Kids Corner


Sehaj Villa
Part III

A Short Story by T. SHER SINGH




Continued ...




It takes a while, but finally, my wheelchair begins to move again. The crowd parts as we inch through it.

We stop. I feel two hands on my shoulders, massaging me. I turn away from the faces and look up.

Looming over us, but still at a distance, is a huge shape. A building. I can’t make it out clearly because the sun is behind it and the aura is blinding me.

I close my eyes. We move forward. I open my eyes again.

It’s a sprawling hemisphere standing before me. Never seen it before. It’s wood and glass. The wood looks new in its golden hue, the windows gleaming, some reflecting the blue of the sky.

We enter through tall, double doors. My eyes find it easier to focus in the dimmer light inside, though I see that there are windows everywhere.

We are inside a dome. I look up and around, slowly … I can’t move my head at will, not yet. So, I can see quite a bit of the inside from the corners of my eyes.

It’s a geodesic dome, my brain finally tells me. It’s a huge ball, but made up of triangles. Some are windows, the rest are just wooden panels, all held together with criss-crossing beams.

Simran, my daughter-in-law, is fumbling with my shoes. She’s taking them off. Why? I look around and I see there are shelves lined up against the wall on one side. People are taking off their shoes and stacking them in the pigeon-holes.

Where is Aggie? She must be behind me because I can’t see her anywhere. We begin to move. We enter another set of doors.

Strange, It looks like a … yeah, a gurdwara.

A gurdwara?

We’re in a huge open space now, the dome high above us, large, triangular windows on either side. We have stopped on a long, blue runner. I follow it with my eyes, until they stop at a … platform. It is covered with a splash of colour. Silks.

It’s the Guru Granth.

So, this is a gurdwara, then. But …

I raise my eyes above the platform and my gaze is drawn even higher.

Hanging from the ceiling is a strange structure, vaguely familiar, but yet something I have never seen before.

I stare at it until I realize it is a palki. Well, of sorts. It is the top of a palki.

Just the onion dome part of it, resting on a horizontal platform. Its shape has been fashioned with strips of wood, bent and curved to flow with the form, meeting at a point in its pinnacle. I can see four wires, one on each corner of the rectangular base, holding it in place mid-air, reaching down from the distant ceiling. That’s it. There’s nothing below the platform … no legs, no pillars … nothing. Except, about ten feet below it is the parkash of the Guru Granth.

Never seen anything like it.

Aggie appears beside me now, kneeling on the floor. She is holding my hand and looking at me, searching my face, as if.

“Like it?” she asks.

I look at her long and hard, and then look around me again. The crowd has come in now and is gathering on either side of us.

“Please carry on, everybody,” Aggie says to them, “please go ahead. We’ll follow you.”

They start lining up in front of us and then, one by one, drop down to their knees in front of the Living Word, bow before it, and then sit down on the carpet on either side. We stay parked, Aggie and I, where we are, I still trying to make sense of the scene.

Aggie comes close to me and whispers: “I thought it was time for us to have a small gurdwara in our community.“   

All I can muster up is a smile.

“This is the surprise,” she says. “This is where I’ve been these last few months, when you’ve woken up in the room and asked the nurse where I was.”

I don’t know what to say. Words don‘t come easy to me yet, but especially not when I’m swimming in a sea of emotions.

“Do you like it?” she asks again. She sounds anxious.

“Of course,” I finally manage to say, “who could’ve done better!”

She gets up, plants a kiss on my turban, and then glides the wheelchair forward.

We follow the line to the front of it, pay our obeisance, and then she wheels me around to behind the ’palki’.

She parks me right behind the Guru Granth Sahib. I realize that there is no seat in the way; I am where the granthi usually perches herself, except I’m in my wheelchair.

She leaves me there, goes back to the front, and when everyone has settled into their standing positions around the hall, does an ardaas.

I try to concentrate, but I can’t. I notice there is no microphone in front of her. Yet, her words are crisp and clear. Then I notice a wire hanging down from the ceiling, stopped just about a foot over her head. Must be the microphone, I say to myself.

I look up and notice there is a similar wire above me, a foot above the Guru Granth itself.

I close my eyes and try and be thankful for all the blessings I continue to receive.

At the conclusion of the ardaas, Aggie comes around to where I am and whispers: “Now, you take the hukam!”

“I can’t” I try to say, but she interrupts me. “Yes, you can. Please … we’re all waiting.”

She moves my wheelchair a few inches forward. I notice how easily my legs fit into the space below the platform. I turn around and look at Aggie: she has thought of everything, hasn’t she?

*   *   *   *   *

I won’t waste your time telling about all the technological wonders Aggie has built into the new gurdwara. It is geared to wheelchairs and the needs of the old and the infirm, while the young and able-bodied can be as comfortable too.

There are electrical outlets hidden everywhere. For wheelchair scooters? Lap-tops? A large screen appears … and disappears ... at the touch of a button. Lights dim, and bright windows get shaded, almost at will. Wide and separate access for the wheelchair traffic, entering and leaving, without interfering with the main entrance …

No details have been overlooked.

My first few attendances here -- I come here every morning and evening now, how couldn’t I? -- have been utterly distracting. I notice little things here and there, and realize how easy it is to get the details, if you put your mind to it.

Like Aggie has.    

The library, for example, is a wonder. A reading room with a dream collection of basic books, magazines and newspapers. In English and Punjabi.

But then, the marvel is in the audio-visual and computer facilities. The row of private cubicles, each with a desk-top of its own. There’s an in-house instructor who teaches internet, e-mailing, and skype skills, to name but a few. There’s no one around here any more who can’t be in touch with family and friends anywhere in the world … at a moment’s notice.

Have I told you about the kitchen and dining facilities? Catered to individual needs, but their piece de resistance is the Punjabi menu!

I could go on and on, but honestly, what Aggie and I enjoy the most is the proximity to our friends who are now living here too, under the same roof.

Aggie has a different take on it.

“It’s the Sardarni Squad that’s running this place now,” she said one day, as we strolled through the gardens. Well, she did the strolling … and pushing. I was enjoying, as always, being wheeled around.              

“I can see that,” I said, “and it’s our gain.”

She laughed.

“While you guys are busy with your poker games, we’ve been scheming and plotting. We haven’t had so much fun together, ever!”

I know what she means. What could be better than be able to have the friends you have whetted over a lifetime to be with you when you have all the time to spare and while away in leisure and contemplation?

It’s a mixed blessing, though.

It has brought immense joy to our lives. And some sadness too.

Just think about it. Here we are, old fogies all, each with a foot in the grave, waiting patiently for our expiry dates. It’s as if there is a bar-code embedded at the back of our heads, hidden under the hair, in the form of an invisible-ink tattoo, indiscernible to the naked eye.

They’re all different, unique to each one of us.

But we know one thing now, with more certainty than ever before in our lives, that our time is nigh.

That gives a new perspective to life. Clearer, certainly. The priorities shift drastically. Possessions begin to lose lustre. Old gripes and grudges don’t make sense any more. The daily goings-on in the world, the urgencies and the emergencies, begin to look cartoonish … like Willy Coyote’s eternal struggle with the road-runners.

I find I get more joy -- in fact, a lot of joy, more than I’ve ever had in the past -- in simple things. Like watching the sun set, the two of us … holding hands, but not feeling the need to say something. Lengthy silences don’t seem intimidating any more. Everything that needs to be said has been said.

Are we in the age of telepathy, then? Mind-reading?

Or is this what they mean when they call us 'soul-mates'?

It’s jarring, though, when the inevitable happens. With so many of us this old, under the same roof, there’s someone or the other dying every now and then.

There was a time when death was disconcerting. Not any more. Now, it’s like bidding a friend off on a journey. “See you shortly,” is what I mutter under by breath, when we are in the gurdwara doing an ‘antim ardaas’ -- the farewell prayer.

My buddy, Bishen and I were shooting the breeze one day. Not too long after the inaugural of our new domed gurdwara. We’d run out of steam and had been sitting immersed in our thoughts for a while, when Bishen spoke up again.

“You know, Tabby” he began. They always call me ’Tabby’; I guess ’Mehtab’ is too long for those who love me.

“You know, what you and Aggie have done here at Sehaj Villa …”

“So, you’re a critic now, are you?”

“No,” he said, “let me be serious for a minute.”

I bit my tongue and refrained from a being a smart-aleck.

“I like what you’ve done.” He went quiet for a bit, and then continued. “And I want to help.”

“So, pay up your poker debts, then,” I couldn’t help saying.

“No, seriously. Roshie and I have been mulling over things. She’s been talking to Aggie as well. And we’ve decided to pitch in. We like what you’re doing. And we want to help.”

“What do you mean? Do we need help?“

“We like what you’ve done. Not only with this place but with what you’ve done with your money. Roshie and I went into town last week to see our lawyer. We’ve sorted out our affairs.”

“Yeah?” It sounded ominous. Is he okay, I wondered.

“Roshie told us what you did and we liked the model. So, we’ve arranged our affairs accordingly. Our son and daughter, and each of their children, is well taken care of. And we have put aside enough for Roshie and me. The rest …”

He paused for a few seconds. And then continued. “The rest … we’ve turned over to the Foundation.”

“Which Foundation?” I asked.

“”Your foundation. The Sehaj Villa.”

It didn’t make sense. “We don’t need more funds,” I blurted out.

“We know you don’t. But here’s what we want you to do. Set things in motion. So that we can open up another Sehaj Villa in another community. We need more of these.”

“We can’t, “ I said, “I don’t think you realize how much dough we’ll need to do that. Apart from buying another place, we’ll need a whole new management team. It’ll complicate things. We’re too old for that, Bishen …”

He waved his hand at me, until I fell silent.

He told me how much they had signed over. Good thing I have a strong heart. It was almost twice as much as Aggie and I had put into Sehaj!

“You have so much?” I gasped.

“Yup. We did. Now you do.”

*   *   *   *   *

I graduated to a scooter. A wheelchair scooter, that is.

Now I could scoot around, without having to feel guilty about having Aggie having to lug me. Or have an attendant tied up with looking after me.

Strange, but the passage of time here at the Villa is measured by such milestones. By progress made in recovery, or in setbacks in illnesses. By visits by loved ones. Or, by deaths. And funerals.

A year has gone by since Bishen dropped his bombshell.

And then, about two months later, he suffered a heart attack, mercifully in his sleep. His third one. It was not unexpected. The two earlier ones, both in recent years, had taken a heavy toll.

He did not survive this one.

Roshie proved to be strong. And Aggie’s kept her busy.

They grew even closer. And they were back at scheming and plotting, this time around on Phase II of Sehaj. They decided to acquire another lodge, though one much larger in size, in a town nearby, close enough to be able to partner and share some of the programs, and yet remain independent. They promoted Sharan Kaur, our CEO, to head the Foundation and to run the overall enterprise, while a new CEO -- Nirgun Singh -- was hired to manage this villa.

They mostly kept me out of the loop, though. For my sake, they assured me.

My speech was back, almost 90%, even though I still had trouble remembering certain words at times. Doing paatth audibly was no longer a chore, though I had become lazy and preferred to sit at the back of the dome, my scooter plugged into the wall so that the battery could get charged while I idled there, listening to Roshie read from the Guru Granth Sahib.

I loved the way she sang the words, accentuating each syllable. It was the way  she could wring the meaning out of them, sometimes repeating the lines over and over again, until they surrendered their secret.

My right arm and leg were not paralysed any more, but I couldn’t move around too fast. It didn’t look like I ever would again. But getting down to the dome every morning at the break of dawn, to hear the vaak read out by Roshie, had become easy. Aggie, as always, was slower waking up in the morning. She would saunter down a little later, at her own sweet pace.

I didn’t like Roshie being there alone, because I knew how much she missed Bishen.

As I listened to her every morning, I sometimes wondered about the time I too would be gone and the two of them would be left, wielding their business acumen.

But there was something new that had begun to trouble me about her.

Something that I discovered Roshie had been doing … quite by chance one day.

It took a lot of prodding before she would finally fess up with what she was up to.

‘The Lists’, is what she called them.              


To be Continued ... 


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June 17, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), June 20, 2013, 9:47 AM.

What's wrong? Wheelchair and more ... just knowing here and there, please let me know in some details. Regards ...

2: Simran Kaur (Bahrain), June 20, 2013, 10:00 AM.

Very well written ... waiting for the next episode.

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Part III"

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