It’s been a while since I wrote my last blog. Having spent most part of the nationwide lockdown till date stuck in Chennai, here I am penning down my experience, learnings, and thoughts on life and people that I have interacted with during the past few months.
In just a couple of months, coronavirus has taken the world by storm. The day when the first outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic was announced in Chennai, I was in the middle of my internship working as a content writer and SEO specialist at a digital marketing agency.
The following days witnessed corporates offering work from home for their employees, educational institutes insisting students to go back to natives and local chennaites standing in long queues glued to each other to stock groceries and other essential items. Amidst all these last minute rush lies me, all alone in my room totally immersed in doing work assigned to me to the best of my abilities, hoping for a full time position. With just a week more left to finish my internship, my decision to head home right after its completion has made all the difference.
My internship period ended exactly one day prior to the nationwide lockdown ‘Janta Curfew’ announced on March 22, 2020. I realised I was stuck when both my reserved train ticket for 23rd March and airline ticket for 24th March remain cancelled due to operational reasons by the transport authorities.
Totally clueless about what next, I found my last hope in arranging a bike as private vehicles still crossed Kerala border till 25th March midnight. Here begins my story of requesting everyone I knew to arrange me a bike. Starting from the guy downstairs whom I meet often for the past two years to my best friend I have made in Chennai, everyone refused. Most of them also insisted me to stay back at Chennai as the number of Corona positive cases is higher in Kerala during those days. This moment marked the first time I regretted in the last two years in Chennai for not bringing my bike here. All these couple of days, I had little or no food as for the most part of the day, I was busy looking for a way out from Chennai.
Having all the doors ahead shut in a row, what comes next is the survival part. Except for a few bakery items, rice, and dal, I could hardly find anything else in my kitchen. I could still remember the day where I was rushing to super markets in my locality, making sure not to come in contact with anyone around and stocking up all essential items for the next one week. By the time I was back, I was excessively sweating and dead tired. I also took extra measures to wipe grocery packets using soap water and to clean vegetables using mild hot water. Things become difficult and time consuming when you have nobody else to share your work with. I took a shower and by the time I cooked and had my lunch, it was already 04:00 PM.
Hoping for a lockdown lift by March 31st, over the next few days I managed to occupy myself during my lockdown life with academics, preparing internship reports, creating my personal portfolio, doing online certification courses, and solving rubik’s & snake cube.
Things were smooth until the Government of India extended phase 1 lockdown of COVID-19 pandemic till 14th April 2020. Again, stocking of groceries and vegetables came into picture. The number of positive cases in Tamil Nadu is also rising by this time. Every time I glance out through my window, I see people sitting in groups, children playing on the roadsides, and two wheelers without a face mask. I knew I’m my only companion and there isn’t anybody out there to call out for help when in need, I decided to stay inside no matter what.
Later on, I chose not to go out to local markets and managed to buy only the essential items through Bigbasket to make my ends meet. Being in another state unable to avail any of the relief package or ration provided by Tamil Nadu government has affected me financially and forced me to buy essential items at a much higher price. Waiting for days together for a delivery slot to be available, I somehow managed to place an order most of the time. Thanks to my room owner Chandra aunty for offering me a portion of her fridge to preserve vegetables.
My constant lookout to avail ration saw lights when finally I got in touch with an officer who helped me to get ration delivered to my room. The only time I could remember going out was once in a week to dump garbage bags and to carry water cans. Besides these, everytime a work is done; be it cooking, washing dishes, or cleaning, I kept washing my hands umpteen times a day making way for soap particles to cling to my fingers.
With limited cooking facilities and an induction cooker, all I had for the rest of the days (or months) was varieties of upma (semiya, rice, and rava) for breakfast and meals (lemon rice, curd rice, and vegetable rice) alternately. Halfway through my lockdown life, I also learnt to prepare sambar, rasam, and dal curry.
When “Netflix and chill” became the mantra during lockdown, I occupied myself with “cooking and chill”.
Having celebrated both vishu and my birthday alone, the only special I had for my birthday was the semiya payasam that I learnt to make that afternoon. Though it’s a little saddening not being able to be with family during these occasions, the joy of learning something new and being self sufficient kept me on track.
There were also times when I felt low, stressed, and my mind constantly under unsettling thoughts. I spent many sleepless nights gazing at the moon to the tune of the music playing in the background. Somewhere in between those insomniac days, I lost my 24 hour rhythm leading to untimely food and delayed sleeping habits.
Needless to say, every time I received a text/phone/video call from my parents, I did my best to convince them that I’m doing good. These video calls with my parents was the only source of communication, only motivation I had for months.
I have observed my close contacts turning out to be total strangers and at the same time strangers understanding the situation, walking in with helping hands and timely support. Thanks to those couple of friends who stood by my side and never walked away, you guys are real gems.
If you are reading this now and you know someone in your contacts stuck alone elsewhere, take a minute to contact them. Being home and being alone stuck elsewhere is totally different. Ask them if they are okay. Listen to them. They will have endless stories and experience to share. Tell them we are in this together. It may mean nothing to you, but it will mean everything to them.
Fast forward to the last few days of phase 2 lockdown in India is when the railways partially announced plans to resume operations of special ‘Shramik’ train services to transport migrant workers and other stranded people to their belonging states. Meanwhile, I also completed NORKA registration and was waiting for the Kerala state government to arrange transport services to bring us back. After being stuck for months together in Chennai, there was a mix of joy and eagerness to reach home clearly visible in me.
When the first train from Kerala carrying stranded migrant labourers left to Bhubaneswar and when the Government of Kerala began approving e-passes for private vehicles, just like any other stranded Keralite stuck in Chennai, I was also eagerly waiting for a train or bus.
Days passed. When there was no sign for public transport to be announced anytime sooner, Whatsapp and other social media groups began flooding with doubts, suggestions, and recommendations of people planning to go back by hiring a taxi service.
I started looking out for both taxi services and fellow travellers. I had two options; either I should join any group of travellers or I should find individuals and create a group of 3-4 people to hire a taxi/apply for e-pass. It was during this first week of May that I spent a whole week with little or no sleep, stressed, and totally exhausted. One call led to another and by the time I’m done with the hundreds of phone calls in search of affordable taxi services, and to form a group of people, I could feel my ear burning and my energy completely drained.
Here I’m dividing all the incidents took place later on into three cases.
I came across a report regarding a few stranded students stuck in Chennai and immediately got in touch with the reporter to find their contact information. As the government already made it clear that students are given priority, I had a feeling that joining them may ease our travel back home. We discussed for a couple of days, divided ourselves into groups, and finally on 05th May, we came to the conclusion to apply for the Kerala e-pass for 08th May.
In the meantime, I also contacted a travel agency, made bookings for their taxi for 08th May, created a group on covid19jagratha and applied for an e-pass for all four of us.
There were also reports that TN registered taxis aren’t allowed to cross Kerala border. Keralites who reach the inter-state border via taxi can make use of another KL taxi from the border to travel further. The availability of KL taxis has put them in a dilemma.
Next day on 06th May, I received a text message stating that our Kerala e-pass is approved. When I contacted them to pass on the information, they refused to join as they are unsure about getting a KL taxi from the border. They also mentioned their plan to apply for a new e-pass for their bikes as all three own one.
I was stuck, AGAIN!
Though I lost my faith in humanity, I didn’t want to compel them to join either. What if they are right? What if we are stuck at the border without a KL taxi? I just told them it’s all fine and I will be looking for some other alternatives.
I require an answer to the above queries. Right then, I contacted a few other Keralites travelling on 06th and 07th May to the Walayar check post and asked them to update me on the availability of KL taxi from the border.
An hour later on the same day (06th May), I received a call from a friend in Kannur travelling from Kanchipuram that night. When I mentioned the previous incident, he shared contacts of another group who has their Kerala e-pass approved for the same day (06th May), ready to travel the moment they get their Tamil Nadu travel pass approved. He also confirmed that they are only two with another seat vacant in their TN taxi. (4 including driver can travel in a 5 seater vehicle)
After having a conversation and getting an assurance from them that they are ready to take me in, I also applied for a TN pass for their taxi number. They further asked me to pack my bags soon so that if our travel pass is issued, we could leave around 04:00 AM the next morning.
In the next few hours, I packed my bags, cleaned all rooms, washed dishes, and informed the room owner regarding my journey that night. By then, It was already 10:00 PM with all my energy drained out. All I had that day was breakfast. I prepared dinner and by the time I took a shower, I received a confirmation message stating my TN pass was approved.
Later that night, they also got their TN pass approved. Things were all clear. I guess I slept for 2-3 hours that night. As promised, I woke up around 03:00 AM, had a cup of tea, packed a few biscuits, dressed up; all set for the journey.
In another one hour, I got a call from them. I attended with a smile on my face. What they told me next was something I wish I never heard. “We are ready to take you. But we are leaving now without you as our driver isn’t ready for it”, they said.
That reason to me sounded very illogical. But before I could say something, they already left.
I was stuck, AGAIN!
I lost my faith in humanity over and over!
Having kept my bag aside not knowing what tomorrow has in stock for me, I went to bed with my eyes wide open.
From both the cases mentioned above, all I have to stress on is be it any situation, if you are doubted or unsure about something, learn to say a clear ‘NO’ in the first place rather than giving people endless promises and damaging/troubling the person completely at the last minute.
I woke up on 07th May to a news report reading that no new inter-state travel pass will be approved by the Kerala government until further update.
With little or no hope, for one last time I contacted those students mentioned in case 1 to know their status. When they informed me they are about to apply for the bike pass, I shared the news I came across that morning; especially from red zone areas. Also, by the time many who have already crossed the Walayar border have updated me that taxis and travellers are easily available from check-post. When I shared the same, they still refused to join. Here I put an end to their chapter. [CHAPTER CLOSED]
I also discussed the whole incident of my fellow travellers refusing in the last minute with the travel agent. Understanding the situation and the cost factor, he suggested another person from Calicut who has both TN and Kerala pass approved for his son stuck at Chennai for 10th May.
I immediately contacted them and we both decided to come together. As he already has his Kerala e-pass approved, I applied for two TN passes for the same taxi I booked for 08th May (case 1). In this way, he can travel two days prior to his actual date. New rules and travel restrictions are announced every second. The faster you could cross the border, the better. Having contacted the officer in charge for e-passes, I got our TN pass approved in an hour’s time. To be on the safer side, the TN pass he applied for on his name also got approved that night.
Meanwhile, when my parents contacted our relative staying close to Walayar, he right away agreed to arrange his bike for me to travel further. This to me was a surprise. I am falling short of words to express how deeply grateful I am. Thanks a ton for putting all your trust in me and offering to help at the right time.
In no time I also applied for an inter-district Kerala travel pass for the bike, contacted my district civil office and got it approved in less than 15 minutes. All travel passes clear, we both were set for the journey. He was also happy to reach home two days in advance.
Yaaay! My joy at that moment knows no bounds.
After major setbacks, FINALLY !!!!
That night, having cross checked my travel bags for all my essentials, I slept for a while relaxed.
This too shall pass! 😊