“Passengers travelling by Indigo 6E-392 to Gauhati via Kolkata, kindly proceed for boarding ….……,”
In a daze, Angshuman proceeded towards the departure gate. This was the first journey by flight for the twenty two year old, but trepidation caused by the deadly Corona virus had camouflaged the thrill.
The airhostess assisted him as Angshuman made a futile effort to tuck in the seat belt.
He had heard from his friends about the pretty countenance and enchanting smiles of the airhostesses. The scenario was different today. She blinked her lovely eyelashes welcoming in a miffed voice, through the mask that she was wearing to cover her mouth. She appeared somewhat taut, fear looming large in those pretty eyes. Covid-19 disease had triggered panic amongst all.
Leaning back in his seat, Angshuman tried to recollect in retrospection all the events of the past few days.
How the gripping pandemic had been instrumental in bringing drastic changes in people’s attitude and perception!
It was day before yesterday that the last lot of twenty boys, who hadn’t paid much heed to the earlier notice served by the university to vacate the premises, were given the ultimatum. Exactly forty eight hours time before the country was to go on a complete lockdown.
The boys hadn’t fathomed that the matter would worsen so fast.
Initially the other boys may have taken the matter lightly, but Angshuman’s approach was not nonchalant. It was only that he could not afford to undertake a journey to his home town in Gauhati.
His family was counted among one of the impoverished lot. His father worked with a bamboo dealer for a meager salary that made them meet both ends, with stringency.
A wizard was born in this poor family and that was Angshuman.
Angshuman was well aware that his parents had pledged everything they had to see their only progeny complete his post graduation in Physics from Hyderabad University.
An unplanned journey was like paraphernalia to Angshuman.
All the students made their bookings unanimously for the 24th; some by train, yet another lot by bus, while the affluent ones had booked their flight tickets.
Angshuman’s journey plans were hanging precariously. Some boys were trying to chip in money, when a flight ticket to Gauhati fell on his lap. Angshuman looked up, in a stupor and was taken aback to see the bully of their batch Sahej, smiling at him. He was notorious for this vanity and other boys secretly called him a huge behemoth of 100kg. Generally the boys kept him at bay. He had a few chosen friends of his own with similar attitude, who hovered around him with vested interest.
“Buddy, here is your ticket, go home safely,’ he said thrusting some currency into Angshuman’s shirt pocket.
A whopping sum had been paid for the ticket, since it was a last moment purchase on the last day of flight services before the domestic airline were going to be suspended till further notice owing to the Pandemic.
Looking at Sahej gratefully, Angshuman said, “I can’t repay you this money very soon.”
A completely different facet of Sahej is what all the boys saw that day. They had only contemplated on the flip side of his personality that was rife with arrogance, but today they saw the other soft side of Sahej and his bounteousness.
Sahej assured Angshuman that the money need not be repaid; he just wanted everyone to reach home safely during this Pandemic.
The university had made arrangements to take all the boys by 12pm to their respective boarding places.
However the news was that the canteen had exhausted all its inventories except for three loaves of bread and it was shutting service soon after dinner that night. The cook would be leaving to his home town soon after.
The students were in a fix. Outside food was not allowed in from the time WHO had declared Covid-19 disease as a pandemic. The students weren’t allowed to go out either.
However, forgoing a breakfast was not the matter of contention now. Reaching safely to their respective destination was the need of the hour.
As the students were packing their bags on an empty stomach in the morning, they heard Professor Rajesh calling out to them.
“What is he doing here? Is he going to take our Viva before leaving?” chuckled one student.
Dr. Rajesh was the kind of professor whose very presence made the boys weak in their knees.
They were overwhelmed to see him with some more faculty members including lady professors, who lived in the campus quarters, all holding flasks and tiffin carries.
A sumptuous breakfast of homemade idli, chutney and upma was served along with hot coffee.
The professors had always been looked at as personification of sternness, but today the students were overcome by their compassion.
“Boys take care. Make sure that you follow home quarantine as soon as you reach, since you will be traveling today with many other passengers. Please do not try to be over affectionate by hugging your kith and kin. That can be done leisurely. And last but not the least, please don’t forget this lecture of mine like you all generally do,” Professor Rao, smiled. The light heartedness of the otherwise austere professor, took the boys by surprise.
As the vans passed the gate, the boys got down to express their gratitude to the security persons.
Working selflessly, round the clock, they had been keeping a strict vigil at the entrance barring entry to any outsider.
Though the students had perceived it as an intrusion; they now realized that it was only for their own benefit that the security had strictly stopped them from moving out of the premises.
“We are ready for take off!!!”
The announcement brought Angshuman out of his reverie.
‘Hope this catastrophe will be over soon and we would all get back to the university,’ he sighed with misty eyes.
Photo By: Mahesh Shrestha
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