Srila stood there with the local corporator and his assistant. He was dumbfounded at this unexpected turn of events. He had returned from the hospital, completely cured of the Covid virus, after the tests showed negative. But the residents of the building, where he had been living for the last one year, and which he believed to be his home, were not allowing him to enter, for fear of the spread of virus.
Srila had come from Majuli, Assam, his hometown, about a year or so back. He had come here to make a living, so that he could support his mother at home. His father had succumbed to tuberculosis of the brain, some ten years back. Srila was a mere teenager then and was in the last year of school. He was very good in studies, but music was his passion. He would spend hours every day, singing songs, by the mighty river that flowed along his village. His soulful singing spread far out on the water and the boatmen ferrying their boats would be drenched in its sweetness, and they too would sing along. Srila had two elder brothers, who worked as craftsmen in a wooden toys making factory. Their father’s death left Srila distraught. Srila had learnt music from his father. He not only lost his father, but also a Guru. For solace, he immersed himself completely into music. Once a renowned band from Mumbai had come to Majuli, to take part in a music festival. The lead singer and founder of the band Jojo, heard him singing along the riverside one day. He was so impressed that he went up to Srila and introduced himself. He offered him a place in his band, as a singer. Srila was not in the right frame of mind to leave his village and family just then, so he refused. Jojo gave him his card and asked him to contact him, whenever he changed his mind.
Within the next five years, Srila’s two brothers got married. It did not take much time to start seeing the difference in the house now. Srila’s mother was treated very badly, and she would spend the whole day in doing all the hard work in the house. Srila too was now a burden on his brothers’ families. He was making very little money by working as a music teacher in a primary school. Seeing his mother being ill-treated, would fill Srila with anguish and helplessness. One day, he could take it no more and he left home to go to a big city, and make some good money. He remembered Jojo and his offer and he came to Mumbai, the city of dreams.
On reaching Mumbai, he felt swallowed up and completely lost in the huge sea of people all around. He took out Jojo’s card and called him up. To his surprise, Jojo remembered him and spoke to him very warmly. He was in South Africa on a tour right then he said, and would return to Mumbai in a week. So Srila had to find a place to stay. He spent that night at the waiting room of the railway station. While having tea in the morning, he got talking with the chaiwallah. On hearing that Srila was on the lookout for a place to stay, he suggested his own building, where he assured him a vacant room could be available on rent. Late evening, Srila went with the chaiwallah to his building and met the landlord. Things were settled and Srila got the room on rent.
After around two weeks of coming to Mumbai, one day he got a call. It was from Jojo! Jojo wanted to meet him! An overjoyed Srila went to meet Jojo at the given address. It was a music studio. Srila had never seen so many varieties of musical instruments before. He was transfixed. They had a pleasant chat where Jojo again offered him a place in his band. Srila could not wait to say yes! There started Srila’s new journey. Though exciting, Srila had a lot to learn. He would spend hours in practising his notes. His passion and hard work bore fruits and now Srila was just about to start performing with the band, when the unexpected happened and the Covid-19 pandemic broke. Everything stood at a standstill. Everyone was restricted inside their homes. Srila’s public performance, too, had to wait.
Suddenly one day, Srila got cough along with high fever. His immediate neighbour, who worked as a house help, had tested positive to this virus. She had been taken away and had been admitted in a hospital for treatment and isolation. The help had apparently contacted the virus from her employer, who had returned from London. Now Srila was taken to the hospital too, and was kept there for about two weeks. He was completely fine and tested negative, when the authorities gave him a clean chit to go home. He felt so relieved, but was in for a rude shock when he was denied entry into the building where he lived. He had no where to go. The municipal officials were informed and they arrived. They tried to convince the residents about his being cured of the virus, but fear had overpowered their minds and they refused to budge.
The municipal officials then made arrangements for Srila to stay in a government school, nearby. Srila now started staying there, alone. He was in contact with his mother, over the telephone. He got to know from her that things were not very good at Majuli as well. There was a wide spread of the virus via a group of foreign tourists, who had been there before the lockdown. His older brother also had contacted the virus and was under isolation. All these news depressed Srila greatly. As always, he immersed himself into music again. He would keep singing his heart out and the songs could be heard in the surrounding areas. One person recorded one of his songs, and uploaded it on the YouTube. The soulful song touched many hearts and went viral. Jojo too heard it. He called Srila up and suggested that he record his songs and Jojo would add music to it, and present these to the world. People could not have enough of these songs now. Srila became a YouTube sensation!
Cut to the present. Srila, along with Jojo, had come to attend the Grammy awards. His album was one of the nominations for the best album of the year award. Sitting there in the huge auditorium, Srila had been walking down his memory lane, all this while. The pandemic was five years behind the world now. Did he ever dream of this day, when he was holed up in that government school? Actually he dreamt of nothing! He just lived in the moment, to the best of his capacity, and that had helped him all along, to be resilient and hopeful. As the pandemic fazed out, life rolled back again and he became the lead singer in Jojo’s band, since then. Now his mother lived with him, in his plush apartment, in Mumbai. Jojo nudged at his arm and he woke to the present; his name was being called out. He had won the Grammy awards for the best album of the year. With a big smile he got up and walked confidently towards the stage, with the same confidence that he had never let go of.