The foreign or exotic land has always been a point of intrigue, the idea of getting away – a panacea to all our woes. A trip to the Maldives (although now its overdone), exploring the Oriental East, rummaging through historic Pyramids, the list goes on – golden dreams we all chase, or at least momentarily aspire for.
We scratch below the surface, book our tickets way in advance to save the last penny, keep a long list of itineraries ready, pack in the knick knacks and everything else in between, planning our trips to the minutest details possible. Albeit by now we all have realized that Covid has thrown all planning outside the window in no time! And so it did for me.
In the morning hours of April 19, right after my daily meditation practice, I was elated to find ‘the coveted invite’ for the repatriation flight from DFAT (Dept of Foreign Affairs & Trade, Aus) land right into my inbox. It coincided with my last working day at Wipro. “A divine signal, am finally going to embark upon the golden pathway to the land Down Under to be with my spouse”, I thought to myself. Hauled up inside my home since end of March, not to forget the constant lockdowns and lockups, the virus hasn’t even spared the jails! This was a glimmer of hope.
Nail in the coffin
But what do you expect in a pandemic? Well, if things are going as you expected, you ought to get a reality check. The only time you can be sure of the travel is when you are on the flight : this became my mantra and my constant reminder to self to prevent myself from going ‘overboard’ in my excitement every time. And so the inevitable fear came as as a shock, when within days of securing my ticket to Darwin, it was announced that the Australian govt had decided to temporarily suspend all flights from India until May 14. Another jolt.
The tough road
The second wave was turning brutal with each passing day. Numbers impacted turned into names, names into relatives, friends and loved ones. Compelled to combat a personal situation at home, with my grandparents testing positive, we beckoned the month of May with agony and constant fear. The virus had now waded indoors in the close confines of my own house. It’s hard to be optimistic at a time when death-bells and sirens are omnipresent and dark clouds pervade. “My worst birthday ever”, retorted my mom in this tense scene, in no mood to ‘celebrate’. On the bright side, I may have lost 1-2 kg more from the stress over these days than I possibly managed through exercise and diet (no, I don’t mean ”dieting”).
Withstanding the test of time
We stood the test of time, and heaved a sigh of relief when my grandparents finally tested negative on the 14th day. It was yet again the same day, a Friday and another mail from DFAT hit my inbox – this time it was a ‘survey’. A hopeful me filled it right away, expressing my desire to be onboard the next flight departing May 22. All checks done, survey submitted. Another two days of wait over the weekend, till the decision. This was like waiting for the Board exam results. And so with anticipation, I ended my Sunday night only to have my hopes smashed the next morning with the mail announcing ‘all seats on this flight are now booked’. This time around, I was in despair, it was reminiscent of the ‘acchee dinn’ which still seem elusive till date. Jolt #2. At this juncture, I had lost all hope.
Of Hope and everything in between
But hope is a wonderful thing. I couldn’t help but ponder upon the lines from the famous masterpiece by Victor Frankl-
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances—to choose one’s own way. Even in the most absurd, painful, and dispiriting of circumstances, life can be given a meaning, and so too can suffering.”Excerpt from Victor Frankl’s ‘Man’s search for meaning’
I wondered to myself if suffering had meaning. Though it would be imbecile of me to compare the horror of the concentration camps to the living reality of man today, but I tried my best to draw inspiration from words of the writer.
Encountering the unexpected
And so the clock ticked away, and another day beckoned. The element of surprise – another mail from DFAT, again a survey, this time giving an option to prioritize/rank the preference by states and respective dates I’d like to fly. Another MCQ, another test. I filled in the options, holding tight to the last straw of hope. Another round of declaration, and rendering some mandatory details, this time the form cautioned that filling the survey did not guarantee a seat. With this heads up, I dived into another day with zero expectation. I was glad that they had called it out this time.
And then, just when I was prepared to hear the worst, it happened – I finally GOT a seat. I was thrilled to read the mail. The protocol was well understood by now – 72 hours prior hotel quarantine, one RAT before check-in and another one just before boarding the flight. There was still scope for a miss, after all this drama!
The day arrived closer, as I got my act together packing in all the essentials, heaps of clothes, shoes, etc. With my armour ready and my parents ensuring to pack in the food we’d need on the way, we drove to the hotel ITC Maurya, New Delhi, unaware of what my action packed days ahead would look like. The moment had arrived, I checked-in to the hotel after a teary goodbye. Yet, there was a voice in me that still wasn’t sure – what if something goes wrong.
Onboard and ready to fly
After a first negative RAT, there were two more tests to go. And just as per protocol, the next day right outside my hotel room, RT-PCR was taken 48 hours before the flight. With my mask on, a book and TV for company, I flip-flopped from watching news, to Fox HD, sipping tea, watching the day turn into night from my hotel window. Just a few days back, I was in the comforting embrace of my home, next to my family, devouring home cooked delicacies albeit in a prevailing tensed scenario at home but it was our precious time together.
The next two tests came negative, and it was time to finally depart and so, like a herd of travellers, in the ITC-Qantas bio-bubble, I was set to take off. From precarious checks of going ‘overboard’ to finally ‘boarding’, from temperature ‘checks’ to finally ‘checking-in’, the road has been battered with suspicion, doubt, fright and anger, interspersed of course with innumerable Covid tests. Dubious times when you got to be positive but test negative. It’s a far cry from the ‘normal’ of 2020, almost like an alternate reality, mind playing games with you.
Renewed hope and new beginnings
The Qantas flight promised a new beginning, a new life, and yet again renewed ‘hope’. Hope of a new, brighter day, devoid of the existential crisis we were in back home. And honestly, that one month, time away from work allowed me time – time to heal, time to reflect and time to move forward despite the barriers. In these uncertain times, one holds onto any tiny piece of hope, be it meditation, prayer or even just being in a closed one’s presence. Your belief in a higher power gets reinforced. ‘One day at a time’, we are forced to confront the power of now, which we so fervently deny ourselves all the time.
And yet it was another day, we landed at Darwin for a refuelling of the aircraft and after a one hour stop-over, headed for Melbourne, charting a total distance of approx. 10,200 km in 14.5 hours.
The Quarantined life
I always thought quarantining shouldn’t be too bad, until the 3 days in a hotel before my flight, locked up inside without a breathing window. My notion had been completely overturned. I’m somewhat adjusting to my present reality in closed doors, as I’m midway the 14 day lock up. I must admit the air purifier in the hotel room in Melbourne is a life saviour. We are provided television and a speaker for entertainment. The food timings are fixed – 8am, 12 pm and 6 pm.
Everyday the nurse appears by the dot at my doorstep to collect my sample, a memorized checklist of RT-PCR every 4th day, and a throat swab every day aided by self testing kit. This is accompanied by daily calls to check in on our well-being, mental health – in case we are experiencing any symptoms of fever, cough, cold, nausea, sore throat, dizziness, shortness of breath (a list which is now at the back of my hand considering the umpteen times I have been asked that right from the time of my disembarking the Qantas flight).
I spend my time following a routine of my daily practice in the morning, followed by a round of tea with brekky, catching up on some reading, glimpsing through Melbourne guides, NatGeo articles, while listening to a soothing playlist and closing my exercise rings on the watch. With a window to the outside world, the bright sunshine breaks into dawn, and I see myself dissolve like a tiny spectacle on this magnificent planet. In between, some pensive moments do pop up, in some I find ecstasy, in others fear, and worry for how things would be back home.
Curiosity kills the cat
My move has raised a lot of curiosity among many of my friends, who are keen to know the ABC of it. I suppose it would spark the same level of curiosity in me if I were in their shoes, especially during this time when international borders are shut. For anyone looking at crossing borders, and leaving India, here’s my two cents – do it if it appeals to YOU, do it for your OWN reasons. Life outside can come with its own challenges. Having travelled abroad to Europe and stayed for a good 40 days, its not always a bed of roses and I KNOW that.
Find your reasons
I have made this move to join my partner in Australia, after I first met him end of 2018. This means a backstory of ups and downs, long distance, and a deplorable amount of wait. It is NOT easy to enter this country, as it is NOT to leave it in the current circumstances. I am fully aware of this, and this causes me as much anxiety in these uncertain times.
As I type, Victoria has extended their 7 day lockdown which was due to end Thurs, Jun 3 in the wake of rising Covid cases, which currently stand at 50+. We are together in this shared grief and humanitarian loss, borders are porous and the virus does not differentiate. We have learnt our lessons well, back home, whether it was partying in Goa, taking a dip in the holy waters for the ‘shahi- snan’ or beating the dull drums over Bengal elections, it is largely a collective burden of poor administration, lack of govt foresight/action and we the people.
Acceptance is key
Lest we forget, this is not a time to be wanting more but being content and appreciating what we have. Covid has well taught us this year to not take our life for granted, every day can come with its own challenges, and nothing is set in stone. No one knows today what tomorrow has in store for us, but if we conquer “today”, “tomorrow” will take care of itself. The world is out of order but on the bright side, its a temporary dissonance.
Kya bura hai kya bhala hai, waqt hi shayad khuda hai!!
(What is good or bad, time well may be God)Lyrics from Ek Chalis ki Last local