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Nagpur girl Aditi Soni, who is a student of Service Design at Royal College of Arts in London, shares her recent experience of travel from London to her hometown Nagpur via Mumbai. Aditi, who reached Nagpur few days back in a tempo and is currently quarantined at a city hotel, narrates her experience of traveling in COVID-19 lockdown and what makes it a bittersweet memory for her.
Read what Aditi has to say about her experience…
“I write today on my journey back home to India as an evacuee and what one should expect in an evacuation during these unprecedented times of COVID-19.
As a service design student in London, a lot of my learning is system centric, aiming at making inclusive, human friendly flows and that is what made me experience this journey in various packets of emotions. Having said that, what follows next must be taken with a pinch of salt. I’ve always believed in the mantra that credit must be given where it is due, but also that a spade must be called a spade.
At the outset it is important to set the record straight that the officials behind this operation must be lauded for taking on the mammoth challenge of helping several thousands of Indians stranded overseas get back home. As much as I am thankful to have made it back, the entire process did come with its fair share of troubles.
As with most registrations, my journey too began with the monotonous process of filling out forms with the Indian High Commission in London. The unexpected call came on the evening of 12th May and brought with it equal proportions of joy and anxiety. I was to fly out the very next day! While my mind tried to accept this last-minute departure, I was horrified to realise that this journey would burn a deep dark hole in my pocket!
Overnight packing and last-minute housekeeping consumed most of my evening. The next morning, my groggy eyes peered out of the cab only to spot empty streets of London and my heart yearned for this ‘new normal’ to end. Unlike its counter part in India, Heathrow Airport seemed adequately prepared to handle the passengers.
We stood in serpentine queues to finish the immigration process, all the while strictly following social distancing norms. Special shout out to the on-ground staff at Heathrow that patiently helped not only the old, but also young anxiety filled travellers with their incessant queries. One should be weary of the fact that they’re put on a flight as per availability and not as their your choice; sleep deprivation can be taxing especially for the old, so it is advisable that you should embark on this mission with strong will power.
They say animals live in herds for protection; maybe this analogy applies to us humans as well. As we sat to be ‘airlifted’ in the waiting area to reach Nagpur, it was evident that people were crowding, despite the airport being largely empty. Maybe it was fear or the sense of familiarity that brought people closer, but it was pretty evident that all norms of social distancing were being blatantly flouted.
Money can buy luxury and give priority. The first and business class passengers were ushered in first, the elderly were made to wait for their turn. After all what can an economy passenger expect, right? As I entered the flight, my hopes were dashed – there was no social distancing being practiced whatsoever. I thanked my stars that I had got an aisle seat. Upon that sight, I pondered on what was more important in this situation – taking more people back home or taking a select few on a first come first serve basis? Obviously former seemed like the more prudent thing to do.
Once boarding was complete, the PPE adorned Air India crew trotted around and our seats already had the protection gear and food. Just as the airplane started touching the runway, a big cheer engulfed the atmosphere.
I woke up with a jolt just as the plane thundered down the runway at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai. With a sigh of relief and moments later, the off boarding of passengers had begun in a slow yet steady manner. After a while, it was finally my turn and an empty airport welcomed me. Thankfully, my screening process went through seamlessly, that might also be because I had made it a point to keep all documents ready and handy at all times.
Walking out of the airport I breathed a sigh of relief and expected the journey to Nagpur to be a cakewalk. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come. We were expecting to be on the bus en route Nagpur the moment we were out of the airport, but the lack of organisation led to an inevitable delay. There was a wait for around four hours, and these were tough hours due to lack of food and the unending wait for other passengers. Unfortunately, without a heads-up, we were asked to pay through our nose for the tempo bus service and with no option left, we paid them whatever they asked us for!
Once the twenty-hour journey started, it was pretty much the same throughout. Scorching heat, sweat, lack of food supplies and water, closed dhabas were the sights and highlights of this journey. My group was pretty enthusiastic and friendly so there was a support but the journey in itself was extremely long, yet worth it. What it lacked was maybe a bit of care vis-à-vis passengers with longer journeys; some protection or point of contact in case things went wrong.
Upon our arrival in the city, as expected we were asked to quarantine ourselves at designated hotels for 14 days. We were quickly moved into the facility of our choice and that is when the journey ended.
A few pointers to make this process smoother for the upcoming passengers-
Firstly, giving enough heads-up for people travelling from places beyond the airport location. Second, making sure there is extra support and priority given to people with disabilities aged beyond 55-60 years. A rough travel estimate for the passengers could be helpful so they aren’t caught off-guard and can start arranging the money they need. Above all, taking care of the most sensitive elements – their wellbeing, anxiety, providing assurance or supporting them even in their quarantine days with kindness.
Because at the end of the day, home is where the heart is…"