“So what are your plans for the summer holidays?” asked Deepak.
“Don’t even ask me, bro! I do not know how I will survive the weekend. Just cannot wait for the holidays to start. I am going to Bali with my family for a vacation! Can you even imagine? After all, my dad has a travel agency and we know about all the best places to visit and which hotels to stay in. It’s all planned…bro!” Ajay said in a voice filled with joy and excitement.
‘This was nothing new.’ Deepak thought to himself. Every year since he joined the college to pursue his commerce degree, his closest friend Ajay had all the holidays planned well. He was sure to visit beautiful hill stations in India or take a trip abroad with his family during summers. His father was a businessman and did quite well. Deepak belonged to a lower-middle-class family and every summer holiday he would take a trip to his ancestral village. It was like a routine. Going abroad or for that matter visiting famous places in India seemed like a distant dream.
Deepak arrived at his village. Same old house, same old trees, and same old water canal. Everything seemed boring to him. His grandfather adored him as he was a good student and aspired that Deepak would outshine their family name. Deepak never actually enjoyed his holidays, though he loved meeting his Dadaji (grandfather).
“Ajay must be roaming around so carefree. What lovely pictures ….his life is the best!” He said in a seemingly disappointed voice while scrolling the Instagram profile of Ajay. His mother gave him a look with a raised eyebrow not trying to understand the waves of emotion which made Deepak restless.
With time, Ajay and Deepak chose different paths in life after graduating. Ajay, as planned went on to join his father’s business. Deepak started preparing for competitive exams as he had to get a job and support his family financially. During his struggling days, Deepak had to study rigorously and spend many lonely hours with his books in his study room. During this time, he would everyday rant that his fate has cheated him and it is not fair that when his friend is having all the fun, he was wasting the precious years of his life with books indoor.
Soon, Deepak cracked the entrance exam and went on to become a manager in a reputed firm wherein he had to handle the accounting department. The company was apparently a new one which had become known in a small time. Deepak was in charge of a whole department. His grandfather visited him and personally congratulated him. He was immensely proud of his grandson’s achievement. Deepak and his family were happy but somewhere within his heart he never felt satisfied. Mentally he would compare himself with Ajay and always felt that he lacked something in life.
“Long time… How have you been, Deepak?” asked Ajay.
“Yes, my friend, I am all well. Living a platonic life …not as excited one like yours… of course!” replied Deepak with a hint of jealousy in his voice.
“Ohh… Common!! This is nothing; I have something grand planned for the upcoming year! Just wait and watch!”, said Ajay with excitement and joy.
They had gathered at a function with college friends to celebrate the New Year. Yes, it was New Year, the Year 2020. Ajay had been doing well in business and had been able to gather capital through loans and savings to open a new branch for their fast-growing travel business. The travel and tourism industry was doing well and the so-called influencers on various platforms were helping to glamorize the business even better.
Two months had passed by when everything seemed normal. Ajay was busy handling his business and was trying to scale it up. Deepak had gone back to his daily grind of 9 to 6 job which would extend well past working hours. Often when staying back in the office and working late, Deepak would look at Ajay’s pictures on social media, and with each passing day, he felt frustrated with his job, his family status, his whole life.
Suddenly, at the onset of March that same year, the whole scenario changes as there is a new development. A pandemic takes down the whole world. A virus called COVID-19 makes the entire world go into a stage of Comma. There is an unprecedented loss of life and every day there is more depressing news of loss and suffering. This marks the beginning of a dark phase in world history and even countries with the best medical facilities find it difficult to tackle the situation. The respective Governments impose restrictions and there is a lockdown. The world, that seemed to have adapted to ultra-fast movements with flights taking off the runway every five minutes, ships transporting busily and trains and automobiles hastily running on the ground, had to apply its brake. There was a standstill everywhere. Life patterns changed and so did the consumption patterns. What seemed a necessity a few months back was now seen as a luxurious affair. The travel and tourism industry was badly hit as the world was continuing to reel under the effect of the virus.
Deepak had moved to his ancestral home as the situation demanded that the elderly be taken care of properly. His parents and his extended family were making all efforts to fulfill the need of him, his cousins, and their grandfather. It was in decades, that a family had come together to stay under one roof. It felt somehow surreal to share the warmth of a family. Deepak had almost forgotten about the outside world. He was busy working from home and managing things at his home. It had been almost around four months now since the beginning of the pandemic.
One evening when he was lying down with his head on his mother’s lap, his phone rang. He picked it up.
“Hello… hello… Deepak? Are you there?” asked a trembling voice.
Deepak could not understand at first. “Ajay… is it you? What is wrong … why do you sound so low..?” he asked.
“I am finished, my friend. Everything is over. I do not know if I can continue with my life. I am finished for sure. Please help me.” Ajay replied and broke down.
Deepak took a little time to understand and after a lot of comforting, Ajay revealed his suffering. Due to lockdown, the travel and tourism sector was badly hit and so was his business. He could not lay off his staff as they had nowhere else to go. But with passing day, the cash flow was decreasing and it was becoming impossible to operate. The loans that he had taken were all spent on setting up his new branch and he was facing a tough time to survive. He even thought of committing suicide but somehow could not do that to himself.
“What? Suicide… what are you saying, Ajay? I thought your life was a model life!! All those Facebook and Insta posts!! It seemed nothing was wrong. I can’t believe my ears.” exclaimed Deepak.
“Everything is a marketing gimmick, my friend. Social media is just a tool for entrepreneurs like us. You do not know what kind of stress we go through daily to stay in the cut-throat competition. Anyway, I need you to help me. You can call me shameless. But please help me with some money. Any amount is ok with me. I do not want to pressure you. I am reaching out to all my known people to seek help. I will do anything to survive. Can you… please?” Ajay was saying.
Deepak was as if in a nightmare! He said, “Yes, yes, you know I don’t have much. I never have much. I will help you with whatever I can, my friend. Just don’t give up. Do reach out to me. And yes, I need you to stay alive and if you think of doing anything nonsense, I will myself kill you, I swear.”
Suddenly, opening his heart to his friend made Ajay feel lighter. He smiled and let out a sigh.“You have so much Deepak! You just need to open your eyes and look around you. You are blessed. Trust me. Thank you for being there for me.” Ajay said before keeping the phone down.
Deepak looked out of the open door while still lying down on his mother’s lap. The view through the window was magnificent. It was a pleasant day. Was his village always this beautiful? Was his house in the village always had this vintage look? The greenery, the fresh air, the pollution-free atmosphere, the golden rays of the setting sun that penetrated the room, everything was perfect. He looked at his mother’s face which seemed to have few wrinkles, her eyes seemed tired. She brushed his hair. There was a feeling of solace looking at her face. He realized, how blessed he was!