Six feet tall, with mustaches that seemed to almost merge with his turbaned head, he was a talker.
“Mrs. Batra, so any new pictures of your grandson?” Commodore Dhillon uttered with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
“Yes, my son sent me a new picture yesterday night. Not everyone is as lucky as you Dhillon. Some of us see these kids grow only in pictures. You fly out tomorrow, right?”
Two months later
Coronavirus had spread its tentacles over the world and the home appeared lonelier than ever. Residents were asked not to gather in groups. The virus posed a greater threat to oldies like them. The gardens lay empty and food was sent to the respective rooms. Gloom hung over the home like an overcast cloud.
“Wash your hands…for twenty seconds, like this”, Colonel Menon was busy teaching his wife.
Mrs. Batra sat in her room fiddling with the remote. She tried hard to focus on her favourite TV serial, but her mind wandered elsewhere. She picked up her phone and called Mrs. Menon.
“Hello, yes, all good. This Corona has pushed us to our rooms, alone- what do they say –social distancing, self-isolation. Aren’t we already isolated and distanced from our families.” She stopped and sighed.
“You don’t worry. We are here only. Menon, who cannot boil a cup of water, is teaching me how to wash my hands”, Mrs. Menon giggled.
“Did Dhillon call?” Mrs. Batra asked trying to sound all casual.
“No, Menon is worried too. Commodore Dhillon is in Italy no? It is the worst hit. No calls from him. We will ask the manager for his son’s phone number.”
Mrs. Batra stared at the television screen again. She suddenly felt fear grip her and without any foreboding, she broke into tears. It had been days since she had heard from her son. He was avoiding her. She was wise enough to know why. Immediately Dhillon’s words rang through her ears, “Mrs. Batra, stop groveling to your son. He does not want you- plain and simple. Bloody, he is a joker. Let him go to hell. Get a hobby, live your life”.
On a whim, Mrs. Batra stood up and opened up the green coloured steel almirah. It lay open with a shattering sound. There at one corner, she saw her crochet needles stuffed beneath some clothes. Hesitantly, she pulled them.
A month had passed and the situation had turned grimmer. The government had imposed a twenty-one-day lockdown and flights had been suspended.
The Home had fewer people now. Many were taken to their houses because of the pandemic. But, then there were some who were still there. There was a scuffle when the monthly medicine supply box arrived. Meals had turned leaner and loneliness had now become unbearable.
“Any news from Dhillon?” Mrs. Batra asked Colonel Menon.
“No, I tried asking his son’s number. But, the manager said he was not reachable.”
Three months later
The lockdown was lifted. The virus was restrained to a great extent. Flights had resumed. Slowly but steadily, residents of the Home looked for some semblance of normalcy. The Gulmohar tree in the garden was now bursting with red blooms heralding the arrival of spring.
The morning tea sessions resumed. Fear that had engulfed the residents, jerking them off like a bad case of arthritis, was dispelling now. They had survived this.
But, Mrs. Batra was miserable. Even in the company of her mates, she felt alone.
It was a beautiful morning. Mrs. Menon was busy finishing Sudoku, a habit she developed while she was cooped up in her room for a month. Colonel Menon pored over the newspaper. Mrs. Batra was engrossed making a beautiful crochet table mat, her fingers nimbly weaving magic. Just then a car stopped at the front gate.
“Bloody hell! Good morning Jokers”!
Commodore Dhillon stood in front of them – his mustache even curvier than usual.
Mrs. Batra could not contain her joy.
“Dhillon, where were you? No news. We were scared. We couldn’t reach you.”
“I came here fifteen days back. But, the jokers put me in quarantine. I am not scared of this Corona. Even if I had it, I would have bloody well defeated it. I am a fighter you see. Not like you Menon, look at your paunch- about to touch your toes. In 1971, when I flew the Gnat…”
“Nonsense Dhillon, shut up”, Mrs. Batra blurted out.
Everyone looked at each other and broke into laughter.
And just like that, everything was well with the world.
Photo By: Christina Gottardi
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