Jagjit Singh and wife Sudershan Kaur, 92
Jagjit Singh, 100, and his wife Sudershan Kaur, 92, tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2020 and were both asymptomatic cases. After spending much of last year on their own in India, the couple have temporarily moved to the UAE to make up for lost time and reconnect with their family. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: The word “quarantine” may have been introduced into people’s lexicon for the first time in 2020, but for 100-year-old Jagjit Singh and his wife Sudershan Kaur, 92, that buzzword evoked vivid memories of when their son contracted polio over 60 years ago.

“It was the most crucial time for us and it could have changed all our lives forever,” said Singh, a retired colonel. At the time, he was stationed in the city of Jamnagar when polio cases were on the rise. “In the morning, I had issued a circular to all the people of Jamnagar on how to tackle and handle polio,” he said, before his wife quickly interjected that their nine-year-old son had called for help from the bedroom that very same night. “He said, ‘Mom, I can’t get up. I can’t get up. And I have to go to the bathroom’. I was worried because he could not move his legs,” said Kaur.

From Singh’s experience, he knew better than to try to force his son Parminder to walk, and so instead lifted him to the doctor. Following professional advice, the worried parents took their elder son into quarantine and made him stay off his feet for 40 days, while simultaneously receiving “treatment from the sun,” as Kaur put it.

“So we had good times, bad times, both,” said Kaur, while wearily smiling as we come back to the more recent turn of events.

Old photo of Jagjit Singh and wife Sudershan Kaur, 92
Jagjit Singh and Sudershan Kaur have known each other since 1939, and married in Lahore in 1948. Image Credit: Supplied

The experience of 2020 has left Singh and Kaur with what could be described as a lonely one – the elderly couple endured a strict lockdown that began in March and were confined for months in their apartment in Cuffe Parade, Mumbai. By early October, both had also tested positive for COVID-19.

Speaking to Gulf News from his son’s Jumeirah villa in Dubai, Singh revealed just what it takes to remain strong-willed and grateful in such times of uncertainty.

Dealing with COVID-19

“We were in Mumbai when this disease was declared, and our own society had stopped people from going out and coming in. They said nobody would come from outside, and even in the car, we had to start wearing masks. I didn’t go out anywhere, and that came all with the discipline. With the restriction of movement, we didn’t go out anywhere [for seven months] until [my daughter-in-law] Rita arrived and took us to Dubai,” he said.

Although the couple had a live-in driver and servants to lend them a hand, none of the comforts could replace the yearning they had to see their two sons and their families. “We were not scared of anything and were very comfortable, but we were lonely because we felt that our children were not here,” said Kaur.

Rita Ahluwalia, 63, explained that her parents-in-law were asymptomatic COVID-19 patients and had no idea they contracted the virus until they intended to buy a plane ticket to Dubai and reunite with the family for a much-needed holiday. Singh and his wife tested positive three times, but with the help of home remedies, such as a steamer and hot towels, they were given the all-clear after three weeks and were finally able to travel to the UAE on October 22, 2020.

Reaching 100 years of age

With a hint of optimism in his tone, Singh – who reached his centennial milestone on December 20 – explained that the key to staying strong and fit all boils down to ascribing to a virtuous way of life.

Jagjit Singh COVID-19 survivor
At 100 years old, Jagjit Singh manages to maintain an active lifestyle despite COVID-19 by walking in the garden, exercising, practising yoga and performing daily prayers. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

“Along with half an hour of yoga every morning, I have been doing my puja [prayers] when I get up. That I have not given up. I worship the sun, I worship Shiva, Guru Nanak… I worship all of them because I believe there is no part to any religion and they are all the same. So it is a question of getting connected to all, and then you get the blessings of all. That is what I have learnt from spending four years as a boy in a gurdwara [place of worship for Sikhs] where I completed grades 7 to 10.”

“I have not become a 100 per cent vegetarian, but for one year now, I prefer vegetables more than meat. I lead a very normal life but I must exercise every day, except maybe on Sunday and on some holidays. Yoga is the key to good health but not the only thing, because you also need to be spiritually connected to a higher power, whether it is Allah, Shiva or Guru.”

Although the elderly couple do not have any confirmed plans on when they’ll fly back to Mumbai, the one thing they are both sure about is how grateful they are to have spent the holiday season with their sons, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Describing her aspirations for 2021, Kaur added in a matter-of-fact: “The new year should be better than what we have gone through.”