Kids Corner


Sehaj Villa
Part V

A Short Story by T. SHER SINGH




Continued ...





As I fumbled with the key at our apartment door, I noticed the sliver of light at the bottom. Surely she hadn’t stayed up, I hoped, waiting for me.

The poker game, as they are wont to do, had gone on and on, until I finally pushed back my scooter, announcing I was running off with the loot.

“Hey, it’s eleven,” I said, “way past my bed-time. I simply can’t sit around all night until you losers figure out how to win a game.“

They moaned, as I fled with my winnings neatly stuffed in my wallet, all fifteen dollars of it. The stakes were never high, only our passion … and the grumbles.

I tip-toed into the bedroom. Aggie was up, sitting on the edge of the bed next to the window, looking out.

I could’ve kicked myself.

“Sorry, sweetheart …” I managed, and then stood there, silently.

She didn’t turn around. Didn’t say anything either. She isn’t a sulker by nature -- I’m the one who does most of the sulking in our house. So, I figured she was grappling with a bout of insomnia, waiting … Or maybe, merely cooking up new projects.

I sneaked into the washroom, and took my sweet time getting ready for bed. A brief shower, a quick combing my hair with my loyal kangha, undid my beard and brushed its straggles open. Carefully slipped into my pajamas and went out.

Aggie was in bed, lying down, bundled up and fast asleep. I could hear her gentle breathing. “Good,” I said softly. A well-deserved rest, I mused, knowing how full her days were nowadays.

It was the aroma of coffee that woke me up. Aggie was sitting at the glass-table in the kitchenette, reading the paper. She came over and gave me a warm hug as I struggled out of bed, and led me slowly, steadily, to a chair. I could manage some basic walking now, but was still quite unstable on my feet.

She poured me a mug and slid it towards me.

“Glad you’re in a good mood this morning,” I said. “I guess I’m forgiven.”

“Forgive you? Not unless I know for what,” she said, laughing.

“Oh, for keeping you up so late last night,” I replied.

“Were you late? I don’t remember a thing. I came home dead tired … must’ve dozed off right away …” she said.

“Well, you were sitting up when I came in around eleven or so, And you ignored me. I came out of the shower, and you were gone, dead to the world.”

“Silly me,“ she said, “I don’t remember a thing.“

She went back to her paper, and I dug into mine.

“You know,” she said, after a few minutes, “I can’t remember things any more. I just go blank, at times. I don’t recall a thing from last night! Go figure.”

“Well,” I said, “welcome to the club. Most of the time I can’t remember if I’m coming or going. And that’s been going on for some time, you know. I go into the washroom, I open the medicine cupboard, and I can’t remember what I came in for. I have to go back to the bedroom, retrace my steps, and wait … and hopefully -- sometimes, not always -- I remember. And then I keep on repeating I need to get the nail-cutter … ’nail-cutter … nail-cutter …’ until I finally grab it!”  

Aggie had her forehead crumpled up, like when she was thinking.

“Yeah, that too. That happens to me a hundred times a day. But lately, I don’t know … sometimes I wait and I wait, and it’s all a blank. I have to start something new …”

I nodded. I knew exactly what she was saying.

“It’s the time of life when we finally get to learn real patience,” I quipped, as we got up to start our day.

Both of us had a busy day ahead. Aggie was heading into town for a meeting  with the local hospital board. I was going to head down to the gurdwara. Prof Darshan Singh, the raagi, was in town and was due to do a series of daily kirtan-lectures at the Villa, starting the very next day. We expected a full-house for his sessions, and I wanted to make sure everything was tickety-boo before he and his jatha arrived.

Roshie had ordered a new state-of-the-art installation, which was to be tested today, in anticipation of the week-long daily concerts. She had tried to explain to me why it was better than the other, but I just couldn’t get my head around all the hi-tech info.

All I knew was that it would allow the person sitting at the taabya -- in attendance behind the Guru Granth at any given moment -- to press a single button which would then activate a string of gimmickry: three contraptions would whirr down from the ceiling, revealing themselves to be three huge flat TV-screens; simultaneously, a camera would begin recording the raagi jatha on the podium, while also broadcasting the same live, on the central screen; on the far left screen, the text of the shabad being sung would be displayed in Gurmukhi script; on the far right screen, an English translation of the same shabad would be displayed.

When I first heard about the translation, I had cringed. I had seen some of these displayed on similar screens in some gurdwaras, but, sadly, the quality of the translation in each instance had left much to be desired!

“Not to worry,” Roshie said to me, instantly reading the distress on my face, “I’ve taken care of that.”    

“How?” I moaned.

She was patient with me. She sat down beside my scooter, right on the carpet, and described all the steps in the process.

All raagis scheduled to perform in this gurdwara would be asked to provide in advance a list of the shabads they were planning to sing, complete with citations. Roshie would then retrieve the Gurmukhi text of each shabad, load it into the gurdwara admin system, index it and cross-reference it with various tags.

Then, she would obtain a set of different English translations for each shabad, and review them, revise them, adapt them, until they were satisfactory to her in terms of language, poetry, meaning, etc. The fact that Roshie was a life-long student of English literature -- she had a Master’s from Yale -- and was equally well-versed in gurbani, made me sigh with relief.

“But,” I said, “but the time involved! How’re you going to do the translations!”

“Not a problem!” she said. It was her standard response to every situation. “I’ll do this for the first few weeks, and then put a system in place so that we’ll have a team of solid people on call, with all the skills needed to handle the task, week after week. A couple of years, and I’m sure we’ll have most of the oft-sung shabads entrenched in the system.”

The control panel at the Guru’s taabya allowed the granthi to do a number of other things. Another flick of the button, and the action would switch to another camera, this one focusing on the delivery of the hukam. A third one would switch on a camera on the person doing the ardaas. A fourth on the speaker’s lectern.

There were other controls, all easy-programmed. Such as for bringing on power-point, a film or, simply, the internet.

Similar control panels were located at three other locations, so that the goings-on could be controlled from different parts of the diwan hall, depending on the nature of the proceedings.

The technicians began to test-drive the system, while Roshie stood behind the taabya, doing the button-pushing as directed. I parked myself at the back, positioning myself so that I could feel the full glory of what was being done. I’ve always made a good observer in such situations … especially when I have to do nothing except critique and opine. 

We broke for lunch, and came back to work out some glitches. Roshie wasn’t going to leave anything untested or not working P-E-R-F-E-C-T-L-Y. Virgos can be such sticklers!

At about four in the afternoon, she had decided we needed to re-program a bit. What if we want only one screen down, the central one? Or the central one and only the one on the left, when an English translation was not available … or needed.

“No point having an empty screen staring at you unnecessarily, is there?” she asked.  

I listened to their banter as the technicians explained what they could or couldn’t do, and Roshie’s repeated, “Hey, this is simple stuff … why can’t it be done?”

Somebody tapped me on the shoulder. It was Sharan, the Villa’s CEO.

“Can I talk to you for a sec, Tabby?” she said in a whisper. “Outside …” she added, jerking her head sideways.

I switched on the scooter motor, pirouetted around and wheeled out of the main door into the corridor.  

“Let’s go to my office … it’ll give us some privacy,” she said, and marched out onto the deck, in the direction of the main building, giving me no time to do anything but follow.

She shut the door behind her, once we were in her office, and stood behind her desk, facing me.

“Do you know where Aggie is?”

I scoured my memory for a few seconds. “Yes, of course”, I piped up, “she had a meeting at the hospital this morning. But she should be home by now. Isn’t she in our apartment?”

Sharan shook her head. “I got a call from the hospital a couple of hours ago. They’d been expecting her, but she hadn’t turned up. I just told them that I knew she had headed out on time but must have stopped en route for something. I tried her cell-phone, got her voice mail, and left her a message to call me when she got the message.”

“And …” I interrupted. She was not getting to the point fast enough.

“I didn’t hear from her or the hospital. So I thought she must’ve finally got there. Didn’t hear from them until a few minutes ago. She never turned up. They proceeded with their meeting without her, thinking she had got caught somewhere …”

“Well … then … she must’ve gone somewhere else,” I mumbled.

We looked at each other, as if looking for answers in each other’s faces.

“So why did they call … when … what did they say,” I blurted, “what’s the matter? I don’t understand.”

“The hospital called a few minutes ago. Gertrude, the Executive Director, called, actually. She had stepped out of the building to walk to the parking lot to head home … and she saw Aggie’s car parked right outside the main door, right in their Visitors’ spot.

”She checked around. Someone said that the car had been there since the morning. But no Aggie!”

“She’s not meeting anyone else in the building … in someone else’s office?”

“They’ve checked. No one’s seen her. She’s not there.”

The door burst open. It was Roshie.

“What’s happening? I just heard.”

“Call the police …!” I said to Sharan, and then briefed Roshie, sensing I had alarmed her even more with my barked instructions.

There was obviously a simple explanation, I assured her. Another meeting. A shopping spree, perhaps. You know how she gets when she’s shopping, I said, but did not sound very convincing.   

Sharan took charge.

“I’m going into town. I’ll keep you informed. Keep your cells free,” she said, grabbing her keys.

“Wait,” I said, stopping her at the door. “We’ll follow in my car. Have Millie and Roop and Khem head into town too. Make some calls on the way … have others be on the lookout. And once there, fan out and see if you can find her in one of those stores around the hospital mall.”

She nodded, and rushed out.

“And,” I yelled after her, “make sure everyone keeps in touch with you.”

Within 40 minutes, there were a dozen of us from the Villa roaming the streets, knocking on doors, stopping pedestrians in downtown, asking if anyone had seen this woman, slim and silver-haired, in a pink blouse, off-white trousers, large blue leather purse …

I parked my car close to hers, perched my scooter next to the hospital’s main door, and sat there, glued to the cell-phone. Half of the hospital board staff was out there too, having already checked out every nook and cranny in the hospital buildings.

Roshie, Sharan, they were all out there, eagle eyed, as they gradually enlarged their concentric circles, using the hospital front door as the epicentre.

Twenty minutes after we’d started, my cell-phone rang yet again.

“It’s David! I’ve found her! She’s fine!”

One by one, I called everyone and they began to make their way back to where I was, relieved, as I waited for David, our Maintenance Engineer, who too had graciously jumped into his car and headed into town on a moment’s notice.

I saw them walking back, David had her hand in hers. Like lovers. Strolling towards us languidly.

Roshie ran towards her and hugged her, talking to her excitedly. I could see, Aggie wasn’t saying anything. No tears. No emotion.

And then … then … she walked right by me, as if I hadn’t even been there.

Roshie gave me a strained look as she walked by too, holding on to Aggie, and gently nudging her through the hospital doors.

David came straight to my side.

“She’s fine, Tabby … except I think she … she may not be feeling well. She was sitting on a bench in the park over there.“

He pointed to a cluster of green in the distance.

“Didn’t say a word. Not a thing. Just got up and came with me.”

I thanked everyone and asked them to head home. I went inside and joined Roshie and Sharan and a few others -- they had gathered in the waiting area. Aggie, they told me, had been wheeled in immediately in a wheelchair for tests.

Roshie came over and sat down beside me. Reached over and took my hand in hers. We looked at each other. And smiled sad smiles.      
To Be Continued ...


To read previous segments, please CLICK as follows:






July 10, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 11, 2013, 7:53 PM.

The dejected man was moaning about his wife to a friend: "She hasn't spoken to me for six months now. Looks like we have to separate formally". "Think carefully," his friend cautioned him, "it is rare to get such a wife."

2: Gurkiran Kaur (Australia), August 09, 2013, 3:37 AM.

I can't wait for Part VI. It's such an amazing story!

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Part V"

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