Joe lived alone in that two-storey building which he had inherited from his parents. His parents were no more and he was a bachelor. Then one day someone asked him whether he would let out the upper portion of his house to a young couple. Joe was not at all interested in having a young couple invading his privacy.
“They won’t disturb you,” said Mathew, the acquaintance who had come with the request. “Your staircase is outside anyway.”
That was not enough to convince Joe to take a couple into his house. He was not fond of people, to tell the truth. He loved to live alone. That’s why he probably didn’t even marry. But if you can get into Joe’s heart and ask the question, the heart is likely to say that Joe considered himself too young to marry. He was in his late forties, though. Age doesn’t make you old really. Look around and you will find a lot of grown-ups who are more childish than children. Nowadays children are more like adults anyway. But that’s a different matter. We should return to Joe.
Joe was an accountant in a business firm in the nearby city. He spent his free time in his farm cultivating vegetables and tubers. The villagers knew him as a reserved chap and left him alone usually.
“I’m asking this as a favour,” Mathew pleaded. “Just for a few weeks until I make another arrangement.”
He was pleading on behalf of a young couple who had eloped because neither of their parents would consent to their marriage. The boy was a Muslim and the girl a Hindu. In the olden days people would frown at such interfaith marriages but wouldn’t consider them as some volcanic evils. But in 21st century India, it is called Love Jihad and considered as more catastrophic than a volcanic eruption. If a Muslim man marries a Hindu or Christian woman, it is a triumph of Terror, a Satanic machination to alter the nation’s demography, a recruitment of an innocent girl into a perverted harem.
As Mathew was speaking a young boy and girl moved from the darkness of Joe’s farm to the gentle light in the front yard. Just a look at them and Joe was taken up by the angelic aura on the faces of the young couple. They looked rather like children.
Joe’s heart melted. He was fond of children. Let little children come to me for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus had said that and Joe liked Jesus just for that. Heaven is where children are, Joe thought. Obviously, he had no close association with children.
The very first sight of Abdul and Anjali – the eloping young couple that had stepped into the gentle light of the LED lamps in Joe’s yard from the darkness of the growing night outside – unfolded a vision before Joe. He saw Anjali’s belly growing big with child. The child was born in the due course of time. Joe could see the child’s smile.
The Prime Minister was speaking Mann ki Baat to the nation on the TV in Joe’s living room while Abdul and Anjali ascended the stairs to their new house let open by Joe’s love of children. “Mere pyare deshwasiyon,” the PM said, “I apologise for taking these harsh steps that have caused difficulties in your lives. But this is for your own welfare. You can kill me in 50 days if this doesn’t turn out to be for your good….” The PM was imposing a “people’s curfew” on the nation because of a pandemic called Covid that had gripped the entire world. From that midnight, until further instructions, nobody would move from where they were. There will be no buses or trains. No movement. Just stay wherever you are.
People stayed wherever they were for a few days. Then they knew that their fates were sealed. By death. Or by the government. What difference did it make when the final outcome is one and the same? They thought they would better die in their own villages, with their own people. And a nationwide exodus started. People walked on the highways en masse. Thousands of people. Walked while the public transport systems obeyed the rules of “public curfew”.
Abdul and Anjali didn’t move, however. Joe was happy to see them. Anjali helped him in the kitchen where they cooked their meals together.
The PM addressed his Pyare Deshwasiyon in many more Mann ki Baats. He exhorted people to put up with the inevitable pains of life. He said that their pains were nothing compared to what the soldiers endured in the borders of the country because of our devilish neighbours. The Galwan River in Ladakh smelt of chicanery though no one was sure whether the chicanery was saffron or red in colour.
Anjali’s belly grew big. Joe noticed it and was happy. He imagined a little, innocent child toddling in his rooms making angelic sounds. “Peace to people of good will.” In Joe’s imagination all angelic songs sang that.
The pandemic continued to rage all over the world. The PM continued to exhort the nation in his monthly homilies. The nation was not listening, however. Life was back to what it had always been: tasks and taxes.
And gods and killings in the names of gods.
One night Joe heard some sounds outside. He flashed his powerful torch into the thick foliage of his farm. Did someone move in that darkness? He was not sure. There was no more any sound. Peace returned. Peace to people of good will, some angel sang in Joe’s heart. He returned to bed. And slept dreaming of a little child that toddled in his rooms with the song of angels on its lips.
The next morning broke like a Satan’s grin. Anjali did not come to the kitchen as usual. Joe went upstairs to check whether everything was okay. But there was no one in the room. The door was left open. There were signs of a mild scuffle in the room.
“Both their people were searching for them,” Mathew told Joe. He looked alarmed. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to scare you.”
Somewhere in Rajasthan a young couple was killed by their own relatives because they belonged to two different castes. Honour-killing, they called it. Honour-raping was also gaining vogue in many of those places. Joe was not listening to the news on the TV, however. His mind was lost in a child’s longing for an angel’s song.