Unlock 1.0: Leaving on a Jet Plane

‘Leaving on a jet plane’ was a song written by John Denver, an American singer and song writer, in 1966. “My bags are packed, I’m ready to go……. Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane, Don’t know when I’ll be back again” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaving_on_a_Jet_Plane

This was the state of hundreds of students across India as a sudden lockdown was announced in India on March 24th, 2020 to contain the spread of the corona virus. Universities were forced to shut down and where possible classes were moved online. However, as students who could leave the city immediately did so, University hostels began to shut down. Students who could not leave waited, hoping the lockdown would be lifted in three weeks. But alas, the lockdown continued for more than two months.

In the meantime the hardship of the migrant labourers was out there for all to see. With no work and no place to stay they were wanting to get home, but the complete lockdown meant buses and trains were not plying. This left them desperate. Many of them set off on a journey of thousands of kilometres on foot and on bicycles. A humanitarian tragedy began to unfold. On May 1, the railways began to operate Shramik trains for migrants workers from the big cities to destinations in the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, the states where net out migration was high. Buses also began to operate, but the supply did not fully meet the demand. https://www.news18.com/news/india/despite-centres-covid-19-relief-package-why-migrants-are-unable-to-halt-long-journey-on-foot-2620541.html

This post is the story of two of our University post graduate students who were stuck in town after the lockdown. The lockdown also meant that ‘Flying on a Jet Plane’ was not on the cards as all airlines were shut down. Aasha, who was resident in the hostel, moved to one of her professor’s homes. Taniya, who’s mother had come down to look after her, was stuck in a Paying Guest accommodation. While this accommodation emptied out, the land lady was kind enough to let Taniya and her mom stay on.

While inter-state travel was restricted, how restricted it was came to light when the lockdown lifted partially. With Unlock 1.0, the airlines were allowed to fly limited flights to limited cities. So there was hope, the girls thought, and then began their ordeal. Some of the South Indian states, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, to which Aasha wished to travel, were restricting persons from our state, Gujarat. There was the Aarogya Setu app to be downloaded and permit to enter the state, an e-pass, was to be obtained on line. One country one nation, but now it seemed you required a visa to travel from one state to another. Luck was still NOT shining on Taniya, who wished to travel to Shillong via Kolkata, as the cyclone Amphan hit Kolkata and West Bengal. The airport was shut down again. The situation of these girls fit John Denver’s theme ‘My bags are packed, I’m ready to go…’ but there was nowhere to go!

My bags are packed. I’m ready to go! Credit: Aasha’s blog in the Deccan Chronicle

Both girls found flight after flight that they had booked, cancelled. The other Damocles sword hanging over their heads was Institutional Quarantine at the destination. It was not clear what awaited them and what was meant by institutional quarantine, common facilities with other travelers or would they be given single rooms in decent Hotels? Read about the trails and tribulations from the girls themselves. Aasha had some luck as her blog post was picked up and published in the Deccan Chronicle https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/in-other-news/050620/how-i-crisscrossed-the-country-during-unlock-10-e-pass-boarding-pas.html

More luck for Aasha, the blog post was also published in The Asian Age https://www.asianage.com/india/all-india/050620/air-travel-during-unlock-10-it-pays-to-pack-some-good-humour-along-with-your-bags.html

Aasha was finally able to fly to Bangalore and escaped institutional quarantine. She was ‘Stamped’ on her hand, with the date of arrival! Meant she could not escape home quarantine for two weeks at her Uncle’s home.

Taniya and her mom went through a 22 hour ordeal, took three flights and finally were quarantined in the beautiful premises of Indian Institute of Management, Meghalaya. See her description of the journey here https://medium.com/@taniya.dey/operation-homebound-in-time-of-covid-9c64d0b389dc

And now the situation reads as in John Denver’s lyrics, “Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane, Don’t know when I’ll be back again”. “Leavin’ on a jet plane” – Accomplished! But “don’t know when I’ll be back again”! As the corona virus rages, in the city of Ahmedabad the virus appears to have moved from the East side of the river to the West side, where our University is located. The University has announced that the next semester will start on time in the first week of August, but classes will be held online. The students, who desperately wish to return to the campus and join their friends, are hugely disappointed. We, the faculty, are struggling with the idea that we have to take classes online. Unable to see the angst, joy and mischief on the faces of the students, and the group dynamics in class, half the joy of teaching is lost!

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