Corona-ted Rakhi6 mins 566 6 mins 566
I was reclining in my living room couch, staring at a photo on my laptop taken on last year’s Rakhi. My sister’s beaming face and the rakhi-string shone so brightly that one might think they would come alive at any moment. I shook my head, gave a half-smile to myself and thought, “Things are quite different this year.” I tried fighting back the teardrops which wanted to leave their abode, but the attempt was futile. I wiped my eyes by the back of my hand, sighed and walked to the balcony, thinking of getting some fresh air. The air was undoubtedly fresh, with almost no pollution in it. But not even a single civilian could be seen. The only human activity was a Police car patrolling the locality, the rest of it had already been claimed by the stray dogs.
Suddenly, I heard a knock at my front door. It was a rather strange event not only because the virus attack had locked down everyone in their houses, but there is a calling bell at my door. “My ears must have been mistaken,” I thought.
Knock knock. I heard it again. I turned my head and stared at the door. Knock knock. Somebody was really knocking. My forehead creased.
“Who would be an idiot to knock instead of pressing the bell?” I thought. “Coming,” I said, raising my voice.
As I approached the door, I could smell something familiar, or, to be precise, the perfume used by someone familiar. “Didi?” The possibility seemed incredulous. “She can’t be at the door!” I shrugged and shook my head.
I stood just opposite the front door, transfixed. I could smell phenyl and sandalwood together.
“Open the door,” thundered a familiar voice. I opened the door to see my sister standing at the door. “What took you so long?”
“Sorry, Didi,” I said, staring at my feet. “I was in the washroom,” I lied.
“Would you make me stand here all day?”
I did not realise that I was standing at the door, guarding her entry. I moved aside without a word. “How are you, Didi? Didn’t hear from you since the outbreak.”
“Oh, don’t ask me.” She entered and removed her mask. “Bring sanitizer.” As I sprayed the liquid on her hands generously, she rubbed it all over her hands.
“How are you, Didi?” I repeated. “Haven’t heard from you for a long time. Jiju told that you were posted in the corona ward.”
She nodded. “I am still serving there. It feels like being a front line warrior, you know?” she said with a self-satisfied smile. “I came here only for Rakhi.”
I was almost sure that there won’t be any celebration of Rakhi amidst the lockdown. I scratched the back of my head, made a sorry face and said, “Sorry, Didi. I can’t get any gift for you this time.”
She smiled and moved her hand on my head. “As if you get me one every time.” As I smiled back sheepishly, she continued, “But it’s ok. Now be quick. Bring your right hand forward.”
“Wait, let me get ready,” I said with a preventive wave of my hand. “I haven’t taken a bath yet.”
“There’s no time, Rahul,” she said. “I have to go back. They are waiting for me.”
She just smiled. I held my right hand out to her. She tied a silken thread around my wrist and said, “Happy Rakhi, Bhai.” As I bowed to touch her feet, she stopped me, held my chin up and planted a kiss on my forehead.
“May you live long!” she said and placed her hand on my head.
I could see tears welling up in her eyes. “Hey, Didi, why are you crying? I will give you your gift. Promise.”
“Will you?” she said. I nodded. “As you have got no gift, why shouldn’t I ask for the gift of my choice?”
“Sure, go on,” I said. “I promise I’ll give you whatever you ask unless it’s something I can’t afford.”
She smiled. But it was a sadness tinged smile. “I just want you to promise me.”
“Promise?” I said, narrowing my eyes.
“Yes. Promise me you will never visit a hospital unless you are personally ill. Promise me you will live long.”
“What sort of promise is that?” I shrugged. “Why would I need to go to a hospital unless I am ill? And how can I promise to live long?”
She desperately fought the rebel teardrops, but lost. The tear tracks glistened on both her cheeks.
I said, “Okay. Don’t cry. I promise.”
She smiled. “I have to go now. Duty calls. Bye.”
“Wait. Let’s take a souvenir selfie.” I brought my cell phone out of my pocket and clicked the shutter. I placed the left hand over her shoulder, and balled my right hand and placed it just below my face, flaunting the rakhi tied on the wrist.
She walked towards the door, turned her head and said, “Take care, Bhai. Bye.” As she walked out of the door, I locked the door and wondered why she did not press the calling bell. “Let’s ask her,” I thought. I opened the door. But she was not there. I looked to the right, and then to the left. “How can she disappear?” I said to myself. I pressed the bell to check if there was a fault. Ting tong. It rang. Scratching my beard, I entered my room.
I was staring at my rakhi tied hand gladly when my phone started ringing. I took it out of my pocked reluctantly. Jiju Calling flashed on my mobile screen.
“Hello, Jiju,” I said cheerfully. I could hear only sobs from the other side. “Jiju… Jiju… are you there?” Sobs turned into wails. “What happened Jiju? Why are you crying?”
In between his sobs, my brother-in-law barely uttered, “Kavita… Kavita has left us.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Your Didi has left us, Rahul,” he said amid his sobs. “She has lost her life to Corona, a few minutes back. I don’t know what happened or how it happened. She was tested negative.”
“What nonsense?” I said, in a voice revealing my anger. “She was with me just now.”
“I wish what you are saying were true.” He started wailing once again.
“But, Jiju, she came to my house a few minutes back,” I said, “and tied me rakhi.” I looked at my wrist, but alas, the rakhi was not there. I got perplexed. I opened the phone gallery and looked at the last image captured. “Where is Didi? Where is the rakhi?” I wondered. The image showed me placing my left hand in the air as if hugging someone invisible. My balled right hand under my face flaunted a bare wrist. Reality dawned on my mind in a flash.
I wiped the sweat off my forehead, and asked, “Where is she now?”
“Her body is kept in the isolation ward. They are saying that we can’t take her body. She will be cremated as per government norms.”
“I’m coming in a few minutes. Wait.”
“Don’t. You’ll be at risk of contamination. Your Didi wouldn’t have wanted that. They are forcing me to leave too.”
“But…” I stopped as I remembered the promise I made to my sister a few moments back. Or I should say, my sister made me promise her.
My sister, a nurse, was a front-line fighter against deadly Novel Corona Virus. She died with her boots on, or should I say, in her apron? There is no such phrase for martyrs who die fighting a disease, I know. Her body did not come covered in the tricolour; nor did she get a guard of honour; her four-year son did not even get a last glance at her body. She had been Corona-ted.