It was that time of year again for the annual offsite and information about the corona virus was now coming to India. It was lucky though that our trip for the Offsite was to SriLanka where no one had the virus yet and who was widely circulating a video talking about how safe Sri Lanka was at this time and how the one Chinese tourist who’d had the virus had been successfully cured. They showed off their beaches, they were welcoming visitors and they were super positive about the fact that you were safe here and welcomed here. We also then decided that continuing the trip and celebrating our anniversary and #ParentTrap (where we kidnap our respective parents and take them on a holiday to an undisclosed location) would be just fine.
The offsite went without a hitch. Of course there were the hundred new forwards and even a few now ridiculous videos, ‘Go Karuna…’ being one of the most stupid things I’d seen in a long time. But nothing so stressful given to us by either country in terms of information. And then suddenly overnight, post a Trump address, India too turned into full panic mode. However we were in a resort with almost no world news coverage and even less India coverage and suddenly overnight our borders were shut.
We were given this information over a one line email at 7p.m. on the 16th of March (our anniversary) from SriLankan air saying- “Flight UL143 is canceled.” No plans as to when we might get to leave, or even if this was an option. In a flight (more fright) option, we looked online to desperately search for a flight while simultaneously calling the airline, which offered just a series of unanswered calls! The first flight out was Air India at 2 am on the 17th. The resort was 5.5 hrs away, but that couldn’t deter us. I booked our flights, albeit at a higher rate and we rushed to the airport.
Hundreds of scared, stranded tourists surrounded us in the airport. Sri Lanka, this haven of calm in the midst of this virus, was now blaring Buddhist chants on speakers and people were trying to leave to go home, any route, any way.
The resort had helped. The Guest relations executive had gone above and beyond to organise a car to get us to the airport even though this was last minute and the resort is far from the city. The GM of the Taj Colombo had confirmed that the Air India flight was taking off and had even told the ground staff to expect us , if we were slightly delayed as we were traveling across country. The humanity shown was exceptional. But unfortunately it didn’t allay fears.
At 2am we finally boarded even while watching masked medical doctors usher away a group of petrified tourists who had probably been cited on their infra red cameras for symptoms of the virus. The plane was silent. 35 people on a full jet.
We arrived at 4:30 am. And filled in the medical forms and were shown to doctors who asked questions, which were helpful as long as people stayed honest. I’m sure more than a few, because of fear, lied to avoid being quarantined, or tested, but we got out.
As we were leaving the Pranaam officer who had escorted my family and me, mentioned, that it was a good thing we got back to Mumbai. The city was disallowing flights from Sri Lanka, Turkey, UAE, Dubai, Europe and other destinations by the 17th i.e. the day we arrived. No tourists were allowed in. No Indians either.
Had we waited even for another flight in Sri Lanka we would possibly have been disallowed carriage to India.
How terrifying to think that there was a chance , we’d have no country to come home to and eventually no visa for the country we were in.
In a country of 1.4 billion odd people it’d be nice to be given this information clearly by governments, diplomats and whatsapps rather than fake forwards and non-sensical storage lists. I’d like to have been told that my home would be shut whether I needed to come back or not and be given some lead time to come back home.
Today when I see the hundreds of Indians stranded across the globe, my heart breaks. To be told you can’t go home and aren’t welcome in the country you are in is so, so very frightening.
We need humanity now. And we need our governments to help guide to keep our people safe. Not leave them where they are- stranded and with misinformation- but to get them home.
P.s. (Palat says)-: I. write this after the most hectic , frightening anniversary. trip ever. Back home, back with family- the only thing this trip has taught me is that there is far too much misinformation out there and unfortunately not enough correct, important information being given to us when we need. And it will be misinformation that eventually gets us, even earlier than a #$% virus!