I saw the girl speaking on social media. She must be of your age. She spells out her anger well, with guarded words. Such poise. I thought she would burst out with anger. But no. I feel good that she could speak up. Wonder how her parents must be feeling. The cowardly creature who spat on her face must be celebrating. Somewhere in the dark Delhi lanes. He must be sharing his spoils of spitting on a ‘Chinese look-alike’ girl among his friends. He knows well that he will not be reprimanded or punished. For he and his fellow creatures have thrived in an ecosystem. In such an ecosystem virus of hatred and prejudice flourish. There are no vaccines for them yet. Perhaps they will never be found.
Back home everyone is worried. Good that you have decided to return. We assured ourselves that you will reach home without much trouble. Your grandmother keeps asking about your return.
“Why is Naobi taking so long to reach home?”
I have to explain to her everything. Almost everything. Like I do in the classroom. The only difference is that my mother is my student. So, this student of mine raises questions not just out of curiosity. For sure her questions are not intended to impress her teacher, or her classmates. I know I have to stick to the basics: make it as simple as possible. Covid 19, virus, lockdown, social distancing, quarantine center and sanitiser. They are now our everyday lexes. But each day I seem to find a new meaning of each word. All because of my new student and her questions. I don’t know why. I always have this feeling that I have not done enough explanation. Hearing this you would say that your father must control his lecturing thrills. You would also make fun that the private school teacher is overworking again. Much beyond one’s salary!
Need I say more, Naobi. The virus has taught new vocabularies to everyone. Already peeved by the lockdown, she is not ready to digest the words so easily. Even her good old radio seems to have ditched her this time. Those malleable voices and their daily sermons have failed to enter my student’s ears. She also comes up with questions beyond the curriculum.
“Will I not be able to see the Keithel Lairembi again?”
I masked my discomfort and dismissed her question as irrelevant. The World Health Organisation does not have an answer. Neither does the teacher. We don’t really know when the Khwairamband will be thrown open to the public. We don’t know when your grandmother will be able to serve steaming hot rice with seasonal delicacies in the Keithel. We don’t know when she will meet up with her friends and exchange admiration of each other’s nachom.
The other day her face wore a gloomier look. I found out the reason. She was unhappy with your mother. It was a case of fast diminishing leihao flowers that bloom at the eastern fringe of our courtyard. The flowers have been in full bloom since April. My mother had made it known that three leihaos would suffice for the morning prayer. Your mother’s only fault was to offer a handful everyday.
As you know, shutdowns are nothing new to Khwairamband. She has endured many shutdowns in the past. But this time there is no sign of opening any sooner. Do not be surprise to find milk, fish, vegetables, fruits and other eatables at our doorsteps. These days they are all around. I think this is one bright side of the pandemic. The daily battle for space among the vendors has been muzzled. Though some policemen still manage to collect taxes from them.
The air is already warm and humid. So many have returned home. All of them are quarantined. We are gradually learning to live with the virus. A positive change of attitude without getting Corona positive. Yet I shudder in fear whenever I recall the first positive case. The fear was less of the virus. It was more of how a young woman was crucified by the public over the social media. Panic gripped almost everyone to madness. Luckily the woman and the health workers together fought well. And they came out triumphant.
There was mixed response when it was declared that stranded many like you would be brought back. The Jiribam railway station suddenly had to wake up from slumber. Jiribam-Imphal highway is now taking more brunt of thousands of people in vehicles – all heavy with eagerness to reach home. Buckle yourself up, Naobi. This is going to be your first journey by train. Follow the guidelines at all times. You have to bury your habit of eating only what pleases your tongue for sometime. As co passengers, help each other.
Remember, this is not a three-hour long rebated flight trip. The journey will take days, snaking you through unending landscapes. Some landscape will stir the poet in you. Some will prickle the rebel in you. Trust me, you will like it. Try swapping the window seats. On the social media pages, I saw a few young men carrying guitar on their backs at the railway station. They might travel with you in the same train. They might strum some songs. Join them in chorus. I know my daughter’s voice is not bad. None of you are Himalayan saints in deep contemplation. You cannot remain still for hours like them. Stretch out. Laugh out loud. But maintain physical distance at all time.
Once you reach Imphal, all of a sudden there will be a powerful rush of adrenalin. That is your home calling you. No way, dear. You have to stay quarantined for another fourteen days. Health workers will collect your swab sample. They are our frontline fighters. Be thankful to them. Don’t expect your test result too soon. The testing lab cannot handle thousands of samples at one go. A few influential samples may overtake your sample. Let them. It is not a race among the humans. If they think it is a race, it is a symptom of their minds in perpetual lockdown. Be kind with them.
Heard that Mukkhaijao is finding hard to find a suitable hotel for his children. All his splendid connections couldn’t be of much help, I am told. They have no other option. You will be staying with them in the same facility. If you find them to be speaking in a language that you know. Talk to them. Politely. But maintain a healthy distance. Volunteers of the leikai and the neighboring clubs are there to look after the center. Without getting paid, without insurance cover, without PPE. They are working day and night. They are also the same people who will facilitate our last journey. Be very thankful to them.
See you soon, Naobi.