It was Durga Puja. Everybody was dressed up in his best outfits. The Roy family would be going Pandal-hopping. Though there was the Corona Virus Pandemic, the Roys were not to be deterred in indulging in all the fun and festivities of the occasion. They were well armed with their masks. Pratima had made a small mask for their son, Rohit who was three years old. It was difficult to coax the little one to keep the mask on. He would pull it off instantly saying he was not being able to breathe. She had also stitched masks for herself with the colours matching with her gorgeous saris. Her husband Manik had opposed the idea of going Pandal hopping, as according to him, as the virus was supposed to be in the air, where so many people were gathering, the risks of contracting the virus was real. But in the end Pratima had her way, and Manik trailed along against his better sense. ‘The Social Distancing’, also meant long queues, and standing in the sun, was not a very happy thought. Anyway, after having the experience for four years of being a husband, he knew it was not wise to oppose his wife’s wishes, so he went to take out the car from the garage, like a submissive lamb.
The first in the list of Pandals to be visited was the one of the Blue Star Club. The Roys had heard that everything in the pandal was made with injection bottles, and hence the attraction. They saw a long multi-colored line of holiday-makers, dressed in attires specially bought for the occasion, snaking into the elaborately decorated Puja pandal, patiently waiting for their turn to enter.
Manik had to park his car in a parking lot at the far end. He had to carry his son all the way. But as soon as they reached the richly decorated entrance, the boy refused to be carried, and insisted that he should be allowed to walk like all others. He also was adamant that he would not hold his parents’ hands as he claimed he was a big boy. For maintaining peace, the father gave in, as otherwise the situation would have become embarrassing in public. The parents experienced profound happiness to see their little one excited to see all the embellishments in the pandal. The horses and elephants shaped out of injection bottles were not only eye-catching but created with ingenuity. The crowd started becoming thicker as the time advanced. In the meantime Rohit had not only taken off his mask, but had also dropped it on the dust and dirt. At that moment, nothing could be done. But Rohit was enjoying himself thoroughly, matching his steps with the music and clapping his hands. The only problem which got Manik worried was the dust raised in the air by so many footsteps, which when Rohit would inhale, cause allergic reaction. Both the parents saw a family whom they were very friendly with, who were also in the same queue. They started talking animatedly and were engrossed in exchanging their views about the pandemic. All of a sudden they realised the child was not with them. Panic gripped their hearts. They looked everywhere but the boy was not in sight. They asked everyone around if they had seen the boy but they all shook their heads in the negative. Perspiration ran down in agitation and they ran around like chickens whose heads had been recently decapitated. Pratima started sobbing uncontrollably, and Manik called out his son’s name over and over again, but there was no response. Then they asked the Organizers to announce that if anyone had seen the boy, they should bring him over to the Desk. At the end of half an hour there was no result. They gave them their phone number and asked them to inform them, should they get any information about the child. They also hurriedly informed the Police about the mishap. Frenzied and nearly out of their minds, they went home. They waited and waited with their hearts thumping, and their bodies trembling with perturbation, but the sun went down; there was no news of Rohit. They heard the clock strike seven, the parents pried into the darkness hoping to see their precious offspring being brought back to them. The thought of Rohit’s being devastated without them; the thought of his going hungry wrenched their hearts. Pratima and Manik stood like inert statues, staring into the darkness, drowned in the abyss of gloom.
All of a sudden Pratima gave a loud scream and rushed out. In another moment she had grabbed her son into her arms, and smothered him with her kisses. The Father was less demonstrative, but he quietly wiped away the tear that had all of a sudden filled his eyes, on seeing his son. Rohit was brought back by his class teacher, who taught him in Don Bosco School.
Evidently he had spotted his class teacher in the crowd. He got so excited that he impulsively dashed towards her, and embraced her. Mrs. Jacob was so overwhelmed that she wrapped the boy in her arms. Both were unaware of the world around them in their joy of meeting each other, after so many days because of the pandemic. But when the teacher looked around, she could not make out who the parents were. The boy also could not see his parents in the crowd. So it happened that teacher and student were happy in each other’s company for the next few hours. But now the problem cropped up. How to reach the child to his parents! She took him home. She produced a new mask for him, and gave him a good lunch. But she had to figure out how to contact his parents. The child could not give her their phone number, or their address. She wracked her brains, and finally she got a brainwave. She would go to Don Bosco School, and ask the Security to open up the office and from the school register to check his address. All this took up quite a lot of her time, but eventually she succeeded. They boarded a bus which took them directly to Hiland Park.
As they say, “All’s well that ends well”! The Roys realized that it was a great blessing from God that they still had their precious son with them; we must never take His munificence for granted. The incident could have ended on a tragic note too!