Gautam Kumar Gupta
On 24th March 2020, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, addressed the nation and announced the commencement of a 21-day nationwide lockdown with effect from 25th March to stop the spread of COVID-19 pandemic which had already wreaked havoc in many countries.
It changed everything. All modes of transportation drew to a standstill. There were no flights, no trains and no vehicles allowed on roads except essential services.
Everyone was stuck where they were. I was stuck.
There are millions of stories out there. Some are heartbreaking and gut-wrenching like the one of millions of migrant workers forced to walk hundreds of kilometers back to their hometowns from Metro cities.
Some have a happy ending and give us hope that this too shall pass.
Here is my story.
I work with a US-based MNC in Noida and my hometown is Jammu. I was stuck in Noida ever since the government decided to initiate a lockdown and for almost two and a half months, I was fending for myself in my rented flat in one of many vertical societies of Noida. I cooked, cleaned, and worked a 9-hour job, learning to survive on my own and in the process becoming a ‘self-proclaimed’ accomplished chef.
I was extremely happy when the Aviation Minister announced resumption of domestic flights from May 25th. Getting a train booking had proved to be a cumbersome job and air travel being much safer than a 9-hour train journey, taking a flight was an obvious choice.
I booked a SpiceJet Delhi-Jammu flight on May 28th and started packing immediately. I travel light, so it took me no more than 10 minutes.
The flight was for 8:20 am on May 29th and I arranged for a private taxi to pick me up from my society at 5 am next morning. It was an overcast morning and the weather was cool and breezy. It was drizzling a little. The driver was promptly at my society gate at 5 am and we zoomed ahead with no traffic.
I had taken two copies of my flight ticket. One for myself and other for the taxi driver to show on his way back at Delhi-Noida border. No one stopped us at the DND toll plaza and we reached the Airport at 5:45 am.
After a luggage disinfectant spray, a temperature check, AarogyaSetu app check, boarding pass check and a brisk walk to gate 42A, I was squarely in my seat in the airplane.
There was no social distancing, all three seats were occupied, the plane almost full. The airline gave us a surgical mask, face shield and a few sanitizer sachets.
We landed before time at 9:30 am at Jammu Airport. We were swiftly disembarked and put in a line for COVID-19 sampling. A quick nose swab later, I again found myself in a line, this time to choose the type of quarantine facility needed.
The J&K administration gave us two options- either go for a free govt quarantine facility or choose a self-paid hotel quarantine. I chose the self-paid hotel quarantine. I was already aware that air travelers opting for paid quarantine were being sent to Katra. What I did not know was which hotel they would send us to. There was a rumour that we were being sent to Country Inn, Katra. We were asked to sit in a 32-seater electric low-floor SRTC bus which looked recently acquired. Today, it was supposed to carry 15 passengers.
After waiting for an hour for the bus to fill up to the desired number, we started our journey with a Police escort which accompanied us till Ban Toll Plaza. We crossed the Country Inn Hotel without stopping. It was then we realized that we were being sent to some other hotel.
We finally stopped at the Spiritual Centre of SMVDB, where the administration had set up a reception/base camp for incoming air passengers. We were greeted by a young and dynamic KAS officer, Rajinder Dhegra. I must say Mr. Dhegra was very professional, accommodating, and receptive towards us and our queries. He explained to us the two categories of hotels that we could choose from.
Category AB which included Hotel Asia, Katra charging 2000 plus GST per day and category C which included Hotel Basera charging 1500 plus GST.Twelve people including me chose Asia while 3 chose Basera. We were then moved to our Hotel which was 100m ahead of the base camp.
We were greeted with another temperature check and were quickly checked in. Most of us were awake since 5 am that morning and had a quick lunch followed by a nap.
The hotel provided us with 3 meals of a fixed menu. There was daal, a dry sabzi, 4 chapatti and some rice for lunch/dinner and puriaaloo for breakfast. The food was good and the rooms clean and comfortable. The hotel staff was courteous, prompt and always wearing a face mask. There was some talk among the ‘quarantinees’ that our test results would come the next day.
I woke up next morning when room service brought in breakfast. All our meals were served to us in our rooms, in disposable utensils wrapped in aluminum foil.
At around 11 am, the first list of test results was shared with a guy by ‘someone known’ to him via WhatsApp. My name was not in it. Then came the second list shared to another guy by ‘someone known’ to him, again I did not figure in it. A little perturbed, I went to the Hotel reception to inquire about whom to contact in case I needed some information about the test results. They gave me a number for someone in Katra Development Authority CEO’s office. I called and a lady picked up. I am not sure, but I believe her name was Preeti. I asked her when the reports were expected. She assured me that we would receive our reports that day itself.
Again, this lady who did not know me, was very kind and patient. She gave me all the information I needed and acted in a caring and thoughtful manner, qualities which are often not expected of public servants these days.
I relaxed, made Tea and resumed watching a TV series on Netflix. At 4:30 pm she called me back and informed me that my test results had come back negative and I was free to go home.
She went on to inquire if someone would come to pick me up or would I need transportation back to Jammu. I requested her for transportation and 15 mins later, post check-out I was sitting in a mini-bus along with 8 other people going back to my hometown.
An hour later, I was in my home, sipping my mom’s tea.
The reason I really wanted to write this long thread was to first to thank all those Public Servants who have worked tirelessly and selflessly to facilitate the movement of thousands of incoming natives stuck outside.
And to thank the administration which has been in the forefront in tackling this menace of COVID-19.
J&K police has always been an example of courage and valor, but we all saw their compassionate and humane side in these difficult times.
Doctors, nurses, sanitation workers, Public Servants are going above and beyond daily and managing this Pandemic brilliantly.I have seen Delhi, Haryana and U.P. and I hear about Maharashtra and Gujarat, in comparison our state is leaps and bounds ahead.
Gautam Kumar Gupta