It was a sultry afternoon. The day stretched endlessly, waiting for twilight. The orange popsicles stained his tongue but didn’t quench his thirst. He wasn’t sleepy for lack of physical activity. He read books, heard songs on his laptop, played mobile games but time stood still, fatigued by the heat of the Indian summer.
Bored, he picked up his drawing kit and started sketching a treasure map to reach the fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He drew ardently, painstakingly filling vibrant colours in the verdant landscape, flora, and fauna. The emerging terrain captivated him. He paid attention to every tiny detail. The sound of wax crayons against white paper, echoed the unstoppable rhythm in his delicate fingers.
Beyond the tanned mountains, arched the seven colors of mystic beauty. At the corner of the sheet, a speck glimmered. He added final touches to the elusive gold and rested the point of his crayon, in a finishing move, just as the first star of the night rose in the burnished horizon. In the twinkle of its light, with sweat beads on his brow, he sailed through the azure skies, having fallen from the edge of the map.
It started with the small blue notepad his mother handed over to him. She was busy in the grocery aisle; he was running around, getting in the way. She ripped out her shopping list and gave the notepad to him to entertain himself. His 6-year old fingers doodled and channeled his tiny self out of trouble.
Waiting in the checkout line, she entertained him by dictating all the items in her shopping cart. He was proud of his first list. He felt almost grown-up that day. After all, writing and list-making was the effortless skill of adults. A notebook became his constant companion.
Here is a lockdown story. In July 2020, when the lockdown was slowly being lifted until 8:00 p.m. the husband and I ventured out in the car to shop around for a new bicycle for the son. It was an uneasy feeling. There was police force all around and people were roaming without masks in the suffocating summer sizzle, congregating around juice counters, and paan shops.
It was already 7:45 p.m. and the fear in the air was comingling with the viral threat. Police personnel on motor bikes were ordering roadside hawkers to shut shop before the 8:00 p.m. curfew. There was this tired looking man carrying some plants on a rickety bike. I could hardly see what plants he had. I noticed a curry leaves plant that I wanted, even though I had already ordered one from NurseryLive.com.
I hadn’t got out of the car until then, considering that I fall in the comorbidity category but something clicked and I went and bought this plant from that person. I asked him to keep it in the car trunk. He handed me some change and I was so afraid. While I fumbled for my sanitizer bottle, a policeman was hitting his lathi on the poor man’s bicycle. He quickly scuttled away.
It was dark. I hadn’t checked the plant quality. I wasn’t bothered. I just wondered how these daily wagers and people without regular income were making ends meet. For around 10 days, I watched the curry leaves plant settle in it’s new home, while I also kept a watch for Covid symptoms.
In September 2020, our State opened on weekends; until then we had weekend lockdowns starting Friday, 9:00 p.m. When the lockdown was finally lifted, there were no feelings – what to do with the opening up, where to go? But if we don’t go out, poor people like that plant seller, for whom hunger was a bigger fear than the police, than Corona, will continue to suffer.
We are a developing country. Though we also have some of the richest businesses in the world, a majority of our population struggles to make ends meet. These poor people are the ones with the biggest hearts. That evening, that plant seller on a bicycle gave me a healthy curry leaves plant for just Rs 60/-. Today, it flourishes and provides, and may it do so for a long time.