March 08, 2020
And when I opened my eyes I was standing near my Favourite homestay of one of my friends at the evergreen auspicious place which gives goosebumps whenever I travel there, Kodaikanal. It was a natural beauty at it’s best. It had a lot of breathtaking views around it. But now my breath is hitting me faster. I had to act quicker. So at once, I ran to the cab point there. I told him I want to reach Dindigul New bus stand and that too as soon as possible. It was around 8 PM in the night, I got into a SETC bus (State Express TamilNadu Corporation) towards Chennai Koyambedu. It was night time and the bus started crowding up as time progressed but luckily I got my seat since I got into it at the first stop, Dindigul. I took the much needed rest there. I was restless from the minute I heard about my son’s death. I looked out through the windows, Everything was dark except the lights from the distanced houses. I closed my eyes, the air through the window of the Non-AC bus was taking me to a deep sleep.
Dad, Will you take care of yourself when I am not here, John said. I replied to him, “Yes son, If you say so then it is yes for sure. But the most important thing is you should take care of yourself when you live alone there in Chennai. You know you are the growing generation. How I am, what I am, no one is going to care anymore. But the world will notice you son. It will make an impact on your thoughts and actions. It will criticize you a lot. It will tell you you are no good at times. But you should never care about it son. You think about how good you are for yourself. Have you achieved what you wanted to. Is your hard work paying you in a good way? You think about that. Don’t care about other’s views anytime in your life. Your Dad did take everyone’s views into his heart and what did he achieve in the end. Nothing son, absolute zero. Book after Book he wrote, he felt only demotivated listening to all the nonsense out there. He thought he was a stupid and fit for nothing. That’s Why he became a loser. You don’t be like him. You do what you like without giving ears to what others like. You work hard on what you do. And one day people will talk differently about you. They will lift you high. They will raise you. Hope you understand son”. The horn sound of the bus, which crossed my bus woke me up.
It was around 2 AM in the morning and the bus was around Maraimalai nagar. I closed my eyes and tried sleeping again. I still remembered the day, he ran towards me and hugged me, cried and said that I am never a loser and that I have to give one final shot at my writing and write the book of my life. He said I am a great writer and it all needs just one breakthrough story for me to pull the Victory. I accepted all he said and actually did that isolation for him and wrote the book this time for him and not for me. I wanted to make my son proud of having a dad like me. I wrote the book of my life “A Man without an Initial”, but now I don’t have my son to read it. Tears started flowing out of my eyes again. And that brought determination into me. I promised myself I am going to go save him anyway. It was around 3.45AM I reached Chennai Koyambedu bus terminus. I took a cab from there towards Chennai International Airport.
I walked towards the terminal 1 of Chennai International Airport. The Sky was dark. I looked around if someone was noticing me. But no one did. Actually I was now standing at one corner of the terminal behind a pillar. I walked out of the Cab point. I asked a guy walking by, what was the time. He said it was 5 o’clock. He said this was the entry terminal. He told me that the people will be coming out of the airport from their landed flights via terminal 2. I walked towards terminal 2 and waited at the exit cab point. There is still 10 minutes for even the flight to land. So it will take him at least 20 minutes for him to come out.
While I was sitting there, at around 5.20, suddenly many press reporters came running and it became crowded in like 5 minutes. It seems one of the famous actors who has travelled abroad for a movie shoot has returned back and they were interviewing him. It was so crowded and people were chanting “Thalaiva! Thalaiva!”. It was so crowded that I cannot see who is going out and who is coming in. I just stood there looking at everyone around. Then I walked through the crowd to the other side so that I could have a clear view of the people exiting the airport. But everyone was pushing one another like it was a ration queue. I felt congested and dizzy when I was caught amidst the crowd. I felt better only when I came out of it to the other side. I waited for like half an hour but I couldn’t spot John anywhere. I asked a person near me for a phone so that I could call him about his whereabouts. Actually I did not bring my phone to Oottukuzhy even, since I came running in a hurry.
Now the only thing running in my mind was to stop John from moving around. Also, I should not tell anyone that I am from the future. These are the most important things for me now. The second one is also of less priority but the first one, I should do it no matter what happens to me.
I took the phone from the person nearby and called John. The only phone number I remember is his. I called him, it was actually engaged. I called him again but it was still engaged. I gave the phone back to that person. I waited for 10 more minutes there to check if he was coming out. But he was not. I asked for a phone from another person and called him again.
This time he picked up. He said, “Hello! May I know who this is?”. I could not tell him that I am his Dad because he knew his Dad is in Kodaikanal since 6 months. He may call his number directly if he doubts. I just forgot that I was out of contact with anyone for the past 6 months. What can I tell him?, I thought. Then, I in a bit of a deep voice said, “Hello John! I am a member from the healthcare department of Indian government”. You have landed just now from Italy right.” He replied, “Yes sir!”
“Okay, Where are you now?”, I asked
“I am now travelling in a cab towards my PG room in Sholinganallur. What happened sir ?”, he asked.
And the phone cut off. It seems the recharge balance was gone. I gave it to the person who gave it to me. I got a phone from another person and called him again. But I heard the computer message that the caller I am trying to reach is currently switched off. I called him again but it was the same switch off message again. I gave the phone back to the person who gave it to me. I called for the cab and told him Shollinganallur. I had only 1000 rupees now with me. That is all I have now till I complete my mission.
But I was not sure where he was exactly living in Sholinganallur. I asked for the phone from the cab driver and called him again. But it was switched off. Maybe the phone’s battery has gone down, I thought.
It was all my mistake, I should have contacted him. I thought that the book which became useless now was more important for me in my life, since it was important for him too, since I promised him I will not come back or contact him till I complete it. Because of my carelessness all things have happened to my son. I have to save him at any cause. The cab driver reached Shollinganallur and asked me where to stop. It was around 6.30 in the morning. I asked him to stop at a random place. I got down and I was completely blank about where to go next.
Actually I was now at the Sholinganallur signal. I knew he would leave for the office at around 9, that is what he said to me, long ago. He is working at Rhilips, a famous MNC. I thought waiting near his office to meet him is the last choice I have now. I have to try contacting him soon. Let me call him now, I thought. But the road was completely empty at that time. I walked for some distance along the main road. There I saw a tea shop. It was crowded even in the morning. May be one of the famous shops in this place. I went to the shop and asked for tea. But since it was crowded, I should pick it up and not the tea master will give it to me. I took the tea and started sipping it near a young gang of boys. I asked them if there was a Rhilips office nearby. They said yes. I said my son is working there, but I don’t know the PG where he is staying. Do any one of you work there? They said, “No uncle, sorry. We are from Cagnijend”. I said okay, Can I borrow one of your phones so that I can call him and ask him where his PG is. One of the short boys among them gave his phone to me. I dialled John’s number and it started ringing. I moved 10 feet farther so that the boys won’t hear me.
Hello!, His voice came from the other end. When I heard his voice again, I became emotional. I just cried before saying anything. Then I composed myself again and I said, “Yes John, this is the same official who called you in the morning. And Why did you cut the call?”.
“The phone was out of battery sir, so it got switched off. It’s okay tell me now what you wanted to convey”, He said
I said, ” You know about the Corona virus pandemic right which has started from Wuhan, China.
He said, “Yes sir, Of course”.
I said, ” As per the reports, we have got to know that many of the Chinese have travelled to European countries after the virus pandemic has started. And Since you have landed here from a European country, you have to quarantine yourself for the next 14 days strictly. We have to make sure you are not affected by it. I am telling you this, because of your safety and your closed ones. If possible tell this in your company and leave home immediately. Don’t be in PGs, it will be a lot vulnerable there. Please leave home as soon as possible. And can you also tell us your PG address, that will be helpful.”.
He replied, “Yes sir, Nagarajan PG for gents, Shollinganallur, Chennai, Near Ponnusamy Hotel.”.
I said, “Thank you John, This is not only for you but for all the people who have landed from abroad for the past 5 days.”.
He said, “It’s okay sir, I understand it”.
Then I returned the phone to the boys and asked them where the Ponnusamy hotel was. They said it was just near to the Sholinganallur signal. I paid for the tea and I walked back to the signal. There just two to three buildings next to Ponnusamy hotel was Nagarajan PG for gents. I went near it and sat down on the steps of the shop near to the PG, the one for which the shutter was closed.
I wanted to know what his reaction was and what he was doing. I wanted to know what his next action would be. I waited and waited and waited. I thought if I should go inside the PG. I also thought, what will happen if he sees me here? What will I say to him ?
It was around 7PM now. And still the road was not very crowded. There were only some people who were going jogging here and there. I gained courage and walked towards the PG. I opened the gate slowly without making noise. I looked around and there weren’t any Security cameras there. I walked towards that stairs. This building had 3 floors. The ground floor had the parking and mess for food together. I walked up the stairs and in the first floor there were 3 rooms. And all the three were closed. And lights were not on. I walked up to the second floor and there in one of the rooms I could see lights switched on. I walked towards the room and when I was halfway towards it I observed that someone was coming out. I ran back again at once as quickly as possible and had hidden myself behind the walls near the stairs. I was breathing heavily since I have not ran at such high speed ever and that too at this age of 50. I sat down on the steps. He was speaking on his phone. I know the voice. Yes it was John. I peaked slightly from behind the wall. He was looking outside towards the road and speaking loudly on his phone nervously. He said, Karthi, What should I do now? Should I tell this to everyone or not? I don’t know what to do. Do you think really this will be the Healthcare department ? Do you know any people who have traveled abroad and came back in the past 5 days? Tell me Karthi, I am just blank and not sure what to do. Also Dad is not home as well. I don’t know what to do seriously.
He was just dropping a question, above a question towards karthi. Yes Karthi, He is the best friend of John. Both studied in the same school and college. He is also from Tirunelveli. He is the only other support for John when I am not around.
I heard John saying, ” oh is it! You are saying they would have taken my number from my airline ticket information. Yeah it’s possible. okay. Yes right ! If Dad is not home then going home would be the right choice. Since i can stay home without contacting anyone there. Perfect idea! Karthi. I will check if train tickets are available to Tirunelveli today. I will travel in Guruvayur express. Since today is a monday, tickets should be available. Who will travel on a Monday morning and all, towards the south. Yeah I will take leave for office today and I will work from home from tomorrow. If I stay here it will be dangerous for others too if I am really carrying a virus. It will be dangerous for me to go to the office also. I will inform my manager that I have to be quarantined and leave home at once. I have to inform Dad somehow but he is not reachable now. He is out of range without a phone, now in Kodaikanal. I hope he will come back at the earliest. And he went inside.
“So, he is travelling to Tirunelveli by morning train. I have to safeguard him from touching anyone till he reaches home. That is the only duty I have for me from now on.”, I said to myself.
I went down, got out of the PG and again went near that shop with the closed shutter and sat down there. It was actually hidden from where he stood and spoke, sometime ago. So he cannot see me.
I got up and went towards the Tea stall where I went before, it was even more crowded now. Now the time is around 7 AM. The train was at 10.00 AM. He will leave at least at 8 AM to catch the train, I have to be as quick as possible now. I asked a person nearby what was the bus to travel from Sholinganallur to Chennai Egmore. He said, the bus number is 119 and the bus stop was opposite to Ponnusamy hotel. I had one more tea and then walked towards Ponnusamy hotel and this time the shutter of the shop where I was sitting was opened and it was a medical shop (Pharmacy). The guy at the tea shop told me that to catch a bus towards Chennai Egmore, I should wait in the bus stand opposite to Ponnusamy hotel. I sat down on the metal seats in the bus stop and watched the gate of the Nagarajan PG for gents. At around 8.30 slowly the area started becoming live. Many shops opened and people started moving here and there. Also buses started coming. I bought a Cap and a kerchief from the shop that was behind the bus stand. I wore the cap and kept the kerchief in my pocket. Very soon, I saw John getting out of the PG. He then went to that medical shop and bought a white mask-like thing, I think it is what they call a respirator. Then he got into the cab that came by, along with a small suitcase trolley, a shoulder bag and an additional hand luggage.
I had to take the next bus towards Chennai Egmore to catch the 10.00 AM train. But all the buses that were coming were so crowded. I had no other choice but to get in. People were pushing one another in the bus. It was very hard to even stand there. I got a ticket towards Chennai Egmore which was 25 rupees. Then slowly I moved from footsteps to inside the bus. All that was running in my mind was only about John. I was just hoping he would not touch anyone. I was happy now that he bought a mask now. That will solve this issue like 50%. The bus was getting more and more crowded as we were nearing the Egmore railway station. I got down and walked quickly towards the ticket counter and got an Unreserved ticket to Tirunelveli which is actually applicable for travelling in any train towards Tirunelveli. It was 120 rupees. And now almost all the money I had is gone. I have only 220 rupees more in my hand.
I looked at the display for the platform number where the Guruvayur express was arriving. It was platform number 3. I walked towards platform 3 and it was around 9.45AM when I reached there. I saw John sitting on a chair near platform 3. I was relieved when I saw him there. The train had reached the platform and was already there. He did exactly what I thought. It was good to see him sitting outside till the train starts so that he will not mistakenly get in contact with anyone inside. He was sitting near sleeper coach S1. My Single seater coach was GS (General Section/Unreserved), it was right next to his coach. I felt relieved now. Since I can have a good look at him from being close by.
I went and stood near a pillar behind him with the cap still on me and a kerchief covering my face. I stood there watching him. He got up after sometime close to the departure time. He walked towards the S1 coach. I walked slowly behind him. He kept the suitcase into the train, then he climbed up with his hands carrying the hand luggage in one hand and the other holding the rod near the door. And suddenly the train gave a jerk. He was about to fall. His respirator mask went loose and was about to fall too. I ran and lifted him from the back by his shoulder. And also caught the mask in time, else it would have fallen in the gap between the train and the platform. I took the hand luggage from him and once he climbed, I placed it near to him inside the train, also placed the mask over the luggage and just ran towards the GS coach at once before he found out who I was. I got into the coach and it was so crowded. People were sitting like 4 on the upper, 4 on the lower on each side and in every compartment of the coach. Many were standing even. It was so crowded, but I was not worried about all these things. For me, preventing John from touching other people was more important. I will give my life as bait now, for saving his life and also others who can get affected because of him, so that he will not get that bad name as he got in the future from where I was from. I walked towards the S1 Coach and I walked each compartment one by one. I walked looking around for him. And I didn’t notice the person who was holding his tea in his hand and was sitting on the edge of his seat near the aisle. When my thighs hit his hand, the tea flew over the air and spilled all around. I apologized but still kept looking around for him. And there just above me in seat number 19 – Upper berth, he was sitting with a book in his hand and also a headset covering his ear. That book he was holding was one of my Old infamous books “Oh my Goal”. John is the Favourite reader I have. More than me, he was the only one who cared for my book to succeed. I am sure he will love “A Man without an initial” because I gave my everything in this final book of mine. But all I have to do is save him. First of all I have to take him home safely so that he will not affect anyone like he did in the future I came from. Also after reaching home, I have to ask him to go to the hospital for a check up and treatment of the Covid-19 virus.
But preventing him from touching people is the most important thing now. I walked away from there, went and stood near the door of the coach S1. Since it was morning train, No one cared who was Unreserved and who was reserved since they occupied their respective seats with conversations among other people. When I saw the Ticket checker coming, I got into one of the restrooms near the door. I came out of it after 10 min and the ticket checker has moved to GS coach in the meantime. I went and checked what John was doing. He was asleep. So, I walked towards the GS coach and stood near the door. Air was blowing fastly over my face as the train moved forward at a quicker pace.
Several Junctions passed and the crowd in the train got replaced and also filled with fresh people. At around 2 PM, Train reached Tiruchirapalli. And the day started getting hotter and hotter as the day progressed. I went into the S1 coach to check if John was alright. He was lying down there in the upper berth covering himself with blankets and hiding him under from everyone. He was in the same position, since when he got into the train. He has not eaten even. I was not sure if he had eaten in the morning too, because he got ready very early in the morning. I thought about what to do.
I thought of buying 5 parcels of food in the next station and giving it to him as if I am a vendor of it. He should not know that I am here right. If I just buy and keep it near his seat also, he will not eat it too. I bought the 5 parcels of food at Dindigul junction. I took it towards the S1 coach, I went near his seat and shouted in a lousy pitiful voice, one Parcel 30 rupees sir. It was actually an Idly and Vada set. But he never responded. I touched his leg and called him. He got up. And he said I don’t want Uncle. I was wearing a cap and a kerchief, so he couldn’t identify me. I said sir, please buy. It is good. You will not get any food after this stop. After thinking for some time, he said Okay , give it to me. He gave me 30 rupees. I sold the other 4 parcels to some people too. Then I went to and fro inside the coach to check if he was eating. When I saw he was eating, I felt relieved and went back to the door of the S1 coach and stood there. He never got down from his place for washing hands or for throwing away the finished parcel. Maybe he dumped the parcel into his bag and cleaned his hands with his handkerchief. The good thing which was a great relief to me now is that he is not coughing or sneezing. That is safe for others now since he is also not moving anywhere from his place.
Ticket Checker started roaming around the train now. So I went towards the GS Coach and stood for some time. When the train reached Madurai, most of the crowd got down. So I got a seat. I seated myself there and hoped that he would reach without affecting anyone and also that I would save him from leaving me forever. At around 6 PM, the train reached Tirunelveli. Since Tirunelveli is not the final stop he has no other option but to get down along with others. I was standing there near the door of the S1 coach looking at his upper berth. His luggage was all ready since he never opened it. He just has to get up and get out of the train. He did not get down when people got up to leave. He knows the train stays on the platform for 5 minutes. So, he got up from his seat at the final minute and came out of the train just in time.
Then he took an auto from the railway station. I walked towards a PCO. Yes there is still a PCO near Tirunelveli railway station till date. This is the place from where I used to call my friends when I was a child. I dialled John’s number. Again in a deep voice I said, “Hello John, Good Evening. It’s the health care officer here again. I hope you are well. Just wanted to check how you are doing now”. John replied, Yes Sir, I am fine. I don’t see any symptoms in me till now. No fever or Cold even. And I have also reached my Home in Tirunelveli. I said to him, Okay, Well and good then, but please quarantine yourself as of now. If possible go to Tirunelveli medical college and hospital, just inform them about you and check yourself for Covid-19 infection. Please be careful. He said, Okay Sir and cut the phone.
I thought about it for a long time but now is the time I have to act. I took an auto and went home. When I got down near my house, I could not see him there. The door was closed. I guess maybe he went to the Tirunelveli medical college and hospital. I took the key from near the current box shelf where we keep it and opened the house. I entered inside and sat down in the chair, waiting for him to return. Time passed by, but he never came. I was there for more than 2 hrs. But he never came. I became restless. I decided to go to the hospital and check for myself. Just when I got outside my home, I saw him entering the house. When he saw me, he ran towards me and hugged me tight and cried. He said, Dad, you are here. I thought you would be in Kodaikanal. I said, “Yes son, The Book is done so I came back to show you that. And why are you here now ? You have some leave now ? How was the Italy trip? How are you son first of all?”. He said, Come Dad let’s go inside and talk about everything.
*To be Continued*