With her uneaten banana in her right hand, Srimati Agehandand followed her husband Sri Agehandand, who held his uneaten mango in his left hand. They tiptoed to the main door to get out of the flat in the building.
Their son and daughter-in-law who were lounging in the living room noticed them. The son said, ‘It’s lockdown everywhere, Daddy.’
‘Son,’ Sri Agehandad said in a dear voice, softly, ‘for few minutes.’
The daughter-in-law noticed their in-laws were carrying the fruits which she had shopped them yesterday. But she told her husband, ‘Let them go and see for themselves what the outside world is.’
‘Come soon, Mummy, we’ll have lunch together.’
After the unexpected consent from their son, Srimati and Sri Agehandand hurriedly slipped out of the flat in case if they changed their minds and summoned them into the house. Out of the flat, however, they could hear the receding shouts of their daughter-in-law and their son. Going out of the house today was not like going out for walks before Covid-19. Once they were beyond the earshot of their son and daughter-in-law and out of the building they were relieved. They paced in the direction of Kasavanahalli Lake to see a family that lived in the hut in a corner of the embankment of the lake shaded by a clump of trees.
Kasavanahalli Lake in Bengaluru is one of the largest lakes spread over forty-nine acres. Its premises, which extends over another eight acres, is fenced and guarded. Its embankment serves walkers. In the mornings and evenings, the more than two kilometres walking track buzzes with walkers like Srimati and Sri Agehandand. The lake has sprung back to life, rejuvenated, with the efforts of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike, the local governing body. At some time during the day, one can spot a grey hornbill, or a purple moorhen, or a white-throated kingfisher. In the waters of the lake, one can find snakes and water buffaloes wading in and out in the noon while their owners went on their chores outside. But fishing is prohibited (unless prior permission sought), and also washing clothes, immersion of idols of gods and goddesses, urinating and defecating, spitting, littering, plucking flowers, damaging trees, playing loud music, consuming tobacco and alcohol, vehicles except for bicycles, commercial activities, family functions, feeding wildlife, discarding puja materials and swimming.
This forenoon the entry gate of Kasavanahalli Lake was locked and guarded by the security guard. Because the security guard was acquainted with the couple and they spoke to him in Hindi, he allowed the regular visitors to enter the premises of the lake after alerting them to return quickly. There were restrictions due to the lockdown due to Covid-19, the draconian curfew unlike any other time in the history of India.
Feeling relieved after crossing another barrier, the couple strode towards the hut where they had seen a young woman and her husband and their toddler child. Probably the husband worked at a construction site and she was hoping to find some work as a domestic worker once the child started to go to school. The couple had spoken to them during their twice-a-day walks. Now they wanted to give them a quarter of their monthly income, pension because they were sure the family would be in dire straits due to the unanticipated lockdown by the Government of India. Moreover, yesterday they had seen on television thousands of migrants from rural areas to cities across India were heading back to their villages. The images of migrant labourers, men and women—heads crowned with bundles and shoulders slung with bags—with their children in tow and on their feet on the roads in the direction of their villages, startled them. Watching the footage of an India on its feet due to the lockdown, Srimati and Sri Agehandand remembered the images of the partition of India. Now the post-independent India in the third decade of the twenty-first century revealed something it had never before revealed: Hardship showed, he has legs. Grace showed, she has resilience.
The moment they reached the pathway by the hut, they saw the single door in the hut was agape. There were none except for the dog, which was apparently waiting for his caretakers but guarding their house in anticipation.
‘They have gone,’ Sri Agehandand said in mellowed tone. ‘We should have come earlier.’
‘We tried,’ Srimati Agehandand said in the voice of reassurance and held her husband’s hand sensing the flowering disappointment on her husband’s face.
- Kovuuri G. Reddy