December 4, 2020


(c) J. Singh, 2016

Roop Kaur was running late. Her appointment was at 10 am and she knew she would have to go through the middle of town to get to the client's office. And that meant heavy traffic on the congested highway 71, which was the only route to the client''s office.

She stood in front of her mirror, braiding her hair quickly. She applied a little light make-up. Some lipstick. Eyeliner. And she was ready.

She grabbed her purse and flew downstairs, putting on her coat as she went.

In the living room, a frail old man was seated on the couch, patiently awaiting her arrival. It was her father-in-law. He peered up at her through his thick spectacles, and a happy smile changed his forlorn countenance.

"Sat Sri Akal Daddyji," she greeted him, sitting down next to him.

"Sat Sri Akal beti," he replied warmly, adjusting his spectacles and patting her gently on the top of her head as a token of bestowing his blessings upon her. "How are you this morning? Is everything going alright and well?"

She smiled. He was always asking about her welfare, even if there didn't seem to be anything he could do to help if anything had indeed been wrong.

"I'm ok," she replied, "just off to work. The usual things, you know. Client meetings."

He nodded. Then, slowly, he picked up a Gutka from the side table, and handed it carefully to her. It was wrapped in a purple silk cloth, finely embroidered with shining thread the color of gold. Roop received the Gutka with both hands, and slipped off her sandals as a mark of respect for the sacred text.

"Beti, my eyesight is slowly failing me. It's difficult these days to read so well. Alas, look what old age does to a person," he said wistfully. "Before you go, would you please read me the Japji Sahib paaht?"

Roop winced. She was already late as it was. If she delayed any longer, she might miss the entire appointment. She stared at the Gutka in her hands. It seemed to be settled calmly and serenely, and there seemed to be a stillness surrounding it. It might have been the light coming in through the curtains, but she sensed a faint warm glow emanating from it.

She took a deep breath and made a decision. She was already this late anyway, fifteen more minutes wouldn't likely change things much. And if the client refused to meet her, she could ask to reschedule the meeting. It would mean another trip across town, but it wasn't the end of the world. Clients rescheduled meetings all the time. She had done it before several times. Having thus resolved it in her mind, she immediately felt lighter and more at peace.

She smiled, touched her father-in-law's arm, and then turned the page and began to read.

When she had finished, she looked up and saw her father-in-laws face displaying pure emotions of bliss and contentment. She also smiled. It felt good to have been able to do something to bring such happiness to him. She felt warm inside, and the feelings of contentment also stirred within her.

When she had said her goodbye and walked out to the driveway, her cellphone rang. She had just been rifling through her purse for her car keys when the familiar ringtone sounded. Expecting it to be the angry client, she took a deep breath and steeled herself, mentally preparing to give an explanation for her tardiness.

But the voice that came on the line was not the client. It was her husband, and he sounded like he was in a terrible panic.

"Roop! Roop, oh thank God! Are you alright?"

"Sure, I'm fine," she answered, puzzled. "Why, what's wrong!"

"I just saw the news, the pileup on highway 71. I knew you were going across town today and that was your route."

"Oh, I'm not on the highway, I actually haven't left the house yet."

"Oh thank God for that!" he sounded completely relieved.

"There was an accident?" she asked.

"Yes, it was very bad. A truck collided with another vehicle and that caused a huge pileup, maybe fifteen or more cars. The entire highway is shut down. There were many fatalities. I just knew you were supposed to take that route, and that highway is always getting too congested."

"I got delayed," Roop felt like she was in a dream. "Daddyji asked me to read some paaht to him, so I didn't leave yet."

"Thank God you are ok! Thank God! Don't get on 71, it's a nightmare out there right now. Maybe better to reschedule if you can."

She hung up the phone in a daze. In her mind's eye she pictured herself driving on to highway 71 just ten minutes earlier that day, and then she shuddered to think what might have happened.

She walked back into the house slowly, sat down and told her father-in-law what had happened. She said "Meherbani tuhadi (your kindness), Daddyji, for asking me to read the paaht."

He smiled, eyes twinkling, and shook his head.

"It's His Meherbani," he replied, pointing to the heavens.