BHOPAL: It was another dull evening in March. The coronavirus had already burnt up millions of lives across the world. The economy was in tatters.
It was lying in wait on the rims of the country. Rumours were doing the rounds that the government had planned to impose a long haul of lockdown to keep the virus outside the country’s borders.
In such an evening, after the day’s business, Prakash was closing his kiosk.
A while later he walked up to his small dwelling in Subhash Nagar slums. On entering his house, as he was washing his feet, he switched on the radio set.
What he heard made him feel as if the earth were moving under his feet.
The new was – Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Janata curfew on March 22. The Prime Minister appealed to everyone to remain indoors, because the number of corona cases was shooting up with each passing day. It meant the virus had already stolen into the country. More than 300 people were afflicted then.
It was, therefore, necessary to observe a voluntary lockdown to keep the disease at bay. That announcement put Prakash on pins and needles. His family members, too, were on edge.
As he had no other income, he thought how he would keep the wolf from the door. That thought made him conjure up the images of stormy days ahead. No sooner had he called up that terrible picture to his mind than he shot out of his home. He returned with some vegetables and one kilo of rice. The 32-year-old Prakash looked at his 76-year-old mother with a smile. He said, “It’s okay. We’ll manage.”
He knew deep down inside that what he had said might turn out to be elsewise.
He believed in what Prime Minister had said. It was that the people across the country would remain indoors for 24 hours to break the chain of corona infection.That was the only way to overwhelm the virus.
Prakash thought he would open his kiosk after March 22. But it did not happen that way.
A couple of days later, a 21-day lockdown was declared. For Prakash, the news was like a sudden burst of thunder.
Prakash was recently wed. Therefore, he did not know how to feed a family comprising four members, including his younger brother who wants to become a government servant.
He had collected Rs 1,000. It was but too meagre to feed the family for 21 days.
As such thoughts began to huddle around his mind, he took out his accounts book. He began to leaf through its page. Prakash ferreted out that his customers owed Rs 28, 000 to him.
Those customers had bought various items including packets of potato chips, betel and tobacco from Pappi Bhaiyya’s kiosk on credit.The customers fondly called him Pappi Bhaiyya.
Many government officials, students and businessmen used to visit the kiosk situated at a prime location in the city.
They used to pay him on monthly basis. The sudden lockdown puzzled Prakash so much so that he had lost his sense of business.
He tried to contact some of his customers to get back his dues. He barely got a reply from any.
Most of his customers were students who left the city for their hometowns. Other customers were indoors.
To get out of the woods, Prakash decided to dispose of his kiosk.
Thus, began his real rainy days. The family remained half-fed most of the time. The days rolled by. Prakash says, “The lockdown was extended, though the creepy virus did not stop. It blazed the nation as well as its economy.” He, however, never lost hope. He was waiting for better days.
He still believes he will get back Rs 28,000 from his customers. In the meantime, the government lifted the lockdown in phases. As he does not have the kiosk anymore, he has brought a small wooden stool from home. He sits at the same spot as he used to. He still searches for his old customers. A few of them assure him of paying back the dues next time.
He is still waiting for that next time!