December 5, 2020


(c) J. Singh, 2018

Jasmeet Singh was distraught. He had just returned from a visit to the doctors office. The diagnosis was not what he had been expecting. Vasomotor rhinitis - A condition that causes chronic sneezing, congestion, or runny nose. The difference between this and allergic rhinitis was that this condition didn't involve his immune system. Which meant that there was not much the doctor could do for him. There were no medications he could take to cure this condition. It was unknown how it developed, although the doctor had some guesses (irritants in the environment such as perfumes, odors, smog, secondhand smoke, changes in the weather, hot or spicy food.)

But it did little to help Jasmeet. Every night he would struggle to sleep. His nose would get stuffed up, he would be coughing and constantly trying to clear his throat of the phlegm and mucus that kept building up. He felt congestion around his nasal passages, and it was a generally miserable existence for several hours before he would finally fall asleep, exhausted and fatigued, around 3 a.m.

As a result, he would wake up late, rush to brush his teeth, take a quick shower, and hurriedly get dressed. He would run out the door with a slice of toast in between his teeth and his jacket dangling from one arm, the other holding the strap of his backpack. He'd be late to class, and his whole day would be downhill from there.

He had visited his doctor, who - after finding nothing immediately wrong with him - referred him to an ENT. The specialist had performed an examination and indicated that there was no sinusitis, and no other signs of an infection. Jasmeet had been relieved at hearing that, but it still left the unanswered question as to what was wrong with him. That's when the doctor had recommended an allergy test. After the results were in, he had been handed the diagnosis of vasomotor rhinitis.

He felt depressed. There was no cure for this condition. There was no medicine to take to treat it. Apparently, he had to live with this as a chronic condition. For the rest of his life. He felt like crying. How would he ever live a normal life if he couldn't even sleep normally at night? He was despondent and feeling desperate.

Friends noticed his emotional state, and made attempts at consolation. But his bleary- eyed look, with dark circles under his eyes, also frightened his friends.

"Are you alright?" they would ask anxiously, their voices heavy with worry and concern.

"I'm okay," Jasmeet would reply, "I just can't sleep at night."

And then came the recommendations. Try gargling with salt water before you sleep. Don't eat anything after 6 p.m. Take an antihistamine. Take a decongestant. Drink hot water with lemon and honey. Boil ginger in water and drink it. Do yoga. Drink at least eight glasses of water daily. Exercise more. Try homeopathy. Try taking an antacid. Sleep with an extra pillow to elevate your head.

He tried them all. And nothing worked. This resulted in him getting even more

"Nothing's going to work!" he wailed, "I'm doomed to live like this forever!"

Meera, his classmate and friend, glanced awkwardly at Nitin as Jasmeet threw his head down into his arms on the table and groaned. It was noisy in the cafeteria, and nobody noticed. Nitin reached out and patted Jasmeet gently on the shoulder.

"It'll be okay," he said, unsure of his own words.

"No it won't!" Jasmeet looked up and rubbed his nose unceremoniously. "I'm going to grow old and die like this! I'll never be able to sleep or have a normal life again!"

"Oh come on," Meera tried some tough love. "Don't be such a drama queen."

"Drama queen!?" Jasmeet wagged an indignant finger at her, "Do you have any idea what it's like to be so exhausted, so tired at the end of the day, that all your joints are aching, and all you want to do is sleep, but you can't, because your nose is all stuffed up, and you have this horrible phlegm in stuck like glue in your throat, and no matter what you do, you just keep coughing and you can't breathe through your nose!? Well! Do you!?"

Meera leaned back in her chair. "Alright, alright," she conceded. "You got problems, Jas. But whining and moaning about it isn't going to solve them."

"Yea, right, and you two have been a lot of help!" Jasmeet angrily picked up his lunch tray and stormed off.

"Hey Jas, come on," Nitin called after him, "We were just trying to help."

Jasmeet waved his protestations away without turning around. After depositing his tray by the cafeteria kitchen, he turned to leave and almost bumped into an acquaintance from the Gurdwara.

"Sorry," he said instinctively, taking a step back.

Simran smiled at him. "It's fine, Jasmeet," she said. And then, tilting her head to get a better look at him, "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," he blurted out. He didn't know her that well. They hadn't interacted very much, they would only see each other at the Gurdwara. She was tall and slim, with a fair complexion, soft skin, and almond shaped eyes. She was a friend of the family, but he thought she was a bit too religious, and generally kept his distance. He felt convinced that she must be secretly judging him for all his inadequacies and shortcomings.

"I'm ok," he said again, trying to compose a coherent response to her simple query, "Just haven't had good sleep in a few nights."

"So sorry to hear that," she touched his arm, the concern showing in her eyes.

"I'll be fine," he shrugged, "it's not a big deal."

"Okay," she said, "Let me know if you need anything."

"Sure," he replied and then hastened to leave the cafeteria.


Two weeks later, Jasmeet was still not fine. Instead of improving, the condition seemed to persist and at times it even worsened. He had become a night owl, spending time alone with his misery in the dark hours of the night as the minutes and hours painfully ticked by on the clock. During the day, his appearance became a disheveled mess. But he didn't care anymore. He was beyond the point of frustration, and had become despondent.

He stopped going to social events, and even avoided hanging out with Nitin and Meera. He just wanted to be alone. Nobody seemed to understand his pain, and so he didn't want to spend any time with them. He found support in online forums and Facebook groups, where people with similar problems gathered to share their experiences, vent their frustrations, and discuss things they tried and had varying levels of success with. Jasmeet figured that it was better than talking with people who had no idea what was going on with him and simply judged him for some apparent weakness that was out of his control.

Slowly, bit by bit, his social interaction dwindled until it was almost nothing. He felt isolated in his struggle. But at least there was the consolation of not having to feel the frustration of having to explain himself in every single conversation with another human being. He didn't have to feel like he was constantly being judged and attacked. He was done with all that.

One day, he was shuffling out of class lethargically when he heard a familiar voice
calling his name.

"Jasmeet," someone was calling him from behind. He turned around and saw Simran running up to him. She smiled at him. "I haven't seen you in a while. How are you?"

"Oh hi," he replied. This was unexpected. Why did she want to talk with him, he
wondered. And why did she keep asking him how he was? "I'm okay."

"Missed you at Gurdwara last week," she said, "I saw Uncle and Aunty, they said you were studying for midterms."

"Yea, I have a lot of classes this semester, so it's kind of hectic."

To his surprise, she nodded in empathy. "I can understand that," she said. And then, "Have you been able to get good sleep lately?"

It was something in the tone of her voice. Maybe it was the way she asked him, or the look of compassion on her face. He felt his face contort in anguish as tears welled up in his eyes. He shook his head briefly. He didn't feel any judgment from her, only concern and caring.

"It's been a struggle every night," he blurted out, almost sobbing. "I can't sleep! This condition keeps me up at night."

"I talked with Aunty about it, she said it's been very hard on you."

He took a deep breath and exhaled.

"I don't know what to do," he admitted, "I am lost."

Simran appeared to be deep in thought. Then she said, "I have an idea. Would you be open to trying something out?"

"If it can help me, I'll try anything," he said.

"Come to Gurdwara on Saturday. There is someone I'd like you to meet there."


On Saturday, Jasmeet found himself sitting in the spacious langar hall of the Gurdwara, feeling a mixture of nervousness and apprehension. Before him sat an old man, skin wrinkled and bones gnarled from age. His white turban and long white beard gave him an uncanny appearance. Jasmeet couldn't really tell when the old man's eyes were open or closed. Beside the old man sat Simran, attentive and poised.

The old man reached out with a shaking hand and lifted his cup of tea. He took a sip, slurping loudly. Jasmeet shifted uncomfortably, waiting for the old man to say
something. He had explained his ailment and how it was affecting his life. He had
described all the various remedies he had attempted, and had also lamented about how they had all been ineffective. Now, he sat and waited to hear what the old man had to say.

Finally, after what seemed like a painfully long silence, the old man spoke in a low, raspy voice.

"Teekh ho-jayega," he said casually.

Jasmeet blinked. A mixture of emotions churned in the pit of his stomach. The complete confidence with which the old man spoke seemed to convince him. And he desperately wanted to believe that he would heal from this condition. But his rational mind reasoned and argued with him. What could this old man know that the doctors had not been able to find out? And how could he know, having only just met him? He glanced at Simran, she was beaming, smiling from ear to ear.

"Um," Jasmeet wasn't sure how to phrase his question, "How do you know?"

The old man raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise. Perhaps he wasn't used to being questioned.

"How do you know for sure?" Jasmeet asked hastily, hoping he wasn't offending the old man. "I mean, that I'll be completely okay?"

The old man nodded, a hint of a grin on his face.

"Tell me about your mother," he said to Jasmeet.

"My Mom?" Jasmeet was surprised, "Well, um, she's a great Mom. She always took care of me when I was small. She comes to Gurdwara every week. She does seva, she is religious, she does paaht."

"She has a lot of kamai," the old man remarked in conclusion.

Jasmeet nodded. "Yeah," he said, "I guess she does."

"And she has been here at the Gurdwara every day, since you first started having this problem."

This came as a surprise to Jasmeet. "She has?"

"And she has done Ardas for you, and has been praying for your good health."

"Oh, I didn't know," Jasmeet began to realize how worried his mother must have been feeling about him.

"I have seen something else," the old man sighed heavily. "You are lucky to have your problem reduced to this."

Jasmeet was confused by his words. "I don't understand," he said.

"You were going to get a much more serious disease," the old man suddenly seemed to be carrying the weight of the world, he looked and sounded weary and tired. "It was going to be lung cancer."

Jasmeet's eyes widened in astonishment. "But, how...?" Hundreds of questions swirled in his mind. How did the old man know this? Was he just making it up? If it was true, was he still going to get the deadly disease?

Simran gestured to Jasmeet to let the old man finish what he was saying.

"It was going to be lung cancer," the old man continued, "but that changed because of your mother, her prayers, her Ardas for you. That was reduced to this condition you are experiencing now. And soon, this condition will disappear as well."

"How do you know?" Jasmeet did not believe him. "How can you know? How can you say lung cancer?"

The old man closed his eyes. "I can see things," he said, almost remorsefully. "A lifetime of bhagti, prayer and meditation, confers certain privileges upon a person. Sometimes we are given gifts we didn't ask for. But we have to humbly accept whatever the Creator bestows upon us."

Jasmeet sat quietly. There was no pretense in the old man's voice. He sounded
completely genuine and congruent. Jasmeet believed him.

He thanked the old man, holding his gnarled old hands, and asked if he could bring him some food or water. They sat for a little while longer, and then it was time to leave. One the way out, Jasmeet thanked Simran.

"No need to thank me," she said cheerfully, "important thing is that you're going to be ok, and you'll finally be able to sleep at night."

"Yeah," Jasmeet replied thoughtfully, "I should thank my Mom for everything."

"Definitely," Simran nodded in agreement.

"And maybe I can do Ardas also. After all, she has been doing so much for me every day. Maybe I can do some prayers for her?"

"I think that's the best idea."